Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the target of 0.7% of GNP would be reached gradually but he hoped much of the progress would be made in the next seven years rather than the last seven.
He was speaking at the publication of Irish Aid’s annual report which shows how the €615m overseas development aid budget was spent last year.
That budget represented 0.39% of GNP — far short of the UN target of 0.7% to which Ireland committed to reaching by 2015 under the millennium development goals agreed in 2000.
Countries will meet this year to adopt a new set of goals — the sustainable development goals — with the aim of eliminating extreme poverty and hunger within another 15-year timeframe.
Mr Flanagan said even with the country’s persisting economic challenges, it was time to start moving towards the 0.7% goal. “2030 might seem a long time away but I believe it’s important there be progressive movement towards that and if we can, frontload our increases and not leave matters until the remaining five or seven years.”
He said he believed he had public support for increased spending. “It may be populist to suggest that charity begins at home and that we have many challenges across a range of national Government departments,” he said.
“However, I am quite satisfied from my engagement with the Irish people that Irish people want to do this, they are proud of what we do and they buy into the process.”
Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid Sean Sherlock said financial constraints meant it would be necessary to look at more ways of promoting development in poorer countries, including involving the private sector in creating opportunities for growth.
“There’s an onus on the private sector to become more involved with nation states globally in terms of technology transfer, in terms of the release of intellectual property,” he said.
“I think the conversation is not just about the 0.7%. I think it’s a wider conversation that needs to happen.”
Irish Aid assisted over 30 countries last year, Mozambique and Ethiopia receiving the largest funding of €40m and €36m. Mr Flanagan said the aid contributed to a 70% drop in maternal deaths in Ethiopia since 1990 while the number of people receiving life-saving antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDs in Mozambique had more than trebled in the last five years.