IRELAND excels at delivering aid that is effective and reaches those who need it most, the OECD said this week in a major review of the Government’s overseas aid programme, Irish Aid.
The OECD commended Ireland’s strong focus on tackling hunger and poverty and our commitment to supporting families to rebuild their lives in the wake of natural and other disasters. It concluded that Ireland is “valued as a trusted and long-term partner” and “punches above its weight on global development issues”. The review was carried out by the OECD and representatives from the governments of Austria and Portugal.
I was very proud yesterday to launch the OECD Peer Review of Ireland, along with my colleague, Minister Charlie Flanagan, which clearly acknowledges the commitment of the Irish public and the Government to continue to provide overseas aid, even in challenging economic circumstances.
The review commends Ireland for strategically balancing the reductions to the overseas aid budget since 2008 to protect those most in need and for keeping our aid untied.
I believe that this commitment to improving the lives of our fellow human beings defines us as a nation: it prompted Irish missionaries to travel the globe; it led Irish humanitarians to found some of the world’s most effective aid agencies, and it means that our aid programme is at the heart of our foreign policy, while still inspiring our citizens to engage in projects overseas on a continuous basis.
The OECD report shows that the money and human resources that we are investing are proving effective in fighting child malnutrition, increasing the number of children at school and providing clean water, basic health care and improved economic opportunities to millions of people across the developing world.
The reviewers acknowledge that our strong focus on hunger is born of our own experience of devastating famine. This has shaped our approach, informing our support of small farmers and funding of ground-breaking research in nutrition, agriculture and crop and livestock improvement. This is critical in the developing world, where up to 80% of people make a living from subsistence farming.
For example, we work closely with smallholder farmers and the private sector in Malawi to increase the production of high-quality seeds. This not only provides improved diets for poor farmers and their families, but allows them to sell the surplus, thus setting up a virtuous cycle where farmers can re-invest in their farms, boost their yields and send their children to school. Critically, they also help farmers to protect the environment by fixing nitrogen in the soil.
In Ethiopia, I accompanied President Higgins on a visit Tigray, where I saw how Ireland’s support for a programme which offers food or cash in exchange for community-based agricultural work is helping crops to flourish and families to thrive, while simultaneously protecting the environment. Seven million people benefit from this ground-breaking programme.
Ireland’s aid programme is central to our foreign policy. It is a reflection of our vision, our values and our responsibilities as a nation and the importance we place on equality, human rights, accountability and partnership. Despite our small size, we have a strong voice.
The report recognises that Ireland is viewed internationally as a valued and trusted partner and an honest broker: it says that we have a talent for “building political networks, alliances and coalitions to support development”.
This year marks 40 years of Ireland’s official development assistance. We have witnessed immense progress over that time: the number of people living in extreme poverty has been halved since 1990 and 17,000 fewer children die each year.
But we can never be complacent when one in nine people in the world remains hungry.
The OECD report shows that Irish Aid is delivering on our target to spend 20% of our budget on fighting hunger, as well as building effective alliances internationally to inspire others to take on the challenge.
Irish Aid targets the poorest people and works in areas where we can have most impact. The reviewers praised Ireland for allocating 80% of our bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa and for concentrating our efforts in countries where needs are greatest and human rights are most at risk.
A clear demonstration of this commitment is our deepening engagement in Sierra Leone and Liberia. In both countries, we focus on strengthening their health systems, which were already extremely fragile, but have now been overwhelmed by ebola. We are supporting the provision of ebola treatment facilities in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well funding contact tracing, community sensitisation and child nutrition programmes. I witnessed the positive impact of our funding when I was the first European minister to visit the region in October. Three members of the Irish Defence forces have been deployed at our embassy in Freetown to assist.
Our policy for international development: ‘One World, One Future’ sets out how we will build on the strengths of the Irish Aid programme. It states that we will focus on those countries which are lagging behind in development, often as a result of conflict; we will intensify efforts to boost economic growth which benefits poor people and strive to ensure that economic growth is environmentally sustainable. And we will continue to build better governance and accountability and to protect and promote human rights.
The OECD DAC Peer Review of Ireland confirms we have a top class, internationally recognised development programme.
But we need to strengthen our systems for managing information and sharing knowledge and for documenting the remarkable progress that is being made. And we need to communicate the challenges involved in working in often difficult circumstances. .
Already, we are reviewing our engagement with the United Nations and other multilateral organisations, like the EU and World Bank. I have already initiated a review of our engagement across the full range of multilateral partners to ensure that our resources yield clear results, value for money and high standards of transparency and accountability.
We take these, and all the recommendations of the review seriously, we will act on them and report on the progress that we are making. Ireland is committed to achieving a just and sustainable world, where people are empowered to overcome poverty and hunger and realise their rights and potential.