Launch of Irish Aid Annual Report 2017
Speech03 October 2018
Thank you for the welcome.
It is appropriate that we are gathered here tonight in the EPIC museum for this launch of the Irish Aid Annual Report. It is appropriate because the drivers of Irish migration, the story which this museum tells, were poverty, hunger and a lack of opportunity at home. These are frequently factors at play in the countries which receive Irish development assistance.
There is something, I believe, deep in our psyche as Irish people which recognises that, just as we received help from others at times of need, we have a duty to help those furthest behind. We remember the generosity of the Choctaw Indians who gave of their little to help us when we had nothing. Or, within living memory, the parcel from America which gave relief to struggling parents.
And EPIC also tells the story of our diaspora. A diaspora which includes missionaries, educators, health workers and volunteers, all of whom are part of the deep linkages between the Irish people and places around the globe to which we are connected in many and various ways.
I was reminded of this many times last week, when in bilateral meetings in the United Nations new friendships were forged thanks to the memory of an Irish teacher or priest who had worked in a far flung place to make life there better.
Indeed, this month here in EPIC there is an exhibition which chronicles the story of the Irish diaspora in Kenya, and the enduring contribution they have made to life in that country.
Ireland still makes a massive contribution to the development of Kenya. I visited Nairobi last year, opening the new Irish Embassy there together with the Kenyan Foreign Minister. I heard of innovative collaborations, most notably in the area of potatoes, where Irish know-how is helping lift Kenya yields. I saw first-hand the inspiring work of Irish NGOs and missionaries. I also witnessed the incredible dynamism of a country which must create a million jobs a year if it is to provide work for its youth.
Similar stories of hope and change are to be found across the Irish Aid programme. This year’s Annual Report includes a map, which shows that last year Ireland’s official overseas development aid reached over 130 countries around the world.
We did so maintaining our focus on quality and on reaching the furthest behind first. A leading international development think tank, the Overseas Development Institute, recently found that Ireland’s aid programme was the most effective in the world at reaching those in extreme poverty.
This reputation for quality development cooperation is an important part of our international diplomacy. It was a cornerstone of the discussions which the Taoiseach, Minister Ciarán Cannon, and I had in at the United Nations General Assembly last week, as the world met to discuss the common problems which we share and to look to build common solutions.
I reiterated our view in New York that it is in our national interest – and it is in everyone’s interests globally - to invest in an effective multilateral rules-based system, which looks out for all countries regardless of size. Continuing to invest in our aid programme is one of the ways in which Ireland can help protect and shape the international order, to best ensure that it reflects our values as a country.
That is the impulse behind the Government’s commitment to reach the UN target for development assistance of 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2030. Quite simply, given the inter-connectedness of the modern world, we cannot afford not to play our full part.
As the Annual Report acknowledges, humanitarian need is increasing constantly and at nearly a quarter of our overall spend was the largest component of our expenditure last year. This is a reflection of the complexity of our world, in particular the human tragedies in Syria and Yemen, and the ongoing miseries of the Palestinian people.
It is also because Ireland continues to prioritise assisting those caught up in less well known crises, such as the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The large humanitarian spend also arose because Ireland responded to the successful call from the multilateral system to help avert four famines.
However, it is not enough to respond. We must seek to do more to prevent.
We must also build on what we have achieved, while maintaining the quality and effectiveness which is one of our trademarks.
That is why I spoke, almost one year ago, at the launch of the last Annual Report, of the need for a new Irish international development policy. I am pleased to say that work on that new policy is almost complete, with the final town hall meeting taking place later this evening.
As part of the pathway towards that new policy, this year’s annual report has some innovations. It shows the breadth of Irish Aid’s engagement worldwide. It has an increased focus on how the development cooperation programme assists with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, which Ireland was so proud to help broker in the United Nations. It places greater emphasis on Ireland’s contribution to conflict prevention and resolution.
I am conscious too that as Irish Aid we rely on many others, but in particular Irish NGOs, to deliver assistance to those most in need. I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in this great effort. Ireland is a leader in the area of ODA channelled through civil society, which provides great insight into needs on the ground and also helps ensure that what we do stays true to our values as a people.
Ultimately Ireland’s development cooperation is all about people. It is those who deliver that assistance. It is, most importantly, about those who that assistance is intended to help. It is important that we hear their voices and meet their needs. And it is also about the Irish citizen, on whose generosity we depend. This Annual Report is part of our accountability to the people of Ireland for what we do in their name, work in which I believe the people of Ireland can be very proud.