Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 19 October 2017
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Irish Aid Programme Review (Resumed)
In the first part of our meeting, we will meet representatives from Dóchas, to whom I extend a welcome. The committee agreed as part of its work programme for 2017 to review the work of Irish Aid, particularly the overseas development aid programme and the way it has been used to date to deliver added value in communities around the world. This is the second in a series of meetings with relevant stakeholders and the committee proposes to report on its findings to the Dáil and Seanad later this year.
The format of the meeting is that we will hear the delegation's opening statement before going into a questions and answers session with members of the committee. Before we begin, I remind members, witnesses and those in the Gallery to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they can cause interference, even on silent mode, with the recording equipment in the chamber.
I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the Chair to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I call Ms Keatinge, Mr. MacSorley, Mr. Meehan and Ms Foster-Breslin to make their opening statements.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
I thank the committee for the opportunity for Dóchas to make an input into the committee's review of the Irish Aid programme. This is a welcome and timely initiative. Our members have made a number of submissions. We know of at least 14 from a couple of our working groups, at least seven or eight of our agencies and some coalitions, for example, the Irish Development Education Association, IDEA, the Development Education Network and the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence. I hope that this gives a strong sense of our interest in being involved in this process and the significant support from and commitment by Irish civil society towards the programme.
Alas, I will not have time today to represent each and every one of those submissions, but I will start by highlighting a few of the recurring themes. We need to speak practically about how we can scale up funding to Irish Aid's programme while maintaining its quality. This quality is based on untied aid and is focused on tackling the root causes of poverty, meeting basic needs and working in the least developed countries.
We need to speak about strengthening the partnership - the meaningful dialogue - with civil society so as to allow us to do what we are good at, that is, delivering real change to communities on the ground, playing in the privileged space for advocacy at home and abroad, and playing a vital role in development education and public engagement.
We need to speak about how Irish Aid's programme is able to go beyond the business-as-usual approach if we are to deliver on the transformative ambition of the sustainable development goals, SDGs.
I will stick to two main points, the first of which will set the scene and share a few of the broader contextual challenges that make this review so timely and important. The second will emphasise what is a major opportunity by insisting that Irish Aid's programme remain at the forefront of Ireland's efforts to increase its global footprint. I will then hand over to my colleagues, Ms Heydi Foster-Breslin from Misean Cara, Mr. Éamonn Meehan, CEO of Trócaire, and Mr. Dominic MacSorley from Concern, to elaborate on the recommendations made in Dóchas's submissions. We are also joined by Ms Louise Finan, policy officer with Dóchas, and Ms Noreen Gumbo from Trócaire, who is also the chair of Dóchas's humanitarian working group.
By way of context, I am very aware of the very wide-ranging and positive discussion the committee had recently with Mr. Niall Burgess, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Ruairí de Búrca, the new director of Irish Aid. While not trying to repeat the many points and issues that were raised, it may be useful to be reminded of the context and their key descriptions of the Irish Aid programme. Mr. Burgess, for example, started by speaking about Ireland's values as being universal and founded on the UN Declaration of Human Rights. He stated our place in the world is founded on ensuring that others are secure and prosperous in their own parts of the world. He also spoke about the fast-changing context and the interconnected world we live in, which demands, I believe, that we must find new ways of collaborating, adapting and joining the dots, particularly in respect of our work at home and overseas. One got a sense, from the conversation, of the need to have ambition in the Irish Aid programme. After all, that is ultimately what the sustainable development goals are all about. It is a question of thinking about ways of using new technology, involving the diaspora and the private sector, and perhaps being willing to take more risks if we are to innovate in the work we do. We know, however, that we are living through turbulent times, not least because of our being battered by the effects of climate change, as Hurricane Ophelia reminded us all too well on Monday. We must also go further to appreciate the very real political crisis we are in.
At Dóchas's annual conference this year, a South African activist, Kumi Naidoo, reminded us that we are in an age of cynicism and mistrust in which it is easier to use narrow identity politics, laugh off allegations of sexual abuse of women, build walls and offer a vision of populist nationalism to win votes than to convince people of an agenda for transformative change, one that spans borders, recognises the potential of women and believes in the richness of multiple identities. It is also an agenda that understands the huge threat posed by climate change.
In addition to experiencing this political crisis, we are experiencing conflict, large-scale displacement and humanitarian need like never before. We have been before this committee many times in this regard. In April this year, we talked about the four famines, which still rage today. Back in July 2016, we were before the committee talking about the effects of migration and the refugee crisis as Ireland played a critical role in negotiating the New York Declaration on Migration and Refugees.
It is important to remember that, during those meetings, we also heard the personal stories of the people and families behind the statistics. We need to remember also the impact of time on those many millions of people who are suffering and displaced. I was at an event last week to recognise the Day of the Girl. At the event, we heard about the 130 million children who are not being educated. They are surely the lost generations we will have to deal with in the future. I am sure from our own history that we recognise the importance of dealing with and managing trauma and violence, and I am sure we recognise how long it takes to build the long, painful road to peace.
The challenges are considerable, therefore, and we need to find ways to meet them, but we also need to remember that we have a huge opportunity in Ireland today. It is an opportunity to put Irish Aid up front and central to increase and strengthen our global footprint and international reputation. The Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, spoke in September at the Fine Gael think-in about increasing Ireland's global footprint through a greater diplomatic, trade, tourism and enterprise presence. We should also be talking about building a strong, well-resourced and ambitious Irish Aid programme of which Ireland can be proud.
I have no doubt that each member has his or her own stories and anecdotes about what has made him or her proud of what the Irish footprint looks like. For me, a particularly memorable moment was being in Mogadishu in the late 1990s. To be honest, it was probably not the best place for a relatively young development worker. The Somalis, however, were always eager to ask me where I came from. When I said Ireland, their eyes would light up and they would ask, “Do you know Mary Robinson?” I did not want to disappoint too much so I said I knew her but not personally. Mary Robinson's visit in 1992 is a visit Somalis remember so well, even today. What she brought to them was hope and solidarity. What she stood for was universal values of human rights and a belief in the importance of international humanitarian law. She also showed immense physical courage and bravery by going to Somalia at that time. She was willing to shine a light on a crisis that no one else wanted to talk about. Anyone looking at the footage of her visit will see that she sat and listened to people who were suffering. She talked to them and offered hope to those families who were in desperate need. I confess it was always good to be Irish in Mogadishu, and that is still the case today.
To me, however, it is a matter of framing the Irish Aid programme around some of the aforementioned key ingredients. It is the values based on human rights, political leadership and the courage to speak up for those who are suffering that will make the Irish Aid programme so important. Let us remember also that, in Somalia at the time in question, amazing work was being done by Irish NGOs. Concern and Trócaire, in particular, have been there throughout the crisis. Having visited both Mogadishu and Gedo at the time, I noted nobody else wanted to go there. The NGOs, however, were on the ground and working closely with communities to meet absolutely critical needs. It is these ingredients that I hope will shape the Irish Aid programme of the future.
I thank the Chairman. I will hand over to my colleague, Ms Heydi Foster Breslin.
Ms Heydi Foster-Breslin:
In making this submission this morning, we have no wish to put the Government in the invidious position of having to decide between allocating funding for development efforts abroad and allocating funding for essential services here in Ireland. We appreciate that there are difficult choices to make around the Cabinet table and applaud the Government for affording, during the recent economic crisis, what protection was within its power to the overseas aid budget.
Ireland's overseas development aid programme is rightly held in high regard by its OECD peers, and the quality of the programme has been highlighted time and again. It cannot be denied that this small nation has punched well above its weight where contributing to global development is concerned.
At its peak, in 2008, the Government spent €921 million in aid, representing 0.95% of GNI. The total spent on aid in 2016 was €732 million, or 0.33% of GNI. Having come through some very difficult years, however, the economy is growing again. We believe the prospect of sustained growth provides an opportunity to plan for the future prudently but with some degree of confidence. The publication of an explicit roadmap, as outlined in the Dóchas submission to this committee, is a key element in planning for overseas development aid growth to meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNI. That percentage represents only 70 cent out of every €100 produced in the Irish economy but the difference this small percentage can make in the lives of poor, vulnerable and marginalised people has literally to be seen to be believed. I would love to be able to bring the members of the committee to Rumbek in South Sudan, where the Loreto Sisters are transforming the lives of young girls, the leaders of tomorrow, by ensuring they receive a quality education. In Mzuzu in northern Malawi, the St. John of God brothers are bringing dignity and compassion to the lives of people encountering mental health challenges.
It goes without saying that, as the economy grows, the absolute amount allocated to the overseas development aid, ODA, budget will increase, even if the percentage remains the same, but the scale of need in developing countries, from humanitarian assistance, to meeting basic needs, to advocating for human rights, is such that the ODA as a percentage of GNI needs also to grow. We are a small country and there are limits to our resources, but even small countries can have a great impact on the lives of people in developing countries. This is the experience of my own organisation, Misean Cara, where missionaries can manage, with grants of €10,000, to transform lives. This year, however, Misean Cara was unable to meet the needs of its members organisations, as represented by the total value of the funding proposals received in April. We had reluctantly to take the decision to cut all grants by 10% across the board, thus curtailing the interventions planned by our members in communities throughout the world. I am sure that my colleagues here could tell similar stories.
The work of development is often long and slow, built on long-term commitment to an ideal, even when immediate prospects are not encouraging. An example of this, which is well known to members of this committee, is the 2012 victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the community of El Mozote in El Salvador, which is my part of the world. The survivors were supported over three decades by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. Together, they worked for justice in the wake of the horrific massacre in 1981, and finally achieved it 31 years later. To achieve something such as this, long-term support is essential. The community did not give up and those supporting them did not either. To be able to build real momentum in development and to ensure that success builds upon success, we as organisations need to be able to assure our programmes and partners in the global south that funding will follow year on year. We need to be able to enter, with confidence, into multi-annual agreements. This will allow organisations that are bringing life enhancing change to communities dedicate a little less time to the constant search for funding and more to the implementation of quality programmes. A clear commitment to a multi-annual roadmap towards the 0.7% target would go a long way towards making that possible.
Globally, bilateral ODA to the least developed countries, LDCs, has fallen from $25 billion to $22.4 billion in 2016. Ireland previously led on reaching a UN target to give 0.15% of bilateral ODA to LDCs. Ireland exceeded this target from 2011 to 2014, but this positive trend looks set to be broken. In 2016, the share of Ireland's bilateral aid to LDCs was just under 0.1% of GNI.
Ireland's long-standing commitment to poor and vulnerable communities in the less developed countries of the world is something of which we can all be very proud. At a time when it appears that uncertainty, conflict and confrontation are increasing at a global level, Ireland can be an example of solidarity and support. The Irish know both sides of this story. Given our history of famine and emigration, we know what it is like to lose everything. We have the chance now to show leadership as global citizens at a time when it has never been more required. We can set down a marker for many other countries to follow by publishing a multi-annual roadmap to reach the 0.7% target by 2025 at the latest.
Mr. Éamonn Meehan:
Ireland has a proud tradition of principled engagement in development, humanitarian aid, UN peacekeeping, disarmament and the protection and fulfilment of human rights internationally. Advancing and protecting a focus on global poverty reduction has high levels of public support in Ireland with 80% of those surveyed supporting an increase in ODA.
The Irish Aid programme is widely recognised as one of the best in the world. In the context of this review, a key emphasis needs to be to protect and build upon the high-quality approach already evident in Irish Aid. That means a focus on poverty for the spend, grant assistance and untied aid. All of these are critically important, and I have no doubt that they will continue. Ireland is well recognised not just because of the nature and quantity of its funding, but the quality of the response provided by Irish Aid that is delivered by Irish NGOs. Aid from Ireland, delivered through Irish civil society and missionary partners, has played a critical role in supporting millions of vulnerable people around the world, helping to meet their basic needs and to attain justice. Those of us here today representing Irish civil society working in the international arena are accountable to the Irish public as supporters of our individual organisations and also as taxpayers. However, Irish Aid funding to civil society organisations decreased from 26% of ODA in 2015 to 23% in 2016.
Focusing on humanitarian funding, that is, funding going to emergency response, the situation was even more striking. In 2016, Ireland's humanitarian assistance programme grew to €194 million to respond to the unprecedented level of humanitarian need. Only 12% of the humanitarian budget in 2016 was allocated to NGOs. This is an alarming reduction from 20% in 2015. By contrast, multilateral spend in 2016 was 61% of Irish Aid's overall budget, with increases in funding to the World Food Programme, United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNOCHA, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, Central Emergency Response Fund, CERF, and country based pooled funding mechanisms. This absolute and percentage reduction in funding to NGOs is of concern to us. In light of Ireland's commitments under the grand bargain, which is an agreement entered into at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016, Ireland is committed, along with 21 other signatories to the grand bargain, to ensuring that 25% of humanitarian aid goes to local and national humanitarian actors by 2020. We would like to see Irish Aid progress this.
While we fully support multi-lateralism and are proud of Ireland's record on the world stage and the influence it holds, we need to ensure that we are focusing funding on where it is needed most and where it will reach those who need it as fast as possible. It is critical to get the correct balance of channels to achieve maximum impact, and in our view, the balance has tipped too far towards multilateral funding. This should be reversed. A recommendation from the Dochás humanitarian working group, which is in the papers presented to the committee, is that a comparative value for money assessment should be undertaken on the humanitarian funding practices of Irish Aid.
Irish Aid is also highly regarded for its development education and public engagement streams of work. We believe that this should be continued and strengthened. Development education is vital to ensuring that we encourage critical analysis of the world around us - we believe this is never more important than it is now - and that we equip Irish people to become engaged global citizens who understand and support how Irish Aid allocates their money overseas. According to recent research from Dochás, figures indicate that Irish Aid allocations to development education have fallen from 0.73% of the ODA budget in 2011 to 0.51% in 2016.
To achieve the SDGs, Irish Aid's programme needs to continue to strengthen its relationships with and support of civil society, including Irish development NGOs and missionaries, and to ensure an enabling environment to allow civil society to flourish across all of the regions we work in.
This means supporting a diverse, international development sector across a range of small, medium and large organisations. It means also ensuring predictable funding to these organisations from Irish Aid.
We know that civil society is under attack in many of the countries in which we are working and yet it has a vital role to play in ensuring good governance. Civil society has an important advocacy role in holding duty bearers to account and in ensuring pro-poor and sustainable policies are implemented. There were 281 killings of human rights defenders in 2016. Those who stand up for the rights of vulnerable communities often do so at the risk of their own safety. In March 2016 Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental activist and human rights worker, who was a partner of Trócaire was murdered because of her opposition to a hydroelectric dam which was to be built on the land of indigenous communities in the Agúan Valley. She is just one example of an emerging global trend towards restrictions, threats and violence against organisations and individuals who speak up against the powerful in their societies. Building up civil society therefore is an important part of development programming. Irish Aid and the wider Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade should be commended on this country's support to human rights defenders. Ireland is rightly seen as a global leader on the issue of protecting civil society space and should continue this vital work.
There is undoubtedly a growing trend toward the manipulation of aid away from poverty reduction and towards the security, commercial and migration policies of many donor countries. Ireland has not gone in this direction and is to be commended on that. The key message we have this morning is that the quality of Irish aid, which has been evident since the programme's inception in the 1970s must be protected at all costs.
Mr. Dominic MacSorley:
Did I draw the short straw, coming third? I saw the RTÉ three-part documentary "The Thin Green Line", which is a contemporary story of the work of the Irish Government in its overseas embassies. I hope all present saw it. It is a really important statement of a nation that is operating at a global level and it gave an insight into Ireland's work and its significant influence abroad. It really gave an insight into the work that Ireland is doing in New York, Paris, Geneva and Sierra Leone and the huge influence it is having. That work needs to continue and needs to be reinforced.
As other speakers have mentioned, this is emerging from a tradition in which Ireland and its people have identified socially, politically and economically with the world's poorest. That is something we can never be complacent about. It is our responsibility to ensure that this heritage, which does not exist to the same extent in many other countries, is retained through the next generation. Irish Aid is at an important juncture. I think it is an extraordinary recognition that Ireland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, David Donoghue, who I think will come before the committee, was given the role to co-faciltate this historic agreement. The sustainable development goals are not just promises. They cannot just be promises. If one analyses them, there are in fact rights. They are rights to food, shelter, education, health and protection. We have to frame them. There is a reason they are called promises, in the context of getting 193 nations to subscribe to them. Internally, however, we can start to see those promises as rights and it will move from aspiration to obligation because that is the challenge that lies ahead.
One World, One Future is a great document. It is a great aspiration. It has nearly all the things in it that should be in there. It was conceived before the sustainable development goals, SDGs, before the world humanitarian summit, before Brexit and before we faced a year in which 20 million people are facing potential starvation. This is unprecedented. The attention span of the global media is challenged by a consumption of irrelevant commentary from a President who tweets, as well as being consumed by the frequency of crises, but they are not coming back, are not analysing and are not pointing the finger as to how we can tackle these issues. The goals are big, bold and ambitious. The price tag is estimated to be around €3 trillion. At the high level conference, Professor Jeffrey Sachs was given the floor and he challenged people, the corporations and the private sector on the role they have to play. The sustainable development goals will not be achieved simply by the work of the NGOs, the donors and the public. The private sector has a critical role. At the World Economic Forum, the discussion was about the role of the private sector and enterprises that combine profits with purpose. We have good examples among the NGO community within Irish business, that is, in the Kerry Group and Accenture, where these companies contribute significantly. These are positive examples, whether it is through the agriculture sector or health, in which Irish Aid, Irish NGOs, Irish private sector and the Irish public are in a partnership in a place like Niger or in Zambia. In Concern's case, this is transforming - through climate-smart agriculture - the productivity of 100,000 farmers, most of them women who are now progressing from being unable to feed their families to becoming small business enterprises and sending their children to school. It is not just about enough food but about the right food and nutrition. These are amazing examples of success in a world that really needs to have them.
Aid has to stay untied and be principled. We all work with multiple donors. The shift of emphasis that is happening with some other donors is disturbing. We are not seeing that with Irish Aid and we need to retain that. We need to stay focused on resilience building and prevention of hunger. We need to establish targets within a national action plan. We believe that Irish Aid has a key role to play in what has to be a whole-of-Government approach as a key driver. At European level, Ireland has an even bigger opportunity and a greater obligation now to have a principled voice, as well as a leadership role it can and should have in the delivery of principled poverty-focused aid.
We should stay focused on poverty. It is easy to say that Ireland has a focus on poverty but it is not just a slogan as it involves tough decisions about prioritisation and going into countries that face significant challenges. There are major challenges in terms of security and corruption and we must focus on what we can and are doing within that. With the quality of the work that Irish Aid is funding with organisations, we are doing work that is not simply about welfare, it is about using different models to transform the lives of people. It is having a much greater impact. I think the responsibility for us is that we need to capture these stories because we have to go back to the public and talk about the impact and how we manage to bring about these levels of transformation within these challenging contexts. Our commitment is that we will stay true to our mission, that is, working with those in greatest need. We will continue to subscribe to the highest standards of accountability, organisational transparency and efficiency that we have worked hard to achieve. That level of transparency and accountability is of paramount importance right now because the scale of human suffering is of truly unprecedented proportions. We need the full confidence and support of the donors, the public in particular, as we go forward. We will continue to be a gateway for the Irish public and Irish businesses. We will continue to work hard through various coalitions to ensure the messages are getting out.
Ireland will report next year in New York. We have a good story to tell and we will have a huge opportunity. The range of reports from countries have varied significantly. Some of them were quite poor, some of them were very defensive and some of them were exceptional. We have an opportunity, because we have a great story, to come back in and give exceptional leadership. I will give one example. Ireland provides five-year funding in the Central African Republic. It is a country we do not hear much about because it is largely forgotten and it is not of strategic interest. Ireland is the only donor providing that level of funding in order that programmes can be designed on a longer-term basis among communities in extraordinary flux. Other NGOs are jealous and other donors are nervous because it is a level of leadership in a country that is unparalleled.
There is an opportunity for Irish Aid to review its partnership countries and boldly go into more of these countries, such as the Central African Republic, and add in the diplomacy for which we are known and the challenges about tackling conflict. António Guterres has the potential to be a great Secretary General. He has challenged all of us to tackle the issues that create poverty. In particular, he has spoken about assertive diplomacy in a world that is increasingly using militarisation to further its needs. Ireland, in its agenda - which is the right agenda - to be on the Security Council, has a role to dig back in as a country that has overcome conflict, hunger and poverty to focus on these three key areas going forward, because we will not be able to embrace all of the sustainable development goals equally. Let us stick to what the nation knows about, which is those three key areas, and we will prove to have a leadership role.
I was in classrooms a couple of days ago. We always like to quote various people so I slightly paraphrased George Bernard Shaw when I stated the essence of inhumanity is not hatred but indifference. In a world where we see political indifference from other countries we have the opportunity to be a greater shining light. If we fail to act on the suffering of others we not only deny their humanity but we erode our own. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen that even further.
I thank all of the witnesses for their presentations. With regard to Mr. MacSorley's concluding remarks on the 20 million people facing starvation at present and 65 million refugees worldwide, there really is a crisis. There are so many crises throughout the world at present. In our engagement with the Secretary General of the Department and Irish Aid officials, we spoke at some length about the potential of the knowledge transfer and the involvement of Irish companies. They are now multinational companies, and great credit is due to them. So many of those have become internationalised, particularly in the food sector, and there is great potential there.
The theme running very strongly through Mr. Meehan's contribution was his concern about a greater percentage of our aid going to UN-based organisations, the European Development Fund and other mechanisms, with a reduced amount going through our NGOs. Is he concerned that aid going through the UN organisations and the European Development Fund goes to areas that do not reflect Irish Aid priorities? Is that his concern?
Mr. Éamonn Meehan:
I reiterate that we value multilateralism. Ireland's involvement in multilateral agencies is critical for a variety of reasons, including our political and diplomatic influence. From our perspective, the NGO community, civil society in Ireland, and the missionary community as Ms Foster-Breslin spoke about, have lots of capacity, and we feel we have the potential to do more, deliver more, grow our programmes and respond in very practical and immediate ways to the needs of vulnerable people. Irish Aid recognises this. The issue for us is not that the money is being misdirected, it is about balance and appropriate levels of support to multilateral organisations and appropriate levels of support to the Irish NGO community. We have shown our ability to respond effectively. As Mr. MacSorley pointed out, many of the places where we work are failed states or states that are extremely vulnerable. More and more, the emphasis, the funding and our time and energy are going into those places. We have the capacity to respond in these countries. We have relationships and sophisticated mechanisms of response, and we believe Irish Aid already knows this. As I stated in my opening statement, we believe Irish Aid should review the balance of that spend.
In his earlier contribution, Mr. Meehan mentioned that we need to focus funding where it is needed most. At times, all of us ask why humanitarian aid does not reach particular areas or regions. Do the UN-based organisations and other transnational organisations not have greater capacity than NGOs to get assistance to the most needy in a quicker manner? I am posing this as a question and not a statement.
Mr. Éamonn Meehan:
They do have capacity but in many cases there are issues, for instance, bloated administrations, inefficiencies and a failure to effectively respond. As we have said this morning, we value the multilateral institutions. They do work in difficult places. There are issues about them and around them, and there have been many attempts to reform the UN system over the years, most of which have ended in failure. We believe it is a responsibility on Irish Aid to ensure the funding goes to those places where it can be most effectively used and used most quickly to respond to those who are vulnerable. It is about the balance.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. Following from what the Chairman has said, we share those concerns on funding and the increasing securitisation agenda, which is not helping the aid agenda. It is very difficult to find out exactly where aspects of the European Development Fund go and what exactly it is being spent on. We would very much share those concerns. The other side of the coin is the tax issue and tax justice. Unless we get this piece right also we are in danger of giving with one hand and taking with the other. It is vital that we state this.
There must be engagement with parliamentarians and Ministers in the countries. I have seen very good examples of this partnership, whether with an NGO or a missionary order. Do the witnesses envisage more space for their work to continue this and engage parliamentarians of the areas in which they work?
Do the witnesses have confidence in the oversight and implementation of the overseas development goals? Next year Ireland will report. What is going on in the meantime? Do the witnesses have an input in the oversight implementation agenda?
There is no doubt there is pressure to keep our aid untied, and we are responding well to it, but we see a change in other countries whereby aid is tied in with trade. There is an opportunity for us to be a leader, as the witnesses pointed out. Even though it is a long time coming, the human rights and business report is nearly there. It was good to hear what was said about Niger and that we are an example there and in the Central African Republic.
I was at the launch of the UNFPA's Worlds Apart report on reproductive health and rights for women and girls, which is part of the conversation about empowering women. Giving women and girls in the countries where the witnesses work that empowerment or capacity to make decisions is very low down on the agenda. I know it is very difficult because of some of the societies where they live.
I was interested to hear about Irish Aid reviewing the partner countries because there are other countries which we could look at. I have seen Irish Aid in action and I know the effectiveness of the work it does. Is Irish Aid getting to a point with some of its projects of letting go because it has done what it can? This would create space for other projects to come in.
We are not as aware as we should be of the pressure on African countries in terms of refugees and migrants. Look at what Uganda and Kenya are working with. We know about the Rohingya people coming into Bangladesh. These countries are vulnerable and are trying to tackle the root causes of poverty for their own populations and the pressures they face. At times, their responses are much better than ours with regard to the humanity and compassion they show.
The message from the witnesses is very positive. Politicians and people at home are watching this and the witnesses are speaking in terms of being one of the best in the world. This is the type of language and message people want to hear. There was mention of a high-quality approach, being poverty focused and identifying with the world's poorest of the poor. The witnesses have a really positive message to get out there. Part of my concern is that we are probably not winning enough people over to the message. The witnesses spoke about getting Irish people involved in overseas development aid and development issues. How important do they see politicians travelling to look at Irish Aid's projects? How important is it to have these champions, that is, people who can go back to their communities and explain to people, who still feel the brunt of austerity and everything else, that they are getting quality and bang for their buck and every cent is being spent in the right way?
I share the concern of the witnesses about multilateral funding and I have raised this here and in the Chamber. We spent €188 million on overseas development aid through EU institutions. We have never had anyone before the committee to tell us where it went. The Minister comes in, and we have officials in, and they outline figures, but I genuinely do not believe we have the capacity to dig down and see exactly where all the money is being spent and whether it is being spent wisely. I understand the common-sense approach of multilateral funding when it comes to the likes of Ebola, AIDS and vaccines. All of this makes sense, but there are other smaller projects and the concern is when it drifts. We hear stories, from people coming back, about jeeps and staying in the best hotels. This is when people lose the message.
My party supports the 0.7% of GNI target for overseas aid and I believe all parties here do. For the viewers at home, how is GNI calculated? What is the difference between it and GNP? People speak about accountability, transparency, confidence building and planning for the future. How important do the witnesses believe it is for the Government to document how and when it plans to reach the UN target of 0.7%? When we look at graphs, it is difficult to find out how we will come to it.
With regard to policy coherence, it is not only about quantity of aid, it is also about the quality. We would all agree that to improve the quality of overseas development aid, we must have a whole-of-Government approach. How do the witnesses believe the Government is doing in creating this effective policy coherence?
I understand the difference between tied and untied aid, but perhaps the witnesses will expand on it for our viewers. What is the difference? The witnesses state Ireland's approach is unique. In what way is it unique? What do some countries do with their tied aid? Do they dump corn, food and their own products on local markets?
Ireland has been described as a tax haven. Many NGOs, including members of Dóchas, rightly point out that tax havens deprive developing countries of much-needed tax revenue through illicit shady deals and corruption. People state, unfortunately, that Ireland is playing a double game in this regard. We have built up a reputation as a tax haven. How does this impact on our international credibility when it comes to overseas development aid? How damaging is it to Ireland's tax policy in efforts to create a fair and equitable world?
The least developed countries were mentioned, and they seem to be under threat. We met the target of 0.15% of gross national income in 2015. The witnesses mentioned they are concerned about where this is going. Will they expand on this?
Disability inclusion is an area that has received more focus, and this is with regard to 100 million people around the world. How is Irish Aid focusing its overseas development aid on disability inclusion? How do we rank internationally in this work?
I am excited by the idea of training the trainers. A programme is set up, and it is not just the NGO but the local community. Will the witnesses expand on this?
Mr. Dominic MacSorley:
That is an excellent range of questions. I will address a number of them and pass others to my colleagues. I will come back to the multilateral issue, which has come up a number of times. The UN is a very flawed system and even the UN agencies themselves are beset by bureaucracy. We went through a transformative agenda under Valerie Amos, and when we finally came out of it, it had improved levels of coherence and co-ordination at country level. NGOs are now permanent on the humanitarian country teams, which are the co-ordinating bodies in Juba in South Sudan and Nairobi in Kenya.
Ireland and the NGOs do not operate in isolation. We operate in co-operation with others. If we want to influence the UN, we must pay into it. That is the reality. In many cases it is doing extremely strong work with restricted resources. That being said, it comes down to simple issues and we are now tracking the efficiency and speed with which funds get dispersed. In Somalia, Irish Aid and others will simply contribute to an emergency pooled fund which will get divided out, because contractually it is easier than writing a cheque for four different agencies.
Our experience of documenting the progress of this is it took us nine months to register and get formal acceptance within the UN system before we could even access these funds. This comes down to bureaucracy and not having the right systems. From our side, the committee can be assured we will track this and come back and state it is not working at optimum level and achieving what it should. Let us improve it rather than cut it and let us also ensure we continue to expand the remit of NGOs.
The point on politicians and champions is key. We really welcome the fact politicians will travel over and come back and become champions. Beyond this, I will pick up on what Mr. Meehan said on the development education programme.
The Irish Aid programme, for example, is funding the schools debate programmes right across the country. Last year was the first year it was an all-Ireland process and a Northern Ireland school won. Northern Ireland had not been part of that for almost 30 years and at that time parents were uncomfortable about their children travelling across the Border. As part of this process, the winning team will go to Ethiopia or Tanzania and they are extraordinary ambassadors not just now for their own peers, but for life. It changes them and they start to read newspapers and pick up these issues. They are interested and get into politics. This cannot be underestimated. Sometimes the development education programmes seem to be the easy ones to cut but they are not. They are critical and facilitate connections. In some ways, building connections between Irish civil society, such as the rape crisis group working in Kosovo or Teagasc working in other areas, adds value.
The burden of refugees across the globe has been mentioned and the Rohingya is a very good example. Bangladesh is half the size of Ireland but it has a population of 162 million. It is already hosting 400,000 Rohingya and now there are 500,000 on top of that. Over a period but most recently, they have taken in close to 1 million refugees, which is the same as Germany. The challenge is that natural disasters resonate with the public and donors in terms of response but conflict disasters do not. When we tracked how long it took to raise €1 million, it took 24 hours after the Haiti earthquake and nine days after the Nepal event. It has taken us 90 days to raise €1 million for the Horn of Africa food security crisis because much of it is conflict-driven. Through the most recent Disasters Emergency Committee, DEC, appeal in the UK, the Rohingya crisis has only raised £7 million. If we are going to work in these areas, we must formulate plans to ensure donors and the public respond to these human crises. The price tag for the people at the end of it is no different, whether it is an earthquake or other crisis.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
I will very briefly respond to Deputy O'Sullivan's question about the sustainable development goals, SDGs, and if I am confident in their oversight. We are members of Coalition 2030, which is a civil society network of domestic agencies, the environmental pillar, trade unions and international non-governmental organisations, NGOs. We can say as part of the coalition that we know Departments are engaging on the SDGs and there is much talk about them. We also know the Central Statistics Office, CSO, has a team examining data. Are we confident there is enough oversight or it is ambitious enough?
I have two concerns. If this is just about data gathering for whether Ireland is on track, we are really missing the ambition of the SDGs and we must go much further by not only seeing if we are on track in Ireland, but asking whether we are playing a role in influencing Europe and really pushing leadership around the SDGs in our partner countries. I do not see that happening yet and the data is not being gathered. I would really like to see it.
I will also admit that we have often put on the table the need for a stakeholder forum to journey throughout the process. The truth is we are two years in now and only this week was the first meeting of the senior officials at a cross-departmental meeting. Is this the urgency we need? This is two years on. The voluntary national review will be in July next year but in other countries, this has been an 18-month participatory process. We do not yet know what the Government is thinking. We need to do much more and there needs to be much more urgency around this issue. There seems to be renewed talk about it and we are confident that this week we will hear more and the coalition will certainly be involved with some of those discussions. This must be a multi-sector forum and it must involve politicians, the private sector, civil society and many other key stakeholders.
Ms Heydi Foster-Breslin:
There is the matter of multilateral funding. UN or pooled funds can be slow to be dispersed. Agencies in countries are uniquely equipped to respond to crises as they have strong ties. I can speak for Misean Cara members and we are in over 50 countries. The wide geographical spread of effort should not be confused with debt; we like to say the people are there before, during and after a crisis. There can be extraordinary achievements as a result of missionaries working in communities over many years, coming to understand challenges faced by a community and being part of it on a daily basis.
We want to focus on least developed countries and not just countries in the news, surrounded by Europe or seen to have refugee or migration crises. In this part of the world one often hears about economic development work in Africa but we need to do this in every continent. I can speak for my own part of the world. Femicide is at its higher there than in other continents and a woman is being killed every single day. We can see what is happening in Honduras, El Salvador and Venezuela, as well as Guatemala, my own country. It is absolutely horrific so let us not forget other continents.
I can give many examples of our members working to support communities struggling with the effects of climate change. There has been talk about big agencies. Usually with missionaries, and particularly Irish missionaries, one wonders if the process is working. I am the product of Irish missionary work. I will not say my age but 40 years later, I can say it does work. If one wonders how a girl from Guatemala makes it to Harvard, it is because of Irish missionaries. This works but development takes time. It is not just about the countries around Europe.
Mr Éamonn Meehan:
On engaging with parliamentarians, I think of the work of the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA. I know many Members of the Oireachtas are members of AWEPA. It is an initiative that has delivered many positive outcomes over the years and it would be wonderful to see it renewed. It would be wonderful to see more Members of the Dáil and Seanad involved with AWEPA, creating environments and spaces where parliamentarians from the countries where Irish Aid and the NGO community works have the opportunity to visit and engage. Ultimately, this is about creating local structures that are successful and generate and promote good governance, as well as the space for civil society. More and more what we see is authoritarianism, poor governance, increasing corruption and a narrowing of civil society space where even community and small human rights organisations no longer have the space to operate. They are under pressure and staff are detained or watched. How they get their money is monitored and it is increasingly difficult for the organisations that are critical to progress, development and good governance. Years ago when Mr. Nelson Mandela was in Ireland, in response to a question about what Europe could do for Africa, he said that African leaders need to think deeply about what they can do for their own people. He stepped down as president after one term, which was central to that idea. More political engagement is critical.
There is a path to the 0.7% of gross national income goal. We would like to know whether the timeline is 2025 or 2030, as we recently heard both years mentioned. Irish Aid has indicated that if we hit the goal, the organisation would come under stress because of the amount of money involved. If there is a plan and the Department and Government have time to plan and put in place structures, systems and people, it is all readily achievable.
On the matter of tied and untied aid, tied aid is essentially as much about the donor country's government as it is about the recipients. It may not be poverty-focused. Much of it may be tied to contracts and business from the home country receiving the aid. Much of it never leaves the capital city of the donor. It may be tied to the purchase of food for delivery and distribution. On tax havens and transfer pricing, it is clear that more money leaves the Continent of Africa through the use of tax havens and transfer pricing than goes into development co-operation and that is a real problem. Work to address it is going on but it really needs significant attention.
On least developed countries, LDCs, I was shocked when I saw that figure when preparing for this briefing. Some 0.15% of gross national income is the UN target for funds to go to least developed countries in aid and very few countries meet that target at the moment. It is a shockingly small amount of money for the most vulnerable countries and people on the planet. In local communities, as Deputy Crowe was saying, training for transformation is an essential component of the work of organisations such as Trócaire and those who work through Misean Cara. It is ultimately about strengthening local capacity, civil society, governance and communities. Sometimes, the structures and systems that we, in the West, put in place cripple local initiative, enterprise and opportunity.
It would be a valuable use of this committee's time to ask where the European Development Fund, EDF, goes, and to ask about the European Union's development policies and the Mediterranean. Mr. MacSorley mentioned that Europe has taken several million refugees. Uganda has taken in 2 million refugees from South Sudan. Refugees are a geographic problem. It would be very useful to better understand what is now driving EU development policy from Brussels and where that money goes.
I thank Mr. Meehan. Our colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, does excellent work for the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA. She is a great champion of the organisation and does a huge amount of work to facilitate meetings. Many of us would like to give more time to it but pressures on time from committees and other commitments do not allow us to give as much time as we would like to that organisation but Deputy O'Sullivan's work with it is exemplary.
I will call my colleagues, Deputy Noel Grealish, Senator Ivana Bacik, Senator Billy Lawless and Deputy Seán Barrett. I ask that one person respond to each topic from the questions since we are unfortunately under serious time constraints.
I welcome the witnesses and thank them for their presentations. I acknowledge the tremendous work that Irish Aid does. In my own constituency of Galway, we have a little organisation run by Ronan Scully called Self Help Africa. I acknowledge the tremendous work that he does. I am a big supporter of Irish Aid. When the budget is being dealt with, we always get constituents asking why we send so much money abroad and saying that we should look after our own first, but I am a firm believer that we should support the most vulnerable in the world. Many of us here have visited various projects through the years.
Ms Keatinge said there are four famines at the moment. I remember reading a newspaper article recently stating that famines in Africa are now worse than they were in the 1980s when we had Live Aid, which put it on the world stage. Unfortunately, we do not have Live Aid now, and we do not have Mary Robinson or Princess Diana, who put famine on the world stage. Mr. MacSorley mentioned that we do not see famine in the news any more or on any television programmes. We see President Trump and his tweets and terrorist attacks that take place around the world. Africa is put far down the list on the news, except for the matter of migration.
Ms Keatinge said that 130 million children do not receive education. That is frightening. That has a huge knock-on effect and is an issue that has to be addressed by all aid agencies worldwide. Ms Foster-Breslin mentioned missionaries in Lusaka. I paid a courtesy call to the parliament there and met 12 members. Eight were taught by Irish missionaries and the respect that Irish missionaries have abroad has to be acknowledged. I am proud of that when I go abroad and see the impact that Irish missionaries had through the years. Unfortunately, we do not have missionaries to send now but there was a knock-on effect.
Mr. Meehan mentioned projects. What is the biggest project that money is spent on? Is there a level of corruption in some of these countries, meaning that Mr. Meehan might have to pay somebody off to go in to try to develop a project, such as a politician or other person? Self Help Africa's project in Zambia is boring for wells for water and that is a very important thing since water supports crops and animals.
I compliment the witnesses on the tremendous work they do abroad and I firmly support my colleague in saying that we need to go abroad and look at these projects as politicians. Unfortunately, the media will put in a freedom of information request and call it a junket, but it is important that we go and see projects first hand. Those people are human beings, the same as us. I went into a school one day and it had one biro between 15 students. We throw them in bins while we are walking. The little things that we take for granted are very important to them.
I thank the witnesses for the excellent presentations. I join others in commending the great work done by NGOs with funding from Irish Aid. As Ms Keatinge said, it is timely and important that we review the Irish Aid programme. It is great to hear from all the witnesses and from Mr. Niall Burgress and Mr. Ruairí de Búrca.
On the issue of the 0.7% target, on 5 October I asked Mr. Burgess when he was here about the Government's commitment to a roadmap to reach that target, on which I know the witnesses are all in agreement. The response was not entirely positive. The response was that as the Irish economy was growing, this 0.7% would in fact be a large amount of money in absolute terms. Will any of the witnesses say a little more about how they anticipate the realistic prospect of reaching that target, particularly in the wake of the recent budget and the increase there? Do they see that as part of a process or do they feel that was somewhat disappointing? I would be interested to hear how they feel we are approaching the idea of a roadmap. The issue of multi-annual funding and long-term funding is crucial. I was at a recent seminar with fundraisers where they made the point that it is crucial that one is not limping from year to year with annual funding. Multi-annual funding makes it much easier and more efficient to plan and look at sustainable development.
On the question of multilateral aid versus bilateral aid, I am somewhat concerned that there is a message that bilateral aid is good and multilateral aid is bad. I hear a somewhat different emphasis. Mr. Meehan made the point very clearly that he believes the balance has tipped too far towards multilateral funding and that it should be rebalanced. Is that reflective of the entire membership of Dóchas? Is it a particular Trócaire view? The response from Concern was slightly different. There was one line in the Concern submission that I felt was very strong, that bilateral and multilateral channels are critical for systemic change. Looking at the Irish input into the negotiations of sustainable development goals and how important those are, we must see development in multilateral, global terms. It is crucial that message comes strongly from this committee too, particularly, as is in the Trócaire submission, when there are efforts to undermine the legitimacy of multilateral organisations like the UN.
Something we have heard at this committee that is of real concern is that with Brexit, the EU development budget will be greatly reduced. Surely at this time Ireland should be stepping up to the plate, as Mr. David Donoghue has done for us at UN level, to restate firmly our strong commitment to multilateral development and to reaching sustainable goals as part of a united group of nations. We all have criticisms of UN bureaucracy but I refer to Mr. MacSorley's point about reforming from within and Coalition 2030. There is an enhanced role, as I understand it, for NGOs at UN level and that seems to be a better way forward rather than saying we must rebalance our aid programmes and being so critical of multilateral organisations. I hope I have not got that wrong. I just want to be clear that the message from this committee is not that we feel that bilateral is better than multilateral. Clearly our bilateral links and the strength of organisations on the ground that have long relationships are hugely important. However, we have to work really intensely at the multilateral level. To me it is not a bad thing that our ODA spend in multilateral organisations has increased. I did not really hear why Trócaire is saying it should be rebalanced other than concern about bureaucracy in the UN, but I think there are other ways of dealing with that. I am sorry for going on about it but I feel so strongly that with Brexit, Trump and so on we must restate our commitment to multilateral efforts.
Following on from that, Ms Keatinge mentioned the day of the girl and Deputy O'Sullivan mentioned the UNFPA report. I know we have a submission from the Irish Family Planning Association and I am a member of the all-party group which it facilitates on sexual and reproductive health. Crucial to attaining so many of the sustainable development goals, STGs, is a commitment to improving sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly for girls and young women. Ireland has been a stalwart supporter of UNFPA. To me that is one of the strongest multilateral programmes in development because that is the UN agency that provides sexual and reproductive health services in over 150 counties and territories so it is hugely important. Do the witnesses believe Ireland should be doing more on this? We are already have a strong commitment. However in the wake of Trump, clearly UNFPA funding is under threat. Can the witnesses comment on that?
To come back to the issue raised by Mr. MacSorley of Concern about the review of key partner countries, as he pointed out, Ireland traditionally has a commitment with key partner countries in southern and eastern Africa. I have been to some of those countries and I have seen the great work being done but the witness asked if we should also have a commitment to the Horn of Africa and central Africa. I would like to clarify that. Does the witness mean we should be reduce the commitment to some of the current key partner countries or that it should be in addition to those countries? Again the multilateral approach is crucial because we have committed to certain countries, as I understand from having visited them, and other EU countries have committed to countries they might have stronger bilateral links with. That is very important that there is no duplication and that we are efficient in terms of delivering development aid. Can we refocus our efforts in other countries in the Horn of Africa and central Africa without negotiating that with other EU countries that may already have strong bilateral programmes running through which we could channel our funding more effectively to deliver real change for people on the ground?
Thank you very much. It was super presentation and it makes me proud to be Irish when I see the achievements of Irish Aid over the last number of years. Most of my questions have been covered by my colleagues. However, one issue that concerns me is my adopted country, the US. We see a complete change in direction from this administration, which is really frightening. I refer to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. One really disturbing thing to see is young children being stopped at the border with South America, including children from Ms Foster-Breslin's country of Guatemala. These children are as young as six years old. They are on their own, are given no legal representation, have no one to look after them and are being deported immediately. It is outrageous what is happening there. How is it affecting our relationship with the United States in regard to aid to the Third World or countries that need it? Is it affecting our position because many of us are very concerned about the humanitarian aspect and the United States. Being one the largest countries in the free world, there is much to be concerned about. Is this change of direction affecting our position overseas?
I apologise for being late but I was delayed. I do not want to repeat what other people have said. Perhaps these questions have been answered. What percentage of the aid received is used for education? Is there a deliberate attempt to ensure that a certain percentage of aid goes to educating people? To me that is very much part and parcel of the problem the world is facing. There is also the question of hunger but education is a huge issue in many areas in terms of lack of progress.
I visited Somalia approximately 20 years ago as a public representative. It was the most horrific scene I have ever seen in my life. I am horrified that 21 years later there is practically no improvement. I refer to the same old problems, whether religion, people grabbing power or whatever. I saw little children of three, four and five years of age and the only piece of clothing they had was a vest and the only bit of food they had was one bowl of rice per day. When I came back I said that if anybody talked to me about poverty in Ireland I would scream. The message that we, as a society, do not understand the poor standard of living in many of the countries that have not experienced a great deal of progress must be constantly and loudly and clearly made. I thank the Chairman and I would be interested to hear the views of the witnesses.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
I will take Senator Bacik's question about the roadmap and whether we think this is realistic. It is important to say that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, when he was introducing Irish Aid's recent annual report, said that we were not going to get much this year but that he was willing to commit to a dramatic increase after that. He went so far as to say that he supported the idea behind a roadmap. It is going to be very important for us to keep him to that. There are a couple of things I would like to stress in that regard. The reason we keep talking about a percentage is so that it allows that amount to go up and down depending on the economic growth situation. That is really important. The sustainable development goals may be aspirations but they also relate to rights and obligations. That 0.7% target is an international commitment that the Government has consistently signed up to.
I would like to reference what Mr. Meehan said earlier. We have seen the timeline shift. This was meant to be achieved after the millennium development goals in 2015. Then the date changed to about 2020 and then it shifted again to 2030. In our submission and in our press release after the budget, Dóchas said this needs to be achieved by 2025 if we are to achieve the ambition of the sustainable development goals.
There was a variety of questions and lots of specific ones, including one on disability inclusion. The issue of tax came up as did the issue of sexual and reproductive health. I do not think we are all experts on each of them. However, if there is an opportunity, we will make submissions to the committee on specific themes. Dóchas would be very open to doing that and to facilitating those kind of conversations.
I thank Ms Keatinge. I agree with everything Senator Bacik said about the importance of the multilateral system. It is increasingly important in today's world. There is no question about that. In the submission to this review by the Dóchas humanitarian working group, there was a very clear issue for that group about the very sudden shift in percentages for the Dóchas humanitarian group. The spend from Irish Aid went from 20% of ODA to 12%, with a very rapid scaling up on the multilateral side. I think its question refers that. Is there sufficient thought in that? Is there a very strong rationale for that? As the group suggested, perhaps a value for money assessment could be undertaken on that if that trend is to continue? We need a multilateral system, and we need it like we have never needed it before.
Ms Heydi Foster-Breslin:
On the key partner countries, the Irish Aid strategy of identifying the key partner countries and working closely with the host governments is to be commended. However, the concentration of aid cannot be allowed to result in people being left behind in other countries. This is somewhere where we might in differ. Misean Cara is in over 50 countries. Poor people in countries that have a attained middle income status are especially vulnerable in this regard. Inequality is a major development challenge. The OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, stated that we have reached a tipping point, that inequality can no longer be treated as an afterthought, that we need to focus the debate on how the benefits of growth are distributed and that work on inclusive growth has clearly shown that there does not have to be a trade-off between growth and equality - on the contrary, the opening up of opportunity can spur stronger economic performance and improve living standards across the board.
Development efforts then should address the needs of the poorest people in countries that are exhibiting development at a macroeconomic level, with a view to ensuring an equitable distribution of resources and access to opportunities. We believe that the Irish Aid programme should therefore remain open to funding targeted initiatives in countries where such needs exist. Often a relatively small investment can make a significant contribution to justice, equality and the realisation of human rights.
Again, while economies of scale are desirable, space has to be afforded to small-scale interventions. Often, these can act as incubators for innovative strategies that can later be replicated at scale. This was the case for a small education project in Zimbabwe, where a particularly successful methodology for accelerated literacy and numeracy education was used subsequently by UNICEF at a national level.
On the comment about missionaries and being proud when finding them when visiting other countries, we do not see the numbers declining. We do not see borders. One example is the Daughters of Charity, which has 21,000 members. How is the missionary movement declining? We work with 91 congregations and each congregation could have from 250 members to 21,000 members. How is that declining? We are alive and we are thriving. It is an energetic and innovative missionary movement. It is a fantastic Irish legacy and it is going to be there for a long time. Members will be able to be proud of the Irish missionary movement for many more years.
Mr. Dominic MacSorley:
I will keep this very brief. I thank members for their comments. We could be here a lot longer but we cannot afford to be. I have one point in response to Deputy Grealish and Senator Bacik. I refer to the scale of the famines and the comparisons. The drivers now are very much around conflict and that is the key change from 20 or 30 years ago. In regard to the US, we are concerned about the budget but at a broader level and at a political level, one just has to look at North Korea to see that diplomacy has been abandoned in favour of militarisation. If we are going to use this, then we have to say that Europe needs to step up and become an alternative voice. Ireland has a role, whether it is in tackling or reducing the tensions which might result in a catastrophe or in dealing with the drivers of conflict at a famine level. The positive thing to take out of this is that it is all preventible. The technology is smarter and the early warnings and the early actions are all there. There is a transformation in that €500,000 can be transferred from Dublin on a Thursday evening and be spent by women in remote isolated villages in Somalia on Saturday morning. It is not always an absence of food but an absence of cash. This is the 21st century. Solutions are there and they have prevented famine in Ethiopia.
We talk about corruption and these governments but zero tolerance is the way to go. We also have to acknowledge and communicate to the public that Ethiopia committed €350 million of its funds, becoming the second largest donor after the USAID, to combatting the food security crisis last year. This is the essence of partnership.
Ms Noreen Gumbo:
Irish Aid's 2016 report itemised that and it is 4%. However, one cannot dig down into the multilateral support. Some of that will go on education but that is not clear from the statistics. Some 4% of what it could track went to education. However, there is likely to be more spent on education.
I might make one other point around policy coherence. I know that this is a review looking specifically at Irish Aid but I think policy coherence is Irish Aid across into other areas of government. The two that stand out for us would be climate change and our policy on refugees. This review should not be completed without that policy coherence across areas.
I thank Ms Gumbo. On Senator Lawless's question in regard to relationships with the US and recent political developments there over the past 12 months to 18 months or so, does anybody want to venture into that territory? Does Ms Finan wish to respond?
Mr. Dominic MacSorley:
It is about forming new friendships, including with Trudeau and so on. It is shifting and presidents come and go. We should not destroy our relationship with the American people on the basis of the actions of their President. We have to maintain those relations and we have to work very hard at ring-fencing and do so to the best of our ability. This about new partnerships.
Ms Louise Finan:
On that question from Senator Lawless, we have seen Ireland and Irish Aid, in particular, over the last year become much stronger in the development of new relationships. Currently, Ireland chairs what is called the Nordic Plus donor group. It is a really interesting group of like-minded countries and Ireland's leadership in chairing that, and specifically Irish Aid's leadership in chairing that, shows that when Ireland puts its mind to it, it really can form very strong influential relationships that drive agendas. While it might be diplomatically quite hard to navigate what is happening in the US, Ireland is stepping up into that leadership role with other countries, and as other speakers have said, becoming an influential voice at EU level within those donor countries to mitigate the worst effects of what one cannot stop. That is what we would like to see more of and we would commend Irish Aid for that.
Thank you very much, Ms Finan. Deputy Grealish and other members referred to the outstanding work that your organisations and other sister NGOs or missionaries do abroad. We want extend to all the people working out there our very best wishes. We understand and appreciate they are working in the most difficult of conditions in so many parts of the world where there are crises and are getting assistance to the most disadvantaged people in our world today. I live in Cavan town beside a small convent, the Holy Rosary Convent. The convent houses retired nuns, many of whom are quite elderly and who were involved in teaching and in the health services in Africa. They were literally pioneers many many decades. They did outstanding work and it is always a joy to listen to the different stories of their work.
As Ms. Foster-Breslin mentioned, great success followed from that work, from training and upskilling people and providing services where none existed. As Irish people, we are all very proud of that work and of the work carried on by both lay and religious missionaries across the world today. Perhaps Ms. Foster-Breslin might convey to her colleagues the appreciation of this committee and of the Oireachtas in general for the outstanding work they do among the most disadvantaged and underprivileged people. I thank the witnesses very sincerely for their presentations this morning. We will no doubt have further engagement as the work of this committee continues into 2018.
In the second part of today's meeting we will hear from Mr. David Donoghue, former Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Mr. Donoghue is very welcome to today's meeting. He has joined us on many previous occasions, most recently in 2015 in his role as co-facilitator in the negotiations on sustainable development goals. On behalf of the joint committee, and indeed the Oireachtas, I congratulate him on the work he undertook to ensure a successful outcome to those negotiations and the establishment of the SDGs. He recently retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and I wish him well on his future endeavours.
The conclusions and recommendations of the review currently being undertaken by this committee will feed into the Department's recently announced review, making our current series of meetings both timely and extremely relevant. The format of this engagement is that we will hear Mr. Donoghue's opening statement before going into a questions and answers session with the committee members.
I remind members, witnesses and those in the public gallery to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting as even on silent mode they cause interference with the recording equipment in the room. I also remind members of the longstanding practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I call Mr. Donoghue to make his opening statement. I am watching the monitor here as I am due to speak in the Dáil chamber. If I leave the Chair during Mr. Donoghue's contribution, it is not out of any disrespect.
Mr. David Donoghue:
I thank the Chair and fully understand the constraints that all of the committee members have to operate under. It is a pleasure to be back here in a new capacity.
As was said, I have recently retired from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I will make a few opening remarks about the importance of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and about the role Ireland can potentially play and the leadership which we can continue to exercise in regard to implementation of the new agenda.
It was a great honour and privilege for Ireland to have been asked to take on this role and I can safely say that it has enhanced our standing at the UN and that is good for a number of reasons. We are in the phase now of implementation and the important thing is to keep momentum going worldwide in terms of getting early progress on the 17 goals and the 169 targets. Targets are the subsidiary goals under each of the headline goals. The entire package or agenda also contains an important political declaration and a set of detailed arrangements about how we are going to monitor and review implementation of the STGs worldwide, at regional level and nationally. The entire package is called the 2030 Agenda.
In each country arrangements are being, or have already been, made to co-ordinate their own input into the worldwide monitoring and review exercise. It is not for me to set out the arrangements which have been made in this jurisdiction, but I am aware of them and they follow the pattern set in other countries - in other words, a couple of government ministries take the lead but their mandate is to ensure that there is a whole-of-government approach to implementation of the STGs. I have to say that this time around, it is not just for governments. There are many other stakeholders - I am sorry to use the jargon - but I cannot find any alternative to it. The UN refers to them as stakeholders and that really means in no particular order, civil society, the private sector, parliaments, both national and local, and the scientific and research community. There is a vast array of partners which will be called upon to help implement the goals, so it is not simply a government-to-government exercise. It could not be as the scale of the goals is so big and the scale of the funding required is so big that one has to have private sector involvement, although on carefully agreed terms that reflect the concept of sustainability. It is a huge enterprise in every country but it is for governments in the first instance to establish arrangements to ensure coherence and effective co-ordination across the board. It is also expected that in each jurisdiction there would be arrangements to bring the voice of civil society into the process. Again, it is not for me to comment on that but I know that Coalition 2030 has been founded here which brings together 100 NGOs that are interested in different aspects of the STGs, and I welcome that. It is a very good move and I hope that Coalition 2030 will be able to play its part in the preparation of Ireland's report.
Perhaps I should say at this stage, although I am sure the committee is aware of it, that next July Ireland will be one of a number of countries that will present a review of its own performance in implementing the STGs so far. Again at the risk of telling the committee something it is already aware of, there is a UN organisation called the High Level Political Forum. It is a gathering that takes place every year. It involves minsters, representing all the member states, who come together to do a number of things. They review one big theme relating to the STGs, but they also give the opportunity to UN member states to carry out so-called voluntary national reviews, that is, to present an account of how they have fared so far, what challenges they are finding and what opportunities that they see. The point is to encourage mutual learning. It is not meant to be a process of putting countries into the sin bin. It is meant to help weaker administrations, in particular, to learn from their neighbours, to pick up good ideas and to come away encouraged in terms of the further implementation.
I emphasis the word "voluntary" national review. Although a country like Ireland would have had no problem in presenting its account, there are many developing countries that were fearful about the global north, as it were, imposing its own standards and expectations on them, in particular against a background where many of these countries have tiny, or even no, bureaucracies. They did not want to find themselves forced to account for insufficient performance so that is why in the STGs document we had to emphasise at every stage the voluntary nature of the these national reviews. However, Ireland's review will be next July. So far, approximately 66 countries have made voluntary reviews in the two sessions of the High Level Political Forum that have occurred since the STGs were adopted. It meets every July for approximately eight days with Ministers there for most of that time.
A key moment for Ireland is the presentation of its national report and its national action plan. I understand that the Department of Community, Climate Action and Environment will be in the lead in preparing for that process. That is a very good thing and I would hope that it would be as inclusive as possible, and I have no reason to imagine that it would not be. If Ireland can set a good example by having an arrangement which allows civil society and other key stakeholders to have an input into it, that would be a very good thing.
There is a meeting of the High Level Political Forum at Head of Government level every four years. The first such meeting will be in 2019. The purpose of that is to enable governments at the highest level to have an overall strategic view of what needs to be done globally and regionally. We will be working up to 2019 when every government will be expected to field its Head of Government. It is important that Ireland puts its best foot forward not only because of our particular association with the negotiations but, more importantly, because this is a country which is valued at the UN for its strong commitment to development, to human rights, to equality and inclusion and to all the key themes in the document. It is important that we, even as a small country with limited resources, do the best we can to demonstrate the seriousness with which we are taking this new agenda.
I will take another European example. Germany was one of the star performers in the early stages, partly because Chancellor Merkel, as a former environment minister, was particularly keen on the STGs. In various ways, the German system has moved quite rapidly to provide momentum nationally. There are other counties that also see themselves as market leaders and I hope that Ireland would be able to take its place there.
One of the early things that had to be done by every country was to align the STGs with its national development plan and-or its national strategy on sustainability. That was done in the first year or so in most countries. One can imagine that for developing counties the national development plan is the bible for their government activity, so the STGs now inform and underpin the national development plan in those countries.
I imagine that process will be completed over the next couple of years. Leaving aside what we are doing domestically to meet the goals, which will be the subject of the report, we also have an opportunity through the Irish Aid programme and our other international interactions to help developing countries to reach the goals. I imagine that will also be a big theme of our national report. The Irish Aid programme, which the committee has been discussing lately, is highly respected at the UN. It is one our assets, and I daresay that it may have been one of the reasons Ireland was asked to take on this role to begin with. We have a fair amount of standing in regard to sustainable development, and therefore we should use the potential of the Irish Aid programme to help our partner countries reach the goals.
Of course, it is a utopian agenda. It is made up of 17 goals which cover almost everything under the sun. It is hard to think of anything which is omitted from the SDGs, and it is breathtaking, in a way, to imagine that each country will have achieved the complete agenda by 2030. If I can be allowed a personal reflection, however, having been through the process, the key factor was that no country in the world wanted to be left out of this project. A country may have been afraid of some of its aspects or expectations, but on balance each country felt that it had to be inside the tent rather than outside. I am thinking here not just of tiny developing countries that have almost no administration and no capacity, but also of larger countries which might have had - I am picking my words carefully - questionable human rights records. They might have felt that they would not be able to live up to the high standards set in the document, but even those countries decided that they had to be in.
To use my own phrase, I think that part of it is the risk of political embarrassment. To put it in a more positive way, we need to use political peer pressure in order to get the goals achieved. Let me come up with a hypothetical example, and this really is a hypothetical. Let us imagine that we are talking about the Central American countries. Mexico is a regional leader. However, it might be the case that Guatemala is doing better under the education goal than Mexico. Mexico then has an incentive to pull its socks up and to sprint ahead on the education front in order not to be embarrassed regionally. I know that is a bit basic, or perhaps a bit human, but that is the glue that keeps the entire project together. No country wants to be embarrassed, humiliated or, in some way, isolated and, therefore, every country has signed up, and has signed up without reservation. I was relieved that we managed to get the document through in August 2015 without any country entering reservation, which would have hamstrung us from the beginning.
Every country has signed up to the exact same document without variation or reservation. The test will be delivery, and whether we can get the completion of all the goals by 2030. In practice, some countries will decide that they want to prioritise. Wearing my official hat as the father of the SDGs, as it were, I would have to say that is not valid. All 17 goals are equally important and interconnected. However, I sometimes use the example that Austria is unlikely to focus too much on the oceans goal, being a landlocked country. That is an example of how there will inevitably be some differences. In the case of Ireland, there will be official expectations that we achieve all the goals or show that we have done our best to do so, but in practice I imagine that at the outset we will pick a number of them where we have a pretty good story to tell. I am only just imagining that. Officially, however, I would have to say that we will need to show that we are addressing every goal and all the interconnections between them.
Of course, those interconnections are a challenge for our governmental system as we know it. If one accepts that health and education, for example, are deeply interconnected and if one throws in nutrition and access to water, then one must find ways to ensure all relevant Government Departments must be able to capture and work on those interconnections and avoid thinking in silos. It is said at the UN that above all, the agenda has to be held together. There can be no cherry-picking and no division of the agenda into one set of goals versus two others. It is a highly ambitious, perhaps utopian agenda, but the fact that every country in the world has agreed to it is unprecedented, and we need to build on that.
I thank Mr. Donoghue very much for the presentation. It is great to hear from somebody who was so closely involved with the development of the SDGs. I compliment Mr. Donoghue, on behalf of the committee, on his incredibly important role in co-chairing the process. It is a remarkable achievement to have every country signing up without reservation.
It is particularly interesting for this committee, which is in the process of carrying out a review of Irish Aid. We heard earlier from a number of non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and from Dóchas. I do not know if the witness heard the discussion, but it considered multilateral versusbilateral delivery of aid. I am interested in the witness's view, as the co-chair of the SDG process, on the importance of multilateral aid programmes. An argument was made by Dóchas and particularly by Trócaire that Irish Aid should rebalance and move more towards bilateral rather than multilateral aid. Some of the people who spoke to the committee expressed concern about a lack of transparency as to where money directed to multilateral aid goes. The Concern representative then spoke about reforms at UN level that were addressing some of those concerns.
Delivery being crucial, could Mr. Donoghue say how we can deliver on the SDGs, not just in Ireland but elsewhere? How important is multilateral aid in this regard? Could he say something about the reforms of the UN development system? Earlier, the committee heard comments about "bloated bureaucracy". As somebody who believes passionately in multilateral approaches to aid and development as being more effective and sustainable, I would like to know how we can ensure the transparency we are looking for in multilateral aid and what the UN is doing to ensure better transparency and reform.
My other question is about our progress report in July 2018. I am interested to note that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is co-ordinating that work. Could Mr. Donoghue say whether it is appropriate that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would not be the lead Department on it, as I had assumed it would be? We know how important climate change and climate action are, and I presume that is the explanation, but just perhaps Mr. Donoghue can tease this out.
I welcome Mr. Donoghue and congratulate him on the work he and the Kenyan representative have done to deliver these goals. There were mixed feelings about the millennium development goals, MDGs, that preceded the SDGs. Does Mr. Donoghue think we have learned any lessons from the MDGs and how do the SDGs differ from them? I wish to follow up on Senator Bacik's point about monitoring. Mr. Donoghue has experience of the Irish system.
Given that we have such a broad group of stakeholders, how does Mr. Donoghue see that progress being monitored, people being involved in the debate and the roll-out? That is the key component. I would have thought the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but Mr. Donoghue has also mentioned the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Health. I do not know how that is going to be done. Will there be different sectors, with the Minister going through each one? I am a bit all over the place when it comes to it.
UN reform is very important, and it is an extremely important international organisation. Many would have concerns about the Security Council and the veto of the permanent members and the whole process being deeply undemocratic and unequal. Is there any appetite for UN reform in this regard, and can Mr. Donoghue see it happening any time soon?
I am conscious that the witness has a background in refugee issues. Will he expand on that work and the impact that the New York Declaration will possibly have on the global refugee crisis? I am very conscious of the fact that we are dealing with an unprecedented number of refugees and internally displaced people around the world, with the figure of 65 million one that is quoted all the time, and the significant humanitarian crisis. We have been critical of the EU-Turkey deal and in relation to Libya. This deal, which we are facilitating, will be discussed at EU level in the next couple of days. It involves pushing people back into detention camps. In some cases women are being tortured, there are ventilation and sanitation issues, and the people are being treated like commodities. Does the witness have any concerns about our approach to these deals we are doing to try to deal with the migrant crisis that is clearly happening in various parts of the world, but particularly in Europe?
Mr. David Donoghue:
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for their questions and comments. Senator Bacik raised the question of multilateral versus bilateral aid. That is an old debate, of course. I was at one point the director general of Irish Aid, so I remember it from then. There are different merits in each form of aid. Multilateral means that one can perhaps get more value for one's money, because ultimately it is put with a lot of others'. The problem, however, is that it is less visible and recognisable as Irish aid. Bilateral aid, on the other hand, is something upon which we clearly have our own imprint. On the sustainable development goals, SDGs, believe it or not, official development assistance, ODA, as such was not particularly examined in the context either of finalising the SDGs or of looking at the funding, which is the subject of a separate agreement. There is an agreement called the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which was negotiated more or less in parallel with ours. It focused on the financial and non-financial means which we would need to implement the new goals. There was not that much interest expressed, odd as it may seem, in the relative merits of multilateral and bilateral aid, because we are going to need a level of funding for the implementation of these new goals which is so vast that it puts ODA of any kind into the shadow.
For example, about two years ago the World Bank produced a document, called From Billions to Trillions, and even in the title we can see that the billions, roughly speaking, are what one gets by adding up the current levels of ODA of whatever kind and the potential for further ODA, for example, from the Gulf States, who up to now have not done very much. However, there is a limit to the amount of ODA that can be got from anywhere. If we talk about trillions, on the other hand, that is where we factor in private sector funding. The estimate is that it would take about $4.2 trillion dollars a year for the 15 years to get the SDGs implemented. Of course, that is a very general assessment and it can be debated in many ways. However, if we take that as even halfway accurate, $4.2 trillion, then the total amount that can be supplied by present or future ODA, whether bilateral or multilateral, is relatively insignificant. Far more can be provided through other sources.
For example, and this is something I learned in the subsequent negotiations I did about migration and refugees, to which Deputy Crowe just referred, the level of funding available from remittances is greater than ODA contributions. That is just by way of a general comment that ODA, seen through the UN lens, is relatively, I will not say unimportant, but secondary. Domestic resource mobilisation is another big theme. That means helping developing countries to improve their administrative systems and combat corruption in such a way that they get more of a tax take. Domestic resource mobilisation would be seen as the second biggest objective. ODA would be a main instrument, then domestic resource mobilisation, then there is debt relief, preferential trade arrangements, and then there are many other remittances and forms of financial assistance. That is a general comment.
Coming back to the particular merits of one over the other, I personally have some sympathy with the point which the Trócaire colleague apparently made. I do think that we need to play to our strengths, and Ireland is a country which is known primarily for its bilateral involvement in partner countries. That is where we have built up a reputation. It is for debate whether one would label a particular school "Funded by Irish Aid" or not. While that is another issue, we are known generally for the quality of our bilateral aid. In whatever arrangements are made, I would not want to see that dimension diminished too much. That is just a personal view, and I emphasise I am no longer in any position of responsibility, so this is not necessarily Government policy.
Some balance roughly like what we have at present is probably the right one. Of course, a lot depends on the quantum of aid that we are administering. There could be staff implications if we were putting a lot into the bilateral area. One then has to factor that through. One advantage of emphasising multilateral aid is that it is being left in the hands of others, notably the UN and the EU, to track and demonstrate what is happening with the expenditure. There can be risks attached to it, but on the whole I think it does work. There is no easy answer to this debate, and I would like to see something along the lines of the present balance maintained.
Moving to the reform of the UN development system, since the SDGs came into effect, the entire UN system has been almost revolutionised. Practically every topic which comes up at the UN is prefaced in terms of implementing one of the goals. It is now the bible for the UN across the board. It is even coming into the Security Council, and I will come back to Deputy Crowe's very interesting point in a moment.
The Security Council, strictly speaking, sees itself as the place where decisions are taken about international peace and security, but it is a perfectly reasonable to make the point that we will never get lasting peace and security in any part of the world if problems of serious under-development are not addressed. They are linked, so it is perfectly legitimate for the sustainable development goals, SDGs, to now be discussed in the Security Council. That said, some members of the Security Council prefer to try to keep things separate. However, it is reasonable to imagine that the SDGs should now govern everything that the UN does.
The deputy Secretary General of the UN is Amina Mohammed, who is a former Nigerian Minister of Environment. She was also the special representative of then Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for the SDG negotiations. She is intimately familiar with the SDGs, and she has the role now, under Secretary General António Guterres, of supervising a whole set of institutional changes at the UN to follow through on the logic of the SDGs and overcome the silo thinking. That applies to the UN agencies, in particular. Some agencies are better than others at recognising that we are now in a much more interconnected world, where no agency can operate on its own. This has implications for the field, as they say, because one has an in-country UN presence which has had a rather loose co-ordination up to now. However, one consequence of the SDGs is that in, for example, Liberia or Nigeria, the so-called resident co-ordinator, overseeing the ten or 12 UN agencies, which would typically be there, would have a far greater role, including with the local government, in order to help it to implement the SDGs. Both the changes being made at headquarters to give effect to the new logic of the SDGs, and the changes being made to field operations, are attracting a lot of attention at the moment at the UN.
I have to say that the UN has never been a particularly effective organisation. One of the many strange things about it is that there is very little movement between headquarters and the field. I come from a national diplomatic service where it was par for the course to go abroad every couple of years. The UN does not operate that way. Certain countries establish what are almost national rights to particular positions at the headquarters. It is very hard for the reformers to break that up, and to get the mobility between headquarters and the field which we, in a national context, would regard as vital. Obviously, bad habits develop if somebody has been in the same post for 20 years. I will let that go for the moment, but transparency and accountability are the key words at the moment at the UN, particularly because we have a new Secretary General who is very able and very committed to improving its functioning, and the SDGs are the context for him to attempt that.
The issue of our own national arrangements have been raised. It is not really for me to say, but I think the particular committee involves all relevant Departments, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, so I have no doubt that we will have input into the work of that committee. However, I am not privy to the exact arrangements for co-ordination.
Deputy Crowe asked about the lessons learned from the millennium development goals, MDGs. There are a number of key differences between the MDGs and the SDGs. One difference is that there were only eight millennium development goals. They were focused on the traditional development priorities of health, education and so on. They did not go into the environmental area or the economic area. As such, the first major difference is that the SDGs are far wider. As the figure of 17 goals compared to eight implies, they cover a much wider range of policies. The second difference is that the MDGs were dreamed up by a couple of UN officials and announced. They were never negotiated. This time around, the feeling was that every country in the world had to have ownership of the goals for them to work and be accepted. That meant that the likes of my Kenyan colleague and I were needed in order to broker this agreement. We had to produce successive drafts of the document until one day, with the sixth draft, we got it. That meant that every country had a veto on every word of the document. When one bears in mind that there are 193 countries in the world, and one is not just talking about one person per country, but possibly an entire cabinet and civil service. It is formidable. That is another key difference.
The biggest difference between the MDGs and the SDGs is that every country in the world is now operating to the same plan, as it were, for the 15 years. The MDGs were seen as the rich countries saying to the poor countries, "This is what we want you to do if you want to get official development assistance, ODA, from us". I am simplifying a bit. This time, however, we are all on equal terms, so all 193 countries are operating to the same plan, with no special arrangements for any country. We are all setting out together on this journey, as it were, towards 2030. That is called universality. This is the first time the UN has ever done this. It is the first time that every country has agreed to the same vision for what its society should be achieving, and that is unique.
Another important difference is that we built arrangements to monitor and review progress into the SDGs. There were no such arrangements in the MDGs. We also built in a separate agreement, the Addis Ababa action agenda, on the detail of the financial and non-financial means that would be needed to implement the goals. There was no such agreement for the MDGs. Something came along a few years later, but it was separate. Many people said that a weakness of the MDGs was that eight goals were announced, but no funding was announced with them, and therefore they were never likely to be achieved in full. Very roughly speaking, one could argue that we achieved about 60% or 70% of the MDGs. I am making a sweeping generalisation here. However, that is mainly because China was able to lift itself out of extreme poverty within a generation. That achieved one of the goals handsomely, but then some of the other specific goals fell short - I emphasise that 60% or 70% is just my very vague indication. We included in the SDGs the remaining work that has to be done to complete the MDGs. They were folded into the new agenda. I am fairly certain that when it comes to 2030 there will be a further set of goals for the next 15 years. I think this approach is now here to stay.
A member made a very good point about monitoring. Given the breadth of stakeholders involved, and all the people I mentioned earlier, it is difficult to see how each country will do it. One could have, say, a national council for sustainable development or for the SDGs, which would try to bring the key players, government and others, under one roof. That is an option which some countries have gone for.
Strictly speaking, the question of the Security Council and the veto is off to one side as an issue, but I am happy to deal with it. The veto available to the five permanent members of the Security Council is an old chestnut that has been debated backwards and forwards for more than 20 years. The basic issue of reforming the membership of the Security Council has also been debated for 20 years, and I am afraid we are no further along today. This is partly because there is no particular deadline which would force the permanent five to agree to widen the Council in a particular way.
Different models are available, each of which brings in major regional players. In one model they would have permanent seats. In another they would have almost permanent or semi-permanent seats. The rest of us have not made up our minds, but there is no particular guillotine or deadline by which we should make up our minds. This means this unhappy state of affairs continues, whereas with the strategic development goals, for example, my Kenyan colleague and I were able to say that a summit coming up in September 2015 to announce new goals for the next 15 years was a deadline we could not let slip. We then created an artificial deadline of 31 July that year by which we stated we had to have the negotiations finished. People told it would leave us with six weeks and asked what would we do then. Even though it was artificial, we insisted on a deadline and we said we would finish on 31 July. We actually finished on 2 August. We need deadlines and it is as simple as that. The Security Council matter will drag on because there is not that pressure.
On migration and refugees, I was asked to co-facilitate, that is, co-chair, a separate process last year which led to the New York Declaration. This is the first global agreement ever on migrants and refugees. This may seem strange, but the reason is that refugees are already well covered by the UN in a strict sense. We have an agency that deals with them, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. We also have the Refugee Convention of 1951. Up until now, migrants, as in the 244 million people in the world deemed to be migrants, have not been seen as a matter for the UN because some countries maintain the degree to which they take in migrants is a matter for themselves and that it should not be the basis of an agreement at UN level. However, that thinking has been superseded. The New York Declaration involved 193 member states and they all agreed to a set of commitments about the most vulnerable migrants. Economic migrants who might go from Ireland to Australia do not particularly need assistance at UN level, but the thousands of people leaving Syria certainly do, and this is what the New York Declaration is about. It was a very difficult negotiation because there were so many conflicting points of view. I was teamed with Jordan, which had its own issues and particular needs as one of the two or three host countries which carry unbelievable burdens. One third of the population of Jordan consists of refugees. We got an agreement, which I think is a good one, and there are now follow-up processes to come up with a specific global agreement on migration and another specific agreement on refugees.
To answer the Vice Chairman, I do not have any particular role in the oversight of the strategic development goals. I will follow them with great interest. Internationally, I am asked to speak from time to time about certain aspects of them. In a vague way I am seen as a kind of godfather of them, rightly or wrongly. My Kenyan colleague is approached in the same way. I do not have any particular role in Ireland's implementation of them, at least not so far.
I formally welcome Mr. Donoghue and congratulate him on the work he has done. It is a great privilege for Ireland to have somebody of his stature who has been involved in setting out these 17 principles to be followed. The average man or woman on the street knows nothing about this, and this is the big weakness of these bodies and aims. How do we bring it down to that man, woman and child in order that they understand what is being tried here? The aims are very worthwhile, but there needs to be buy-in. It is the buy-in part that I feel is a bit at sea. We never read about this in our daily newspapers and very seldom do we hear it being discussed on television or radio. What would be the case if somebody went out with a microphone and asked the man or woman on the street whether he or she knew anything about the sustainable development goals? It is a terrible shame, given the amount of work and good being done behind the scenes. The buy-in is the most important thing as we all should appreciate what is trying to be achieved here. Does Mr. Donoghue have any suggestions for a group of politicians such as ourselves as to how we could begin to seek the assistance of the public in trying to get buy-in for this idea?
I have had the pleasure of being in the United Nations. It is out there and does not seem to connect with individual governments. It is never discussed at government level. There are representatives such as Mr. Donoghue, and all of this good work goes on behind the scenes. I do not want people to think of the good work achieved by Mr. Donoghue and his Kenyan colleague and the 17 goals as something about which something had better be done and a report produced. We really have to buy in to this as a society, along with everybody else. This is where a committee such as this, or a parliament such as this, needs to be made aware of what all of this is about. Not alone should there be an annual high level political forum assessing progress but we have to assess progress as a parliament. If I am to learn anything from today's meeting, it is that we as a committee should try to make certain that at least twice a year a couple of hours are put aside in the Seanad and the Dáil to look at how we are doing on these goals. This is the only way I can think of. I ask Mr. Donoghue's opinion on whether there are other ways we could make certain the good work being attempted does not just drift away, and that while people think it is a good idea, they have other things to be doing. I would appreciate Mr. Donoghue's views on this.
I am delighted to meet Mr. Donoghue and to hear of his fantastic work over many years. Most of the questions have been asked already by my colleagues. History keeps repeating itself, and something that disturbs me at present is the terrible Rohingya refugee problem. It is ethnic cleansing and nothing less. What is the United Nations doing? What is happening there? Why are we not able to act more quickly when these terrible tragedies happen? I am based in the United States and I see the treatment meted out now to Hispanics, Muslims and people from other countries. The Irish were treated exactly the same during our terrible famine from 1845 to 1852. We were treated just as badly, if not worse, in the United States when we had to emigrate. History seems to be repeating itself all the time.
Why do the wealthy Arab nations not contribute in the same proportion as the rest of us? They have a huge responsibility. They are trying to democratise themselves but they do not seem to be giving great example by way of foreign aid.
I have a question on the effectiveness of the UN, following what Senator Lawless said about the Rohingya.
We can consider resolutions passed year after year that condemn certain countries. For example, there is Palestine and the blockade and embargo affecting Cuba. A delegation from the foreign affairs committee visited Georgia some time ago and the witness is a former ambassador in that area. We can see Russian aggression and movement there. It comes back to where the United Nations, UN, is on those kinds of matters and specifically the role of the UN Security Council. It must be very frustrating but this also raises questions about the effectiveness of decisions taken at the UN.
Mr. David Donoghue:
I thank the Vice Chairman and everybody else for the very thought-provoking questions. I strongly agree with Deputy Barrett's comments. We have this disconnect in a way between, on the one hand, the enthusiasm that greeted the agreement on the sustainable development goals, SDGs, in New York on the part of many governments and, on the other, that the ordinary man, woman and child on the street does not know about them.
We always knew there would be a major challenge in communicating the new goals. During the negotiations, I remember a British film-maker, who has a passionate interest in sustainable development, came up with a plan that might sound crazy. He had it in mind that within approximately three days of the goals being agreed, he would have communicated them to all 7 billion people on the planet. That would be done with every conceivable form of social media. He did not pursue the plan but one can see that he saw a problem that needed to be addressed.
Younger people have a key role to play. We hope this agenda will be completed in 2030 so, in a way, this will build the kind of world they will live in then. We all noticed that when the SDGs were adopted, young people were the most enthusiastic. They grasped that this could be quite important for the quality of their own lives. It comes down to education in schools. I will come to the committee in a moment but in every country we must start teaching the SDGs in classrooms and bring them to the attention of schoolchildren. That is accepted in the UN and there are many initiatives under way in different parts of the world to raise the profile of the SDGs. Much depends on the initiative of the individual country. I was in Germany at a conference a few months ago and, to my amazement, when I was on a tram I saw the full SDG poster on it. There are 17 icons and it is quite a well-known poster at this stage with a simplified version of the 17 goals. This was all over the tram. Clearly, some local initiative looked to highlight the goals and I remember thinking I would love to see them on the 46A bus, for example.
The roles of this committee and the Oireachtas in general can be very important. We mention parliaments in the SDG document and the declaration. Parliaments, whether regional, local or, in particular, national, can hold governments to account for their performances. The Deputy is absolutely right that it is not just a case of having an annual meeting at the UN. I drafted most of the document and my Kenyan colleague and I envisaged that parliaments would have the role being spoken about. I say this not necessarily in an accusing way, but in a constructive fashion. I hoped parliaments would invite Ministers or civil society representatives, as this committee just has, and ask them what can be done to ensure we have a better story to tell on nutrition, human rights or whatever. That is something being taken seriously by many parliaments. Members might recall when they came to the UN in a formal capacity just before the goals were adopted. Even then there was a sense that parliaments would be a key player in directing political attention and focus on these goals. Ultimately, that will come down to the initiative of individual parliaments and committees. I would have thought it would make sense to ask relevant Ministers, as well as civil society and private sector representatives, to contribute. The private sector is very interested in a constructive way in these goals. The committee might consider inviting relevant people to come before it as the report is being prepared over the first six months or so of the coming year. I would think that would be in the spirit of the SDGs agreement. It is a collective effort and not just the responsibility of the Government. Parliaments can fill the gap in a way.
Senator Lawless spoke about the Rohingya. I left the UN approximately six weeks ago and at that point it was the top priority for the new Secretary General. That does not mean there will be the kinds of solutions we want to see. What we have witnessed over the past few months is a desperate position. The parallels described of Ireland's experience are very real and clear. I am afraid much of this comes down to the political will on the UN Security Council at any given time. In fairness, there is more or less universal condemnation of the treatment of the Rohingya. In a way, I am moving to the question of the effectiveness of the UN. I will try to avoid naming specific countries when speaking about the UN Security Council's current construction. If there are five permanent members, one of which is Russia, and matters arise where Russia wants to block progress, that is a possibility. By way of balance, there are times when Israel would be in the dock, as it were, and it would rely on an ally. It is a fundamental weakness of the current arrangements that five members of the UN Security Council have permanent status with a veto to go with that.
An initiative has been launched by France at the UN whereby the veto would be waived voluntarily in the discussion of mass atrocities. For example, if a Syria-type case is being discussed, the five permanent members would voluntarily waive those veto rights. It is slightly torturous as if one simply changed the UN charter in order to eliminate the veto, it would itself be blocked, leading to a catch-22 situation. There must be some sort of voluntary code, meaning that all five could decide, in a Syria-type discussion, not to invoke a veto. For different reasons, most of the five would not want to change the status quo. They want to cater for positions where they would feel they have a natural interest. Currently, the French initiative has not gone very far but it is supported by many other countries of the UN. They feel something must be done to prevent the kind of stalemate that happens all too often. It happened with Syria, for example. The Rohingya matter is ongoing but we have all seen how particular valuable initiatives are thwarted because one or other member of the P5, as they are called, is unhappy.
There is a matter that I find difficult. Ireland is renowned for its peacekeeping and we should be very proud of our achievements. The peacekeeping college that we have in the Curragh has done tremendous work in educating those from other countries who wish to learn how we perform our peacekeeping duties. It is a skill in itself. We do not go in with heavy armour but with trained individuals whose practices in how to engage in peacekeeping have been handed down over many years. It is fascinating to see Irish troops in places like Lebanon. My wife came with me when I was Minister and she was taken by people in the Defence Forces to visit homes and talk to people. This is the sort of thing that Ireland is expert at, yet I never hear our peacekeeping college being spoken about enough to educate people that we have this expertise. I had a very bad experience which I will not go into here in public, but it is not appreciated. We have got into this European habit of seeking greater co-ordination on security and we seem to be protecting ourselves and Europe instead of looking at how we can influence peacekeeping throughout the world. It is very important to us and it is part of the goals that Mr. Donoghue is talking about.
It is a matter of peace in the world. One can spend billions on other things but if there is not peace, one is throwing the money out a window. Peacekeeping seems to have taken a lesser role. I was reading the other day about how the European Commission is trying to progress greater co-ordination for our defences in Europe. We are a neutral country and we should be proud of it. We are a great help to the rest of the world because of our peacekeeping efforts. I am interested to hear Mr. Donoghue's views on how it can be got across that peacekeeping should be prioritised as highly as security and other aims or achievements that we would like to have.
Mr. David Donoghue:
The Deputy is right about the reputation we have in the peacekeeping field. The new Secretary General, António Guterres, has put conflict prevention at the top of his agenda for his term in office. He wants to demonstrate that the UN has a key role to play in preventing and managing conflict. He highlights the activities that the UN does well, such as peacekeeping and peace building, in which Ireland has been active. He represents that as being linked to the sustainable development goals, SDGs, and states that if the UN can strengthen its conflict prevention and management role, it will help to achieve peace and that, in turn, creates an environment in which SDGs can be implemented. He is right, and the Deputy is right in referring to goal 16, which talks about peaceful and inclusive societies. There is a peace goal because we call recognise that there cannot be lasting development without peace.
I was with the former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, about three years ago when he visited the Curragh. He was highly impressed by what he saw. In the White Paper which appeared about a year later, there was reference to a proposal which would involve expanding the scope of that college. That is a great idea. There is a job to be done to highlight the importance of our contribution at the UN, both in the Curragh and in the field. We have a reputation for always stepping up to the mark when the UN asks for a contribution to sensitive peacekeeping missions. We are seen as both effective and reliable. We may not have huge resources to contribute but we are highly respected for the quality of the contribution we make. I hope that we can continue to maintain that reputation. We are getting slightly off the main topic here, but I am very sympathetic to what the Deputy was saying.
I will return to a previous point Mr. Donoghue made about making the public aware. He was at this event while 17 October is the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and the organisation All Together in Dignity has an event at the famine statues. Many of those involved in projects in the north inner city and south inner city that work with extremely poor, marginalised and vulnerable people gather there and are remembered. There is a link between their stories and sustainable development goals and they really try to make people aware of real poverty and what it means.
I thank Mr. Donoghue for attending, for the amazing CV that we all got a copy of and all the work that he is done, which is rewarding, frustrating and challenging but extremely positive.