Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 July 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Disability Inclusion and International Development Issues: Discussion
From Sightsavers Ireland I welcome Mr. Charlie Lamson, CEO, and Ms Fatoumata Diouf, its regional director for west Africa. From Christian Blind Missions I welcome Dr. Mary Keogh and, from Oxfam Ireland, Ms Niamh Carty, its programme director.
Members and delegates are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device used. It is not sufficient to leave them in silent mode as they will still maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting and recording systems.
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 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 asked to respect the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or an entity outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I call Mr. Lamson to make his opening statement.
Mr. Charlie Lamson:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for the invitation and giving me the privilege and opportunity to present to them and answer their questions. I am the chief executive of Sightsavers Ireland and a member of the board of Dóchas. I am accompanied by Ms Fatoumata Diouf, Sightsavers' regional director for west Africa, who oversees Irish Aid projects on the ground. She will present our position to the committee.
Sightsavers Ireland fully endorses the submission made by the Dóchas group with which we have worked for several years to promote disability inclusion in Irish development policy. For too long disability has been an afterthought in development policy, which has had the paradoxical impact of leaving people with disabilities in developing countries even further behind their peers. The policy document, A Better World, combined with Ireland's ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, better known as the UNCRPD, offers us a golden opportunity to address this issue, not only to hardwire disability into Irish Aid programmes but also to allow Ireland to be an example in encouraging others to follow suit. As the Dóchas submission highlights, we warmly welcome the acknowledgement of disability in A Better World. In that regard, we would be particularly grateful for the committee's support in clarifying that disability, especially in the case of women and girls, is included within the policy's overarching commitment to reach first those who are furthest behind.
Under the theme of no one will be left behind, I amplify the asks in the Dóchas submission surrounding engagement and the participation of people with disabilities who must be at the heart of the policy's development and implementation. I highlight the critical need for a rights based approach consistent with the UNCRPD and the sustainable development goals. I also hope the committee will work to ensure an integrated approach to the collection of data for disability inclusion in the areas of development and humanitarian assistance that commits to the collection of disaggregated data, research and learning and reports, including on the adoption of the Development Assistance Committee's disability marker.
In June 2018 the OECD released the DAC disability marker to track implementation of overseas development policy. The Government has a key role to play in ensuring data for persons with disabilities are collected and used to inform the mainstreaming of disability inclusion across its development and humanitarian assistance programming and funding streams. To ensure international comparability over time, we recommend the application of the short set of questions developed by the Washington group. In implementing its policy Ireland should adopt and use the OECD DAC disability marker when reporting on expenditure and establish internal disability reporting mechanisms for partners.
In order for Ireland to be clear on how it will achieve its ambitious vision in the new policy, there is a need for a clear process for accountability such as the framework of action which accompanied the previous policy One World, One Future. We also recognise the crucial role of this committee in ensuring accountability.
On Ireland’s role globally, we call on all of its relevant stakeholders to play a leading role in delivering disability inclusive development globally. Through its policy, the Government should consider how it will support the UN disability inclusion strategy which wasrecently launched at the 2019 Conference of States Parties to the UNCRPD and use its membership of the Global Action on Disability Network, GLAD, to support global initiatives such as those made at the Global Disability Summit in London in 2018.
We would be extremely grateful for the committee’s support as it carries out its work in this area. We would like to offer our ongoing assistance in any way we can, including an invitation to visit our projects in Senegal and Cameroon to enable members to see the challenges people with disabilities face on a daily basis, as well as the support we are working to provide for them.
I again thank the committee for the invitation to appear before it. We will be pleased to answer the questions members may have.
Ms Fatoumata Diouf:
I am the regional director for Sightsavers in west Africa where I am based in Dakar in Senegal.
Sightsavers is proud to be a partner of Irish Aid. Through this work I am able to see for myself day in and day out the impact Ireland’s assistance is having across a number of countries in west Africa. I will share some highlights with members.
In the area of education we have rolled out a pan-disability approach in our inclusive education programme, which means that we are admitting children with all types of disability into mainstream schools. These are children with visual impairments, hearing impairments and intellectual or physical disabilities. It also means that we are training teachers to be able to address the needs of these children. We have also improved accessibility in our pilot schools to make sure the school environment is friendly for children with disabilities.
Through our advocacy, we have put disability on the agenda of the government. We have either supported the development of or contributed to inclusive education policies in our countries of intervention. In the area of social inclusion in Cameroon, for example, we have successfully advocated for the inclusion of questions on disability in the ongoing national census. In addition, Cameroon is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has disability status recorded on voters' registration cards. In Senegal we established the debates on inclusion during the presidential election in February and have had adherence by 13 political parties to include disability in their agendas.
In the area of eye health we have embedded a system strengthening approach in our eye health projects, with a focus on strengthening human resources for eye health, improving infrastructures and strengthening policy and planning. I was delighted to be in Dublin in February to speak at the launch of Sightsavers Ireland’s Put Us in the Picture campaign which included a photographic exhibition of our work, in partnership with Irish Aid, to improve political participation for people with disabilities in Cameroon. However, as the exhibition highlighted, for people with disabilities, there is still a lot that needs to be done to ensure equal rights and equality of opportunity.
In my speech in February I spoke about the key role Ireland had played in 2015 in co-chairing the negotiations that delivered the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the sustainable development goals and how we hoped that this proud tradition could continue in helping to ensure disability was put at the heart of international development. As my colleague said, we view the publication of A Better World as an opportunity for Ireland to be a champion of disability inclusive development, not only in its own programmes but also in its work globally at UN, EU and other international bodies. Through our campaign, we hope to engage with the Government of Ireland, Deputies and Senators, Irish civil society and members of the public to make them aware of how they can be a catalyst for change and make a profound difference to the lives of literally millions of people who have been left behind for too long. I am delighted to be back in Ireland this week to make that case. We very much appreciate being given the opportunity to present to members and be of any assistance we can to the committee.
Ms Niamh Carty:
I thank the Chairman and committee members for giving me this opportunity to meet them to discuss this critical issue. I am the programme director at Oxfam Ireland. My purpose is to share some insights with members of how a mainstream aid and humanitarian organisation can work to ensure the rights of people with disabilities in our programming. More than 1 billion people in the world today live with some disability, accounting for approximately 15% of the global population or one in seven individuals. Disability disproportionately affects people living in poverty, as 80% live in low and middle income countries. Decades of work in the disability sector led to the formulation in 2006 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, which was adopted by the United Nations to protect and reaffirm the human rights of people with disabilities. The Government signed the convention in 2007 and ratified it in March 2018. In 2015 the sustainable development goals came into force to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals aim to mobilise everyone in the fight against poverty and inequality and ensure no one will be left behind.
As many of my colleagues have stated, the principle of inclusion of people with disabilities laid down in the convention and the sustainable development goals is reflected in Ireland’s new international development policy, A Better World, which was launched earlier this year under the banner Reach the Furthest Behind First. This development is welcomed by Oxfam Ireland and we look forward to supporting its implementation.
As Oxfam’s mission is to fight poverty and inequality, we strongly support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the focus the sustainable development goals place on people with disabilities. Oxfam’s code of conduct and our partnership principles protect and affirm the rights of the vulnerable people we seek to benefit, including people with disabilities. In addition, in 2018 we signed the Charter for Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action.
With the support of Irish Aid, Oxfam Ireland’s work focuses on the poorest and most marginalised communities in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Within these communities poor women, unemployed youth, people with disabilities and people living with HIV are our primary targets. Our goals are to provide humanitarian assistance and protection, for economic empowerment, gender equality and essential services for all. We know that in these contexts very few people with disabilities access employment and that women with disabilities are two to three times more likely to face gender-based violence. Literacy rates are as low as 3%.
In response to all of this we aim to create economic opportunities, increase gender equality and improve access to essential services for people with disabilities. We also seek to amplify their voices by facilitating the influencing of policies and legislation relevant to them.
We have conducted research with Trinity College Dublin into the most effective HIV policies and programmes for people with disabilities in sub-Saharan Africa, using it to influence state and non-state actors on the need to design and implement these types of policy and programme. More recently, in Malawi we conducted research into the lack of participation of people with disabilities in the formulation and implementation of health policies. This is significant because Malawi has some of the best health policies in the world, but insufficient public funds means that they are not put into practice. This negatively impacts on everyone, but for people with disabilities, it makes life even more challenging. Take, for example, Mr. Peter Simoni, a wheelchair user and member of a local disability committee in a community where we work in Malawi. There is no wheelchair ramp in the local healthcare centre and he is forced to crawl on his hands and knees to get into the building to access the healthcare he needs. With the support of Irish Aid and through our work with local partners, he has been able to reclaim his rights and demand quality healthcare for himself and his community. It included ensuring an ambulance designated for his local healthcare centre was made available for him and others who had previously been denied the service.
Through our humanitarian programme work on water, sanitation and health promotion, we provided dedicated latrines at household level for people with disabilities. The facilities include improved access, handrails, raised platforms and combined bathing and sanitation units. Households with people with disabilities are the focus of our emergency food security and vulnerable livelihoods work. They receive unconditional assistance in line with the lack of mobility of people with disabilities and the burden of responsibility on carers of people living with disabilities. Through our protection work, we seek to ensure the identification of those who are most vulnerable in a crisis. People with disabilities are often the least visible and rarely heard. We strive to ensure their needs and rights and those of their families are respected.
Looking to the future, we are working with Oxfam’s global learning and humanitarian teams to understand better approaches to identifying and defining disability in development programmes and emergencies. Oxfam Ireland aspires to being a champion of disability inclusiveness in the wider Oxfam confederation. We work with local partners who have experience of working with people with disabilities to develop inclusive disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction guidelines. More than that, we want to ensure all of our programmes and technical guidelines are updated to include the needs of persons with disabilities. This will involve assessment protocols and accountability and feedback processes accessible to people with disabilities. We also want to see consistent reporting of data and taxonomy for disability across all of our programmes, with disability responsive budgeting. Ways should be found to ensure persons with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities – the ones most left behind – participate meaningfully in development and humanitarian action. This will not be easy, but we are working with our colleagues in the Dóchas disability inclusiveness working group, including CBM Ireland, to make progress.
Oxfam Ireland is fully aware that failure to do what I have outlined will result in leaving persons with disabilities behind. It will also mean a failure to realise the commitments made in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ultimately a failure to achieve the sustainable development goals. We stand in solidarity with people with disabilities and greatly appreciate the support of the committee on this important matter and the requests made.
Dr. Mary Keogh:
I thank the joint committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to it. I will follow what my colleagues have mentioned, taking in policy issues and the pragmatic mainstreaming issues surrounding disability. I will explain a little about how we work in CBM Ireland. I work with it as international director for the inclusive development initiative, which is our work on a global level in the areas of advocacy for disability inclusive development technical advice. CBM Ireland is an international disability and development organisation focused on creating an inclusive world in which all persons with disabilities can enjoy their human rights and achieve their full potential. We work with over 350 organisations implementing more than 600 projects in 59 countries throughout the world. I will speak about the very practical work we do in making inclusion a reality. Much of what sits at policy level is rarely translated into implementation.
A core area of our work is concerned with disability inclusive development, DID, technical advice. This is enabling the development sector to make progress in achieving inclusion through a global, regional and national advisory approach. Within the disability sector and the movement there is a recognition that not everything can be achieved on one's own and that it is really about collaboration and partnership. DID technical advice looks at meeting the technical needs of a global movement committed to inclusion. As our colleagues in Oxfam and others in the Dóchas working group have committed to disability inclusion, there is a need for advice on it. DID advisers are a team with varied expertise applied specifically to identifying how development sector policies, programmes and organisations can become more inclusive of people with disabilities using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, CRPD, as a basis to ensure a rights-based approach. Advisers come from a range of educational backgrounds with a disability focus, with some coming from health, legal and disability rights perspectives. They all come together in an holistic approach to disability inclusion.
Technical advice also looks at providing practical support in achieving inclusion to support organisations to embed inclusion into their work and bridge the gap between intention and practice. We have seen over the years that it has gone across a range of sectoral areas such as water and sanitation for health and different themes. Advisers draw on each other and knowledge and staff from the broader CBM federation, where relevant, to strengthen the quality of advice. The technical advice also looks to support development agencies to work with the disability movement in mutually beneficial ways. For example, CBM Australia in its ten-year partnership with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs is looking to work on inclusion and with the partners of the Department on inclusion also. Technical advice also looks at providing advice for a range of development actors, including supporting governments in policy and policy reviews, with other sectors in development.
I will speak broadly about how we have worked the advisory process for the past few years. It has been done primarily in partnership with the disability community. If we are not working with the disability community, we will not respond to the needs of the community and could easily co-opt such a disability movement. For most, the partnership piece is really integral to doing development better; we are working with local and national communities on what inclusion means. In any of the advice and support we give, whether to governments, embassies or donor agencies, we ensure people with disabilities and disabled persons' organisations are included in the team providing the support. We prepare meetings and work with the disability community in advance to identify issues and deliver technical advice. This process has been happening for a number of years, mainly within the Pacific region but also in other areas. We are now looking at how it looks in Ireland. There has been increasing demand in the past while and it is coming from Irish Aid's commitment to disability inclusion and the policy context of the CRPD. There is increased demand for inclusion and technical support advice. At CBM Ireland we have had a number of non-governmental organisations coming forward to discuss these matters.
Representatives of CBM Ireland have just returned from the UN Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities annual meeting in New York, where we led a side event on how to bring inclusion to a reality. The key messages coming from it were about how we implemented the CRPD and the mainstream development and humanitarian actors could become involved. There is an ever-increasing demand for support on how to be disability inclusive from development and humanitarian partners. That is key. Ms Carty spoke to it from Oxfam's perspective and other development agencies are also looking at it.
This represents a new way of working for all of us in the disability sector and requires us to think about new ways of collaborating to create change, because we cannot do it on our own.
Finally, I echo my colleagues’ key messages to the committee. In order to not leave persons with disabilities behind, the Irish Government needs to materialise its commitment to the full implementation of its domestic policies such as A Better World, combined with Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. In the global scenario, it needs to support the implementation of the recently launched UN disability inclusion strategy at the 2019 conference of states parties and use its membership of the Global Action on Disability Network to support global initiatives. Irish Aid needs to support civil society on its increasing demand to foster DID into their programmes and to support and enhance partnerships which acknowledge the need for mainstreaming disability into civil society. Following the release of the DAC disability marker, it needs to ensure the data related to persons with disabilities are collected and used to inform mainstreaming of disability inclusion across its development and humanitarian assistance programming and funding streams.
The committee should have a meeting at least once a year on the whole area of disability, with the witnesses coming back before us to tell us of the progress that has been made. I acknowledge the tremendous work done by the groups present today. I was at the photo exhibition and the pictures tell the story better than any words. They really brought home the reality of life for people with disabilities. Disability cannot be an afterthought or tagged on to the end of things. I have two suggestions. First, budgets should be disability-proofed. We already gender-proof and climate-proof them so disability-proofing should be seriously considered. Second, a certain percentage of aid, whether bilateral or multilateral, should be directed towards the disability area. We could have a campaign to achieve this as it is a very practical way to get funding. There are many positives in A Better World but I am disappointed that disability is not on the priority list. It is acknowledged elsewhere so the question about how Irish Aid will push the disability aspect is very valid.
How can the groups present today disaggregate the data? It is very important to do so.
Mr. Charlie Lamson:
The next step will focus on putting clear and measurable aims in respect of disability into the framework of Irish Aid. I welcome the Deputy's suggestion to earmark elements in budgets for disability.
I will defer to others in the group to answer the question on disaggregated disability data. The Washington group questions are a much more accurate way for governments to engage with the question of disability and to find out the types and numbers of disability that exist in the State.
Dr. Mary Keogh:
I concur with Mr. Lamson on the question of data disaggregation. The Washington group questions focus on this and they are being pushed at a global level in terms of the policy perspective. I have just returned from a workshop in New York that involved a number of disability organisations from a range of countries whose members were being trained up in the use of the Washington group questions. When the questions were originally devised it was for a census but they have now been adopted by a number of NGOs and are being used for other purposes. There is a movement around how to use data disaggregation so that data can provide evidence and advance policy development. Irish Aid would want to look at the group's questions from this point of view.
Ms Niamh Carty:
It is essential that we get the question of disaggregation right but we also need to know how difficult it is in some of the contexts in which we work. We struggle to get sex-disaggregated data in relation to programming but that is not an excuse not to do it. We need to resource it effectively, from all sources, and make room to ensure it is done properly.
I congratulate the witnesses on the work they do. I was in Senegal in west Africa in the past three weeks and I was very taken by what I saw. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised an issue related to ring-fencing the budget for organisations such as those present today. Have the witnesses lobbied governments about this or given a figure or a percentage of the overseas aid budget? Have they formally made a pitch for a set amount to be ring-fenced to fund the work they do, which is niche work in the context of the general aid other organisations provide?
I commend the witnesses on the good work they do. We know from the situation in Ireland that a person who has an impairment is more than likely to be living in poverty. If we want to be effective internationally and to push forward a programme for an inclusive society, we need to start with ourselves. We should not be talking about what other countries are doing but should do it ourselves because anybody listening to this meeting who has a family member with a disability will know the hurdles people with a disability face as they try to get the supports they need.
The groups here today are dealing with the poorest and most marginalised in society. How do their representatives believe Ireland can play a leading role in ensuring disability inclusion is at the heart of aid policy and the development agenda? If we had credibility on the issue, we could put it at the centre of our approach. Other groups to have come before the committee dealt with the response to hurricanes and climate change and it is important that the sector represented here today is involved in those things. How is this developing? It is important to think about how, if there is a climate crisis, one would contact persons who are deaf to get services for them. These are basic needs but they are often left behind in a crisis.
Disability sometimes comes from a lack of healthcare, such as is sometimes the case with sight loss. Do the witnesses work with national governments on this issue or do they work separately? What is the ideal approach? In many countries, basic services would need to be prioritised so what is the ideal model for what they are trying to roll out?
One of the serious issues facing those with disabilities is finding work and entering the workplace. We know that is the case in Ireland. Do the organisations present help people with a disability to gain employment? Is that part of what we need to do?
I was struck by the figures showing that 1 billion people or 15% of the global population face these significant challenges every day. It is not that the issue would be further up the agenda if more people were affected. I do not understand why disability is not central to our response in many of the areas. The poorer the country, the greater the challenges. In some countries, it is difficult to access basic needs, such as water and firewood. In such circumstances, the life chances of people with a disability are limited.
Dr. Keogh outlined some of the actions the committee should take. Are there other actions we could take? We need champions in the Oireachtas, which has a committee with disability in its remit. We need to keep the issue front and central in our lives. We all know someone who has a disability or impairment. We need to start from there.
Mr. Charlie Lamson:
I thank the Deputies for their questions. I will respond to the first question and defer to my colleagues on some of the other questions. I will address the issue of ring-fencing the budget. As a committee, we have not discussed specific numbers or percentages of that. At this point, we are very much focused on the idea of hard-wiring disability inclusion into the framework for action when that comes about. Our focus is making sure that is woven throughout that policy. It is a great question to ask and we would certainly be collectively enthused about exploring that. That is where we stand at this point.
On Sightsavers work and how we engage at state level, our focus as an organisation is on bringing about real sustainable development. It is not about providing temporary solutions. I might defer to Ms Diouf, given her experience in the region to talk about the work we are doing in that respect.
Ms Fatoumata Diouf:
Sustainability is the key of our intervention. What we do is work with the local and state government, as well as the disabled people's organisation or DPO, to make sure they can advocate for themselves, have their voices heard and can take questions to the next level. In terms of funding, through our programmes we have been advocating for governments to allocate budget lines to take up this issue of disability. International funding is always good but we are also aware that we need to be able to raise resources at the national level to be able to address the issues of disability which are local or national. English is not my primary language. If I have said anything that is not clear, please ask me to repeat the point.
Ms Niamh Carty:
I was intrigued by Deputy Crowe's question about the ideal model because I have been in the business for 25 years and I am not sure there is such a thing. What I have learned is that we need to work at different levels. There are many lessons that we can learn from our experiences of working on other issues. I am thinking particularly of our work on gender justice, for example. There is a real need for service provision at local level for people such as Peter who I mentioned in my presentation. We can help to facilitate those services to be made available to the people who need them. That, in itself, is not enough and it is not sustainable. Working with local civil society in those countries where we work, it is a matter of capacitating them to deliver the services themselves. It is also a matter of being able to advocate at national level for the changes that are needed from a legislative point of view and, critically, for budgeting decisions to be made that will support decision-making that is beneficial to people with disabilities. Probably the most important ingredient in all of that is the inclusion of people with disabilities in those conversations. It is not about any of us sitting here or in programme countries making decisions on their behalf. We need to talk to people with disabilities, hear the reality of their lives and their stories and respond accordingly. If there is anything touching on an ideal model, that might be one of the ingredients.
Dr. Mary Keogh:
To come back to the budget discussion, while it is welcome to hear about the possibility of ring-fencing, I would caution that ring-fencing does not mean that the funding is channelled through disability-specific organisations only. One needs to look at how mainstream organisations are also enabled to provide inclusion. Ring-fencing is important but it comes back to what Mr. Lamson said about the framework for implementation being really well resourced around disability inclusion. That would be an important issue to consider.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I apologise for arriving late; I was attending another meeting. I can stay for the remainder of the meeting, however, as I do not have to leave at 3 p.m.
It was valuable to hear the emphasis on disability in international development. I commend all the witnesses and Dóchas on co-ordinating the briefings we have received. We were all glad to hear the references to A Better World, the Irish aid policy. The committee fed into the development of the policy and held hearings on it. It was extremely useful for us to hear how much work is going on in so many areas under the umbrella of Irish Aid. I note Irish Aid funds all sorts of programmes run by different NGOs and development organisations, which is positive. I was also struck by the witnesses' emphasis on the practical implementation of and approach to policy.
I have a couple observations or questions, partly because last week I was honoured to be on an Oireachtas delegation to a conference of women political leaders at which over 80 countries, both developed and developing, were represented. The delegates were all women parliamentarians. Our focus was on how to work with the UN as women parliamentarians to implement the sustainable development goals. One of the key points that came out of that conference was the intersectional nature of inequality and the importance of having an intersectional approach to working on sustainable development and on the goals. Obviously, we talked about goal 5 on gender equality. However, many references were made to the intersection of gender and disability, the particular challenges faced by women with disabilities in developing countries and the need to ensure that programmes recognise the intersectional challenges. How do we all ensure not only that we are disability-proofing and gender-proofing but also that we are recognising all those different ways in which people experience inequality or oppression? It is difficult to achieve that in a practical sense. If only one of us had the answer, it would be great.
At the conference, we learned from many other countries, including in respect of best practice in some countries. In Sweden, for example, the Government is explicitly feminist and every programme, including international development, is gender-proofed by somebody in-house in the relevant department. It was useful to learn about that type of practical model. I ask the witnesses to comment.
Another issue to emerge at the conference, one that is increasingly evident if one looks at UN programmes under the sustainable development goals and World Health Organization programmes, is the emphasis on public private partnerships. This is interesting. As parliamentarians, our focus is on the State response and what the Irish Government and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are doing. According to the delegates from developing countries at the conference, developing companies are increasingly working closely with big corporations to try to achieve practical implementation of poverty eradication programmes, programmes tackling disability, etc. Two examples we heard about were a big pharmaceutical company funding a major maternity healthcare programme in India and, probably better known, the major announcement by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation only two years ago of a plan to eradicate river blindness. Will the witnesses comment on that? Obviously, ethical issues arises, particularly where a pharmaceutical company is becoming involved. That would certainly have been my view prior to the conference. However, having listened to women MPs who were delegates to the conference and who have been trying to work practically and with limited funding in their home countries to eradicate river blindness or ensure that women do not die in childbirth, this type of programme has major attractions. I do not know whether the witnesses can comment on that from their own experience.
Mr. Charlie Lamson:
I will respond to the Senator. It is interesting because Sightsavers is directly involved in the programme for the elimination of river blindness. Picking up on some of the comments made by Ms. Carty, the focus has to be on the local if one is to eliminate inequality or the imbalances, which our organisations are doing increasingly through a partner-driven approach. Rather than implementing it externally, it is working very much through those partners. As part of that partnership, we are always looking to work with more and more explicit guidelines to promote equality and so many of the different themes. It is something on which we have been working very closely. By the same token, when we look at the top-down approach which we take in working with Ministers for health and education, if we are talking about disability, gender equality or such issues, the challenges can also be approached from state level. Between the two, from my experience of having travelled in Sierra Leone and having seen it being implemented, it is having a very profound impact, but it takes time to bring about changes. There are cultural norms and things that need to be shifted, as they do in Ireland and other states, but there is positive momentum.
Ms Fatoumata Diouf:
On the point about women with disabilities, they have a double vulnerability. They are vulnerable because they are women and because they have a disability, which makes it twice as hard for them. What we have done through our programmes is ensure we create gender balance within the disabled people's organisations. The historical context is that the organisations were mainly dominated by males. We have ensured there are women's bodies within the disabled people's organisations, DPOs, that we are strengthening to raise their capacities and training to be able to fight for themselves in order to have access to education and economic empowerment and to be able to advocate for women's rights, specifically, disabled women's rights.
Ms Niamh Carty:
In a final comment on private public partnerships, the reality is the problems we are trying to overcome are huge. Nobody has a monopoly of expertise. We have to be very conscious of the way the world works and where things are going. Clearly there is a role for the private sector in development. It would be naive of us to suggest there is not, but we have to be very careful about how it plays out. Pharmaceutical companies' involvement in maternal healthcare which has been mentioned is compelling if one is sitting in a country where the maternal mortality rate is high and somebody is offering assistance that is very appealing. Our position is that these partnerships are critical to the changes we want to make, but let us be realistic and ensure they are driven by a pro-poor and pro-development agenda as much as by profit. There is and has to be room for that discussion.
Dr. Mary Keogh:
The intersectional approach is where we need to go in programming from a development perspective. The sustainable development goals, SDGs, are starting to get people to collaborate and work together in a push to become more co-ordinated. The challenge is how does one bring intersectionality into practice in reality. It is an academic term. My PhD was all about intersectionality, but trying to move it to the practical piece is the real challenge. Until we do, we will miss addressing inequality in its wider sense, unless we start to look at the universal issues that cut across, whether it be caring or all of the various different aspects. It is about how programmes start to address all of these issues. I do not necessarily have an answer to that question, but I appreciate the comments made as it can be very challenging.
I am delighted to be here with people I met recently at the Conference of States Parties, COSP. On this occasion we do not have to travel so far to be with them. On a more serious note, I pay tribute to everybody present from Dóchas and my own organisation, the Disability Federation of Ireland, which has been a part of this issue during the years. I hope it will continue to be. That is an expression of the responsibility we generally have in Ireland. My organisation is about people in Ireland with disabilities, but one cannot be blind - if I can use the term - to the fact that there are people all over the world who are disabled. I have read that 80% of the world's population of disabled people live in the developing world, not the developed world. We have enough issues to be put right. What must it be like for the others?
I recall meeting a few years ago a lady from South Africa at an international summer school in Galway. She told me that both of her parents were deaf but that she could use Irish sign language. I asked her how this was so and she said the Dominican Sisters had taught both her father and mother.
Ms Diouf, or perhaps it was someone else on her side of the table, referred to maternity care and care for women. The Medical Missionaries of Mary did huge work - most of the sisters were trained nurses and consultants - in the area of maternity care. What I am doing is drawing on the long-term interest Ireland has shown and the way in which it is now expressed. I am referring to the fact that the Government, through Irish Aid, is more involved in this critical and important work. I have used two examples of women's organisations to underline this point.
Sustainability is mentioned throughout the presentations. We now have the issue of climate change strongly in front of us. This has happened very quickly, but the issue has been around for many decades. From my study of development economics, the way the First World deals with the developing world has ramifications for its progress as we tend to take cash crops. Cash crops are grown in the developing world because we want them. This results in land erosion and the movement of people into cities which impoverish countries that are trying to develop. This has to have ramifications for people with disabilities and families on the margins. That is a point on which people may want to comment. How critical is the broader issue of sustainability and the interaction between the north and the south before one even gets down to granular level and specific programmes to support people with disabilities? What series of actions or behaviours on the part of Ireland, in the opinion of our guest speakers, would give sustained hope to the people with whom they work?
To refer to some of the presentations made, Mr. Lamson mentioned that disability was an afterthought in development policy. I have said many times before that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 should have done the business. We are all human and have rights simply because of our humanity, not because we are women or men, boys or girls, come from different ethnic backgrounds, are disabled or whatever else.
It was not until almost 60 years later that the UN had to issue what I see as an apology, stating that it had not made that real for people with disabilities. We have been involved in development aid since before the foundation of the State through religious orders, philanthropic groups and so on and, more recently, through our foreign policy, Irish Aid, and so on. However, it seems that it was only yesterday that somebody figured out that people with disabilities should figure in disaster relief, development work and so on. There is a cultural or other issue that makes it difficult for human beings and states to identify that. I would welcome the views of the witnesses in that regard.
Ms Diouf gave a specific example in regard to education, mainstreaming and support for teachers. Efforts such as that are magnificent in the sense that we put people away and we have had to try to unpack that. On data and the census and so on, it is only in the past 20 years or less that the Irish census has had very specific questions about the extent of disability. It is magnificent to have information on the number of kids and adults with disabilities in various counties in terms of participation, employment, education, housing and so on.
Ms Carty stated that people with disabilities are often the least visible and are rarely heard. Even if that was the only thing said today, there would be very many threads to be pulled from it about what it leads to. Each of the witnesses expressed how they stand in solidarity with people with disabilities. The question for the committee and the State, which may not be answered today, is how we can stand in solidarity with people with disabilities and their families around the world.
Dr. Keogh and I have known each other for some time. She carried out a significant amount of work in raising issues of disability and disability inclusion and the voice of people with disabilities in Ireland through the 1990s and into the 2000s. I have a tricky question for her. She has a sense of the difficulty and challenges of doing so in Ireland and is now doing something similar in the developing world. What are the similar or different challenges in that regard?
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who is coming into the room on cue, referred to a yearly meeting. What would be a good and sustainable structure or agenda for that? There would only be one or two meetings per year. Other work must also be done. What might be a good structure or some key themes for the committee, of which I am not a member, to consider in terms of making it useful? I am very involved in the European Disability Forum, which has a strong interest in the rights of persons with a disability outside Europe and, in particular, difficult issues experienced by women and children.
Ms Niamh Carty:
That is a lot of questions. We all very much appreciate the suggestion of an annual engagement on this issue. In terms of the agenda for such an engagement and the kinds of issues it would be useful to address, one could look to any of the priorities being laid out in A Better World, in regard to which the committee has a significant role in terms of oversight of its implementation. It would be very helpful for the commitments on disability to be considered in the context of the overall commitments being made as part of the collective aid effort emanating from the State through our agencies and Irish Aid among others, which fall under the remit of the committee. It would be very welcome for consideration to be given to whether the commitments are being met, whether implementation reflects the kind of commitments being made, and the outcomes for people, and to focus very much on those outcomes at programme level. It would be of use to touch on some of the higher level primary issues to which we referred in terms of budgeting or the ring-fencing of funding for disability within the budget. There are a range of issues which would need to be covered on the agenda and they will arise for other priorities within A Better World. On this issue, we would welcome that the committee would give specific consideration regularly to disability issues. My colleagues may wish to comment.
Ms Fatoumata Diouf:
I thank Senator Dolan for asking a question I was hoping to hear, namely, what can Ireland do to give hope to the people for whom we work. As important as funding is, sustainability is more important. To reach sustainability, it is important that Ireland is able to influence international policies such that disability is put at the heart of disability inclusive development. The topic needs to be pushed in the right forum such that it gets the echo it needs for important measures to be taken in favour of disabled people.
Dr. Mary Keogh:
I am still reflecting on the questions asked by the Senator, but I will try to respond in a coherent way. I will preface my reply by stating that I am not a representative of the disability community. I work for an organisation and, as such, I do not consider myself a representative in that sense.
Among the similarities between the disability movement in Ireland and that in the countries in which we work are the discrimination that is faced, which is pervasive in all countries, and the lack of accessibility to infrastructure. In Ireland, there is an expectation for that not to be the case, but it still is in some respects. In some of the countries in which we work, the available budget impacts on that because governments or the private sector do not have funding to invest in this area or doing so is not a priority. There is also a similarity in terms of cross-impairment or cross-disability solidarity.
A difference I have noted through the years is how accountability is viewed. In Ireland there is a strong disability movement which holds the Government to account and, in some cases, is adversarial in so doing as it may be warranted. In some of the countries in which we work, there is no space to take that approach or it may not be appropriate because it is about how it is possible to work together for solutions. That is a difference in approach arising from different contexts and different socio-economic, political and cultural backgrounds. There are definite similarities around solidarity and the discrimination faced in that regard. That was made evident at the conference of states parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which we attended this year.
My apologies for being delayed.
I welcome everybody to the meeting. I often think about this topic, if one would call it a topic. How are we doing as a society? Are we caring? Unless we have a caring society, all of these issues will become greater. My fear is that, when the economy is improving and everybody is better off, we tend to move on and forget about many of these issues. To establish concern, it is vitally important that people are continually made aware through our schooling system of the issues and the efforts needed to deal with them. We should not deal with these issues today and forget about them tomorrow until they come up again in six months, when we will think about them again. By and large, the Irish people are very caring. I believe that is because of where we came from. We were a very poor country. We had to learn to survive and we cared for each other. That was built up through the family unit. I look around myself today and wonder whether we are as caring as we used to be as a society. Those are the questions we have to keep asking ourselves. Are the witnesses happy, unhappy, or somewhere in the middle about the manner in which these issues are dealt with through our educational system?
We owe an awful lot to the religious orders who were so deeply involved in the education system in this country. The numbers in those orders are decreasing continuously. That will have a bearing on our awareness of all of these very important issues. We have underestimated the value of the religious orders that were involved in our education system. They have taken some stick from various groupings down through the years with regard to interference and all the rest of it, but we owe an awful lot to the people in the religious orders who made us aware of a lot of these problems. They also brought home to us, because of their missionary work abroad, what was happening in other countries.
It seems that, as a society, we are not as aware as we used to be of many issues, including not only social problems but issues with sight, which we are talking about here, and hearing. As a politician, I do not hear people raising these issues as much as I used to in the greater scheme of things. It is only when we meet people, such as the witnesses, who are concerned and involved that we get the opportunity to discuss these issues. That creates a massive awareness, at least as far as I am concerned, about what we are doing about these issues and about whether we are slipping or getting careless or are not getting as involved in making certain that all of this training is provided and awareness is raised, particularly through our schools. Do the witnesses have any recommendations in that regard?
I find that the social aspects of education have taken a back seat in our system. People are more concerned about examination results and the standard of education at the expense of overall education in living, life, standards and beliefs. I have 14 grandchildren, so I have a fair amount of dealing with the youth, and in my experience there are some tremendous examples of caring among younger people. I would like to hear the views of the witnesses as to whether there is something we could do to make certain that we never lose that and that it is part and parcel of the agenda when we are teaching our children at an early age. We must create an awareness. Things learned in primary school tend to stay with a person throughout life. They certainly have in my case. I was taught by the Christian Brothers. They took a lot of stick, but they did an awful lot of good in terms of making us aware of our other responsibilities in life. I am interested in the witnesses' views in that regard. Am I exaggerating or is there something worthwhile in what I am saying?
Dr. Mary Keogh:
As the Deputy has just addressed, caring is very important. I will preface my remarks by saying that I do not have background in education, but the education system should teach our young people how to be global citizens and how to understand how the world works. Civic and political education is key because it deals with issues of injustice and inequality. I am not aware of the current curriculum. I do not know whether it addresses these issues. I know there is a lot of work on development education, but it is critical that this be learnt in that context, that is, through schools and the education system.
From a disability perspective, I am always conscious of the issue of caring because we do not want to follow a charity model. It is key to consider the challenge of getting citizens concerned and caring while not taking the approach of a charity, which would lack accountability.
Mr. Charlie Lamson:
To pick up on that, in November, Sightsavers engaged in some research on this subject. This ties into both Ireland's historic view of overseas aid, engagement and its place in the world, and its awareness of and levels of concern about the specific issue of disability. We found that Ireland still has a very proud position in the world with regard to its long engagement in overseas aid. This engagement continues from the missions of the past into today. With regard to the issue of disability within the State, we found that the issue has not really been brought to people's attention to the extent to which it could be. People essentially left that part blank. They were not quite sure and had not thought about it. To me that represents a tremendous opportunity. In this conversation we have been talking about the nexus between domestic policy and focus and international focus. Especially in a state of Ireland's size, these can tie in together to create a conversation about disability regardless of where one is.
Sightsavers is launching a programme in primary schools which aims to raise issues around the sustainable development goals with a specific focus on the issue of disability precisely because of the fact that when the pupils are at that age and in primary school, the programme will have a lasting impression and will form citizens who are focused on these issues. I was delighted to hear the Deputy talk about that. There is a real opportunity in that space. To tie that into the broader question of why we are here, if we are looking at giving people hope, we have to create a future for them.
There have to be sustainable processes to hardwire disability inclusion into Government and Irish Aid policy. The more awareness there is of the issue domestically, the more we can advance the international issues. I see many different synergies and I think the point is important.
Ms Niamh Carty:
The question is thought-provoking. I will return to the issues of the education of young people and caring. Two extraordinary examples of leadership in caring have been demonstrated recently by two young women, namely, Greta Thunberg in respect of climate change and Malala Yousafzai in respect of girls' education. Even very young people have an innate sense of fairness and we have to make space for that. It is not just about formal education and what we tell them; it is about giving them the space to demonstrate the leadership they have in them, and the fairness they wish to impart to the rest if the world. It would be interesting to hear the conversations about kids who came out of school on strike over climate change. There was a lot of tut-tutting about it but this is their future. They have to be educated and to understand the issues but we have to give them the channels through which they can demonstrate leadership in respect of caring. We can do this in the privacy of our own homes and, more broadly, in our communities and as a society.
In the context of Deputy Barrett's point, we discussed the notion of more interaction with schools and colleges to get the message out about the importance of development aid and humanitarian assistance programmes, as well as the benefits taxpayer funding brings to the most impoverished people in the world. The communities that are most vulnerable to climate change are in the poorest countries, which we witnessed some weeks ago following the typhoons in Malawi and Mozambique, where villages and other settlements were washed away.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently took an initiative to bring the United Nations flag to each school, to get the message across that, since we joined the UN 64 years ago Ireland, a small country, has played an important role in the organisation. Last week, some of us met a senior UN official. She spoke about disarmament and constantly spoke of the initiatives of Irish Governments, back in the early days of the UN, which led to non-proliferation treaties that were important for disarmament. This committee engages regularly with Irish and international NGOs and a huge part of our work relates to development aid and humanitarian assistance. In a report we produced on Irish Aid more than a year ago, the committee sought submissions from Oxfam and others and highlighted the need for disability-inclusive development.
The contribution of each witness has been welcome. Ms Diouf spoke about the double vulnerability of a woman with a disability and the statistics she gave about women with a disability being two or three times more likely to face gender violence were frightening. Disability cannot be an afterthought in development policy. We do not have an executive role but we will engage with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State, as well as with Irish Aid, directly on the issues the witnesses raised. We will ensure that these important issues are brought directly to the Tánaiste, the Department and Irish Aid and in our future discussions, at official and political level, we will raise the dialogue we had today. These issues concern people in the developing world, particularly those with disabilities. I offer my sincere thanks to all witnesses for their contributions.
We are a small, chatty, non-colonist country and we have a good track record. In response to Deputy Barrett's point, a number of Irish disability organisations have been active and have partnered themselves, which is something that could be examined.