Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 14 July 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence
Pre-Budget Submission: Dóchas
Everybody is welcome. I am pleased to welcome Ms Suzanne Keatinge, CEO of Dóchas, and Ms Caoimhe de Barra, CEO of Trócaire. A special welcome to Ms Gloria Soma, director of the Titi Foundation in South Sudan, who is joining us from Sudan. I also welcome Mr. Dominic MacSorley, CEO of Concern Worldwide, who is no stranger to development matters. They are very welcome to our meeting. It is most timely because this is the last week of our parliamentary session. When we come back in late August or early September, thoughts and minds will firmly turn towards budgetary matters. I felt it was important that we had an opportunity to have this engagement prior to that.
The format of the meeting is that we will hear an opening statement from the witnesses which, we understand, will be delivered by Ms Keatinge, before going into a question-and-answer session with members of the committee. As we are quite time limited due to Covid restrictions, I ask that witnesses be concise and conscious of the time constraints when initially addressing our committee. I ask members to be concise in order to allow all members an opportunity to ask questions.
I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that we should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make any person readily identifiable or engage otherwise in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of any person or entity. Therefore, if statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identified person or entity, you will be directed to discontinue your remarks. It is imperative that any direction be complied with.
For witnesses attending remotely outside of the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, you may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who might be physically present does. Witnesses participating in the committee session from a jurisdiction outside of the State are advised to be mindful of the domestic law and how it may apply to evidence given.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against any person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make that person identifiable. I remind members that they are only allowed to participate in the meeting if they are physically located either in the Leinster House complex here or the conference centre where the Dáil and Seanad are meeting in plenary session today.
For anybody watching this meeting online, some Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing the meeting remotely due to these unprecedented circumstances. As a large number of people are attending the meeting remotely, I ask that everybody bear with us in the event that any technical difficulties may interrupt or in any way adversely affect our proceedings.
I am very pleased to call on Ms Keatinge to make the opening statement. I acknowledge the timing of her letter in today's edition of The Irish Times, which made for very good early morning reading for me and, I am sure, members of our committee. The timing is also significant, having regard to last night's vote in our neighbouring jurisdiction, the UK, on a cut to the international development assistance budget. Without pre-empting anything that might be said in this meeting, I am sure committee members will join with me in warning our Government not to envisage a similar type of cut in our budget in the autumn. I note the reason or excuse given was because of Covid.
I take the view that precisely because of Covid-19 and how it affects developing world, poor and disadvantaged areas, it would be a reason to ensure an increase in our budget rather than a cut, as we have seen in our neighbouring jurisdiction. In any event we will have an opportunity over the next hour or more to detail some of the issues. I am very pleased to call on Ms Keatinge to lead off with her opening statement.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
Chairman, Deputies and Senators, I very much appreciate that warm welcome. As the Chairman has said himself, this is such an important moment and budget for us particularly because of Covid-19. I am therefore very grateful on behalf of Dóchas and are our members to have the opportunity to engage with the joint committee this morning on our pre-budget submission.
I am very conscious that it is almost the summer holidays so we appreciate the committee attending here this morning and I hope that it shows a real sense of urgency and the importance of budget 2022 from the perspective of Irish international agencies which make up the Dóchas network. Together, Dóchas members - development, human rights and humanitarian organisations - employ more than 5,000 people in Ireland and many more globally, supporting local communities in more than 100 countries across the world. They and their local partners can be considered Ireland’s global front-line workers as they work around the clock, often in very insecure environments, to contain the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope the committee will see then from the detail in our pre-budget submission that this has been no ordinary year.
The pandemic has not only been a global public health crisis but has shown the widening gap between rich and poor and threatened for the first time in decades development gains such as the fight to eradicate poverty and hunger, and of equal importance, the progression of human rights commitments related, in particular, to gender equality, including equal access to education for girls and for people with disabilities. The pandemic has also allowed some governments to roll back on their commitments on human rights, including protecting human rights defenders as well as protecting civilians in times of war and respecting international humanitarian law.
We come before the joint committee today because we believe the pandemic, climate change and conflict are shared burdens that can only be resolved through collective action by governments, by the joint committee members as politicians, by NGOs, by businesses and, perhaps most important of all, by local communities themselves. Given the critical value of Ireland’s international development co-operation, especially Irish Aid, and Ireland’s very significant diplomatic efforts on the UN Security Council, I ask the joint committee to formally contact the Government in support of our pre-budget submission and, in particular, to contact the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Deputy Coveney and the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid and diaspora, Deputy Brophy.
Our key ask is that now more than ever, particularly in light of the devastating impact of Covid-19, the Government needs to increase its spending on official development assistance, ODA, if it is to deliver on its own Global Ireland: Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025 strategy and Irish Aid’s international development policy, A Better World, which pledges that we will leave no one behind. Specifically, the Government needs to increase ODA in real terms in budget 2022 and offer a clear pathway to achieving 0.5% of gross national income, GNI, by 2025 and onwards to the UN internationally-recognised target of 0.7% by 2030.
We would also ask that all political parties represented here today, as well as any non-party representatives, recommit in their own pre-budget submissions to reaching the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA.
With the permission of the Chairman, I will now take the joint committee briefly through the other key points of our pre-budget submission before welcoming Caoimhe de Barre, CEO of Trócaire, who will introduce one of its partners, Gloria Soma, director of the Titi Foundation speaking to the committee from South Sudan on what it has been like to live through this pandemic. Dominic MacSorely, CEO of Concern, will also briefly provide opening words to give an insight from his organization on the importance and impact of ODA in the fight against hunger.
It is worth recalling that the Government in its Programme for Government: Our Shared Future recommitted itself to reaching Ireland’s long-standing target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA by 2030. We have also been encouraged by the continued support across the political spectrum to reaching this target. However, it is important to remind the joint committee members today that from a high of 0.58% in 2008, our aid spending fell and has since stagnated. When the sustainable development goals were signed by Ireland in New York in 2015 by this Government our spend had fallen to just 0.32% of GNI. It fell further last year to 0.31% despite the welcome cash increase of €30 million bringing the total amount to €868 million. The latest Government estimates on ODA suggest that it will increase to 0.32% this year. This is below the average reached by many other EU member states in the OECD which is at 0.5%.
We therefore need to impress on this joint committee that the Government needs to increase the pace of spending on ODA so that we do not let another year slip by. Time is no longer on our side. In budget 2022 Ireland needs to make much more determined progress.
This committee is well aware that Ireland is recognized around the world for its principled and high quality aid programme. We have previously mentioned that the OECD Development Assistance Committee, DAC, in its peer review last year said that Ireland’s programme is “strong with many areas of excellence” and that Ireland “walks the talk” in prioritising the furthest behind.
However, that peer review also stressed that more needs to be done to match Ireland’s political willingness to reach the internationally recognised target of aid spending. In other words, what we do with our ODA is very strong and has real impact on the ground but we simply need to do more of it.
It is incredible to think that we have still been unable to physically meet with the joint committee for over 15 months now. Who would have imagined it this time last year? We regret also that for some of the members it has not been possible to experience for themselves the amazing work of Irish international NGOs on the ground. Nor have they been able to experience what it feels like to visit a refugee camp, or experience the sights and sounds of being in a village devastated by locusts or flooding, or indeed to understand what social distancing feels like in an urban slum in one of the many mega-cities mushrooming around the world.
All of us here today, however, understand and appreciate the enormous impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our lives and on our communities. We all know families who have suffered bereavement, whose livelihoods have been damaged, and whose lives and future opportunities have been significantly altered. We appreciate too the massive long-term toll that the pandemic may have on our economy and society.
It is with this backdrop that I ask the joint committee members today to live up to our roles as global citizens and to appreciate the devastating impact of the pandemic on countries already suffering from hunger, conflict, drought and locusts. Quite simply, it has become a matter of life and death with frail and fragile health systems breaking down and with people having nowhere else to turn.
Dóchas's pre-budget submission provides some devastating statistics on the impact of the pandemic but equally important some positive examples on how Irish NGOs and their local partners are rising to the challenge. We can get through this if we work together.
It is by keeping these vulnerable communities at the forefront of our conversation today, indeed at the heart of policy-making, that Dóchas calls on the Government in advance of budget 2022 to do the following - increase Ireland’s official development assistance to ensure Ireland keeps pace with global needs now and in the post-Covid-19 environment; ensure additional and targeted financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation to support least-developed countries, LDCs, and small island developing states, SIDS; use Ireland’s voice at the UN Security Council, at the EU and in other international forums to champion human rights defenders and the role being played by civil society; advocate to ensure that the global community produces enough vaccine doses for everyone, everywhere; and lastly to strengthen Ireland’s global leadership on sustainable development goal 2: zero hunger.
I thank the committee for its attention and its ongoing support to Dóchas and its members. I will hand over to Ms de Barra, CEO of Trócaire.
Ms Caoimhe de Barra:
As Ms Keatinge mentioned, humanitarian need was unprecedented prior to Covid-19 but it has been severely compounded by the pandemic. We are witnessing the triple threat of coronavirus, climate change and conflict. These are in danger of creating a long-term humanitarian catastrophe from which the world may not recover but that is not inevitable. It is the people in the most vulnerable situations and most fragile countries who are suffering the worst health and socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. We, in organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and others, together with our local partners have seen this unfolding directly through out work and have witnessed the devastating human impact of it. At a broad scale, in the two decades to 2020, huge progress had been achieved in reducing poverty. The number of people living in poverty globally fell by 1 billion over those two decades. However, the World Bank estimates that as a result of Covid-19, an additional 120 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty. In addition, over the course of the next ten years, as a result of climate change a further 130 million people are also at risk of extreme poverty. My point is there is a compound impact of Covid, climate change and conflict. It was great to hear the Cathaoirleach say he believed Covid and the Covid crisis are reasons to increase aid, not decrease it, and we fully agree and endorse that.
However, Covid is not the only crisis affecting people; it is compounding multiple crises. For example, Ethiopia is experiencing its worst hunger crisis in 20 years. Across the entirety of east Africa 30 million people are also facing extreme levels of food insecurity as a result of climate, drought, flooding, locust infestation and conflict. In Syria, a country that has suffered ten years of conflict, we are seeing the highest ever need for humanitarian assistance. Its humanitarian needs have increased by 20% over the last 12 months alone. Covid-19 continues to spread at an alarming rate in that context while the healthcare infrastructure, decimated by years of conflict, remains woefully inadequate to respond. However, we are having an impact through Irish Aid. Our partnership, as Trócaire alone, delivers life-saving and life-changing programmes in some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world. For example - and this is just one agency with Irish Aid funding - we managed to reach 426,000 individuals in the past year with support to mitigate the direct and secondary impacts of Covid-19. The direct impacts are health impacts and the secondary impacts are almost more impactful and devastating, such as food insecurity, violence against women and violence against human rights defenders.
As Ms Keatinge said, increased overseas development assistance, ODA, is needed now more than ever. Ensuring we do not lose the major development gains due to the pandemic will be difficult but it is achievable. We believe we must step up and respond to the scale of the crisis with appropriate ambition and action. I am delighted to hand over to Ms Gloria Soma, who will be able to give us a clear perspective from a country that has been ravaged by the three issues we have mentioned here, namely Covid, climate and conflict.
Ms Gloria Soma:
I thank the Chairman and the committee for giving me this opportunity. I have worked in South Sudan for the last eight years and have experienced first-hand the scale of the humanitarian need but also the positive impact of development assistance on the ground. South Sudan marked its tenth anniversary last week. It is the world’s youngest nation and continues to face immense hunger, violence and now the challenges of Covid-19. The humanitarian situation in South Sudan is getting worse due to the cumulative effects of years of conflict and violence, climate shocks, including recurring floods and droughts, and now the impact of Covid-19. We estimate 8.3 million people to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021, which is nearly 70% of the population. The expectation is 7.7 million people will face crisis-level food insecurity or worse. This is an increase of 15% on 2020. The added challenges of the health impacts of Covid-19, along with the related impacts of lockdowns, rising food prices, unemployment, falling incomes and school closures, all exacerbated by a lack of access to vaccines, have really set us back. Economic pressure can often manifest in gendered ways, and approximately 1,500 teenage girls in the equatorial states have been married off or are pregnant. The temporary closure of schools has disrupted children’s education, limited access to services such as school feeding programmes and increased exposure to gender-based violence. Many girls who have left will not return to school again. As ever, it is the poorest who are being hit hardest. Despite the roll-out of vaccines that we have seen in Ireland, vaccine access in South Sudan remains low. South Sudan has received fewer than 900,000 vaccines via the COVAX system and communities have not been adequately engaged in the roll-out process, which means poor uptake across the population. The weak health system of South Sudan is a further challenge to the roll-out. The importance of access to vaccines, Ireland’s support for the proposed waiver on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, and public health support for the people of South Sudan cannot be overstated.
I would like to finish with the good news though. The impact of Irish Aid funding in South Sudan has been immense. Trócaire’s office in South Sudan, in partnership with local organisations like mine, has received just under €620,000 of Irish Aid funding in 2020 and into early 2021. With this, we have reached over 18,495 people with a combination of support, including food assistance, access to safe water, agricultural support, psychosocial and gender-based violence support and menstrual hygiene kits, which help to keep young girls in school. Lockdown came to South Sudan in April 2020 and between January and September 2020, my organisation saw over 6,000 reported incidents of gender-based violence against women and girls. Through Irish Aid-funded projects, cases of gender based violence have been identified, which have been reported and referred onwards. These cases would otherwise have been left unreported. Trócaire’s programme on gender inequality has resulted in increased reporting of gender-based violence cases. It has also allowed us to push for more prosecutions of sexual abuse against women and girls. It has helped us increase economic opportunities for women to gain financial independence, to support women’s participation in community peace-building initiatives and to build a flourishing women’s leadership programme where women leaders support new and emerging leaders. Real change can be delivered only by working in partnership with local communities affected by poverty and injustice. They know what works, they know what needs to change and are working to make this happen. They just need your solidarity to make this a reality.
Mr. Dominic MacSorley:
Good morning everybody. I thank the Chairman and the clerk to the committee for facilitating this important discussion at such a critical time in the budget 2022 negotiations. Our core message is Ireland’s aid is not only a lifeline for millions of people but it is also an investment in a better, more peaceful, world. Its impact cannot be underestimated and it is needed now more than ever.
The pandemic has been a brutal reminder of our collective vulnerability and interdependence. Concern is an organisation that is hard-wired to respond to emergencies but we had never had to deal with a crisis that affected all of our country programme and home offices at the same time. However, our commitment to stay and deliver during crises held strong and we had three key priorities, namely, to protect the health and safety of our 4,000 staff, to adapt our ongoing programmes to keep them operating to the fullest extent possible and to scale up Covid prevention messages across all the communities we work with. For example, we installed 1,200 extra water and sanitation stations inside Syria. We distributed soap and clean water to 600,000 displaced people in South Sudan, where Ms Soma is working.
We work closely with the ministry of education in Sierra Leone to ensure that children can continue their education remotely. With our partners, we provided Covid prevention training and messaging to close to 20 million last year. Closer to home, we were able to allow 9,300 Irish students to continue the school debates programme online. All of these programmes were supported by Irish Aid. Central to our ability to pivot and be flexible was the flexibility and adaptability of the Irish Aid team, whose members worked tirelessly and were phenomenally supportive of all agencies in enabling us to respond so effectively.
To say that the pandemic has been devastating for the poorest people is an understatement. There is a crisis on every level - health, gender-based violence, education, livelihoods, peace and, most important, hunger and a deepening inequality, which are disproportionately affecting women and children. Late last year, we were part of a global survey of 16,000 households across 25 countries that looked at the impact of Covid across multiple levels. What was notable was the direct impact of lockdowns on women working in the informal sector, who repeatedly stated that, if they did not work that day, they would not eat that night. Some 60% of women had cut meals, mothers were eating less and last, and violence against women and children was spiralling, in some cases by a factor of four. A staggering 270 million people are estimated to be acutely food insecure or at high risk. That is an 81% increase since the onset of Covid. The figures are mind numbing and staggering.
As Ms de Barra stated, we cannot blame Covid for everything. Climate change has played a key role. The 43 countries most at risk were all experiencing conflict-induced hunger before the pandemic. In most of the countries where we are working, conflict is a key driver of food insecurity. In Somalia, 3 million people are in integrated food security phase classification, IPC, 3. This means that food consumption gaps are widening, matched with increased levels of acute malnutrition. This is due to a combination of failed rains, conflict and a population that is still dealing with the impact of locusts.
Haiti is in the news due to the assassination of its President. Prior to that, 12% of its population were classified as being in emergency phase 4. This means high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality. People had already started desperately selling off whatever assets they had. Haiti, which Ireland has consistently supported for many years, is a country that has been in decline, but there was also a poor harvest last year. The lack of remittances as a result of Covid became a key contributor. Haiti is a classic example of the UN humanitarian appeal, which is a modest $235 million but is only 5.4% funded. That is shocking, given the level of need. Sadly, we know that these figures will get worse. September to December will be a tough time for people who are depending on harvests. With the Covid crisis deepening, the number of new cases is doubling every 18 days, with less than 2% of the population fully vaccinated.
Some front-line staff working with agencies in Liberia have got their vaccines. Others were told yesterday that they would not get their second doses until August because supplies had run out. These are the people who are treating cases.
The level of need is increasing and the level of funding relative to those needs is down. The global humanitarian appeal of $35 billion is just 25% funded, which is the lowest we have seen and we are only mid-year. Fortunately, Irish Aid, the EU and USAID are three of the key donors that have stayed the course and increased funding in response to the large-scale humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, we are not seeing the same from others, notably the UK, whose recent cuts to aid already amounted to £5 billion this year. I know that Trócaire and GOAL have been affected. For us, we are looking at cuts of more than $8 million across Malawi, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh with little notice and dire consequences for the poorest communities.
We must ensure that this does not happen again. We recognise that this is a difficult message to send home because there are significantly increased needs at home, but it is an even more important message now. For this reason, we must not just highlight to the public, the voters and the media the urgency of the crisis we are facing, but also the positive impact that aid is having. An important part of that message is the good news story of prevention and how timely and effective interventions can prevent the horrific images of starvation and suffering.
It was in July 2011 that the world saw the first famine of the 21st century. Former President Mary Robinson travelled to Somalia with RTÉ, Concern, GOAL and Trócaire. She sat and listened to the stories of affected families of leaving children and older people behind in order to save the rest of the family. More than 260,000 people lost their lives tragically in what was a slow and underfunded response. Five years later, humanitarian actors used improved early warning systems, built with the support of Irish Aid, to respond to and avert four large-scale famines in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. This was a phenomenal achievement in terms of early warning and early action. It is important that we remember Ireland's essential role in preventing crises and famines and fighting hunger. It is not just a policy strategy. It is in our DNA and has allowed us to have the foresight to provide solidarity to people caught up in crisis.
We must also remember that Ireland is one of the few donors that provide multi-annual funding in humanitarian crises, a decision that changes and saves lives. I saw this first hand in the Central African Republic. It is a country where 2 million people depend on humanitarian aid but there is a shortfall of approximately 60% in humanitarian funding. Ireland is providing Concern and other Irish agencies in the Central African Republic with a five-year funding timeframe. Do committee members know how that changes conversations when we go into communities, say that we will be there for the next five years, we have the backing of the Irish people and we do not have to worry about being gone in six months' time because we could not find additional funding, and we can sit down with the communities to discuss how to plan with them to change the situation positively? It is transformative. The ministry in the Central African Republic asked us not just to tell the Irish people "Thank you", but to tell the other donors that this mattered. We are telling them. We are rightly promoting Ireland's reputation globally.
Ireland is not the largest donor, but it is one of the most respected for being principled and meeting the highest standards of accountability and effectiveness. The Irish Aid team's level of demand for accountable and quality programmes has made what each of our agencies is doing stronger. Its partnership is deep and demanding, but it is focused on where need is greatest and is connected to and informed by the realities on the ground. There is a uniquely Irish aspect to the relationship. It means that Concern and other agencies have direct and open access to senior Irish diplomats and trusted and confidential briefings on highly sensitive situations. I received a phone call out of the blue from H.E. Geraldine Byrne Nason, who was about to go into a sanctions committee. She wanted to know what the impact of the sanctions would be on humanitarian operations in Somalia and North Korea. She told me that she was going into the meeting in half an hour, that she wanted the data and that she wanted to say that she had spoken to the relevant people. That is exactly the kind of relationship that has an impact. It connects policy level to the ground, bringing authenticity and integrity to every conversation. This represents real partnership in action. I commend the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and its commitment to securing peace and addressing conflict as part of its tenure on the Security Council. I also commend the team behind Irish Aid on the important role they play.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the level of global need, but we have learned over the past year or two that human progress is not inevitable. We have also learned that we are returning to a world we thought we had left behind. Extreme poverty has increased for the first time in 20 years and famine, something that we believed had been consigned to history, is back.
However, history does not have to repeat itself. Ensuring solidarity is essential in that effort. Ireland's international aid programme is part of that solidarity and global leadership and a commitment to a better world. I thank the committee for its time and its commitment to this issue. I ask my colleagues here today to advocate for the necessary cross-Government support for Ireland's overseas aid programme.
I thank Mr. MacSorley and his colleagues for a comprehensive overview. I now turn to members of the committee. I have received apologies for an inability to attend from Deputy Brady and Senator Ó Donnghaile. This 9.30 a.m. slot on Wednesday is not one to which we are accustomed but, as I said earlier, we were very keen to accommodate Ms Keatinge and the team during our last week's work of the term. I know Deputy Stanton has had an interest in these matters for a long time. I am pleased that he has joined us and I ask him to kick off proceedings.
I thank our guests for making time to be here today and for the work they and their teams are doing across the world. It strikes me that, as we sit here today, our country is convulsed with a debate as to whether we should allow indoor dining and whether people should be allowed go into restaurants for slap-up feeds. Now we hear about what is happening in other parts of the world. The dichotomy between the First World and the Third World is enormous. We hear about famine, war and conflict and, on top of all of that, climate change. Climate change has almost taken a back seat as a result of Covid but we know that it is causing real hunger and devastation in many parts of the world. It is not getting any better. It is getting worse.
I understand the fundraising efforts of the different organisations in Ireland have been impacted by Covid and by the restrictions on fundraising. How has that impacted on the organisations? The need to bring what is happening across the world to the attention of Government, the Oireachtas, the people and the media was mentioned earlier. It has been said more than once, especially with regard to Covid, that we should be in this together. All those in underdeveloped countries should get the vaccine. We need to roll out that vaccine because, if we do not, there is a risk that more and more variants will emerge and that these could eventually travel here and impact on us. We are linked in that way.
Having listened to the debate this morning, I detect a sense of hopelessness and devastation about the suffering going on across the world but I also detect a sense of hope that it can be better. I certainly agree with the Chairman that we need to encourage Government to maintain funding, or to increase it if possible, and to use our position on the Security Council and in Europe to encourage other countries to do the same. That is very important. I know the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and his team would agree with us in that regard. We really need to write to Government and the Ministers and to do what we can to encourage our own Government and other governments to step up to the mark. A small intervention can make a massive difference in some of these countries.
We have heard the reports from the organisations. The Chairman and I worked on the refugee crisis during the term of the last Dáil when we were in the Department of Justice and Equality. We met many people who had been through hell on earth. We tried to have the greatest impact we could on what was going on and to help people and bring them here. Unfortunately, we met resistance from some quarters in that regard. There is a need for an education programme here in Ireland to help people to see what is going on in different parts of the world. Our media have a very significant role to play in that because it is not reported enough. What is happening in other parts of the world does, and will, have an impact on us here. I again call on our media to highlight what is going on and to inform and educate people in Ireland so that they will again step up to the mark. I understand there is approximately €15 billion saved up in Ireland because people could not spend money. That is a huge amount. If a small proportion of this could be made available to the organisations that are here today, it would make a massive impact.
In all of my contribution I believe I only asked one question, which related to the impact Covid has had on the fundraising efforts of the organisations before us today.
I thank our guests for coming in, for sharing their experiences and for updating us on their programmes across the world. I absolutely agree with what Ms Keatinge said in her opening statement, which was that this has been no ordinary year. It has not been an ordinary year for any of us but the support provided to local communities on the ground by groups such as Ms Keatinge's will be pivotal and really important for future generations not only in the immediate term or in five or ten years' time, but as far out as 25 or 30 years from now. While the full impact of Covid is not yet known, we can see its visible impacts already. I refer to extreme hunger, extreme poverty, issues of gender equality and access to education, and the impacts of conflict zones on civilians. This is deeply concerning. I will say in the strongest of terms that preventing any further loss of the gains that had been made in those areas must be seen as a priority.
I will disagree with my colleague, Deputy Stanton, in that I am of the opinion that, as Covid has drawn some areas more into focus, it has also brought climate change to greater prominence in people's minds because we were being advised to wash our hands while knowing that there are millions of people who do not have access to clean water. The impact on those living in conflict zones and issues of food insecurity and extreme poverty have been brought much more to the fore. I believe it was Mr. MacSorley who mentioned the triple threat. Ireland has a key role to play and a real opportunity to build on the work that has been done to date in preventing crises before extreme hunger becomes famine and before we see images such as those I saw from Ethiopia on the screen when I was a toddler, images that have stayed with me ever since. While I acknowledge that the Government has committed to achieving that UN target of 0.7% by 2030, a detailed roadmap as to how that is to be achieved will be key in the short term. What is going to be done and when? Targets need to be put in place as part of that year-on-year plan. As a country, Ireland needs to bring those areas of expertise recognised by the OECD to other areas where there is emerging critical need, when that is possible, while also addressing the areas we already know of.
I will go back to the slippage of gains briefly. It will take a generation to catch up on the slippage we have seen so far, particularly in the area of education. It is not just a question of the reading, writing and literacy skills, but a question of everything else education represents, particularly in the context of gender equality, societal and economic changes and the opportunities these represent for the young girls who are now falling out of education. It is time they will never get back. In many cases, the potential opportunities are lost to them forever. For others, it will take a significant period of time to rebuild what they have lost in their time out of education.
I am most happy to hear vaccines mentioned. This is going to be key, particularly in the poorest of countries. We have seen variants arise quite regularly over the past year and a half. We have also seen lockdowns come and go. Until we get to a point at which a critical mass of people are vaccinated, that is not going to stop. That puts us all at risk. It has been said before, and I will say it again, that until we are all safe, none of us is safe. We are a global community.
That is the world in 2021. International travel is as easy as jumping onto a train or a bus would have been ten or 15 years ago. The further impacts of those and the lack of vaccinations in developing and poorer countries will impact everybody.
Chairman, I agree with what you said about Covid-19 and the budget. Cutting overseas aid at this time would be a retrograde step. Things can get better, but things getting better does not happen by chance. They happen through funding and planning, and through groups such as the groups here working with communities on the ground to empower them and give them the capability and resources to do for themselves as much as what we can do for them. Notwithstanding the cuts that other countries may make, if funding from Ireland is not increased and remains the same, looking at it through the prism of Covid-19, what will be the impact on the work the organisations can do on the ground? Will it be primarily focusing on the bedding down of programmes and regaining the gains lost through Covid-19? Will there be any capability to extend the work they do? What plans and programmes do the organisations have that cannot be implemented until the UN target of 0.7% is reached? Outside of financial aid, what other areas of positive change could make a further impact on the relationships Mr. MacSorley discussed? Are there other areas which could be improved that we should be looking at also as a priority?
I thank our guests for their attendance. They have set out a compelling and heart-rending case across all the areas, and I appreciate that. I wish to comment rather than ask many questions. It behoves all members of the committee to state publicly where we and the committee stand on all this. I endorse your opening remarks, Chairman, which were supported by my two colleagues who contributed, on whether this year there should be a net increase in our contribution to overseas aid. We should have a net increase this year. Populist or wrong arguments could be made the other way in the context of the demands that Covid-19 places nationally, but there is an onus on us to do the opposite.
Deputy Stanton created a vivid picture when he said we are animatedly debating the reopening of restaurants at a time when so many in the world are starving, as was pointed out today. The three contributing factors are the conflict, climate change and Covid-19. The confluence and combination of those factors make it incumbent on us to support a net increase in the budget to support the organisations with us this morning, individually and under the umbrella of Dóchas, in the work they are doing and to applaud that work. It is important that the latter point made about transparency in the operations and accountability are all in place. That is critical. The witnesses make the case well around the world. I do not have questions, just a supporting comment. I will certainly be strongly supportive at any forum available to me of the committee's view stated by you, Chairman, that there should be a net increase in our budget this year. It is the signal, but it is the way we will reach the 0.7%. It is also very much the Irish signal that is required this year. It is where we will show our calibre and quality. The onus is on us to do it because of Covid-19 rather than in spite of it, as it were.
I must apologise. I will be very brief because I have a commitment outside Leinster House in a few minutes, so I will have to move quickly. I thank our guests for attending. They are always very welcome to appear before the committee. I thank them for their submission which, as Senator Joe O'Reilly said, is compelling and heart-rending. I echo Deputy Clarke's words that we must develop a roadmap to the 0.7% by 2030. I will take this opportunity to state my party's position of support for that target for the multi-annual funding. Irish people are very proud of the work these organisations do. We probably are the best in the world at delivering meaningful aid to developing countries. I believe supporting these organisations can be the most effective way of alleviating poverty, spending money and getting the best outcome for our investment. Certainly, we and our party in the Government will do everything we can do to support the organisations and their requests and, indeed, to develop that roadmap through to 2030.
My apologies, but I must leave now. Thank you, Chairman, for this opportunity.
I heard most of the presentations on the way in but, sadly, Mr. MacSorley filtered out shortly after he started. I am sorry I did not hear all of his presentation. The case the organisations make is very strong. I will support it 100%, although I am a tiny cog in this very large wheel of Leinster House. Particularly as we emerge from Covid-19, more aid must be put into the areas in which the organisations work. It has always been a hobby-horse of mine that we can see the most deprived parts of the world where millions of dollars are spent on arms and ammunition, but we cannot feed the people in these areas. It is an outright scandal. Ireland should not step away from its commitments and, as most of my colleagues have said, it should increase its commitment to the areas in which the organisations work simply because ours is a wealthy country, regardless of whether we like it. Over the next couple of years there will be a tightening of budgets as we emerge from the pandemic to try to get our economy back, but we must support those who cannot support themselves.
I thank the witnesses. I apologise to Mr. MacSorley, and I will read what he said. However, I heard the contributions from Ms Keatinge and Ms de Barre and they make a compelling case. I promise I will do anything I can within my office. I am sorry I had to drop out for a short time, but I am back now.
Thank you for your attendance, Senator. I will refer to Ms Keatinge now. There were a number of questions from members which I ask Ms Keatinge to distribute among our guests as appropriate.
I will briefly add to the questions that were asked by members. Reference was made to Ireland's leadership role on the sustainable development goals. Earlier this year, shortly after Christmas, we received a quite stark presentation on the manner in which the sustainable development goals and targets have, perhaps, run the risk of falling off the rails. As it is July, six months later, Ms Keatinge might have an update on that. I welcome Ms Soma from South Sudan and acknowledge the very bleak nature of her presentation.
I want to ask her about the movement of people and migration, which is a major challenge in South Sudan and in neighbouring areas. What more can a country such as Ireland do in that regard? It seems that the uninhibited movement of people from South Sudan and the neighbourhood, right up through north Africa to the coast, is continuing, while not at the scale that it was at over recent years. How best might we assist the displaced people?
I will hand back to Ms Keatinge to answer the questions as appropriate.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
I will ask my colleagues to help answer as many questions as possible and if there are more, we can come back to the committee. Rest assured we are all here, including Mr. MacSorley, so we will be able to catch up on what we have said afterwards.
I will turn to Ms Soma in South Sudan first. That is the most important testimony. It will bring the lived experience for the committee and I will ask her to answer the question on what the likely impact on the ground is if aid is not increased. I will then ask Mr. MacSorley to come in and after that I will ask Ms de Barra to talk about fundraising and vaccines.
Ms Gloria Soma:
I will talk about the issue of funding. Donors love bringing it up because I am part of that testimony myself. I know the impact of aid has been able to be bring me to be who I am today. In the case of South Sudan, we all know that for a long time we have been aid dependent and the majority of people in my generation and those who have come after my generation are still dependent on issues related to aid. It is what we know and what we have depended on for a long time. Funding gives local communities, including both women and children, the hope to be able to continue to live sustainably and to live a dignified lifestyle in the country, given the fact that the leadership in the country cannot even provide basic services to their people. It is critical at this moment and it has always been critical that, unfortunately, aid has been the backbone of survival for the majority of the population in the country.
On the issue of movement and migration that the Chairman raised, we have consistently seen that for a long time people's movements into different regions around east Africa have not been the will of the people but have happened because of the conflict that has been generated by the different warring parties in the country. As such, people move to neighbouring countries for safety and to get a better lifestyle. I mention, for example, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, where the majority of South Sudanese have been going. When we come down to the realities, it is not that South Sudanese communities want to move into the different regions; it is because of the context we are in and the atrocities that are being committed against communities. We saw in 2016 that in a village in Central Equatoria, in the greater Yei region, people were killed along tribal lines. There was all this genocide coming through from 2016 to 2018. Those are some of the challenges that local communities and South Sudanese in general have been facing. A slight support from the international community would go a long way to ensuring that these communities can live and lead better lifestyles and hope for a brighter future.
Mr. Dominic MacSorley:
I will take members back to the Central African Republic. When I was there I asked the head of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNOCHA, how it managed a 63% shortfall in its budget. I appreciate that I am talking to people who manage budgets all the time. He said to cut pretty much everything, which is costly, and in that case it brought down the food rations by half. He said that they had become firefighters, they only went for the most acute cases and they had to leave the moderate cases today, which, in turn, become the most acute cases tomorrow. That goes back to the message of prevention.
The second point is that traditionally, when different appeals are considered, what tends to be funded are food, shelter and water. What does not get funded are protection, gender-based violence, GBV, and education. This is where Ireland comes in. I mention the example of kids in Syria getting the schooling they had missed out on for four or five years. Ireland is supporting 6,000 such kids with a view that when they go back there will be a generation that has not completely lost out and that will have the capability to go back. The Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, FCDO, is a brutal reminder of how cuts should never happen. The hardest conversations are when talking to partners in communities about cuts in funding, having built up a level of trust and confidence and having asked them to go on this journey together. Nobody understands why. That is the toughest thing about dealing with cuts.
We are not in that position. We have learned a lot from the 2008 crisis, as agencies, around efficiencies. We have learned about the importance of cash and how to spend money more astutely. Ms de Barra will talk about fundraising but the relationship with the Irish public has been phenomenal. Ballybofey is one example of a fundraising team that has been going for 20 years. When they could not go out and do their Christmas bazaar, they did all the online activities that everyone has been doing such as jumping, skipping and God knows what. The people of Ireland have stayed and they are a key part of this package.
Ms Caoimhe de Barra:
I will address the questions on fundraising, vaccines and priorities. On fundraising, to follow on from what Mr. MacSorley said, what we have witnessed to our surprise, at least initially, has been an outpouring of support and solidarity from the Irish public. Across the country, people have recognised that while the Covid pandemic is having a devastating impact on us in Ireland, personally and in our everyday lives, it is far more acute overseas. As several members said, it is ultimately far more damaging in the long term for people living in communities in fragile states, particularly in conflict-affected states. The generosity of the public at a time like this has been phenomenal.
Our fundraising has changed but it has remained strong. This sends an important signal that the public are fully behind overseas development work. They have demonstrated their solidarity in a practical way over the past year by donating directly to organisations such as Trócaire, Concern and others. We know from the research that Dóchas has done that 77% of the public say that development assistance is important. This is an example of a case where perhaps the public are ahead of the political decision-making. The public are backing the kind of work we do and understand that Covid's impact and the impacts of climate change are far more significant overseas, even while we have to support those who are vulnerable at home.
That is important and I would underline what several members said, which is that there is a need for a roadmap that will get us to 0.7% of GDP by 2030. Within the lifetime of this Government, we need to see a commitment to an interim target, which is solid and which will ensure that we are taking a stepwise approach year-on-year with meaningful incremental increases and that do not suddenly push the burden of increasing aid to later in the day when another Government might be in place.
In Dóchas, we believe that there needs to be a commitment to 0.5% by 2025 and that every budget should have an incremental step that builds gradually and sustainably towards that point.
Everybody appreciates how shocking the vaccine inequity is. It is palpable, tangible and deplorable. It impacts on our staff and the communities that we are working with. People are dying needlessly of Covid. While here in Ireland, there is a successful and welcome roll-out of the vaccine, can any of us live with the fact that across the world, over 50% of the global population has received one vaccine but in low income countries, only 1% of the population has received a vaccine? In Ireland, we are up to 70%, which is welcome, but 1% of the population of low-income countries are currently vaccinated. I underscore the point that Ms Soma makes, which is it that it is not just about access to the vaccines right now, although that is critically important. The TRIPS waiver is a priority. If there is a temporary waiver through the World Trade Organization TRIPS mechanism, there is capacity to scale up the production of vaccines. That is known and documented. We believe that Ireland should take a strong position at the WTO, aligned with many other countries that see the need, the moral imperative and the logic, for our own sake, of scaling up vaccine production worldwide.
Health systems need to be strengthened, which is a long-term investment that speaks to the need for 0.7% and the multi-annual approach. If Ireland is able to commit to a stepwise approach to funding over the next five or ten years and to working with partner countries and agencies such as us and the United Nations, we can build stronger health systems that will be more resilient to future health crises. The reality is that crises will continue to happen. Covid is the latest and the most visible. In the countries that we and Ms Soma work in, health systems are under severe strain at the best of times. They need a long-term investment which can only happen through a long-term commitment to aid.
On the question about other priorities beyond increasing overseas development assistance, climate is one. Everybody's intervention today has referred to climate and the importance of addressing climate justice, climate inequality and the impacts of climate. Ms Keatinge said that one of her requests is that there should be dedicated additional targeted funding for climate financing. That is an important message to come from this committee if possible. That would demonstrate that we are adherent in our approach as a country and that in going into the negotiations, Ireland is demonstrating its commitment through its aid budget and through the legislation which I hope will be passed and meet the high standards, with the latest amendments improving it, and that Ireland is prepared to face the reality that there will be significant changes in everything we do. We will embrace those changes because we recognise our global responsibility regarding climate.
The global economy is another priority and what form its recovery takes. The global economy is crucial to recovery and the livelihoods of millions of people who are part of supply chains in developing countries. There is a significant risk now that those supply chains will become more dangerous places for people to work and for the communities affected by them over the coming years, because of the impact of Covid and because people and governments are more vulnerable. Governments are less likely to be able to stand up to take a strong stance on the standards of implementation that need to be in place. This Government needs to look at human rights in business and to welcome, embrace and even get ahead of the legislation movement coming from Europe about mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence. That would demonstrate policy coherence for development across the board in Ireland.
We mentioned the UN Security Council and Ireland's seat on it a number of times in this meeting. It is extremely important. For the next 18 months, we continue to have an opportunity to be courageous, principled and effective at the UN Security Council. Ireland has already stepped up to the mark in a number of difficult situations. The importance of Ireland's success, together with Norway and others, with the Syria cross-border resolutions, cannot be overstated. Ireland needs to continue, with the full support of the entire Government, to dedicate every resource possible to its work at the UN Security Council to prevent and resolve conflict for all the reasons that we heard earlier. It needs to focus in particular on the protection of women, girls and other people who are vulnerable to gender-based violence in conflict.
Ireland can be a strong voice for climate security at the UN Security Council, potentially including during its presidency. It is contingent on passing the strongest possible version of the climate legislation that is currently before the Oireachtas.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
In response to Deputy Stanton's question about the media, I agree that we need to see more media coverage of what is happening outside Ireland. I know that our members are concerned, especially since the end of last year. The committee has heard from my colleagues that the Irish public want to hear more. They support overseas development assistance, ODA. Our survey said that 79% believe that ODA is effective in bringing about positive change. It is a challenge for us all to get more stories and coverage in the media. They should bring hope and positivity rather than always being too overwhelming.
The sustainable development goals, SDGs, are probably close to the Chair's heart, since he signed them in 2015. I agree that there is a sense that they are falling off the rails. When talking to our members, there is a sense that if ever something like the SDG framework was needed, it is now. I will admit that we probably did not know the word "Covid" in 2015 but the beauty of the SDG framework is that it shows the links between things like climate, conflict and now Covid. That relationship is important. The SDGs demand partnership and collaboration to solve these complex problems. Within our community and Coalition 2030, we will continue to challenge the Government to do more. The year 2030 is not that far away. This framework is needed now more than ever. Remember that even when it was being signed in 2015, there was a concern about the funding gap. That has not gone away. That is why our conversation on ODA is so important and relevant to the roadmap.
I thank the Chair. I hope we have answered most of the questions. If there are any more, we would be happy to answer them.
I thank Ms Keatinge and her colleagues. We now move towards next steps. I thank members for their proposals. I acknowledge the proposal from Deputy Stanton that we would write to the Government. I take it that it is agreed. Ms Keatinge mentioned that we could write to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, who is not our line Minister, but I acknowledge what Ms Keatinge has said and his pivotal role in the Government. I think that we should write to the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath. Is that agreed? Agreed. What should we say? I acknowledge what Senator O'Reilly said about a net increase, especially in times of Covid. I acknowledge what Deputy Clarke said about advising against any form of reduction or cut. I acknowledge what Deputy Clarke said about having a more consistent, certain or definite roadmap or pathway towards the 0.7% GNI each year. I acknowledge what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said to us in that regard last year. Nevertheless, I think that Deputy Clarke makes an important point, which should be included in our letter. I acknowledge the proposal from Deputy Leddin about multi-annual funding. We raised this with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and Minister of State, Deputy Brophy. It is an important point in the context of the presentation and what Ms Keatinge and colleagues said. We should revisit this issue and strongly state that our committee believes that this is an important way forward.
I advise members and guests that we will have an opportunity to engage with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, or the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, or both prior to the budget. Again, all the commentary this morning, including the presentations in writing and otherwise, will certainly feed into that process. It is likely the budget will be announced in mid-October but at the end of August and during the course of September we should have the opportunity to engage directly with the Ministers. If that does not happen, we will engage indirectly and segue into the submissions that came in the context of our meetings. I acknowledge the support of Senator Craughwell. If members are happy to draft a letter along those lines, we will do so.
The Chairman refers to the multi-annual funding raised by Deputy Leddin. We should look for a roadmap to bring us to the 0.7% that we are talking about, which could be reviewed on an annual basis to see how close we are getting to the desired figure.
Yes. That point has been made and we will take it on board. If we are agreed on that I will move to Ms Keatinge's proposals that the Government might engage in prior to the budget. I ask for an endorsement of these proposals from committee members. The first is an increase in Ireland's official development aid assistance to ensure we keep pace with global needs now and in the post-Covid environment. Is that agreed? Agreed. The next is that we ensure additional and targeted financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation to support least-developed countries and small island development states. That is along the lines of what Deputy Leddin was saying. Is that agreed? Agreed. Deputy Leddin is Cathaoirleach of the climate change committee in the Houses.
The third proposal is to use Ireland's voice at the UN Security Council and EU levels, as well as in other international fora, to champion human rights defenders on the role being played by civil society. This is a matter we took up with the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, and it will certainly form part of further discussions with both the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy. Is that proposal agreed? Agreed.
The fourth proposal is to advocate to ensure that the global community produces enough vaccine doses for everyone everywhere. This is in line with our earlier report, which we forwarded to the Government following our work earlier in the year on COVAX and universal vaccination. It is important that we again urge the Government to show leadership in this sphere. The fifth proposal is to strengthen Ireland's global leadership on zero hunger. This again feeds into our influential role in international bodies and the United Nations in particular. Is there agreement that we will include these proposals in our letter to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and to be copied to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Brophy? This is the proposed stance of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence prior to the budget. Is that agreed? Agreed. I thank members for that.
I will ask Ms Keatinge for a closing comment, having agreed that we will take this stance. On behalf of committee members, I acknowledge the great work of all the agencies, including non-governmental organisations. There are almost 60 full and associate members of the association of NGOs advancing the cause of what the Irish people support, as Ms de Barra has said. It is important to emphasise, in speaking about budgets and priorities, that 77% of the Irish people are giving the Government a mandate to commit to international development assistance. That is important, in the context of our priorities and going back to what Deputy Stanton quite rightly referred to as the national obsession with pubs and pubs opening. I acknowledge Irish Aid and Mr. Ruairí de Búrca's team of field officers and officials, which works closely with Dóchas for and on behalf of the Irish people and its Government. As Ms de Barra has said, the NGO community is working in the most challenging parts of the world in very difficult circumstances for its members, as well as for the people they serve. I acknowledge the importance of this meeting and we will proceed to the next steps.
Ms Suzanne Keatinge:
I thank the Chairman and all members of the committee not only for their support around those very tangible actions that we have requested today in our pre-budget submission but also for the leadership demonstrated today, which indicates the committee understands the position we face. It means much to many of the people in the Dóchas network working here in Ireland and, most important, overseas. I am sure Ms Soma is listening today and can take home that message of hope to the people she supports in South Sudan.
This is not just about the tangible actions that the committee is willing to take but also about hearing that it sees the importance and value in long-term aid. Mr. MacSorley spoke about prevention and Ms de Barra argued that aid is about transformation, which takes time. That is where the multi-annual and long-term planning comes in. We must make progress with incremental increases each year to reach that all-important target of 0.7% of GNI by 2030.
I also thank my colleagues here today who are members of Dóchas. They are Ms de Barra, Mr. MacSorley from Concern and Ms Soma. I also note the many members of Dóchas listening to this and who amplify our voices. This is a collaborative effort and it is about working together. It is only if we can do this that we can show global solidarity and bring the hope that is so desperately needed.
I again thank the committee and the Chairman for his leadership. They should know that we are around if there are further questions. We will certainly follow up with the committee after this meeting. I hope members get to enjoy some of the summer holidays.
I thank Ms Keatinge and her colleagues. Unless members have any final commentary, I will bring matters to a close by thanking the guests for the presentation. I will be forgiven for singling out Ms Soma for joining us from the front line in South Sudan, which is, as she mentions, the world's youngest country. It faces enormous challenges and yet we know that Ms Soma had the sense to finish her stark and bleak presentation on a note of high optimism and good news on the matter of the impact of international funding. That exemplifies the spirit in the face of extreme adversity. We thank Ms Soma and acknowledge her work. We wish her and her team in the Titi Foundation well in facing its challenges. We acknowledge the leadership and management of Ms de Barra, Mr. MacSorley and Ms Keatinge in Ireland and across the world in these difficult times.
There is no doubt we will have the opportunity to re-engage in the autumn. In the meantime, we assure the witnesses of our positive and constructive activity between now and budget day in mid-October. We thank the witnesses for furnishing us with their very important pre-budget submission.