Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Overseas Development Aid.
In the budget for 2010, the Government has provided a total allocation for official development assistance of €671 million. Of this total, some €536 million will be administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and a further estimated €135 million will come from other Departments and Ireland's share of the EU development co-operation budget. This represents a relatively small reduction of €25 million in overall ODA.
Based on current projections, this level of aid expenditure will represent 0.52% of gross national product and means that Ireland will maintain its expected 2009 percentage spend on ODA into 2010. I am confident that this level of allocation will ensure Ireland remains one of the more generous aid donors internationally in per capita terms.
The ODA budget for 2010 is a significant achievement. Against the background of very difficult economic circumstances and enormous budgetary pressures, the Government has succeeded in stabilising allocations to the aid programme. In preparing the budget we were determined to protect to the greatest extent possible our support to the developing world. I believe we have achieved this objective.
Ireland's aid programme is internationally recognised for its leadership role in making aid more effective and has been described as "cutting edge" by the OECD. It is also rightly praised by our peers for its sharp focus on poverty reduction and hunger alleviation, and concentrating on a small number of least-developed countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.
The 2010 budget allocation now needs to be effectively delivered with and through our partners to ensure Ireland's contribution to development co-operation has maximum impact. Detailed allocations across the programme have yet to be fully finalised, but will reflect our core objectives of poverty reduction and a focus on results. I expect that we will be providing in excess of €100 million to NGOs and missionaries, over €100 million to fight HIV and AIDS and other communicable diseases, and over €50 million for emergencies and assistance to fragile states, quite apart from our bilateral programmes. We will also ensure that our commitments to our nine programme countries, seven in Africa and two in Asia, are met to the greatest possible extent.
The Minister of State's portrayal of these further budget cuts concerning ODA is interesting, as is the portrayal contained in the budget summary itself. It seems that the goalposts are shifting. The original stated ODA target of 0.7% of GNP-----
The stated target was to be reached by 2012. There has not been any stated shift in Government policy, but it seems to have slipped into the budget summary very conveniently that the date has been changed to 2015. Can the Minister of State confirm that the target date to reach our national commitment, which has been renewed at least twice, has changed from 2012 to 2015?
We are simply reflecting the economic reality in which the country currently finds itself. Since 2005, we have been striving to reach the UN target of 0.7% by 2012, which is three years earlier than any other country in the EU. We are therefore three years ahead of the EU's commitment in this regard. However, this commitment was made in very different circumstances. The 2012 commitment was seen as being extremely ambitious. Given the circumstances of the last 18 months, we are now in effect borrowing the equivalent of our aid budget every ten days. We cannot walk away from that fact. We have spent over €4 billion in the past six years.
In the developing world, we must practice what we preach, which is sustainable development - that is, development that keeps itself going over many years. If we were to borrow the equivalent of our aid budget every ten days from now on, we would have no budget by 2012 because our economy would not have sustainable public finances. In making our allocation this year, therefore, we are stabilising it as a percentage of our GDP at 0.52%. I still maintain that is a real and substantial commitment, and is recognised as such by many people throughout the NGO community. It reflects the economic, financial and arithmetic reality in which we find ourselves.
It strikes me that a commitment does not appear to be a commitment once it is an ambitious one. That seems to be the new slant from the Government. This is of concern because the Government is essentially taking away vital support for the most vulnerable - 1 billion people who are starving to death in developing countries. That is not to be done lightly. I want the Minister of State to clarify further the Taoiseach's commitments in Copenhagen to a sum of €100 million, which is to be Ireland's contribution to the EU package on climate change. Will that €100 million come from the ODA allocation for this year, or is it above and beyond the sum to be directed at developing countries?
Yes, but does that mean we are justified in borrowing €650 million just to reach a target which is arithmetically not possible at this stage? The Deputy and I both agree that the overseas aid programme is accepted and lauded internationally. We have stabilised it at 0.52%, which is ahead of the EU-15's target at this stage.
With regard to the Deputy's additional point, the Taoiseach made a commitment in the context of the Copenhagen conference at discussions in Brussels this week. That commitment was that Ireland would contribute €100 million towards the climate change-----
I was in Copenhagen yesterday and that EU position was seen as being of strong, proactive leadership. In the context of a European Council meeting, the Taoiseach made the point that the breakdown of that will be a matter for a Government decision. However, it will have a real and substantial new additional element to it.