Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 April 2019

A Better World: Ireland's Policy for International Development: Statements

 

3:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Some six weeks ago the Government launched Ireland’s new policy for international development, known as A Better World. A Better World represents the culmination of over 16 months of work, including extensive consultation across Departments, with external stakeholders and with the public, including public meetings in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Dublin. I would like particularly to thank the many citizens across Ireland who contributed to the consultation process on this important policy. A Better World is a clear statement of Ireland’s commitment to global citizenship, helping make our planet a better place to live for others and for ourselves.

A characteristic of Ireland’s official development co-operation since it was established in 1974 has been the strong support shown by Members of the Oireachtas. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, reviewed Ireland’s development co-operation programme in 2017. That review played an important role in informing A Better World. There was resounding support in the public consultations for the committee’s recommendations to put the sustainable development goals, SDGs, to the fore and to focus on reaching the furthest behind first. Prioritising gender equality, education and agriculture also gained broad support.

As the committee recognised, Ireland has a global reputation for delivering a quality development cooperation programme and for providing untied aid, delivering results for those most in need. A Better World provides the framework to build on and expand that reputation. Central to this is the Government’s commitment to delivering 0.7% of gross national income to official development assistance, ODA, by 2030, as stated in the global Ireland strategy to double Ireland’s global footprint and impact by 2025 and reiterated by both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste at the launch of A Better World. This is a significant commitment that could see us tripling our current contributions by 2030.

We are making progress. Allocations to ODA have increased by 32% since 2014 and Irish ODA in 2019 is forecast to reach almost €817 million, an increase of approximately €110 million or 16% on 2018 budget announcements.

A Better World will guide this expansion. It is an investment in a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world. While this is a significant investment, the costs to future generations will be far greater if we do not invest now in addressing global challenges such as violent conflict, climate change and growing inequalities. This commitment is not only in our strategic interest, it is a moral imperative for us and for our children’s generation.

We recognise that we cannot do this alone. A Better World provides the framework for expanding Ireland’s leadership role in Europe and globally. Ireland has always been a country committed to multi-lateralism and collective action. As a small island state, we know our interests are served through working together with the global community. At a time when the challenges facing this planet are becoming greater, even existential, we are seeing many in the international community, including some of our long-standing partners, retreat into a more insular, self-interested and short-sighted world view. It is more important than ever that Ireland takes a leadership role. It is essential that we reinforce our commitments and values with action and investment.

A Better World commits us to strengthening our global partnerships, playing our full part in the multilateral system, in particular at the United Nations and in the European Union. Ireland’s EU membership is at the heart of the new approach, in part recognising the need to deepen alliances with member states in the context of Brexit. In addition, our contribution to the EU development and humanitarian funding instruments is likely to increase and greater engagement with the EU institutions will be required if this significant element of our ODA is to reflect Ireland’s policies and values.

Our new policy also provides the framework for expanding our partnerships and relationships with Africa, the continent of the 21st century, building on the many decades of investment we have made in east and southern Africa. We will continue our staunch support for civil society. The policy is focused on the pledge in the sustainable development goals to leave no-one behind, and to reach the furthest behind first.

Prioritising gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance are the four priorities outlined for directing our development co-operation to the furthest behind first. These four priorities are essential building blocks of sustainable development. Delivering on them will define Ireland’s leadership and influence, inform our strategic choices around partnerships and interventions, and guide how we implement our development policy.

We are also committed to intensifying work in three clusters of interventions where Ireland has proven expertise, being the areas of protection, food and people. These are areas authentic to Ireland’s own development story over a century of democracy. The focus on protection recognises that without peace, long-term sustainable human development is impossible. The focus on food builds on our global reputation of contributing to food and nutrition security and will draw on domestic expertise to contribute to shaping global food systems and markets that deliver better outcomes for both producers and consumers. Finally, by investing in people we will continue our longstanding commitment to improving universal access to essential social services such as health, quality education and social protection.

Many Irish people have worked in development as missionaries, volunteers and aid workers, bringing hope and inspiration to many in need. I believe this stems from a deep empathy and from a lived memory of what is it like to suffer conflict and violence, not to have enough food or basic necessities to live a dignified life and to lack access to educational or job opportunities. For my entire career, I have been particularly passionate about expanding access to top quality education in the recognition that knowledge is power. From my many visits to countries and regions where Ireland has a development co-operation programme I am always so proud to see the contribution we make in providing access to educational opportunities. Those opportunities would be denied to those most vulnerable, and in particular girls, without Ireland’s support. These opportunities provide the basis for many to build a better life for themselves and their children. It resonates with our own journey at home, from free secondary education in the 1960s to the best educated young people in Europe today.

Building on this, the commitment in this new policy to draw on the world-class expertise and the research and learning institutes that we have in Ireland and to build on our reputation as educators abroad is absolutely central. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Ireland’s international development co-operation programme, it is an important time to reflect on our own path towards a more prosperous country and the huge contribution that Ireland and Irish people have made to human development globally.

We have contributed to huge strides in reducing global poverty. In 1974, when Ireland’s development co-operation programme was established, about 42% of the world’s population was in extreme poverty. By 2018, that has been reduced to approximately 10%. However, there is no room for complacency: climate change, conflict, growing inequality and many other challenges threaten this progress. Addressing these challenges will require all of us work together across all sectors, and locally, nationally and globally. It will require all of us to listen to young people, like those in the Visitors Gallery, who are challenging us to respond in an effective and meaningful way.

The Government is committed to ensuring Ireland will play its part in delivering on our promise of A Better World for the next generation.

Photo of John LahartJohn Lahart (Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Fianna Fáil welcomes the publication of Ireland’s new policy for international development, A Better World. It is essential that the ambition in this document be matched by resources, political will and implementation to ensure Ireland will maintains its excellent reputation in relation to ODA and assisting developing countries. Our aid programme has helped to address extreme poverty, as the Minister of State has mentioned, in some of the world's poorest nations and we can be proud of the contribution and difference we have made in that regard.

It is evident, however, that significant work remains to be done if we are to address poverty, gender inequality, climate change and the promotion of peace and democracy in the developing world. Fianna Fáil is committed to playing our part in ensuring Irish aid will remain untied and continue to be an example of best practice and tangible support to developing countries throughout the globe.

Unfortunately, Ireland has fallen considerably behind in reaching the ODA gross national income, GNI, target. Based on current estimates, our current level of allocation to overseas development aid amounts to approximately 0.3% of gross national income. This is considerably behind a high of 0.59% reached in 2008 when Fianna Fáil was in government. While we acknowledge increases in overseas development aid since 2014, it is clear that sustained financial resources will be required if we are to reach this target by 2030.

While significant strides have been made in addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems, many challenges remain. Conflict, displacement, climate change, and entrenched poverty and inequality continue to pose considerable challenges. Therefore, how and where we spend our resources is crucial, as it always has been. Fianna Fáil believes it is essential to ensure our aid programme is well managed, effective and goes to those most in need. Sufficient safeguards and good governance should be at the heart of our aid programme so that public money is used properly and in line with the objectives and principles of Irish aid. Fianna Fáil believes it is essential that Irish aid remains untied. Ireland has so far largely resisted the retying of expenditure of ODA to the refugee crisis and security measures, on which I commend the Minister of State. This is very much welcome and we must ensure that overseas development aid will remain untied, focused on the poorest countries, and not diverted to fund refugee costs at home or security and defence activities in the EU or the countries of origin of migrants or refugees.

Ireland has made a commitment to making incremental, sustainable progress towards achieving the UN target of allocating 0.7% of gross national income to official development assistance by 2030, and this is reaffirmed in the new development policy, A Better World. Irish official development assistance in 2019 is forecast to reach almost €817 million, an increase of approximately €110 million and a 16% increase on the allocation announced in budget 2018. While we very much welcome this increase, we are well below the UN target reached in 2008.

In reply to a recent parliamentary question on this issue, the Government acknowledged that, "In order to achieve this ambition difficult choices will be required between competing priorities, especially if economic circumstances change". This will require ongoing careful planning and consultation with other Departments, and stakeholders will be needed if a steady, phased and prudent approach is to be achieved. We therefore call on the Government to work with relevant stakeholders to develop a realistic and workable roadmap that will set out steps as to how this objective will be achieved. The fulfilment of this overseas development aid target represents an essential commitment on which the poorest nations depend. Several other countries have met this target and we must actively strive to do the same.

The OECD yesterday confirmed the 2018 overseas development aid figures. Ireland's figure was 0.31% of GNI, whereas five countries met or exceeded the 0.7% target set by the UN. Sweden and Luxembourg well exceeded it and Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom achieved 0.7%. Ireland has reduced its overseas development aid to the poorest countries for the second year in a row.

We agree with the Minister of State on the prioritisation of gender equality. We recognise that violence against girls and women is the most pervasive human rights abuse in the world today and is severely damaging. Girls' educational participation continues to be lower than that of boys. Approximately one third of developing countries have not achieved gender parity in primary education. Some 15 million girls aged under 18 are married every year, which is 37,000 each day. An estimated 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation. Violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally. A total of 49 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence. Women in the labour market still earn almost a quarter less than men globally. Women continue to be under-represented in politics and positions of influence. We believe a concentrated effort is required to address this imbalance and we support efforts to improve opportunities and outcomes for women and girls.

Fianna Fáil welcomes that our international development policy is guided by the sustainable development goals, SDGs. As a country that was instrumental in the development of the SDGs, we must lead by example and honour the commitments we have made. We must work to ensure that the SDGs are not just an aspiration but a lived reality. We, therefore, need to ensure policies at national level are in line with the sustainable development goals. We, therefore, call for greater collaboration between Departments to ensure there is a whole-of-government approach to the sustainable development goals. There must be a shared understanding of the relevance and importance of these goals, not just for Ireland but for the world as a whole.

We welcome that climate action is one of the core priorities of the new international development policy, but the Government needs to examine its own poor record on climate action, energy emissions and environmental protection. We cannot expect other countries to do what we are not prepared to do. That has been demonstrable over the past eight years of Fine Gael-led Government. We believe the Government must do more to ensure that Ireland meets its climate justice commitments, including making progressive contributions to the cost of adaptation, mitigation and emissions reduction measures in developing countries. Ireland needs to use its voice and its influence at EU and international level to address many of the injustices that continue. We must explicitly press for the empowerment of women and the end of gender-based violence, and push for the education of girls and women.

Ireland is campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021. If we are successful, we should use our influence to effect positive change and to compel countries to advance human rights and abide by international human rights law. We are respected throughout the globe for the services we have provided in terms of peacekeeping, and if successful in securing a seat, we should use it to advance and promote peace initiatives and peace building.

As the Minister of State mentioned, Irish people are recognised as some of the most generous in the world. A Dóchas survey found 80% support for increasing levels of overseas development aid. We need to ensure we communicate to and engage with civic society on the excellent work that Irish Aid does. As a nation with a history of emigration, we have always looked beyond our borders, but we cannot take this for granted. We should continue to promote and encourage an outward looking Ireland that values our contribution to tackling global poverty and injustices.

3:10 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I commend the work Irish Aid does. Irish Aid's work is transformative and makes a life-changing difference to many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. We should have more debates on Irish Aid in this House than we do. It has been a year since we last had a stand-alone debate on Irish Aid, which happened in April last year after the publication of a report on Irish Aid by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. The Irish Aid programme is a pillar of Irish foreign policy. It needs to be discussed in depth. It needs to be adequately financed and should be supported through a whole-of-government approach.

I again reiterate my support for Ireland reaching the ODA target of 0.7% of GNI.

We must be accountable and transparent at all times. More could be done to educate the public about the fantastic work being done every day with taxpayers’ money through Irish Aid programmes and NGO programmes funded by Irish Aid. Irish Aid receives cross-party support in this House and is a good news story that we need to promote more. There is a great deal of work that needs to be done to raise public awareness. The report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence greatly added to this important public debate on Irish Aid and overseas development assistance, ODA, in general.

These statements are timely in that they are being made following the launch of the Government’s new policy document, A Better World, as outlined by the Minister of State. The new policy brings a greater financial commitment to Irish Aid and a stronger focus on gender equality. However, much more could be done on climate action, business, human rights and support for refugees.

The world is facing an unprecedented number of humanitarian crises that have led to a global refugee crisis. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that 65 million people are displaced from their homes by war and conflict. I strongly welcome the support Irish Aid has provided for Palestinian refugees, as well as refugees from the war in Syria, but we all accept that we could do more. We need to increase the number of refugees we are resettling and relocating to Ireland. We can do this and also resolve the housing, health and cost of living crises in Ireland. That is an important message to send. It is not a question of either/or; we do not have to choose one or the other. We can deliver better public services and housing for Irish people and also improve our response to the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. We also need to end the disgraceful policy on direct provision, for which there is cross-party support, and set up a new asylum process in Ireland which will have human rights at its core. We need to oppose the continued EU funding of programmes which are forcing vulnerable refugees and migrants back to countries where they face possible torture and human rights abuses.

I am deeply concerned about the European Union's negative policies in dealing with the refugee crisis and the Government’s unqualified support for them. We had a lifesaving search and rescue mission in the Mediterranean. I commend the Naval Service on its work, but the Government has scrapped it and instead joined the EU military mission. That mission and the support for the Libyan coastguard which is abusing refugees, as well as financial support for detention centres in Libya where vulnerable refugees are suffering appalling abuse and human rights violations, are a massive violation of international law. Many of us in this House have heard at first hand information coming from these areas. It is appalling the way people are being treated in slave markets and so on in Libya. We cannot have statements on Irish Aid here and try to whitewash the violations of human rights and international law, of which the Government is part at EU level.

Climate change is already starting to increase the scale and severity of natural disasters which are also creating humanitarian crises. We saw this most recently when Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The United Nations called it one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere. It is the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world who feel the impact of natural disasters and they are the least to blame when it comes to climate change. We not only need more spending by Irish Aid to support those affected by natural disasters but also to reduce our carbon emissions, specifically in agriculture and transport, something the Government has failed to do so far.

About one third of the world's population - 2.5 billion people - live on less than $2.50 a day. On a positive note, the number living in extreme poverty has fallen dramatically during the past 20 years. That is to be welcomed, but it cannot be viewed in isolation as it masks a worrying trend. During the same period the development outcomes for different groups have been extremely uneven. However, the extremes between the haves and the have nots continues to widen. While it is welcome that the number living in extreme poverty has decreased, we need to be cognisant that we are also seeing growing inequalities across the globe. We can see it clearly in our own country. Oxfam estimates that just eight billionaires now own as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. That is a stark reminder of the job we have to do to make the world a better and more equal place.

Ireland is recognised internationally as a leader in providing untied aid and it is essential that this policy be maintained. We should not place trade interests above human rights. We should not place business contracts above workers’ rights and not place geo-politics above the need for untied aid. However, we could do more. The Government needs to support a binding UN treaty on business and human rights. Corporations need to be held accountable for human rights violations. As I have said previously in this House, 90% of the coal burned in the Moneypoint power station comes from Colombia, the majority of it from the Cerrejón mine. The companies that operate that mine have destroyed the local environment and trampled on the human rights of the indigenous people who live in the area. When I met a leader of an indigenous women’s group in that area today, she outlined the abuses committed against her people, which are horrendous. While the Government has acknowledged the human rights abuses associated with the ESB’s supply chain, it has yet to take a formal stance on the issue. The Government has pledged to contribute €5.73 million to the Global Environment Facility, GEF, Trust Fund, to aid developing countries in responding to climate change, yet Ireland is directly sponsoring climate chaos, environmental destruction and human rights violations through its continued reliance on Colombian coal. Furthermore, although Ireland has contributed €3 million to an EU trust fund in support of the Colombian peace process, importing coal from there directly undermines solidarity with the process. A key component of the peace process is land rights. We have had the example of people being stripped of their land, children suffering malnutrition and being denied access to clear water. The 2016 Global Witness Report featured a case study on the indigenous Wayúu people in La Guajira who have experienced harassment and death threats as a direct result of their resistance to coal extraction practices at Cerrejón. Therefore, Ireland cannot stand firmly in support of the Colombian peace process while continuing to import coal, the extraction of which fractures Colombian communities and their way of life. Policy coherence across government is a basic requirement and critical to ensure all Departments will contribute and not undermine or harm Ireland’s sustainable development goal commitments. Buying this coal from Colombia shows that we do not have this policy coherence.

Additionally, as Oxfam pointed out, Ireland’s domestic approach to corporate taxation is clearly at odds with its development objectives. Long-term viable solutions to the problem of global poverty and the inequality that stems from it are being undermined by the scale of global corporate tax avoidance which drains much needed financial resources from low-income countries. We need to radically change our approach to harmful tax policies and corporate human rights abuses.

It is welcome that A Better World strongly signals that Ireland will take a proactive, rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health and work towards the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health rights. A new initiative on sexual and reproductive health rights is promised. The need to focus on sexual and reproductive health rights in emergencies is also highlighted. These are all positive developments, but they can only be realised if additional funding is allocated. The global contraceptive funding gap has been made worse by the decisions of the Trump Administration to withdraw funding from the UNFPA and introduce devastating cuts to reproductive health programmes which USAID had long supported. There is an opportunity for Ireland to step into a leadership role as a funder and champion of sexual and reproductive health rights. We should take that opportunity.

I again commend Irish Aid on the fantastic work it does and indicate my backing for increased financial support for Irish Aid in order that we can meet our international targets. However, we need to examine the whole-of-government approach to sustainable development because we are clearly failing when it comes to refugees and the issues of migration, business and human rights and climate action.

3:20 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I pay tribute to the life and work of Sally O'Neill Sanchez whose sudden passing was a terrible shock. I met her on several occasions. She was a tremendous advocate for the work of Trócaire and could speak passionately about the way financial assistance transformed the lives of people and entire communities in the poorest parts of the world.

That human story is what we cannot lose sight of as we debate the budget figures and the percentage allocations of resources.

Overseas development assistance, ODA, is about making a vital difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged people on the planet. We give most of our overseas development assistance through Irish Aid, but I want to focus my remarks on our entire ODA contribution. According to the OECD, the genesis of the idea behind ODA is the time when Hugh Gaitskell was leader of the British Labour Party when he wanted it to be part of his political programme in the 1950s. By 1970, the UN target for official state aid of 0.7% of GNI was agreed to by a range of countries, including Ireland. We pledged to meet this target by 1975, or 1980 at the latest, but we did not meet either of these target dates. As part of the millennium development goals, in 2005 we recommitted to meeting the target by 2015.

Ireland is home to a number of leading humanitarian organisations. We rightly celebrate their work and acknowledge the charitable giving of the people to the least developed peoples everywhere. We are a generous nation, yet even during the last economic boom we did not meet the 0.7% target. The nearest we came was 0.59% of GNI, or several hundred million euro short, but, as others said, this percentage has slipped to just 0.31% in the figures just released by the OECD. When we did not meet the target in 2015, we set a new date of 2025. In 2018, as part of its A Better World strategy, the Government recommitted to meeting the target, this time by 2030. We have 11 years left to meet this challenging target, 55 years later than the original target, but it is something on which we have to set our sights.

It is worth remembering from where the 0.7% figure came. It was derived from the econometric work of the Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen. He estimated the level of income flow necessary for developing economies to achieve sufficient economic growth rates in order that they would be genuinely moving towards materially improving the lives of their populations. Developing countries need an inflow of hard currency from developed countries to power their economic capacity. That is part of the reason we need to achieve the 0.7% target. It is an important point. Development aid is not charity. It is not a handout to poorer countries that wealthy countries will keep giving forever. The purpose of giving a sufficiently strong level of development support is to end poverty and give real capacity to countries to no longer require it. Modern economic analysis suggests a figure of 0.7% might not be enough anymore as the economic gulf between richer and poorer countries widens. However, the United Nations, the OECD and other international bodies have kept faith with the 0.7% target because it is a necessary first step to allow the least developed countries to set themselves on a real, irreversible path to catch up.

I am heartened by information from the United Nations, the World Bank and other organisations that shows that the relative number in extreme poverty around the world is decreasing, even though it is still unconscionably high. We have seen extraordinary economic development in China, India and other Asian countries, across Africa and some parts of Latin America. However, there are still countries that are so disadvantaged they will never escape the cycle of poverty unless they are given massive support and we are the only people who can do that. That is why the Labour Party agrees with the national policy of focusing our assistance on some of the least developed and most disadvantaged countries in the world.

The quality of Ireland’s aid is ranked as being very good, but we have to improve the quantity. As I have just said, it is not money lost but money properly, wisely and humanely invested. We get a huge social return on investment in terms of lives saved, children properly nourished and people being given opportunities they would never have had in terms of education and their quality of life. We also over time get an economic return because the more countries develop, the more they can trade with us and buy more of our higher value goods and services. The Labour Party does not see development aid as a purely transactional approach but as a social justice issue. For those who are not convinced by such arguments, I remind them that the long-term value for money and return on investment is, even from the narrow perspective of economics, well worth the investment by Ireland in reaching its 0.7% of GNI target. The United Kingdom meets the 0.7% target and has made it a legal obligation since 2015, with cross-party support in the House of Commons. The latest figures also show that Demark, Luxembourg and Sweden all meet the target, as does Norway. In fact, Sweden gives over 1% of GNI in ODA. This is the peer group among which we should want to count ourselves. If they can do it, we can. We can afford do so.

That leaves me with some genuine questions for all of us in this House. First, is there any serious party or group in this House that does not believe we should achieve the target? I genuinely do not think so. If that is true, what does it mean in practice? We are giving around €850 million in overseas development assistance. The association of development organisations, Dóchas, estimates that this sum needs to rise to around €1.66 billion to represent 0.7% of GNI, an increase of over €800 million. It would be a sizeable jump, a big demand. However, if we are serious about achieving the target by 2030, it will require €75 million or more every year to be added to our ODA budget. We have to be serious about providing that level of money. So far, the Government has indicated its support to reach the target of 0.7%, but it has not yet published an incremental timeline, year on year, from now until 2030 in respect of by how much the ODA Vote will grow to achieve that target.

The A Better World strategy is good on our spending priorities and ties into the sustainable development goals, but we need to say on what we are going to spend the money to make sure we actually spend the quantity we want to spend. One option, on which I challenge everyone in the House, is for us to legislate, like the United Kingdom, to require every Government that will take office up to 2030 to meet this target by specified increments, on which we will all agree, year by year, until 2030. That would be a real roadmap. Such a law would have to come from the Government because, on this side of the House, we cannot propose the incurring of expenditure. However, I pledge my party to support it. The uncomfortable truth is that while economic growth might provide us with €75 million in one year, it probably will not do it every year. It requires fixed and consistent annual commitment, in good times and bad. When it comes to meeting our commitment to overseas development assistance, let us not be afraid to make the hard decisions that we will have to make collectively in the next 11 years.

The elimination of poverty is the first goal listed in the sustainable development goals to which we have signed up to achieve. The World Bank defines “extreme poverty” as living on less than $1.90 a day. It is estimated that there 736 million people living in extreme poverty, half of them in India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world and we have a moral responsibility to those left behind. Ultimately, we will all be held to account, not in the annual debate we have here but on a commitment that, when it comes to the next budget, we will actually act de réir ár mbriathar. The only way to make sure we will not talk about it for another 55 years is to enact the legislation for which I pledge my party's support.

3:40 pm

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing this very worthwhile debate on an area of huge interest to me. It shows commitment to solidarity with the most vulnerable people on the planet, whether they are threatened by conflict, famine or environmental catastrophe. Across the world there are many people who volunteer through NGOs or from their own altruism to go across the world and help their fellow human beings. That is to be commended, whether it takes the form of volunteering, teaching or engineering. There are many ways that people try to give to their fellow human beings across the world. It is very commendable.

The backdrop to this discussion is the gap between the richest and the poorest people on the planet. That has never been as stark as today. As other Deputies have noted, a recent poll shows that 80% of those surveyed felt that Ireland should increase its support for efforts to eradicate poverty. The people of this country have a long history of empathy with others who have been dispossessed and traumatised by conflict and famine. As a people, we can empathise with that. We are very generous when it comes to overseas development. Our generosity has been reflected in recent decades. I welcome the debate on the percentage of gross national income spent on aid. At the moment that figure is 0.3%, which amounts to €800 million. I understand that we are trying to reach 0.7% by 2030. That is to be welcomed. Our contribution should be much more than it is now. That would significantly help overseas development.

I want to comment on something in which I have a personal interest. I was in Mozambique in January and I made it my business to go to the Irish embassy in Maputo. The Irish ambassador was in Ethiopia at the time so I met the embassy staff on my second last day there. They discussed what they were doing in Mozambique. They have a fantastic project with a small budget. We had a very good and very long discussion about where the money is going and what it is developing in Mozambique. It is an incredible country. The hospitality of the people of Mozambique is incredible. What has happened in recent weeks with Cyclone Idai is terrible. I welcome the Minister's contribution of €1 million to help with a disastrous situation in Mozambique. The people's hospitality and warmth were incredible. I am very proud of what I was shown in the embassy. Irish Aid is trying to make a small difference in Mozambique. It is an incredibly large country with a lot of issues but it is heartening to see what Irish Aid does considering its relatively small budget.

There is a darker side to aid. Other countries offer aid for geopolitical reasons. It takes the form of loans rather than outright aid. We must comment on that. We do not want countries to be completely dependent on aid. Dependency on aid can be counterproductive in encouraging growth. Aid should be temporary, helping countries to come out of poverty and desperation. It should be a helping hand rather than a way of pushing people down. There is a lot to be said about multinational companies that have plundered the resources of these countries. They have thrown these countries into desperate states of poverty and marginalisation. They have a lot to answer for in this debate. The granting of aid to recipient countries can be very cynical. There are a lot of vested interests in the aid given to some countries. It comes with a price tag, usually pertaining to geopolitical reasons or attempts to grow trade with a wealthier country. It is not perfect by any means. Ireland should reject conditional aid.

NGO workers are sometimes the last line of defence. They are at the front line of catastrophic situations around the world. I have been very lucky in my life in that I have travelled a fair bit. I was in East Timor in 2006 and I saw how Trócaire was intervening. From speaking to people in that country, I know how grateful they were. Countries like Ireland have a great reputation for trying to help people who are fighting terrible injustices. That is very welcome. We have a very good history of that. At the end of the day, however, we need to challenge the reasons for the terrible poverty in the world. Until we challenge them, this situation will continue. We need to increase our contribution to 0.7% of gross national income.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

At a time when there is a lot of criticism of Government policies regarding housing, health and special education, the area of development aid presents a much more positive view of the Government. In the main, the Government has got it right. Our international aid policies and practices have given Ireland a very significant positive reputation. Our success in bilateral aid comes down to a few particular facts. First, our aid is untied and poverty focused. It is targeted at the very poor and it makes a difference. It is a pity that we cannot say the same about other investments that could make a very positive difference.

The figures from 2017 indicate that five EU countries contribute 0.7% of gross national income or more to international aid. We got to 0.59% in 2008 before the proportion went down in the years of the recession. There was maintenance of the programme in spite of the recession and we are now moving upwards. It is great that there is a commitment to reaching 0.71%. That means that 70 cent out of each €100 will go to aid. We know that the Irish public is supportive because poll after poll indicates that about 80% agree with our development aid programme. However, the increase must be planned. We need a roadmap on the best use of that increase. It must continue to be untied and targeted at the poorest recipients and we must ensure that it is transparent and accounted for. It must not be used to ease our consciences because we are not doing enough in other areas.

The annual report from Irish Aid is very good. It gives us the facts and figures of that bilateral aid so we know exactly where it is going. We do get the figures on multilateral aid and I know we have certain obligations regarding multilateral organisations. However, it is more difficult to assess the effect of multilateral aid unless it is in a crisis, when we know exactly where it goes.

I have to ask how much time the Dáil and the Seanad has given to discussing development aid apart from the work of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. In February 2018 our committee produced a review of the Irish Aid programme. It came before the Dáil and the Minister, the committee Chairman and one other Member spoke. There were others who wanted to speak but the time ran out. The topic has not been discussed here since and I do not know if it even got to the Seanad. This is a matter for all of the Dáil. It is not just for the few of us who are interested or who are on Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. It is good that we have an opportunity for a discussion today.

In preparing our review, we met many NGOs and received many submissions. We met ambassadors and academics and we visited Malawi and Mozambique. The report was very clear and focused. The recommendations can be realised if there is a will to do so. This is not just about giving aid. The report also raised questions on the challenges that lie ahead, particularly in light of the contradictions between the work and the policy of Irish Aid and the policy of other Departments. There are also contradictions between Irish Aid and European policy, although the EU is a major contributor to development aid. We very strongly highlighted the need for policy coherence. We called for the Government to develop a cross-government plan of action, as recommended by the OECD and to establish immediately a cross-departmental body to ensure better co-ordination and coherence of development policy right across government and in line with the sustainable development goals, SDGs.

We see the need for it because, otherwise, we would be hypocrites of the highest order. Some of the challenges are greater than others. We know that climate change is a challenge. Conflict leading to displacement and suffering is also a challenge. The mismanagement of migration is a challenge, as are land grabs, exploitation, tax injustice, abuse and the murder of human rights defenders. Ireland's reputation in providing ODA puts us in a unique position to be a driver of tackling these challenges. We must be committed to policy coherence. It is not enough that we give aid with one hand which is relatively easy, while the other is taking it back through lack of action on climate change, tax justice, the exploitation of certain countries and when it comes to human rights violations and growing inequalities. We have glaring practical challenges as a result of that policy incoherence which is evident when we look at corporations and their exploitation of land and resources. As well as exploiting land and resources, they do not even pay tax in the country they are exploiting, tax that could be used to meet the health and educational needs of the people. Instead it goes into the pockets and bank accounts of politicians, the military and the already wealthy classes.

Members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence get to meet many human rights defenders who include lawyers, teachers, farmers and trade unionists. They tell us about their families and friends who have been murdered, tortured, are in prison or have simply disappeared and they do not know where they are. In the past week we met delegations of human rights groups from both Colombia and Honduras. At that meeting, as well as other meetings with human rights activists from African countries, Latin American countries and in the recent report from Trócaire, Making a Killing, we were told about the exploitation by transnational corporations of land and natural resources which led to displacement, killings and the abuse of workers, but no one is holding them to account. It is the indigenous poor people, the farmers, who pay with their lives in defending those resources. As they are global resources, in the end we will also pay.

The figures for the land lost to communities are staggering. Access to the judicial system does not mean getting justice. We can be a strong voice in supporting Trócaire's call for a legally binding global treaty governing business and human rights because voluntary guidelines and protocols are not enough. We need mandatory human rights due diligence in order to ensure businesses will respect human rights. They include Irish businesses working in countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Some Irish companies have been contributing to environmental degradation and human rights abuses. We all know about the glaring example of the Cerrejón mine in Colombia, the role of the ESB and the location of the Coal Marketing Company office in Dublin. Ireland finally has a national plan for business and human rights, but only time will tell if it will make a difference. However, policy coherence means that Irish businesses have to take human rights seriously. Otherwise, it would make a mockery of our development assistance. Unless we do so, poverty and inequality will continue.

We know the statistics, that millions are in need of humanitarian assistance, that millions die from preventable and treatable diseases, that millions with disabilities are trying to cope and that millions are displaced through land grabs. We also know about the lack of access to healthcare. Visits to these countries show what the provision of aid, especially bilateral aid, helps to do. Deputy Gino Kenny spoke about his visit to Mozambique. I remember hearing about the cash transfer on our visit to Malawi which was arranged by Ambassador Cunningham. It was a really good example of what could be done. It is like a social welfare payment and there is a mobile bank. What we saw was very poor local people being empowered. They got the money into their hand and used it, especially the women. Once one gives women money, they do far more with it than men.

The facts show that, globally, the losses as a result of corporate tax avoidance and evasion are immense. One estimate is that the losses globally amount to $500 billion annually. The multinationals need to be taxed where their economic activities take place. If that were to happen, there would not be a need for aid. The trade agreements could also do with a dose of policy coherence. I will not go into the issue of neutrality.

A recent report on Africa noted that $30 billion was invested in overseas development assistance, but, on the other hand, $192 billion is moved out through profits made by multinationals, illegal logging, tax evasion, financial flows and debt repayments. A small amount of it represented remittances.

I attended the launch of A Better World and heard the speeches made by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon. They were very strong statements about our values and ambition to make a real difference. One of the points made is that it is not just about money but how the money will be used and the need for solidarity to reach those who are the furthest behind. The priorities on which Ireland will focus include gender equality, reducing the level of humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance. I would have liked disability to have been listed as a priority, but I accept that it does feature in the report. I looked at the list of new initiatives, some of which were very impressive. They all say the right thing, but it is the implementation that will tell. Ireland has to be consistent. Our development policy cannot be at odds with our economic, tax, climate change defence policies. It is important that we look at parliaments and capacity building in order that parliamentarians in those other countries will have the capacity to do what we do, that is, hold Ministers and the Government to account.

The last chapter in A Better World is about doing things differently. I will finish with a quotation that I love. It is from Fr. Joseph Wresinski who founded All Together in Dignity – Fourth World movement. His point is poverty is of man's doing and that man can destroy poverty.

3:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I call Deputy Wallace. How is he at managing money?

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is a tricky question. I was pretty good at it until the banking crisis burst the living daylights out of me.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I meant in the context of what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan had said.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will not criticise the provision of aid, as I have seen genuinely good efforts being made to make things better on the ground, but I will be critical in dealing with the bigger picture. I started to read Jason Hickel’s book, The Divide, for the second time last weekend. It is such an amazing read. Everybody should read it if he or she wants to know how this world is operating. I want to read from it:

[T]he aid budget is [small] ... compared to the structural losses and outward flows that the global South suffers. Yes, some aid goes a long way towards making people's lives better, but it doesn't come close to compensating for the damage that the givers of aid themselves inflict. Indeed, some of this damage is caused by the very groups that run the aid agenda: the World Bank, for example, which profits from global South debt; the Gates Foundation, which profits from an intellectual property regime that locks life-saving medicines and essential technologies behind outlandish patent paywalls; and Bono, who profits from the tax haven system that siphons revenues out of global South countries.

This is not an argument against aid as such. Rather, it is to say that the discourse of aid distracts us from seeing the broader picture. It hides the patterns of extraction that are actively causing the impoverishment of the global South today and actively impeding meaningful development. The charity paradigm obscures the real issues at stake: it makes it seem as though the West is 'developing' the global South, when in reality the opposite is true. Rich countries aren't developing poor countries; poor countries are effectively developing rich countries - and they have been since the late 15th century.

Poverty in the global South is not a natural condition any more than is the wealth of the West. Poverty is, at base, the inevitable outcome of ongoing processes of plunder - processes that benefit a relatively small group of people at the expense of the vast majority of humanity. It is delusional to believe that aid is a commensurate, let alone honest and meaningful, solution to this kind of problem. The aid paradigm allows rich countries and individuals to pretend to fix with one hand what they destroy with the other, dispensing small bandages at the same time as they inflict deep injuries, and claiming the moral high ground for doing so.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the West Bank in Palestine. On one particularly hot afternoon, my hosts drove me down into the Jordan Valley to interview some farmers there about water issues. Along the way, bumping along a gravel track, we came across a huge white sign jutting out of the desert rocks. The sign announced a USAID initiative 'to help alleviate recurring water shortages' by adding a new well in the area. It was branded with the American flag and bore the proud words: 'This project is a gift from the American People to the Palestinian People.'

Mr. Hickel's book further states:

A casual observer might be impressed: American taxpayer money offered generously, in the spirit of humanitarianism, to assist impoverished Palestinians struggling to survive in the desert. But Palestine doesn't have a shortage of water. When Israel invaded and occupied the West Bank in 1967, with the backing of the US military, it asserted total control over the aquifers beneath the territory. Israel draws the majority of this water - close to 90% - for its own use in settlements and for irrigation on large industrial farms. And as the water table drops, Palestinian wells are running dry. Palestinians are not allowed to deepen their wells or sink new wells without Israeli permission - and permission is almost never granted. If they build without permission, as many do, Israeli bulldozers arrive the next day. So Palestinians are forced to buy their own water back from Israel at arbitrarily high prices.

This is not a secret. It is happening out in the open, and the farmers I spoke to know it all too well. For them, the USAID sign only adds insult to injury. It's not that they lack water, as USAID implies; it's that the water has been stolen from them. And it has been stolen with US support. In 2012, just two months before my visit, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 66/225, calling for the restoration of Palestinians' rights to their own water. One hundred and sixty-seven nations voted in favour of the resolution. The United States and Israel voted against it.

I tell this anecdote not just as an example of how aid often misses the point, but to illustrate a much larger truth. Poor countries don't need our aid; they need us to stop impoverishing them. Until we target the structural drivers of global poverty - the underlying architecture of wealth extraction and accumulation - development efforts will continue to fail, decade after decade. We will continue to watch the poverty numbers rise, and the divide between rich and poor countries will continue to grow. This is a difficult truth to swallow for the millions of well-meaning people who have been sold on the development story.

I will conclude by making a point I raised with the Tánaiste about a month ago. I was highlighting the unbelievable humanitarian crisis in Yemen in which the US, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and European countries, mainly France and the UK, are involved. Up to 13 million people are at risk of starvation and up to 100,000 have been killed. It is a war crime of the worst type. The Tánaiste told me that the Government was giving extra aid to them. It should close the facility at Shannon Airport instead and not bother giving them aid. Stop facilitating their destruction. The Government can keep the aid.

4:00 pm

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank Deputies for their powerful and fascinating contributions. It is heartening to hear absolute consensus across this Chamber as to Ireland's proud track record in terms of our aid programme internationally and also our utter commitment to reaching the target of 0.7% of GNI.

I do not discount for a moment that the book from which Deputy Wallace quoted is excellent - I might look at it myself - but I have just finished reading another book, namely, Factfulnessby Hans Roslin. The book to which Deputy Wallace referred seems to outline a particularly pessimistic view of the world while Hans Roslin has outlined a far more optimistic view. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between but one incontrovertible fact is that in 1965, the year in which I was born, 50% of the world's people lived in absolute poverty. Last year, that figure was down to 9%, so we are making significant progress. That is not to say we do not have to redouble our efforts constantly-----

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

They have changed the measurement.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No. It is the same measurement.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I will give the Minister of State the evidence of that.

Photo of Ciarán CannonCiarán Cannon (Galway East, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

Okay. There were many references in the discussion to the target of 0.7% of GNI. We, as a Government, are committed to that. It was restated at the launch of the policy by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and myself, which Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan attended. There continues to be consensus on that target at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, in the most recent budget, allocated an additional €110 million to our budget, the largest such increase in more than a decade. That is in the order of the figure we need to achieve and increase by approximately €100 million every year between now and 2030. Thankfully, we have complete consensus on that. If it transpires that such consensus begins to unravel, and I do not expect it would, I ask that those who have been most vocal in supporting it will continue to support it. I am confident that is exactly the case that will be apply in the future.

Having produced the policy, we have, as Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan stated, talked the talk; we must now walk the walk. We move to the next phase of the journey, which is positioning Ireland to deliver on that ambition outlined in the policy, A Better World. As we look to 2030, maintaining our high standards and consolidating the quality for which we are known will continue to be at the heart of what we do.

Achieving our vision to see that better world is also about achieving commitments at home. Many Deputies rightly raised the issue of climate action. Thankfully, we are close to seeing a consensus, with the absence of Sinn Féin and perhaps one or two others, emanating from the Joint Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Deputy Hildegarde Naughton, on what exactly we need to do to honour our commitments and show that we have that absolute policy coherence when it comes to advocating for climate change actions internationally.

That is a commitment and an agenda for many Departments, including mine, responsible for delivering on the sustainable development goals which, ultimately, will help to achieve that better world. In that regard, I look forward to continued strong collaboration across all Departments in positioning Ireland to strategically contribute to addressing key global challenges. There can be no doubt that those global challenges are absolutely immense.

It is a simple fact that our people's vision of a more peaceful, equal and sustainable world will not be possible without ensuring equal rights and opportunities for half the world's population who are women and girls. Gender equality is both a basic human right and fundamental to sustaining peace, building a strong economy and a prosperous and healthy society. However, we are seeing a rolling back of some of the hard-won gains in achieving gender equality in recent years. The challenges we are facing highlight the central and fundamental necessity of inclusive and resilient governance institutions that can underpin the social contract, foster collective action and deliver better outcomes for all our citizens.

Ireland remains absolutely committed to being at the forefront of global efforts to deliver on the vision of the sustainable goals and a better world for those most vulnerable and for future generations. We remain committed to playing a leadership role in ensuring that Ireland embraces change, invests in innovation and reorients our interventions as we work to build the more equal, peaceful and sustainable world we want to see and of which we want to be part.

Embracing technological innovation - we had a wonderful discussion on this matter, hosted by UNICEF, at Facebook's headquarters this morning in the context of exactly how to proceed - holds the promise of innovative solutions central to our work in working towards a better world in the future. We will work to ensure that the benefits of that innovation will extend to everyone, especially women and girls.

I again thank Deputies for their contributions. I look forward to working with all of them as we redouble our efforts in pursuing that vision outlined in a policy for international development, A Better World.

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I acknowledge the contributions of the Minister of State and the Deputies who took part in the debate.