Seanad debates

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Review of White Paper on Irish Aid: Statements, Questions and Answers


3:00 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)

The Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, is getting fond of Members and comes quite regularly to the Seanad. I am delighted he is wearing his current hat because his words give us confidence that we can achieve far more than we might otherwise have done. A billion people fall asleep hungry every night. That is a major challenge. As Senator Lorraine Higgins has said, while we may argue we are not well off, there is no comparison between what we call poverty and the level of poverty so many in the world experience. I was interested to hear the Minister of State say that between 2005 and 2010, the total number of poor people around the world fell by nearly 500 million and 40 million more children are going to school today than in 2000. To those who argue we are not as well off as we were and do not have the money to spend as we used to, we have a very strong case to make that this is much more important than any poverty experienced in Ireland. Ireland has becomes known internationally as a beacon state when it comes to development aid. As a small country donating very large per capita amounts of development aid, we have encouraged or even embarrassed many other countries into donating aid. I very much support our continuation of our historic role, which has demonstrated we are able to make a difference. Figures released this month by the OECD showed Greece slashed its foreign aid by 39% in 2011, while Spain made a 32% cut last year. Italy and Austria have been singled out by NGOs who say they only give a tiny portion of their incomes in aid. Our Presidency of the European Union starts next January, and there is a debate this week on that issue. Can we use our role, in hosting the Presidency, to leverage the other EU member states to commit to more aid?

Are we focusing development aid in the correct area? It is of great concern on the broader level that according to an European Union parliamentary report, only 46% of the European Union aid meant for developing countries actually goes to low income states, while Turkey, which is relatively rich, is in the top five of recipients of European Commission aid. Surely that is not correct. Can we change that situation during our term of the EU Presidency? How do we properly reconcile this? Some development NGOs say that so-called good aid, such as long-term budgetary support, is the first to go, whereas bad stuff such as trade sweeteners remain. Some countries employ creative definitions of aid, for example, including the cost of repatriating illegal immigrants. Some NGOs fear that European Union aid could drop by as much as one fifth. Will we be using the Presidency to highlight this issue? What is the Minister of State's opinion on providing budget support to developing countries instead of project support? With budget support, donors' funds flow directly into the budget chapters of recipients states and are used for whatever is needed and agreed on by governments and donors. Thus salaries of teachers in Rwanda may be covered by money provided by donors. Supporters of this method say that when budget support is used, transaction costs are low and delivery is highly efficient. I believe we can do something in these areas. We heard a lovely quotation today which was used originally by Oxfam: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." There is much more to this than just giving aid. We must focus on helping them in the long term rather than in the short term.

The Arab spring has highlighted a weakness at the heart of EU foreign policy in that region. How does the European Union combine the promotion of democracy, human rights and engagement in development aid, when certain states in the region have engaged in widespread human rights violations resulting in high levels of poverty and effective dictatorships? Should Ireland push more strongly for disengagement from such countries when violations such as that take place? The UK Government has said it would channel development aid in new directions if recipient governments failed to meet four requirements: reducing poverty, adhering to human rights, demonstrating good financial management and showing accountability to their citizens.

What about countries that violate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, rights? Last year for example, Germany cut aid to Malawi after the country passed law embarrassing homosexuality. Should Ireland be pushing for such a step?

In March 2011, a joint communication from the EU institutions, entitled Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity, declared that the European Union should be ready to offer greater support to those countries ready to work on such a common agenda but also should reconsider support when countries depart from this track. How will this work in practice?

Can we encourage more engagement by business in aid? It is very interesting to consider how the private sector has turned to innovative ways to reach untapped markets. In Kenya and Nigeria, where power outages can last days, Samsung has introduced solar powered mobile phones. Cameroon is on course to overtake Ireland as one of the largest consumers of Guinness. What about diverting aid to help start-up companies in developing countries? In that way aid can become much more sustainable. There seems to be a shift, and over the past decade, multilateral and bilateral development banks have increased their financing of the private sector from €7.5 billion to over €30 billion annually. A recent study by the International Finance Corporation and 30 similar institutions concluded that firms in developing countries need financing to expand their operations as well as needing better infrastructure, improved business regulations and skilled employees. Does it make sense for donor governments to support the public and private sectors in developing countries? Some would say "Yes" since developing institutions are mostly self-funded through using repayments from their investments to support new projects. A great deal has been said about the work done by Irish NGOs. I know about their work in Ethiopia and it has been interesting to hear about them today.

My next comment is about giving a man a fish rather than teaching him to fish. The amount of work that has been done by a number of Irish NGOs in west Africa and Ethiopia is mind boggling. In an area in Ethiopia that is the size of County Louth Irish teams have been operating and they have moved to another area of the same size. They have been able to help a large number of people and taught them how to develop a water system and suitable crops. It is a good example of what can be done. It is private enterprise to a certain extent but it teaches the people how to run their businesses and lives and solve their problems.


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