Agencies dismayed at overseas aid cuts

 

Irish international aid agencies have reacted with disappointment to Government plans to cut its overseas aid budget by €95 million.

Taoiseeach Brian Cowen announced the cuts in the Dáil today as part of a plan to secure €2 billion in savings to the Exchequer. The Overseas Development Aid (ODA) budget, which was set last October, will be cut from €891 million to €796 million, a reduction from 0.56 per cent of GNP to 0.53 per cent.

The Government has committed to providing 0.7 per cent of GNP in overseas aid by 2012.  

The ODA budget was slashed by €45 million in July 2007 and by a further €15 million last October, a total cut of 17.2 per cent.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Minister of State for Overseas Development Peter Power defended the “difficult” decision. They said that despite the cuts, Ireland remains the sixth most generous donor internationally in per capita terms.

“The reality is that if our GNP were to continue to decline at the rate now being experienced, there would be an inevitable, and steady, decline in the amounts available for overseas development assistance,” the ministers said in a joint statement. "Even if we were to continue to increase the percentage of our GDP now allocated to ODA, we would simply be offering a proportionately larger slice of a rapidly shrinking cake. This would not be in the interests of our development partners, or of the credibility of Ireland’s aid programme.”

Dóchas, the umbrella group of 39 Irish development and aid agencies, said the cuts would seriously undermine Mr Cowen's pledge to protect the world’s poor.

“We acknowledge that the Government faces difficult choices but are dismayed at the size of this cut, said Dóchas director Hans Zomer. “This raises serious question marks about the strength of Government commitment to delivering on its international pledges to fight poverty.”

Trócaire director was Justin Kilcullen said the cuts were “very bad news” for the world’s poor. “Ireland’s aid money is having a real impact towards reducing poverty but this cut is the equivalent of the Government withdrawing aid from Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda,” he said.

Concern Worldwide chief executive Tom Arnold noted today’s cut was the third announced by the Government in six months. “We realise that the Government finds itself in extremely difficult circumstances with tough choices to make,” said Mr Arnold, “But it is shocking that the option taken has hit at the poorest and most vulnerable."

Goal’s chief executive John O’Shea said he greeted the cuts with “a mixture of relief and foreboding”. He said while the cuts were “disappointing” he was encouraged by the Government’s continued commitment to overseas aid funding. He called on the Government to ensure the budget for emergency aid was not affected. 

Oxfam Ireland chief executive Jim Clarken the world’s poor are being hit hardest by the economic recession. “It’s highly disappointing that the Government has targeted the assistance to desperately poor people for disproportionate cuts.”

Fine Gael’s foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins said the overseas aid target of 0.7 per cent of GNP by 2012 should remain Government policy. He claimed the world’s poor would suffer because the Government had “squandered the boom” and failed to control public spending.

The Labour Party’s foreign affairs spokesman Michael D Higgins said the cuts were “disproportionate”. While the overall cuts of €2 billion represent about two per cent of public expenditure, the cuts in overseas aid were “far in excess” of this.

”It is sad to think that the programme which has such practical benefit has been cut back because of, among other reasons, the disgraceful actions of a clique at the top of the banking system who have imperilled the Irish economy and tarnished its reputation abroad,” Mr Higgins said.