Coveney admits he has ‘tough time’ at Cabinet making case for more overseas aid

Tánaiste warns effectiveness of UN can no longer be taken for granted

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney  said it would “probably be more popular politically” to spend overseas aid money on domestic needs. Photograph: Tom Honan

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney said it would “probably be more popular politically” to spend overseas aid money on domestic needs. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has admitted he has a “tough time” at Cabinet when making the case for increased overseas development aid.

Speaking at the launch of the 2017 Irish Aid annual report on Tuesday evening, Mr Coveney said Ireland had made commitments to raise its aid budget, but it remained a difficult issue in the context of investment needs at home, particularly with next week’s budget looming.

“We have an economy that is certainly roaring forward but we also have in many ways 10 years of under-investment in many areas domestically at home. Whether that’s healthcare provision or housing in particular,” he said.

“And so it’s a pretty tough time to be making the case around the Cabinet table to be spending significantly more money on aid.

“In order to make those choices when we could be spending the money domestically - and let’s be honest, probably be more popular politically - we do need to make the case to the public as to why this is necessary. Why this actually represents the kind of people we are.”

Irish expenditure on Official Development Assistance (ODA) increased last year by about €17 million to €743.4 million. That represents about 0.3 per cent of GDP, the lowest proportion since 2000 but the highest overall spend since 2008.

The majority of that goes to multilateral aid organisations, followed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), with the greatest proportion of expenditure on humanitarian assistance.

Last year, Ireland contributed €1.4 million to the crisis in Myanmar which has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

The budget has also helped responses to famine in South Sudan, Yemen, Somalia and Nigeria.

Mr Coveney also said the effectiveness of the United Nations as a platform for negotiation and compromise can no longer be taken for granted.

He recently raised the need to broker a peace deal in the Middle East during a speech to the UN general assembly.

While he did not mention that particular issue at the launch of the 2017 Irish Aid annual report on Tuesday evening, he did raise general concerns about the ability of the UN to deal with international affairs.

“Believe me, and I hate saying it, we can no longer take multilateralism for granted,” he said.

“We can no longer take the effectiveness of the UN as an impartial intermediary and a platform for sensible debate and negotiation and compromise for granted any longer.”

During his time in New York, the Foreign Affairs Minister also met with representatives of about 30 countries, hoping to garner support for Ireland’s bid to secure a rotating seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-2022.

Speaking at the Irish Aid report launch in Dublin, he said the visit had reminded him of the role small countries like Ireland must play in safeguarding multilateralism.

“And so countries that survive on the back of an international rules based order, and grow and influence as small countries on the back of the strength of argument that we have, as opposed to the strength of our military or our economy; we need to speak up right now,” he said.

“And I tried to do that in New York last week, in a way that I hope wasn’t offensive to anybody but in a way that I think needs to be said. And hopefully others will be encouraged to do the same.”