Coveney says Goal has undergone ‘difficult period of necessary change’

Minister will look at helping charity with funding to plan long-term programmes

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Minister of State for International Development  Ciarán Cannon at the publication of Irish Aid’s 2016 report. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Minister of State for International Development Ciarán Cannon at the publication of Irish Aid’s 2016 report. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that he hopes the problems at Goal are behind it after the aid agency had undergone “a very difficult period of necessary change”.

In his first public comments about the controversy over alleged bribery and bid-rigging that damaged the charity, Mr Coveney said Goal had been through “a complete change” in management and its structure.

“There have been mistakes but my understanding of the changes, of the reform programmes that have been introduced in Goal, is that they are comprehensive and the organisation is obviously now focused on getting back to work and rebuilding its reputation,” he said at the publication of Irish Aid’s 2016 report. “We want to support them in doing that.”

Goal was drawn into an investigation by the spending watchdog of USAid, the American government’s foreign aid arm, into alleged bribery and bid-rigging involving about 20 agencies operating in Syria.

The inquiry led to US foreign aid ordering Goal to halt the procurement of certain items with US funding and the Department of Foreign Affairs to withhold more than €10 million in grant money. The department subsequently agreed to fund Goal on a year-by-year basis rather than including the aid agency in multi-year funding that it provides to various Irish aid organisations.

Mr Coveney said that the existing year-to-year funding arrangement for Goal would be maintained but he acknowledged that this was “very hard” for charities to plan longer-term projects. The event was attended by many NGOs.

Mr Coveney praised Goal describing the charity as “very courageous” and among the first into “very complex and difficult environments” such as during the Ebola outbreak or into refugee camps.

‘Very optimistic’

Goal general manager Celine Fitzgerald, who attended the event, said she was “very optimistic” that the multi-year funding would be restored next year to be able to plan multi-annual programmes. The charity had worked “really hard” over the last seven months to transform the organisation, she said.

According to the Irish Aid report, Goal received €8.8 million of public funding in 2016. Overall, total overseas development from Ireland totalled €724 million last year, an increase of 12 per cent on 2015.

Mr Coveney acknowledged Ireland’s aid contribution was still less than half of its target of spending 0.7 per cent of GDP and it would be 2030 before it would reach this target.

Further aid commitment in next month’s budget was “not going to be anything like” the increase recorded last year but he hoped that as the economy recovered, the aid contribution would increase.

“Over time I would like to see a significant increase in spend in this area,” he said. “But we can’t do it overnight and we shouldn’t pretend that we can.”