Minister refuses to rule out further cuts to aid budget

 

MINISTER FOR Overseas Development Peter Power has said he cannot rule out the prospect of further cuts to overseas aid in December’s budget.

Mr Power insisted, however, that Ireland would continue to have a “very strong and robust” aid programme.

“We are the seventh most generous donor in the world in per capita terms – that’s a huge achievement in light of a country facing colossal challenges, and that is something which Irish people ought to be proud of.”

Mr Power said he could not predict whether the overseas aid budget, which stands at €671 million for 2010, will be subject to further pruning.

“What I can say is that the Government has set out, very clearly, that right across all departments there will have to be savings of €3 billion, and that’s an absolute imperative. There will have to be very, very difficult decisions made by the Government over the coming months.

“I can’t predict what those decisions may be . . . but I am advocating very strongly for the aid budget, articulating the huge importance of overseas development and the contribution we are making internationally.”

Mr Power was speaking following the launch of the 2009 Irish Aid annual report, which details how and where Ireland’s overseas development aid is spent. Irish Aid is a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Some 80 per cent of Irish Aid funding is channelled to sub-Saharan Africa, where seven of its nine priority countries are located.

Mr Power said he welcomed the findings of a survey which showed that 84 per cent believe Ireland has an obligation to support overseas aid despite current economic difficulties.

The poll, which was commissioned by Dóchas, an umbrella group of more than 40 Irish aid agencies and development NGOs, also found that just over 80 per cent agree that the Government should deliver on its promise to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid by 2015. The survey also revealed that there was a wide gap between what Irish people think the Government spends on overseas aid and what is actually spent.

Mr Power said the poll showed that there was “enormous goodwill” among the public towards the Irish Aid programme.

He added that this was also reflected in the political sphere, where he noted that overseas aid was one of the few issues that enjoyed cross-party support.

The Irish Aid annual report centres on what has become the core priority of the Government’s aid programme – the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger.

“It highlights how Ireland has taken a lead in focusing attention on the continuing crisis of hunger in our world, and how we are making a difference by ensuring that every euro of our aid has maximum effect, working in partnership with governments and communities in some of the poorest countries in the world,” said Mr Power.

This month Ireland will co-host a high-level meeting with the US on the fringes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) summit in New York.

The meeting aims to highlight the battle against hunger and malnutrition, especially among young children.

Mr Power said he hoped the event would act as a “clarion call to all the nations of the world that at the MDG conference hunger and food security must be top of our agenda”.

Olive Towey from Concern told the Minister that the event promised to be “heavy on rhetoric” but it was unclear “how much firm commitment” would be made, especially given the cuts to aid budgets so far.

In response, Mr Power agreed it was crucial that the meeting “go beyond the aspirational”.