Varadkar pledges to beef up Ireland’s overseas aid programme

Irish contribution to international development has fallen to 0.33% of GDP, from 0.58%

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visits UN Post 2-45 where Irish troops are serving in Lebanon. Video: Jack Power

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to increase Ireland’s contribution to the developing world, promising to deliver a schedule of increases in Irish overseas aid next year.

Figures from Irish Aid – a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs – for 2016 show that Ireland spent a total of €724 million that year, mostly on projects in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Irish aid contributions have fallen back in recent years, both in real terms and as a percentage of GNP, the key international benchmark.

The UN has a target for each country of 0.7 per cent of GNP, but Ireland’s contribution in 2016 was just 0.33 per cent. Few countries meet the UN requirement for development aid contributions, though Ireland has traditionally been a generous performer.

Speaking to journalists this week, Mr Varadkar said that “Ireland has fallen back quite a lot, first because of the recession and secondly, more recently because of a very fast-growing economy.

“Our contribution to international development is now only about 0.3 per cent of our GNP,” he said.

“We had been around 0.58 per cent at one stage so the time has come I think for Ireland as a country to start increasing our spending on international development again, and that will be part of our plans for Ireland’s contribution to the world and also for our foreign policy.

“We’d hope by the middle of the year to be able set out a schedule as to how that can be done in the years ahead,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Taoiseach also referenced his plans, first announced earlier this year, to double Ireland’s international presence in diplomatic and trade missions between now and 2025. The Government intends next year to roll out plans for significant increases in Ireland’s representation around the world.

Under the plans, entitled “Ireland’s Global Footprint 2025”, the number of diplomatic staff will be increased while the network of embassies and overseas offices focusing on investment, tourism, culture and food is to be expanded.

Ireland’s diplomatic strength has grown significantly in recent decades, but is considerably smaller than other comparable countries. There are now over 80 Irish missions abroad, an increase from just 40 in 1980.