Ireland's spend on overseas aid, as a proportion of Gross National Income (GNI) is at its lowest since 2001, figures just published by the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show.
Ireland spent €609.6 million on overseas aid last year, or 0.38 per cent of GNI, a drop from 0.46 per cent in 2013.
In 2000 the Government made a commitment to the United Nations that it would meet the UN target of allocating 0.7 per cent of GNI to overseas aid, and that it would achieve this by 2007. The target date was subsequently moved out to 2012 and again to 2015.
The closest the budget allocation has come to meeting the 0.7 per cent target was in 2008 when a spend of €920.6 million accounted for 0.59 per cent of GNI.
The charity Oxfam said these latest figures, showing Ireland was "lagging behind" in its commitments to the most vulnerable people in the world, underlining the need now for legislation along the lines of that passed last month in Britain.
The British International Development Bill, which passed its third reading in the House of Lords on March 8th, enshrines in law a commitment on the part of Britain to spend 0.7 per cent of its GNI on aid every year.
Britain last year met that target for the first time, spending 0.72 per cent of GNI, or £11.4 billion (€15.7 billion) on overseas aid.
In 2013, only five other countries – Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the United Arab Emirates – met or exceeded the 0.7 per cent target. The Netherlands had consistently met the target, but fell short in 2013.
Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam, said Ireland had now missed three deadlines to achieve the UN target. He said though the Government had stemmed the downward trend in its commitment to overseas development aid following repeated cuts since 2009 of 34.6 per cent; it was time now to set a clear deadline for reaching the target and to legislate to ensure it was met.
He said if Britain could achieve the target and even surpass it, when it too had experienced austerity, the Irish state must make a more concerted effort.
He said while the Irish public were extremely generous in contributing to overseas aid via charities, the Irish Government’s record was not as benign.
“In a world where the richest one per cent are set to own more than everyone else by next year, the poorest people on our planet need more ambitious action. Increasing inequality is threatening our progress in lifting people out of poverty and aid is vitally important in helping poor people create better livelihoods.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said last night: “The Government has protected the aid budget to the greatest extent possible in the most difficult of economic circumstances. In this context, it is a very significant achievement that we are providing just over €600 million in Official Development Assistance in 2015.
“The Government remains committed to reaching the 0.7 per cent target.”
She added: “The percentage for 2014 reflects the strength of GNI growth in Ireland. The challenge now will be to examine how best we can build on Ireland’s world-class aid programme in order to make progress towards the 0.7 per cent target and ensure we can continue to make a sustainable and effective contribution to the fight to end extreme poverty and hunger in the world.”