Woods critical of 12% foreign aid cut

 

The Minister for Finance, Mr McCreevy, has been strongly criticised by the newly elected chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, Dr Michael Woods, for reducing the humanitarian assistance budget by 12 per cent in the Estimates.

Dr Woods, the longest-serving Fianna Fáil minister until the general election, said last night that the cut could not be justified at a time when famines were devastating southern Africa.

Dr Woods told The Irish Times he intended raising the matter with Mr McCreevy, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Cowen, and the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, in an effort to have the budget restored.

Mr McCreevy announced a reduction in emergency humanitarian assistance from €22.85 million to €20.05 million when he announced the 2003 Estimates last Thursday.

Last night, Dr Woods said he was disappointed to see that the overall Estimate for international co-operation for 2003 did not reflect the percentage increase promised by the Government.

"The expected increase, which was planned to continue the process of taking Ireland's overseas development aid to the UN recommended 0.07 per cent of GNP, has not materialised," he said.

Dr Woods said he had confidence in the commitment of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to reach the UN target, but he expressed his concern that Ireland's intended cuts "would disadvantage some of the most needy people in the world".

Dr Woods said recent figures showed up to 15 million people in Ethiopia were facing starvation due to severe drought.

"It is therefore incumbent on the Government to ensure that we take proper account of these humanitarian disasters and the Estimates must be adjusted accordingly."

However, he stressed that the Government must still get credit for having doubled the amount of money for development aid in the past few years to €373.5 million in 2003.