Eamon Gilmore says Government overseas aid spending still has strong public support

New international development policy aims to ‘open doors’ to future trade

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamonn Gilmore with Nora Owens and Joe Costello TD. Photograph: David Sleator

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamonn Gilmore with Nora Owens and Joe Costello TD. Photograph: David Sleator

 

The Government’s spending on overseas development continues to have “strong support” from the public despite the economic crisis, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore insisted yesterday.

Mr Gilmore was speaking at the launch of the State’s new policy for international development, which sets out the vision, goals and priorities for the Government’s overseas aid programme over the next four years.

Since 2008, the State’s aid budget has been cut by some 30 per cent. This year the Government has allocated €623 million to overseas development.

The policy paper states that the Government remains committed to achieving the goal of allocating 0.7 per cent of national income to overseas development, though it did not mention the 2015 target date stated in the programme for government. Instead, it said the Government would “endeavour to maintain aid expenditure at current levels, while moving towards the 0.7 per cent target when our economy improves”.

Asked why the 2015 target date was not included, Minister for Trade and Development Joe Costello said it was so as not to raise “unrealistic expectations”.


Trade opportunities
The key elements of Irish Aid’s new strategy include encouraging sustainable economic growth in partner countries to support their move away from aid and bring increased opportunities for Ireland. In recent years, officials have sought to frame Ireland’s aid budget in terms of how it could “open doors” to future trade and investment in Africa’s growing economies, which are already being courted by the likes of China, India and Brazil.

“We need to seize this moment and build on the economic opportunities in Africa and elsewhere,” Mr Gilmore said yesterday. “Many African economies are growing at an average of 5 per cent a year. Most countries are at peace. Record numbers are going to school. Consumer spending will almost double in the next 10 years.”

He said the State would use its “strong partnerships” to identify trade opportunities and stimulate “mutually beneficial” relationships. “This is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do,” he said. “It is not just simple idealism . . . it is also important for our own economic recovery.”


‘Robust interest’
Officials reject the suggestion that this framing of the overseas development programme – which some aid purists have bristled at – is in response to fraying public support. The Tánaiste argued that the level of public engagement in consultations related to the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid last year demonstrated robust interest in and support for Ireland’s overseas development programme. That process informed the strategy announced yesterday.

The new policy also includes a focus on countries recovering from conflict and instability, with Sierra Leone replacing Timor Leste as one of Ireland’s nine partner countries. The Irish Aid representative office in Timor Leste was shut in 2012 following a Government decision to trim overseas missions including embassies in the Vatican and Iran.

The strategy includes a commitment to a “whole-of-government” approach to development. Responding to the impact of climate change in developing countries becomes a priority, and Ireland’s commitment to taking a leadership role in the fight against hunger is reaffirmed. Promoting human rights and addressing inequality become key goals and there will be a volunteering initiative.

Hans Zomer, director of Dóchas, a network of 49 Irish NGOs, welcomed the focus on “the need for joined-up thinking” in the battle against poverty. “We are facing huge challenges in our society with inequality, poverty and powerlessness increasing. The development policy reminds us that to overcome these challenges, we need to treat them as global and not only local challenges.”