Charity must not be limited to ‘looking after our own’
Ireland is wealthy and must keep helping the unfortunate in our world’s far-flung corners
Protesters led by Councillor Donal Grady hand in a letter to the asylum centre in the former Linden House in Killarney. The group claims the centre opened without consultation. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
All major religions have charity as a central tenant. It is one of the five pillars of Islam – in Judaism it is obligatory and Sikhs only view wealth as acceptable if accompanied by charity.
There are many people who would argue, quite rightly, that they do not need any religious injunction to undertake acts of charity, and we see many examples of altruism by those with no religious belief.
Anyone raised, as many of us were, in the Christian tradition will be familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan – the story of a man attacked and left for dead on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and ultimately rescued, having been ignored by his fellow Jews, by a Samaritan.
What is less remembered is that, in the passage, Christ offers the parable in answer to a question.
Who, he is asked by a lawyer, is this neighbour that I am to love?
Our neighbour is everyone, whomever needs our help most – regardless of colour, creed or geography. Thus, while many argue that charity should begin at home, as the English clergyman Thomas Fuller famously said, it should not end there.
This year, more than ever before, I have heard arguments that we should “look after our own”.
The acute rise in homelessness, and myriad other issues, cry out for our attention and quite rightly demand both political attention and charitable giving.
Protesters at a reception centre for asylum seekers in Killarney at the weekend held placards that highlighted the country’s homelessness crisis, and argued that Ireland should look after “our own” first, before making accommodation available for people from outside the country.
No right-thinking person could not but be angered at the failure of our society, one of the richest countries in the world, to provide adequately for the needs of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Similarly, we should all be angered and motivated to help the poorest and most vulnerable citizens of our planet as they struggle with poverty, conflict and injustice. It’s fair to say that the public needs convincing of the merits of overseas development aid in the context of squeezed incomes and budget retrenchment across the developed world.
In a practical sense, it is far easier to see the impact of our contribution to home-based charities than it is to see how our money is spent in far-flung and remote corners of the world.
Rather than get defensive, the international development sector should embrace the opportunity to positively engage with the public around the work we do, the benefit it brings to some of the world’s poorest people and the effect it is having on reducing poverty.
Aid has been an important enabler of many of the world’s development success stories – such as the halving of the number of children dying needlessly since 1990.
Death in childbirth
There remains dire need of course – women in Sierra Leone are 100 times more likely to die in childbirth than they would be if they had their child in the UK or Ireland.
Foreign aid is about ensuring that, in the future, decent health services, clean water, adequate nutrition, economic opportunities, peace and safety are available throughout the world.
Justice demands that we take it upon ourselves, as those lucky enough to be born into the wealthiest parts of the world, to empower those not so lucky to change their world for the better.
In February, 120 retired generals and admirals wrote to political leaders in the US urging them to reject President Donald Trump’s call for swingeing cuts in the USAid budget.
“We know from our service in uniform,” they said, “that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone – from confronting violent extremist groups like Isis in the Middle East and North Africa to preventing pandemics like ebola and stabilising weak and fragile states that can lead to greater instability. The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism – lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice and hopelessness.”
We must hold our nerve. In some ways, the need has never been greater, with 65 million people displaced around the world. This is driven, in the main, by conflict. But we are winning – around the world absolute poverty is reducing and the capacity of communities to stand on their own is growing.
As those US generals, both idealistically and pragmatically concluded, “now is not the time to retreat”.
I don’t believe the Irish people will retreat either.
Celine Fitzgerald is general manager of Goal