Development Aid Budget


Sir, - I enjoyed Oliver O'Connor's ironic reflections (Business This Week, November 13th) on the ability of politicians to make a virtue of being bound by the election commitments it suits them to keep, while forgetting the many others that now appear inconvenient. When a politician cuts taxes, even if it means closing hospital wards, he is thinking not of the promises he made at the last election, but how he will fare in the next. I could have wished, however, that Mr O'Connor had chosen a different example of an inconvenient election pledge from among the many that will not be redeemed. The undertaking to increase Ireland's foreign aid budget to 0.45 per cent of GNP is one that should not be kept. There is, in fact, little justification for Ireland giving foreign aid at all.

Aid is not, as Mr O'Connor states, "a symbol of a commitment to common decency". Foreign aid programmes are the ultimate in realpolitik. Some good does come of them, but that is not what they are for. The United States, by far the largest international donor historically, used foreign aid as part of a public relations exercise to win hearts and minds because she viewed herself as locked in a world-wide struggle with both a rival state and a rival ideology. Every country uses aid programmes partly as bribes (and some portion of aid ends up, in many cases, quite literally as bribes), partly to sweeten the "electorate" in international bodies such as the UN, partly to open or keep open commercial ties on behalf of its own enterprises, and partly to obtain leverage over foreign governments to be used on behalf of nationals who find might themselves in difficulties there.

It is difficult to see how this country, given its size and the nature of its commerce with the rest of the world, can make proper use of its aid programme. If we are not - and viewing aid as a form of collective national charity is not a proper use - then the entire programme, and certainly those parts which are not justified by self-interest, should be terminated.

The generosity and concern of the Irish is expressed not through our Government aid programmes, but through the work done and assistance given by our many voluntary organisations. We can be proud of the reputation they have earned for us - and should be, conversely, ashamed if they have earned it without our support. - Yours, etc., William Hunt,

Harold's Cross, Dublin 6W.