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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 31 October, 2014

Column: Today’s countries in need are tomorrow’s trading partners

Ending global poverty means changing the way we view overseas aid and development – which is why the public have been invited to share ideas about Ireland’s contribution to the world stage, writes Joe Costello TD.

Joe Costello

ENDING GLOBAL POVERTY means changing the way we view overseas aid and development. With a new development policy, the Government’s aid programme, Irish Aid, is working to ensure that we have the greatest possible impact on the people and communities we support and that our contribution fully involves Irish people and institutions.

I will host a public meeting in Cork this evening to present our new policy and to hear the public’s views on how we ensure that Ireland remains at the cutting edge of international efforts to reduce poverty and hunger.

Winning the war against global poverty

Who would have believed that just 30 years since our TV screens were dominated by images of war and devastating famine in Africa, we could state with confidence that we are winning the war against global poverty?

This is today’s reality and it is clear that overseas aid, including from Ireland, has played a critical role in this progress.

Ireland’s development aid is rigorously focused on reducing poverty; eradicating hunger; helping children to survive and go to school and ensuring that families have nutritious food to eat and clean water to drink.

And aid is working: there are now 46 million more children in school in Africa than a decade ago; 15 million more children are alive today than would have been the case 10 years ago, thanks largely to a targeted and widespread vaccination programme, which Ireland has supported.

By 2015, it is projected that the number of people living in extreme poverty will have fallen by 50 per cent since 2000.

Our development aid has contributed to this immense progress by supporting Governments and NGOs to build basic health and education services; to prevent the spread of disease and to promote better governance.

Malnutrition and gender imbalances persist

And yet, sadly, this is still just one part of the picture:  one in three children today is malnourished; more than one billion people are living below the poverty line, struggling to feed their families on less than €1.25 a day; women still own only 10 per cent of the world’s wealth.

For many of us, these facts are unacceptable in a world of such immense wealth, technology and possibility.

Building on our strong missionary tradition, Ireland continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s poorest people. One World One Future – Ireland’s new Policy for International Development – reiterates the Government’s commitment to fighting global poverty and hunger.

Today, we spend less than 5 cents of every €10 the country produces on our programme of global development. This helps millions of people, the vast majority of whom live on less than €1.25 a day.

Graduating from a dependence on aid

We are focused on supporting the countries with which we work to graduate from a dependence on aid. A historic opportunity now exists to achieve this:  developing countries are raising more of their own taxes, attracting more investment and growing their economies at an unprecedented rate.

Africa in particular is changing: stronger economies, better education and technology are driving change, including political and economic change. According to the IMF, economic growth across Africa is expected to surpass 5 per cent a year to 2015.

Working to eradicate poverty and hunger is not just the right thing to do, it is also in our interest as a small, open trading country. The countries which we are supporting today will be our markets and our trading partner within a few years.

It is clearly in our interest to assist, as partners, in their path to peace, stability and prosperity. A fairer and more equitable world will bring new markets for our goods and enhance the prospects for peace and stability.

A changing world

At the core of our new policy are some significant global changes.

Firstly, while there has been very impressive progress in reducing poverty, it is clear that countries affected by conflict or other forms of fragility lag far behind, with millions of people still mired in crippling poverty. Similarly, while the significant economic growth in middle income countries is welcome, we recognise that it has not reached all citizens equally, nor is it always based on sustainable growth patterns.

In both cases, Irish Aid is responding.

We are gradually re-focusing our resources on countries such as Sierra Leone, which is emerging from the shadow of a devastating civil war. Under our new policy, Sierra Leone will become Irish Aid’s ninth Partner Country. The risks are certainly higher in these fragile countries, but the risk of doing nothing is even greater.

We are also changing our approach to countries reaching middle income status. Engaging with governments on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest, we are placing greater emphasis on wealth distribution and the role which Irish institutions can play in supporting them to build to develop and build an economy which benefits all citizens.

Two-way trade and investment

Benefiting from the goodwill which our aid efforts have built up in these countries, we will also promote two-way trade and investment that benefit both our partner countries and Irish companies. We will be upfront about our economic interests but also clear about the standards we expect of those capitalising on that good will.

We recognise that the impacts of climate change are already being seen in some of our partner countries. We have a responsibility to address our own greenhouse gas emissions, but we must also ensure that our development programme supports outcomes which are environmentally sustainable.

Recent uprisings across the world have clearly demonstrated that people will not settle for corrupt, unaccountable and non-democratic governance. We have always placed human rights at the centre of our aid programme and as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, we will take this even further. We will sharpen our focus on improving gender equality and ensuring that persons with disabilities are treated equally.

There can be no tolerance for corruption

This policy also commits us to achieving even greater efficiency and effectiveness. Key to this is clearly prioritising where our support can have the greatest impact. We will now review the countries and partners with whom we work to ensure that they are in line with our priorities and our demand for value for money.

There can be no tolerance for corruption – we will continue to monitor and strengthen our systems to prevent it. Swift action will be taken if Irish taxpayers’ money is jeopardised, as was the case last year in Uganda when the Tánaiste immediately suspended aid to the Government upon learning that Irish money had been misappropriated. That funding has been reimbursed in full and we will not return to funding through Government systems in Uganda until we are fully confident that internal financial controls have been strengthened and strong action taken against those implicated in this fraud.

We will also place greater emphasis on a whole of government approach, meaning this policy will guide all Government Departments where development related issues arise.

And in line with this Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability, we will strengthen our engagement with the Oireachtas; continue to ensure our financial support reaches its beneficiaries and publish all aid data in an internationally agreed format by 2015.

The aid programme belongs to the Irish people

Our aid programme belongs to the Irish people, reflects their core values of justice and fairness and is genuine expression of their innate sense of compassion.

Our new policy makes an express commitment to greater engagement with the Irish public. With an increased focus on volunteering, I hope to harness the experience of Irish people and institutions to the benefit of developing countries.

Irish Aid is the Irish people’s aid programme and it was in recognition of this that I conducted extensive public consultation in preparing this new policy. It is also the reason why I now wish to build on those discussions next week by inviting members of the public to share their views on how we can take this new policy forward together.

One World, One Future seeks to ensure that Ireland remains at the cutting edge of international efforts to reduce poverty and hunger – we want you to join us in making this happen.

To read One World, One Future or find information on Irish Aid, visit www.irishaid.ie. The Cork meeting takes place on Monday July 15 from 7pm to 8.30 pm in the Clarion Hotel, Lapps Quay, Cork.

Joe Costello TD is Minister for Trade and Development.

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