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'Not appropriate' to cut Irish aid to Uganda over anti-gay laws

The Department of Foreign Affairs has argued that aid to the country is going to directly assist some of the poorest people in the world and that it’s a matter of educating people.

David Cooney, the outgoing secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs
David Cooney, the outgoing secretary general of the Department of Foreign Affairs
Image: Screengrab/Oireachtas TV

IT WOULD NOT be appropriate to cut millions in Irish aid money to Uganda as it is going to assist some of the poorest people in the world, the Public Accounts Committee has heard.

Department of Foreign Affairs secretary general David Cooney said that while Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore had been very clear in condemning recently-passed anti-gay laws, the government believes that cutting aid will only add to the detriment of the Ugandan people.

Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed off on a controversial law last month that will see homosexuals jailed for life. The promotion of homosexuality is explicitly outlawed and new legislation requires people to denounce gays.

“No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature, that’s why I have agreed to sign the bill,” Museveni said at the time.

Cooney said that that Irish overseas aid is in place for Uganda to help “some of the poorest people on the planet” and said it was assisting a society of “transient cattle owners who are making a transition to a more settled society”.

He said that Irish Aid is not going to assist the president or the parliament there.

“Whatever about the action of the government,” he said. “We do not feel that it would be appropriate to cut off our assistance that is going to directly to these people.”

He added: “We feel it’s very much a question of education.”

Cooney recalled how Ireland, under then taoiseach Albert Reynolds, secured IRL£8 billion in a EU money in the early 1990s despite homosexual acts being criminalised in Ireland.

“We have come a long way in this country over a short period,” Cooney said.”It’s a matter of education and bringing people along… I don’t think our reaction should be that we would cease aid.”

He said much of the Irish aid money to the country is going to help people in Uganda who are suffering from conditions such as AIDs and HIV.

In 2012, Irish Aid spent €16.8 million in support of development programmes in 2012. Around 42 per cent of this went to health programmes including treating HIV and AIDs.

The PAC has also heard today that the exchequer made about €100,000 when Uganda paid back €4 million in aid that had been misappropriated by authorities in the African country because of the change in the exchange rate between the euro and the Ugandan shilling.

Tánaiste: Anti-gay laws will “affect our valued relationship” with Uganda

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Hugh O'Connell

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