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'It is our duty and it is our responsibility to help the poorest people in the world'

In 2016, Ireland’s spending on overseas aid was a mere 0.33% of GNI – or 33 cent in every €100, writes Suzanne Keatinge.

IRELAND HAS A long history of global solidarity. From the thousands of people who took to the streets of Dublin in January in support of women marching in Washington DC and across the world, to the Dunnes Stores workers – brave women who risked their jobs and incomes by striking in protest of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

We have never stayed quiet or laid low when we see injustice and inequality in the world.

Irish people have long been known for their global generosity too – whether in response to humanitarian crises like famine or the ongoing refugee crisis, to natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis or hurricanes or to long term development.

In 2014, Ireland was named the world’s “goodest” country in the world by policy analyst Simon Anholt – based on how much we contribute as a country to the planet and to humanity (though sadly we were overtaken by Sweden in the most recent ranking in 2016).

Showing our goodness

One of the ways that Ireland shows this goodness is through the aid we give to the world’s poorest countries to help the most marginalised people in the world. The government has committed to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on overseas aid – which equates to just 70 cent in every €100 spent – to go to providing food, water , basic medical care and access to education to people living in poverty that here in Ireland we can’t even imagine.

But in 2016, Ireland’s spending on overseas aid was a far cry from this promise – at a mere 0.33% of GNI – or 33 cent in every €100 – and this is part of an ongoing trend of percentage reductions year on year since 2008.

There is widespread support among the Irish public for helping people living in extreme poverty. According to research conducted by Dóchas in collaboration with MRBI in April 2017, 80% of Irish people – 8 out of every 10 – agree that it is important to Ireland’s international reputation that we keep our promise on overseas aid.

Aid works

We’ve been conducting this research annually since 2011, and every year, even at the depths of the recession, Irish people have shown their support for keeping this promise.
And it’s clear why they support it. Put simply, aid works.

It can be easy to look at the horrendous imagery pouring into our homes from the devastating famine in South Sudan, or the emerging crises in Yemen, Ethiopia and Nigeria, and to assume that nothing has changed since Live Aid in the 1980s – that all of the money spent on aid in the intervening 30 years has had no real impact on poverty and hunger. But that is simply not true.

There have been huge strides made for so many people. Globally, there were 700 million fewer people living in conditions of extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990, the mortality rate for children under 5 dropped by 41% between 1990 and 2011, and over the last 20 years, more than 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water. These amazing results – and there are many others – are lives saved and changed, as a direct result of the aid provided by wealthy countries like Ireland.

We can go further

And in the next 13 years we can go even further. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were signed in 2015 – following international negotiations co-chaired by Ireland. They represent a transformative agenda – one that commits us to eradicating extreme poverty, ending hunger and tackling climate change. By working together, we can make that a reality by 2030.

Irish people know this. And that’s why they continue – year after year – to agree that we should increase our spending on overseas aid. We must meet our commitments to helping the poorest and most marginalised people in the world. It is our duty and it is our responsibility.

It’s time that the Irish government caught up with the generosity of the people of Ireland – and put forward a clear plan showing how we will keep our promise to those who need it most.

Suzanne Keatinge is the CEO of Dóchas – The Irish Association of Non-Governmental Development Organisations. Dóchas provides a forum for consultation and cooperation between its 61 members, and a platform for them to speak with a single voice on development issues.

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