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'Not enough money and they know it': Tommy Tiernan reiterates criticism of Govt overseas aid budget

The comedian was responding to comments made by Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney at the UN summit in New York.

File photo of Tommy Tiernan on The Late Late Show in 2019.
File photo of Tommy Tiernan on The Late Late Show in 2019.
Image: Andres Poveda

COMEDIAN TOMMY TIERNAN has said the Government could “give what’s needed if they wanted” when it comes to overseas development aid after Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney defended the Government’s record in New York yesterday. 

The comedian had initially criticised the Government for not hitting a UN target of allocating 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to overseas development aid on his podcast, ‘The Tommy, Hector and Laurita Podcast’.

Addressing Tiernan’s comments at the United Nations summit in New York yesterday, Coveney told The Journal that the Government’s commitment of 0.7% “is still there” and that there will be “significant increases” in overseas aid in next week’s budget.

“It’s a commitment to get to that by 2030. And we’ll try and make the contribution towards moving in that direction next week, but I can assure you, the increased contribution in real terms to overseas development aid next week will not be insignificant. In fact, it’s a very large sum,” he said.

The Programme for Government commits to making annual, sustainable progress, and “ultimately achieving the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2030.

“We will set a monetary expenditure floor on the basis of 2019, to be calculated over a rolling current three-year average,” the document reads.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Tiernan said: “This is what they do, they bamboozle the public with numbers and figures and charts, the truth behind these statistics is that it’s not enough money and they know it’s not.

“They could give what’s needed if they wanted, they could address global food structures at the U.N.

If they wanted, they could address crop dependency and market interference if they wanted. They don’t.

“The money is there, the Fine Gael government first promised in 1974 to give 0.7% of GNI in Overseas Development Hunger.. we’re still waiting and a child will die today of hunger.”

The Irish comedian last week launched an urgent hunger appeal with Trocaire to save the lives of millions of people at risk of Famine in the Horn of Africa after travelling to Somalia.

He said on the podcast that in the Programme for Government, “Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael said we will deliver on 0.7% and they haven’t”, adding they are only giving 0.37%.

“This doesn’t have to be this way,” said Tiernan, who called on people to make their voices heard ahead of next week’s Budget.

‘Not that simple’

Speaking in New York today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin told The Journal that the idea that Ireland doesn’t want to help “is not true”.

“I think Ireland is very committed to changing the structural issues around food poverty. Ireland has been one of the stronger countries historically on nutrition, on Global Food programmes,” he said.

“We would have had a historic involvement in Tigray, for example, in Ethiopia over decades, in terms of agricultural techniques and farming and so on, and yet conflict again intervenes in the form of a terrible war in Ethiopia now, which has destroyed a lot of what has been achieved. I don’t accept that that’s a fair criticism.”

When asked why Ireland could not allocate 0.7% of GNI to overseas development aid right now, Martin said: “It’s not that simple. In terms of jumping from a particular percentage to 0.7%, it’s not that simple.”

He said he was “wary” of using GNI or GDP as barometers. “On a high-growth level, when you have a high percentage, you’ll never chase it, but when you get low growth or negative growth, you suddenly look much better,” he said.

He said Ireland is seen positively across the developing world as a country that is “serious in terms of how best to change systems, from governance, from women in conflict and resourcing those areas”.

“Sometimes that’s not well received in recipient countries, in terms of the governance questions, which I think has to come more and more into the reckoning now in terms of when we allocate funding and so on like that,” he said.

“We do want to see improvements in governance, we do want to see women treated better in terms of conflict situations, in terms of education and so on, and I would say that there’s always room for improvement of course, but the idea that Ireland doesn’t want to help is not true. Ireland does want to help. Ireland has been helping for a long, long time in many, many countries.”

‘Gambling on people’s lives’

Earlier this week, President Michael D Higgins said it would be “absolutely tragic” if world leaders at the UN allowed this week to pass without addressing the issue of hunger and food security.

“It is incredibly important that we meet the targets that we need for the Horn of Africa and that we begin an adequate response in relation to the flooding in Pakistan, but year after year, the United Nations avoids dealing with the structural issues that are standing behind the food crisis,” he said.

“We had an immense food crisis 15 years ago in 2007 and yet in 2020 we allowed food to be part of the futures market on the stock exchange, we speculate on the food that is necessary to stop people starving.

We allow people to speculate on food on the market, effectively gambling on people’s lives.

He said that while we are beginning to make good progress on the response in the Horn of Africa, but said the the Horn of Africa is responsible for 0.024 of the emissions on the planet “and yet people are starving”. 

“The meeting this week in New York will seek again to avoid dealing with structural issues and the structural issues are: dependency on a few staples over which people have no control, export crops over which they have no control, speculation on the exchange in relation to grain itself,” President Higgins said.

He added that he hopes the meeting “doesn’t repeat the disgrace” of the G7 summit, which gave 90 minutes to discuss the environment, food and poverty.

“We really need a global institution worthy of the global problems and challenges we face, and my hope is that Ireland will be speaking about this,” he added.

Global Fund

Coveney also said that Ireland will increase its funding by 30% to the Global Fund, which is about responding to AIDS, Malaria and TB. This will amount to €65 million over the next three years, he added.

Ireland is also set to participate in a new fund, which has been set up by UNICEF, to protect children that are being impacted by famine and malnutrition.

“We will be committing €50 million of new money over the next three years to that UNICEF fund for the malnutrition of children, which is about getting important food directly to children who need it, who otherwise may starve,” Coveney said, adding that Ireland has been working with Samantha Power, the administer of USAID, on the plan.

“Just to give you a sense of it, the USAID are putting a big chunk of money into this, but they’ve asked for international contributions of €250 million, Ireland is contributing €50 million. So just to give you a sense of just how big a part we’re playing in those international efforts, about 20% of the fund is coming from Ireland.”

Donations to the urgent appeal Tiernan launched last week can be made through www.IrishEmergencyAlliance.org

With reporting by Christina Finn in New York

Christina will be reporting from the UN throughout the week. You can follow her updates on Twitter @christinafinn8

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