Speech by MOS Lenihan to the Oireachtas Joint Foreign Affairs Committee on the Irish Aid White Paper, 10 October 2006
Chairperson, Members of the Committee,
I am grateful for the opportunity to address this Committee today on Ireland's first White Paper on overseas development aid.
Quite a number of you have travelled to see for yourselves the work that Irish Aid is doing in developing countries.
You have seen first-hand the context in which we work and what we are trying to achieve.
I would encourage other interested members to consider such a visit.
My Department can certainly help with arrangements.
Irish Aid has always enjoyed a close working relationship with the Oireachtas.
The White Paper commits us to growing this relationship.
Parliaments all over the world hold a vital position in the coalition fighting poverty.
Your visits help to strengthen the parliamentary systems of our partner countries.
At home, Oireachtas debates facilitate public discussion of what we do, how we do it and why we do it.
Your reports on our relationships with our priority countries provide a useful resource for those seeking further information.
The Irish public needs to know that its parliament is keeping a vigilant eye on how their money is being spent.
It is in this spirit that we invite you to rename this Committee 'the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Irish Aid'; reflecting the fact that the work of Irish Aid now has a much greater role within Ireland's foreign policy.
Indeed, this historic White Paper puts overseas development at the heart of our foreign policy.
The work of Irish Aid brings great credit to Ireland.
Our aid programme has been rated as one of the most effective in the world and has received recent tributes from the OECD, the World Bank and most recently former US-President Bill Clinton.
Our influence over other international donors is strong and growing.
The ten new member states of the European Union are sending delegations to Ireland on a weekly basis to learn how they can build a similar programme.
In percentage terms, we are generous donors and this will increase as we work towards reaching the UN's target of spending 0.7% of our GNP on official aid.
Internationally, we will never be the biggest volume contributor, but increasingly, where we commit our share, others are following.
In policy terms, our aid will remain untied and sustainable.
We took a lead in advocating 100% debt relief for the Least Developed Countries, becoming the first government of a developed country to do so.
This year, Ireland has committed €59 million for multilateral debt relief through the World Bank.
While charting the future of the Irish Aid programme, the White Paper very much reflects and builds on the values and attitudes of Irish people towards those in need.
It confirms the successful practices and principles of the programme to date.
At a purely practical level it provides certainty and a road map for the careful expansion of the programme.
Our overarching objectives remain reducing poverty and assisting the poorest people in the poorest countries.
Africa will remain the principal geographic focus for the programme.
Malawi will become the ninth priority country for Irish Aid.
The White Paper also brings new ideas to the table:
The establishment of a Rapid Response Initiative - to enable Ireland to respond more effectively to sudden-onset emergencies.
This Initiative includes the pre-positioning and transportation of humanitarian supplies and the drawing up of a roster of skilled individuals from the public and private sectors, including from the Defence Forces, for deployment at short notice to emergency situations.
Later this week, I will sign an agreement with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, to put in place the first logistical structures for this Initiative.
A dedicated Unit for Conflict Analysis and Resolution is being established in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Ireland will forge a distinctive role in conflict prevention and resolution and peace building, drawing on our own experience and knowledge of these areas.
We will establish a Hunger Task Force to examine the particular contribution Ireland can make to tackling the root causes of food insecurity, particularly in Africa.
The Department of Foreign Affairs will work to ensure coherence and a joined-up approach to development across all areas of Government.
The White Paper recommends the establishment of an Inter-departmental Committee to encourage greater coherence.
A new Governance Unit will be established within Irish Aid to ensure that our aid gets to where it is most needed and that no monies are diverted from this cause.
The Unit will work to ensure that Irish Aid resources are always used for the public good and work to combat corruption across all areas of developing societies.
We aim to expand the existing corps of Irish development volunteers serving throughout the developing world.
Recognising the commitment of many Irish people to development issues and the need to grow broader public awareness, we will shortly open an Irish Aid Information and Volunteering Centre.
The Centre will make more and better information available to the public about volunteering opportunities for individuals, institutions and communities.
There is an incredible wealth of skills among the Irish public that can benefit development projects around the world.
As the programme grows, we realise more than ever that our expansion cannot be done in isolation.
We value immensely the partnerships that Irish Aid has developed; partnerships with Irish institutions such as the Oireachtas, with recipient and like-minded Governments, NGOs, schools, foundations, the private sector, but most importantly our relationship with the people of Ireland.
The White Paper recognises that public awareness and support are critical to the success of the Irish Aid programme.
While communicating the challenges that the developing world faces, we must also present the success of our projects.
As Minister with responsibility for Irish Aid, I will continue to work hard to ensure that more and more people are made aware of the important work that we do on their behalf.
I am grateful to the Oireachtas for the role that it plays in highlighting development issues and encouraging greater interest.
The launch of the White Paper is not the end of something but the beginning of something more ambitious than ever before.
There is much to be done to implement all the recommendations within the document and I sincerely hope that this Committee will play its part.