I thank the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence for the opportunity to discuss Irish Aid. The invitation to someone from a university is very much appreciated. I wish to discuss the role of universities in the Irish Aid programme and development work in Africa. However, I will describe first some context concerning where I am coming from and my experience with the sustainable development goals, SDGs, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a very good time to review the Irish Aid programme in light of the fact that the development architecture has changed.
I have been working with Professor Jeffrey Sachs in the Earth Institute at Columbia University for well over a decade now. Members will know him as the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the sustainable development goals, but he is also the director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, UNSDSN, on which I am a senior adviser. Members might know some of the products that we have produced lately, like the world happiness report, the SDG dashboard and the SDG academy.
I will outline for the committee a little bit about my background with the SDGs and what is called the post-2015 development agenda. During the period from 2012 to 2014, the UNSDSN had a formal mandate from the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to provide academic and scientific input into the post-2015 development agenda. This was just one work plan among many, and by the end of 2014, all of the work plans and inputs gathered from both governmental and non-governmental sources were summarised by the UN Secretary General and presented to Ambassador David Donoghue of Ireland and Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya as input into the negotiations. They were the co-facilitators of the negotiations on the 2030 agenda.
I participated in those negotiations as well, not in a Government capacity but as part of one of the major groups, as they are called, this one representing the scientific and technological community. One of the innovations of that negotiation, about which I will be saying more from an Irish perspective, was the UN major groups. These were made up of women's groups, youth groups, indigenous people, trade unions, local authorities, academics, business people, farmers' groups and so on. They all had a seat at the table. The major groups had 12 seats and the diplomats had 193 seats. However, we were able to speak, submit papers, comment, and attend all meetings. One of my major battles during the whole negotiation was to keep the term "academic" listed as one of the major partnerships or stakeholders that would deliver or implement this agenda.
I would now like to define something which will be a challenge for everybody, including Irish Aid. The duty-bearer for implementing the 2030 agenda is summarised in paragraph 52 of Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:
"We the Peoples" are the celebrated opening words of the UN Charter. It is "We the Peoples" who are embarking today on the road to 2030. Our journey will involve Governments as well as Parliaments, the UN system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people.
The idea is that we will not get transformative change in societies, governments, private sector or corporations if all people do not buy into this agenda. People in government, the private sector, universities and civil society must start working together. This is a theme that I will draw on in some of my comments later. Coming from a university background, I would like to see universities playing a much more central role in all of the activities in the development arena of foreign affairs.
As has been mentioned before to this committee, Mr. David Donoghue was a very skilled negotiator. I would say Mr. Noel Dorr contributed to the UN Security Council a good few years ago but Mr. Donoghue's contribution was absolutely massive for Ireland. We cannot understate how skilled and brilliant he was in that arena. He ensured the UN major groups, in other words, civil society, were in the meetings all the way until the end. He carried them with him. He realised the only way this agenda had any hope of getting implemented was if the private sector, local government, civil society and all stakeholders got behind it. It was not just about government but everybody together, unified to deliver this. The partnership would have to be formed at local levels, such as Dublin, for example, or even on the UCD campus, at national and regional levels, like the European Union, and at global levels. This is the duty bearer for the agenda and it is something Irish Aid will have to respond to. There is a new partnership out there that must implement the sustainable development agenda. I have highlighted the enormous contribution of Ambassador Donoghue, particularly his contributions on the Northern Ireland peace process, these intergovernmental negotiations on sustainable development goals and his chairing of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. These were honoured in UCD and we gave him an honorary doctorate in September 2016. Academia is extremely impressed with what he has done for Ireland and the world.
In my brief comments, I want to highlight the role of partnerships in universities. I also want to come at the sustainable development goals agenda in three dimensions. I know we want to focus on Irish Aid but other dimensions are potentially competing elements for finance, resources and policy. The sustainable development goals, unlike the millennium development goals, are universal and indivisible. In this context, universal means that every country must achieve or commit to trying to achieve these goals by 2030. That means Ireland, as well as Kenya or any of our programme countries. They are indivisible in the sense we cannot cherry-pick and we must try to achieve the economic, social, environmental and governance goals. We have to see the linkages between them and try to implement them simultaneously. We cannot just say we will specialise on industrial development, as that is not the spirit of the agenda.
The other big point that will be quite important for the Irish Aid programme is that there is an overarching principle about leaving nobody behind. This could be a very good guide for us in terms of where we want to be with development. This relates to fragile states, the least developed countries and providing aid to those who are left behind, marginal, vulnerable or disadvantaged. This is the place where we can do the most as a small aid programme with focus. I will summarise a paper I have already written for the Royal Irish Academy, called Implementing the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in Ireland, in which I make a case for hybrid sustainable development parliamentary committees. Members may read that. The sustainable development goals agenda has implications for Ireland on three interrelated dimensions of the agenda. There are also implications for the financial architecture and everything else in terms of implementation.
It might surprise many when I say this agenda must be implemented at home. We are committed to a voluntary national review at what is called the high-level political forum in July 2018. We must make a report on behalf of the Irish Government to say where we are in terms of implementing the sustainable development goals at home. The other part of that is the more traditional responsibility, which we take on ourselves, of an overseas aid programme. As part of that, Ireland should be stepping up and helping partner countries to implement the UN 2030 agenda. Finally, there is the other dimension, which is a global challenges idea. We are very aware of Paris and the climate deal, and our commitments are binding in that regard. This is just one of several emerging global challenges where we must deal with tax havens, the health of oceans, land degradation and disease. There are many interstate or global challenges, and Ireland will be expected, in partnership with others, to step up and address them.
The millennium development goals were more about getting into least developed or developing countries and helping them to implement a development programme. The sustainable development goals are more global in their reach and they are more universal. We have to do it on the UCD campus, in Dublin, on a national and European level with our developing partners, and at a global level. We are asked to engage on different levels. Of course, this will create tension in terms of the financial architecture or the type of resources we want to commit, as a nation, to these responsibilities or demands.
The Irish Aid section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade looks after overseas development aid, but I have always taken a very hard line on the idea of what should fund such aid. Ireland should commit as soon as possible to the metric of 0.7% of gross national product, GNP. We are already cheating because we do not say gross domestic product and GNP is much lower. To commit to 0.7% of GNP would be to take a leadership role in the world. Norway has already committed to 1% and other countries are above 1%. We have made the commitment going back decades and we are now going backwards. We are probably at the 0.3% level, although we moved forward in the past. I would nearly have a referendum on this issue. We should have a fiscal contract for social global responsibility, with the Irish committing to 0.7% of GNP, irrespective of our budgets or political cycles. It is not much at 70 cent for every €100.
There are many benefits to making this commitment. The first relates to putting money into the sustainable development goals at home or into security or other issues. That tension would be gone as the money would be for overseas development aid. There would be no more politics or lobbying in that respect. It would also create certainty. With programme countries, whether it is humanitarian assistance or development with bilaterals or multilaterals, we can plan with certainty over five or ten years. The money would be committed and we could do certain things. We are causing chaos with our flipping up and down the level of overseas development aid. More important, when we start shifting the composition of aid and moving money from development to humanitarian assistance before moving it to multilateral elements and coming back again, we are destroying our reputation. We are not stepping up in the way we should. We need to create certainty, have long-term planning, pick partners and stay with them. This will lead to a much more successful programme.
With overseas development, we should embody the principle of leaving nobody behind. Projects, when they involve the private sector and bigger countries, might naturally help middle development countries more and they may not necessarily want to be in fragile states. They may not necessarily want to be in orphanages or deal with mental health or disability matters. A programme aligned to our history and which focuses on the least developed countries, those vulnerable to famines, conflict, disability, mental health and issues relating to women and children, should be our niche. It should be the focus of the 0.7% of GNP.
When we go to these countries, and this includes our non-governmental organisations, we must be open to working in partnership with the private sector. Even in fragile states, we can work with the private sector and governments in the UN system. We can work with local authorities and universities and go into partnerships in these defined areas. There are many successful examples of how that can work. When we are doing humanitarian development work and we define these particular partnerships, whether they are multilateral or bilateral, I would like to see Irish partnerships threaded through the implementation and review of any money we spend. The idea that we send cheques off to the UN system or to some humanitarian crisis and let other partners spend them in places where there is no Irish entity present, whether a person from a university or Government, is not really good enough. I would make sure that we have an Irish presence in those partnerships, all the way down to impact and evaluation level. It is the best way to ensure accountability and buy-in in our society and structures. We should have companies and Government people going out to be part of the multilateral or bilateral partnerships. That could ensure that we are in it and are seeing it, and that we can improve it by being part of it.
When we are doing humanitarian development work and we define these particular partnerships, whether they are multilateral or bilateral, I would like to see Irish partnerships threaded through the implementation and review of any money we spend. The idea that we send cheques off to the UN system or to some humanitarian crisis and let other partners spend them in places where there is no Irish entity present, whether a person from a university or Government, is not really good enough. I would make sure that we have an Irish presence in those partnerships, all the way down to impact and evaluation level. It is the best way to ensure accountability and buy-in in our society and structures. We should have companies and Government people going out to be part of the multilateral or bilateral partnerships. That could ensure that we are in it and are seeing it, and that we can improve it by being part of it.
When we look at the countries where peacekeeping is carried out and where our universities, NGOs, programme countries, and the African section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - who are based in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa - are, they are all in different countries. Different elements of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are staffed, but in different countries. I believe that they should be in the same country. Peacekeepers and development workers can learn and work very well together, and they should be together. This is particularly true if we orientate towards Sudan or Somalia. They should be together. The universities and private companies should also be there, and should be working together. We would then have more cohesion and coherence at home and abroad, and would make accountability easier to achieve. It is a weakness that we are in different countries for different activities.
Those are some of my academic or external views on where Irish Aid should go. It embeds a nice part of the sustainable development goals, SDGs, framework into it. The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment will take the lead on the implementation of the SDGs in Ireland. It will report to the UN high level political forum in 2018 in the first instance. Some people have argued that environment should take the lead. There are several reasons that is the case. The high level political forum, HLPF, actually replaces the Commission of the Environment, so there is a legacy of having serviced that committee. It has traditionally been serviced by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. In terms of the SDG dashboard that United Nations Social Development Network, UNSDN, did, many of our red flags are on environmental pillars. There are social and economic issues, no doubt, but most of our big weaknesses relate to the environmental pillar.
The EPA and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment can act as a springboard for a whole of Government approach. They are very open to bringing in civil society groups such as Coalition 2030. They are in a good position. UCD have a research contract to work with them on the governance and the indicators for this voluntary national review, but also going forward for implementing the SDGs at home. I am encouraging partnership between parliamentarians, the bureaucratic side of Government, the Departments, the universities and groups like Social Justice Ireland, Environmental Pillar and the Mary Robinson Foundation. They all should be a part of this and help to define the goals, targets, recommendations and pressure for legislative change. I believe Ireland can do very well. I am very supportive of the energy coming from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I would like to point out that we are under pressure to report globally, but the SDG agenda tells us to implement in our own way, and it very much tells us that we have to be part of a data revolution. For Ireland that means we have to be able to map out all of the economic, social and environmental issues town by town, city by city, with data, and use the best technology available. The CSO could be pivotal to that. It is a new way of doing things, but we can do it.
In the paper I have just put forward for the Royal Irish Academy I asked a basic question. At the high-level political forum stakeholders are in the room with the bureaucrats, and then the leaders arrive. It is Ministers up until 2018 and then every five years it will be leaders. A HLPF-type committee should be able to work here. There is no reason we cannot set up policy committees that should, ex ante, incorporate elements of what we call at the UN major groups from civil society, academia and others, which are chaired by the parliamentarians and Senators, and bring good papers and positions with a view to having action taken on these issues. We have examples of this already. The national action plan on women, peace and security 2015 to 2018 group, led by Ms Nora Owens, has people from various departments, universities and society groups. That sort of thing has already happened, but the idea is to formalise it and to really prioritise it. I prefer this to a sustainable development council, for example the climate change or fiscal council. Those are advisory and outside of the issues, not inside. It does not give those parties a seat at the table. It is not really giving them a real chance to set agendas and to actually bring through legislative change.
Where do the resources come from for this? I am very clear that no overseas aid money should be used for any voluntary national review or any actions at all to implement the SDGs at home. This has to come from the mainstream budget. It should come from the Department of the Environment or the Department of Finance. It has nothing to do with official development assistance, ODA. This is about Ireland mainstreaming its economic, social and environmental policies to align with the SDGs. It is nothing to do with overseas development aid and should not take any money from that.
Ironically, if we do this well at home it gives us real leverage so that all of these partnerships can engage overseas, and in the future can engage in these global partnerships. We already had a little bit of this from the Government, where the former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, carried out a spin-over analysis on the possible effects of the Irish tax system on developing economies. The idea is that Ireland, on the issues of ocean health, climate, land and managing security and disease, gets its partnerships into these issues globally. It is a different arena, a different set of committees and a different set of partnerships. It is not overseas development aid as we know it. Again, I would not use any money from ODA, but I certainly would use money from the Department of Finance and others. We are getting very bad press, portrayed as a tax haven around the world at the moment. Some people are calling us the epicentre for global social inequality and environmental degradation, because all of the multinationals, value chains, food systems and pharmaceuticals and others are avoiding taxes. They avoid taxes so that all of the nations of the world cannot build roads, schools and houses all over the world. We need to take our role seriously in dealing with global challenges in partnerships and cannot just ignore the fact that we are perhaps quite negatively involved in something. It is perceived to be that way. Because the SDG agenda operates nationally and globally, including in the developing world, it has different focuses. In terms of sustainable development we need to build a reputation in all of those dimensions. We cannot just say that we have a famine history and a history of missionary work and that we have done well in Africa. That is just one dimension of this agenda. We cannot, on the other side of that, be seen to be creating chaos.
I wanted to highlight the role of universities. UCD is certainly stepping up to the plate in terms of trying to reorient our education and research, innovation, policy outreach and community outreach towards that SDG backdrop.
This is largely because one element of our funding, that is to say, the European Commission, has made the framework programme 9 and the sustainable development goals the backdrop for funding of universities. This is important to UCD. It relates to some work that people undertook. One thing Mr. Guterres had on his agenda was a switch in the focus from security to development to prevent future wars. The other thing is to reorientate global finance to the sustainable development goals. This means finance that was supposed to be for universities, for example, should be made SDG-orientated. Finance for equity and pension funds should somehow be made STG-orientated. Finance should be made to be SDG-orientated. Global tax, taxation and public tax should be made SDG-orientated. Those involved will win this agenda if they hone in on the financial focus.
UCD is perfectly capable of orientating towards this agenda without using overseas development aid money or anything like that. This is because the college gets its own funding. The college has its own fees and structure and it can engage. However, the college does need funding in another sense. UCD likes to build partnerships with universities in our programme countries. We do this and we are successful at it but we could scale it. It is really important that academics and students start to undertake their scholarship together on joint programmes.
Up to now Irish Aid has had a successful fellowship programme. It is a smaller programme. The idea is to bring civil servants in Africa to do masters degrees in Ireland for a year. Then, we send them back. It should be possible to build capacity in Africa. Those who have participated never really shadowed the Departments here or came to the Dáil. Then, when they went back to Africa they never really stayed with us on our development projects.
The UCD approach is to go up a level. We focus on the training of staff and civil servants in Africa up to PhD level. We have a nice programme under which people come for 12 weeks per year for up to four years. They can get a PhD in any discipline. Our fees are low and we put a great deal of effort into it. The joy of it is to realise that universities in many of the programme countries are part of government and state. In fact, a person who is head of an economics department can be head of finance one year, governor of the bank the following year and then back as head of economics in the university the year after that. They are rather interchangeable. Apart from getting people up to PhD level, the universities can train the masters students of the future, but they are central to policy as well. They are useful in terms of engaging with the Irish Government and our embassies in implementing the programme.
My recommendation is that regardless of the type of education programme in question, no development education money should be spent here. No money should go to United Kingdom universities either, although that is what we are doing. It should all be out in Africa. It should be about getting our universities and everyone out in Africa, doing things in partnership and getting capacity there. That is what the overseas department aid programmes should focus on.