Some six weeks ago the Government launched Ireland’s new policy for international development, known as A Better World. A Better World represents the culmination of over 16 months of work, including extensive consultation across Departments, with external stakeholders and with the public, including public meetings in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Dublin. I would like particularly to thank the many citizens across Ireland who contributed to the consultation process on this important policy. A Better World is a clear statement of Ireland’s commitment to global citizenship, helping make our planet a better place to live for others and for ourselves.
A characteristic of Ireland’s official development co-operation since it was established in 1974 has been the strong support shown by Members of the Oireachtas. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, reviewed Ireland’s development co-operation programme in 2017. That review played an important role in informing A Better World. There was resounding support in the public consultations for the committee’s recommendations to put the sustainable development goals, SDGs, to the fore and to focus on reaching the furthest behind first. Prioritising gender equality, education and agriculture also gained broad support.
As the committee recognised, Ireland has a global reputation for delivering a quality development cooperation programme and for providing untied aid, delivering results for those most in need. A Better World provides the framework to build on and expand that reputation. Central to this is the Government’s commitment to delivering 0.7% of gross national income to official development assistance, ODA, by 2030, as stated in the global Ireland strategy to double Ireland’s global footprint and impact by 2025 and reiterated by both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste at the launch of A Better World. This is a significant commitment that could see us tripling our current contributions by 2030.
We are making progress. Allocations to ODA have increased by 32% since 2014 and Irish ODA in 2019 is forecast to reach almost €817 million, an increase of approximately €110 million or 16% on 2018 budget announcements.
A Better World will guide this expansion. It is an investment in a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world. While this is a significant investment, the costs to future generations will be far greater if we do not invest now in addressing global challenges such as violent conflict, climate change and growing inequalities. This commitment is not only in our strategic interest, it is a moral imperative for us and for our children’s generation.
We recognise that we cannot do this alone. A Better World provides the framework for expanding Ireland’s leadership role in Europe and globally. Ireland has always been a country committed to multi-lateralism and collective action. As a small island state, we know our interests are served through working together with the global community. At a time when the challenges facing this planet are becoming greater, even existential, we are seeing many in the international community, including some of our long-standing partners, retreat into a more insular, self-interested and short-sighted world view. It is more important than ever that Ireland takes a leadership role. It is essential that we reinforce our commitments and values with action and investment.
A Better World commits us to strengthening our global partnerships, playing our full part in the multilateral system, in particular at the United Nations and in the European Union. Ireland’s EU membership is at the heart of the new approach, in part recognising the need to deepen alliances with member states in the context of Brexit. In addition, our contribution to the EU development and humanitarian funding instruments is likely to increase and greater engagement with the EU institutions will be required if this significant element of our ODA is to reflect Ireland’s policies and values.
Our new policy also provides the framework for expanding our partnerships and relationships with Africa, the continent of the 21st century, building on the many decades of investment we have made in east and southern Africa. We will continue our staunch support for civil society. The policy is focused on the pledge in the sustainable development goals to leave no-one behind, and to reach the furthest behind first.
Prioritising gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance are the four priorities outlined for directing our development co-operation to the furthest behind first. These four priorities are essential building blocks of sustainable development. Delivering on them will define Ireland’s leadership and influence, inform our strategic choices around partnerships and interventions, and guide how we implement our development policy.
We are also committed to intensifying work in three clusters of interventions where Ireland has proven expertise, being the areas of protection, food and people. These are areas authentic to Ireland’s own development story over a century of democracy. The focus on protection recognises that without peace, long-term sustainable human development is impossible. The focus on food builds on our global reputation of contributing to food and nutrition security and will draw on domestic expertise to contribute to shaping global food systems and markets that deliver better outcomes for both producers and consumers. Finally, by investing in people we will continue our longstanding commitment to improving universal access to essential social services such as health, quality education and social protection.
Many Irish people have worked in development as missionaries, volunteers and aid workers, bringing hope and inspiration to many in need. I believe this stems from a deep empathy and from a lived memory of what is it like to suffer conflict and violence, not to have enough food or basic necessities to live a dignified life and to lack access to educational or job opportunities. For my entire career, I have been particularly passionate about expanding access to top quality education in the recognition that knowledge is power. From my many visits to countries and regions where Ireland has a development co-operation programme I am always so proud to see the contribution we make in providing access to educational opportunities. Those opportunities would be denied to those most vulnerable, and in particular girls, without Ireland’s support. These opportunities provide the basis for many to build a better life for themselves and their children. It resonates with our own journey at home, from free secondary education in the 1960s to the best educated young people in Europe today.
Building on this, the commitment in this new policy to draw on the world-class expertise and the research and learning institutes that we have in Ireland and to build on our reputation as educators abroad is absolutely central. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the foundation of Ireland’s international development co-operation programme, it is an important time to reflect on our own path towards a more prosperous country and the huge contribution that Ireland and Irish people have made to human development globally.
We have contributed to huge strides in reducing global poverty. In 1974, when Ireland’s development co-operation programme was established, about 42% of the world’s population was in extreme poverty. By 2018, that has been reduced to approximately 10%. However, there is no room for complacency: climate change, conflict, growing inequality and many other challenges threaten this progress. Addressing these challenges will require all of us work together across all sectors, and locally, nationally and globally. It will require all of us to listen to young people, like those in the Visitors Gallery, who are challenging us to respond in an effective and meaningful way.
The Government is committed to ensuring Ireland will play its part in delivering on our promise of A Better World for the next generation.