I welcome the members of the NGO community in Ireland who requested this meeting to discuss Ireland's overseas development aid budget. It is a particular pleasure to welcome back to the Houses of the Oireachtas Ms Helen Keogh, a former Member, in her capacity as chairperson of Dóchas, the umbrella representative group of Irish NGOs. I also welcome another former Member, Mr. Derek McDowell, who now works with Concern. This goes to show that most Deputies and Senators are concerned with the important things in life, despite all that is said about them. We are also joined by Mr. Justin Kilcullen, director of Trócaire; Mr. Tom Arnold, chief executive of Concern and Ms Anne O'Mahony, Concern's country officer for Kenya.
Before we commence, I acknowledge the assistance of Ms Joanne McGarry of Trócaire, Ms Olive Towey of Concern and Hans Zomer, director of Dóchas, for their help in arranging this meeting. They are with us in the Visitors Gallery and are very welcome.
The joint committee is under no illusions about the current situation. Like every other facet of public expenditure, the overseas development aid budget has been cut recently and given the forthcoming budget in December, we understand the clear concerns expressed by NGOs about what could happen. The budget line which funds the long-term development work of civil society organisations and NGOs was reduced from the initial allocation in 2009 of €138 million to €110 million in April. With reference to the emergency and recovery budget line, a pre-approved allocation for NGOs set at €12.2 million at the beginning of 2009 has been safeguarded. Its disbursement is dependent on the receipt of appropriate submissions and to date €8.7 million has been disbursed. Of this amount, Dóchas members have received €5.5 million. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, has undertaken to protect civil society partners as much as possible in applying any of the cuts that will become necessary. Given the current climate, he has said it is impossible to exempt them completely. Following these cuts, however, the overall proportion of the budget going to civil society organisations for long-term development has increased from 18.4% to 19.3% of Vote 29, the Foreign Affairs Vote on overseas development aid.
The allocation promised to non-governmental organisations at the beginning of 2009 for humanitarian emergencies remained unchanged following the supplementary budget in April. Irish Aid has tried to protect the funding to key partners, including the multi-annual programmes, MAPS, the NGOs and members of Dóchas. A decision was taken to reduce NGO grants by 20% for long-term development in cases where they were receiving a multi-annual grant in excess of €500,000. In 2009, this has seen Concern receiving €20.8 million in MAPS funding, a 20% reduction on its 2008 allocation. Trócaire will receive €16 million in MAPS funding in 2009, a reduction of €4 million, or 20%, on its 2008 allocation of €20 million. NGO partners which receive less than €500,000 per annum did not have their funding cut. This decision was taken to help smaller organisations with limited resources which may not have access to other sources of funding to complete projects they have undertaken.
Dóchas is an example of one such organisation. Its annual grant of €250,000 was not reduced in 2009. Currently, there are 44 members in Dóchas, of which Irish Aid funds 39 through the civil society emergency or development education budget lines. Of these, 39 experienced a 20% reduction in pre-committed funding in 2009. NGOs, both independently and through Dóchas, have been consistently vocal on the impact these cuts will have on their work in delivering aid to the poorest of the poor. It is against this background that I invite the delegates to make their presentation.
Before we commence, I advise witnesses that whereas members of the Houses enjoy absolute privilege in respect of utterances made in committee, witnesses do not enjoy absolute privilege. Accordingly, caution should be exercised, especially with regard to references of a personal nature.
I now invite Ms Helen Keogh, chairperson of Dóchas, to address the committee, following which there will be questions from members. Mr. Tom Arnold will follow, introducing Ms Anne O'Mahony, and Mr. Justin Kilcullen will then speak.