Chairman, Deputies and Senators, I very much appreciate that warm welcome. As the Chairman has said himself, this is such an important moment and budget for us particularly because of Covid-19. I am therefore very grateful on behalf of Dóchas and are our members to have the opportunity to engage with the joint committee this morning on our pre-budget submission.
I am very conscious that it is almost the summer holidays so we appreciate the committee attending here this morning and I hope that it shows a real sense of urgency and the importance of budget 2022 from the perspective of Irish international agencies which make up the Dóchas network. Together, Dóchas members - development, human rights and humanitarian organisations - employ more than 5,000 people in Ireland and many more globally, supporting local communities in more than 100 countries across the world. They and their local partners can be considered Ireland’s global front-line workers as they work around the clock, often in very insecure environments, to contain the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. I hope the committee will see then from the detail in our pre-budget submission that this has been no ordinary year.
The pandemic has not only been a global public health crisis but has shown the widening gap between rich and poor and threatened for the first time in decades development gains such as the fight to eradicate poverty and hunger, and of equal importance, the progression of human rights commitments related, in particular, to gender equality, including equal access to education for girls and for people with disabilities. The pandemic has also allowed some governments to roll back on their commitments on human rights, including protecting human rights defenders as well as protecting civilians in times of war and respecting international humanitarian law.
We come before the joint committee today because we believe the pandemic, climate change and conflict are shared burdens that can only be resolved through collective action by governments, by the joint committee members as politicians, by NGOs, by businesses and, perhaps most important of all, by local communities themselves. Given the critical value of Ireland’s international development co-operation, especially Irish Aid, and Ireland’s very significant diplomatic efforts on the UN Security Council, I ask the joint committee to formally contact the Government in support of our pre-budget submission and, in particular, to contact the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Deputy Coveney and the Minister of State with responsibility for overseas development aid and diaspora, Deputy Brophy.
Our key ask is that now more than ever, particularly in light of the devastating impact of Covid-19, the Government needs to increase its spending on official development assistance, ODA, if it is to deliver on its own Global Ireland: Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025 strategy and Irish Aid’s international development policy, A Better World, which pledges that we will leave no one behind. Specifically, the Government needs to increase ODA in real terms in budget 2022 and offer a clear pathway to achieving 0.5% of gross national income, GNI, by 2025 and onwards to the UN internationally-recognised target of 0.7% by 2030.
We would also ask that all political parties represented here today, as well as any non-party representatives, recommit in their own pre-budget submissions to reaching the target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA.
With the permission of the Chairman, I will now take the joint committee briefly through the other key points of our pre-budget submission before welcoming Caoimhe de Barre, CEO of Trócaire, who will introduce one of its partners, Gloria Soma, director of the Titi Foundation speaking to the committee from South Sudan on what it has been like to live through this pandemic. Dominic MacSorely, CEO of Concern, will also briefly provide opening words to give an insight from his organization on the importance and impact of ODA in the fight against hunger.
It is worth recalling that the Government in its Programme for Government: Our Shared Future recommitted itself to reaching Ireland’s long-standing target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA by 2030. We have also been encouraged by the continued support across the political spectrum to reaching this target. However, it is important to remind the joint committee members today that from a high of 0.58% in 2008, our aid spending fell and has since stagnated. When the sustainable development goals were signed by Ireland in New York in 2015 by this Government our spend had fallen to just 0.32% of GNI. It fell further last year to 0.31% despite the welcome cash increase of €30 million bringing the total amount to €868 million. The latest Government estimates on ODA suggest that it will increase to 0.32% this year. This is below the average reached by many other EU member states in the OECD which is at 0.5%.
We therefore need to impress on this joint committee that the Government needs to increase the pace of spending on ODA so that we do not let another year slip by. Time is no longer on our side. In budget 2022 Ireland needs to make much more determined progress.
This committee is well aware that Ireland is recognized around the world for its principled and high quality aid programme. We have previously mentioned that the OECD Development Assistance Committee, DAC, in its peer review last year said that Ireland’s programme is “strong with many areas of excellence” and that Ireland “walks the talk” in prioritising the furthest behind.
However, that peer review also stressed that more needs to be done to match Ireland’s political willingness to reach the internationally recognised target of aid spending. In other words, what we do with our ODA is very strong and has real impact on the ground but we simply need to do more of it.
It is incredible to think that we have still been unable to physically meet with the joint committee for over 15 months now. Who would have imagined it this time last year? We regret also that for some of the members it has not been possible to experience for themselves the amazing work of Irish international NGOs on the ground. Nor have they been able to experience what it feels like to visit a refugee camp, or experience the sights and sounds of being in a village devastated by locusts or flooding, or indeed to understand what social distancing feels like in an urban slum in one of the many mega-cities mushrooming around the world.
All of us here today, however, understand and appreciate the enormous impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our lives and on our communities. We all know families who have suffered bereavement, whose livelihoods have been damaged, and whose lives and future opportunities have been significantly altered. We appreciate too the massive long-term toll that the pandemic may have on our economy and society.
It is with this backdrop that I ask the joint committee members today to live up to our roles as global citizens and to appreciate the devastating impact of the pandemic on countries already suffering from hunger, conflict, drought and locusts. Quite simply, it has become a matter of life and death with frail and fragile health systems breaking down and with people having nowhere else to turn.
Dóchas's pre-budget submission provides some devastating statistics on the impact of the pandemic but equally important some positive examples on how Irish NGOs and their local partners are rising to the challenge. We can get through this if we work together.
It is by keeping these vulnerable communities at the forefront of our conversation today, indeed at the heart of policy-making, that Dóchas calls on the Government in advance of budget 2022 to do the following - increase Ireland’s official development assistance to ensure Ireland keeps pace with global needs now and in the post-Covid-19 environment; ensure additional and targeted financing for climate change mitigation and adaptation to support least-developed countries, LDCs, and small island developing states, SIDS; use Ireland’s voice at the UN Security Council, at the EU and in other international forums to champion human rights defenders and the role being played by civil society; advocate to ensure that the global community produces enough vaccine doses for everyone, everywhere; and lastly to strengthen Ireland’s global leadership on sustainable development goal 2: zero hunger.
I thank the committee for its attention and its ongoing support to Dóchas and its members. I will hand over to Ms de Barra, CEO of Trócaire.