Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Ceisteanna (212, 214, 215, 216, 218, 220)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

212. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding Irish aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8768/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

214. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding Irish aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8827/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ray Butler

Ceist:

215. Deputy Ray Butler asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps being taken to ensure that human and civil rights are protected in countries receiving overseas development aid from Ireland; if he will consider establishing multi stakeholder independent review mechanisms in priority countries to assess the effectiveness of Government systems when it comes to preventing or dealing with threats against civil society campaigning and advocacy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8828/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

216. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will support Trocaire's Lenten Campaign for Safe Places for Communities (details supplied). [8889/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

218. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals there are to introduce as a condition of funding under overseas development aid that recipient countries should provide adequately for civil society space as outlined in a document (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8906/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Derek Nolan

Ceist:

220. Deputy Derek Nolan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will ensure that Irish Aid, through funding and diplomacy, will guarantee safe spaces for community organisations, leaders and local people to advocate for their rights in Irish Aid's priority countries; if he will establish independent review mechanisms to assess the effectiveness of Government systems when it comes to preventing or dealing with threats against civil society space; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8975/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 212, 214 to 216, inclusive, 218 and 220 together.

I welcome the focus of this year’s Trócaire Lenten Campaign on the rights of citizens and community organisations to participate in and influence decisions that affect their lives. Civil society organisations play an important role in bringing citizens together to act collectively and participate in the development of their own countries and communities. They have a strong role to play in demanding better services from the state and holding governments to account.

In some developing countries, civil society organisations have come under increasing pressure in recent years as they seek to play their legitimate role in society. In these countries, dialogue with civil society organisations is limited and the space for civil society engagement remains narrow or is, in some cases, shrinking. This can severely limit the operations and effectiveness of organisations, notably those working on human rights and advocacy.

Ireland has a long tradition of supporting civil society engagement. Through the Government’s aid programme, we work to protect the space in which civil society organisations operate, and to foster an enabling environment for the work. We channel a higher proportion of our development assistance through civil society organisations than other international donors. Of Ireland’s total aid budget of €623 million this year, about a quarter will be channelled through civil society organisations to support their valuable work in, for example, improving access to health care and education, supporting livelihoods, and strengthening accountability, governance and democracy. Trócaire and a number of other organisations, such as, Christian Aid and Frontline Defenders, is specifically funded by my Department to promote and facilitate strong civil society engagement across a range of countries.

In Ireland’s nine partner countries, where we have a commitment to long term strategic assistance, we also provide funding to local civil society organisations. This enables their participation at local and national levels of decision-making and their work for the fulfilment of human rights, especially for the most vulnerable. Ireland’s partnerships in these countries are founded on respect for human rights, and we will continue to emphasise in our dialogue with partner governments that it is essential to ensure the role of civil society organisations is enhanced.

Internationally, we have agreed, by signing up to the 2011 Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, to implement fully our commitments to enable civil society organisations to exercise their role as independent development actors. At the meeting of Development Ministers under the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which I attended in Luxembourg in October last, I gave strong support to new Conclusions on Europe's engagement with civil society. These commit Member States “to support and promote an enabling environment for an independent, pluralistic and active civil society in partner countries”.

The EU will work to improve our dialogue with civil society organisations on the ground, and to continue close monitoring of legislation, regulations and other restrictions on the operation of civil society organisations in our partner countries.

Ireland’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council presents a valuable opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the promotion and protection of an enabling environment for civil society. We intend to advance this issue during our term on the Council, building on a successful meeting on consolidating the space for civil society which Ireland organised during the September 2012 Human Rights Council session. Ireland is also championing the UN Universal Periodic Review mechanism which reviews all member states’ human rights records, including the treatment of civil society actors and human rights defenders.

The Government will continue to promote civil society-led initiatives and to support other arrangements at national and international level to promote and monitor an enabling environment for civil society organisations.