I propose to take Questions Nos. 145 and 149 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, are 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, by signing up to the 2011 Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, we have agreed to implement fully our commitments to enable civil society organisations to exercise their role as independent development actors. At the most recent formal meeting of EU Development Ministers, in Luxembourg last October, I gave strong support to new Council 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 dialogue with civil society organisations on the ground, and will 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 build on our 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, following 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 support other arrangements at national and international level to promote and monitor an enabling environment for civil society organisations.