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Remarks by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney TD

Remarks by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney TD

An Tánaiste - Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade Simon Coveney speaks at the launch of consultations on the new Irish Aid White Paper. July 2018.© Phil Behan / DFAT

White Paper on International Development Policy

Public Consultation Launch

Iveagh House

3:00pm; Thursday 12 July 2018 

Remarks by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney TD  

Good afternoon. Thank you for being here. I have been looking forward to this event for a while now – and not simply because it’s an opportunity to talk about something other than Brexit. It is because this is a huge policy priority for me personally, as I know it is for Ciarán (Cannon). And so I’m delighted to be able to launch this Public Consultation on our proposed new international development policy, building on an intention I signalled on Budget day last year.

I see this new policy as an integral part of the expansion of Ireland’s global influence.  And it is coming at a critical juncture too. We are seeing close to home the profound impacts of a neighbour choosing a more isolated and isolating path. And, to our regret, we are seeing larger allies further afield retreat into protectionism.

The world in which we operate is changing. Migration, driven by poverty and turmoil, reminds us of our interconnected-ness.  The multilateral system, the international rules based order which Ireland has embraced for decades, is under strain. It is in our fundamental self-interest that Ireland contribute to the building of a safer, more peaceful, more sustainable and equal world.

It was the need to respond to challenges such as these that informed the development of Global Ireland, the Government’s plan to double Ireland’s footprint by 2025, which the Taoiseach and I launched last month.

Growing Official Development Assistance is a key commitment in the Global Ireland programme. And we are determined to hit the United Nations target of providing 0.7% of Gross National Income in Official Development Assistance by 2030 – the year by which the world has pledged to deliver on our Sustainable Development Goals too.  

If our ambition of reaching the UN target is to be achieved, we need a careful plan to manage the journey from current levels, at just under 0.3% of Gross National Income.  This will require an ongoing commitment to quality, to partnership, to coherence across government, and to innovation. 

We start this journey from a good place.  Our development programme last year reached over 120 countries. It is recognised as one of the best in the world and its good reputation opens doors for Ireland everywhere. I could see this at the United Nations in New York last week. The effectiveness of Ireland’s development cooperation programme amplifies Ireland’s voice within the UN. It will be a significant asset in our tough race to win a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021 and 2022.

I believe that in being ambitious for Ireland’s international development policy we need also to be true to the qualities of solidarity, professionalism, humanitarianism and independence of thought that characterise our approach to international development today.

We need to be authentic to Ireland’s own experiences too. We have known hunger, we have known poverty, but we have also experienced transformation, a transformation based on education and innovation.  A development policy which continues to be firmly rooted in Irish experience and values will resonate at home and abroad.

We need to be clear-eyed also.  I believe that the money we spend on Overseas Development Assistance is an investment.  An investment in a better world, a safer world, a more equal world.  A better world which is in our strategic and economic interests.  A better world which will keep us safer.

We agreed a manifesto for that better world when Ireland, working with Kenya, secured agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations.  These are seventeen targets to be met by every country, including Ireland. Later this month the Government will present its first voluntary report on progress towards the SDGs in New York.  But, given how connected the world is, we have a responsibility to help others who do not start as far ahead as Ireland to also make progress on the SDGs.

A key element in the SDGs is the concept of ‘Leave no-one behind’, and in particular to reach the ‘furthest behind first.’  This in many ways updates Ireland’s traditional approach to international cooperation, which has been to help the poorest of the poor.  The SDGs remind us that the furthest behind are not always to be found in places where Ireland has traditionally worked, and this is something which we will need to explore in developing our new policy.

We need to position ourselves strategically to reach the furthest behind first, as we help realise our vision of ‘a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world’.

A new policy will allow us to refresh our approach in a rapidly evolving global context. We will need to respond to climate change, and intensifying inequality within developing countries.  Unstable politics and changing demographics may challenge the basis for peace and development in countries which effectively are in our neighbourhood.  We are already seeing growing humanitarian needs, while the challenges posed by migration are already affecting everyday politics in many of our European neighbours. I have spoken before – and I will speak many times again – about the necessity for a political partnership between Europe and Africa which is fit for purpose in terms of meeting these shared challenges.

A number of you here today gave input to the recent review of Irish Aid carried out by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence (JCFATD).  Their conclusions highlighted the positive reputation and high quality of the Irish Aid programme. Our central focus on addressing the needs of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people was recognised. I’d like to pay tribute to my Oireachtas colleagues for their hard work, which is informing our thinking as we look ahead.

Developing a new policy requires, and provides us with, the space to think about what we do and how we do it – to refresh our approach, innovate and change. Our starting point is to build on what we are good at, and be coherent with what we do at home. We will focus on our authenticity, our experience as a nation, and our distinctive role in development cooperation.  

We propose to advance our work on women and girls. Gender equality is not only a basic human right, but its achievement has enormous socio-economic benefits, unlocking potential for girls, boys, women and men. We need to do more to expand women’s choices and capabilities, give women an equal voice and end violence against women. We can build on our experience of conflict prevention and peace building, with an emphasis on the role of women

Reflecting on our own experience, the opportunities which education provides to girls is critical. Ireland is a country whose development has been founded on a tradition of education.  We can focus on girls’ education and on ensuring that those in refugee camps or other emergency settings receive an education.

Reducing humanitarian need will be a central focus. Crises driven by conflict, climate change and inequality are growing in number and scale, and are also becoming increasingly protracted and complex. The new policy proposes to strengthen the linkages between different areas of our work: humanitarian action, conflict prevention, peacebuilding and long term development interventions.

We need to do more to address the impact of our changing climate.  This will require, in addition to adaptation and mitigation strategies, strengthened governance, fighting corruption and a focus on upholding human rights in all we do. 

I believe that Ireland can provide global leadership on key issues, aligning our political advocacy with research and concrete actions. Recalling our contribution to the fight against Ebola and also to containing the HIV epidemic, we should continue to contribute to global public health goals. 

And bringing our own experience of agricultural transformation and a world class food industry into the fight against hunger, we can help give people a dignified life on the land.   

We must match our ambition with results too. Our imperative will be to ensure impact. To do this we must build our capacity to manage the aid budget strategically across Government. Central to this is a continued rigorous focus on value for money.  We can and should do more on data transparency, and we need to communicate as effectively as possible the results we are achieving to you, the Irish citizen.

We cannot do this on our own - we will need to work with partners.  Ireland has a proud record of working with civil society organisations – indeed, a significantly higher proportion of our development assistance is channelled through civil society than any other OECD country. And we will continue to work with civil society at home and abroad.  We will need to think carefully about how we can help ensure that civil society organisations continue to have sufficient space to operate, space that in some places is narrowing.

One way to do this is by amplifying our influence in multilateral forums.  We will need to reinforce and build upon our membership of the EU and the UN systems.  Increased technical engagement will have to be matched by strengthened political dialogue. 

We will need to think strategically, identify areas of particular interest, build the knowledge base through research, and build a community of influence to help get the changes we want.  We have done this before, on hunger for example.  We will do it again.

We also recognise the need for more innovative partnerships. We propose to develop an approach to harness the potential contribution of business, through capital transfers, employment generation, knowledge transfer, or support for the rule of law.I am conscious too of the innovative and disruptive potential which business can bring – and we need to be ready to embrace this. What is the conversation we can have with our technology sector, for example?  How can we help build a bridge between Irish technological and other know-how to our development partners?

Ladies and gentlemen,

Public support and engagement with our international development cooperation programme is critical for a successful policy. A first step will be your engagement with our public consultation – we need to hear your voices.  This is Ireland’s development policy that we are re-imagining for a changed international landscape and a much bigger overall amount of funding. Your insights, direction and thinking will help define and refine our thinking.  I want to encourage your input and contributions to the policy, in writing or at the public meetings we will be organising in September. I look forward to that conversation.

Thank You.

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