Labour will honour commitments to world's poor
1 April 2006
The Labour Party is rightly proud of our record of support for the developing world.
On an individual basis, Irish people are among the most generous in the world. Particularly in the aftermath of disasters like the Tsunami in 2004 we saw families put their hands in their own pockets and children donate their pocket money. I myself was in Burma and Thailand at the time and was particularly impressed by the swift response in Ireland, as communities in every County rallied to raise funds to assist the victims.
Ireland has a deep commitment to humanitarian action. From Afghanistan to Zambia and in countless countries in between, Irish aid workers and Irish development organisations can be found working alongside the world's poorest and most deprived.
Our record in Government provided Overseas Development Aid is also reasonably good. As a donor nation we give a lot less than some, but a lot more than many nations who could and should be contributing more.
But ordinary citizens, who put their hands in their pockets every time they are asked, have a right to feel disappointed at the way this government has reneged on the solemn commitment given on our behalf that ODA would be increased to meet the United Nations target of 0.7% of Gross National Product by 2007.
That commitment was made by the Taoiseach before a meeting of the UN General Assembly in September 2000. It was made at a time when the government was seeking the support of many developing countries for the election of Ireland to the Security Council and, no doubt, it helped Ireland in that election campaign.
To our shame, that commitment was dishonoured. What is more when the government was returned to office after the 2002 general election one of the first areas singled out for cutbacks was overseas aid. This is all the more shameful given the leading role of Irish people such as Bono and Bob Geldof in trying to eradicate worldwide poverty.
The Taoiseach returned to the United Nations last September and made a new commitment. This time he promised to meet the UN target by 2012. However, I doubt that this date will be met either, unless there is a change of direction and approach.
I do not believe that overseas development aid should be a matter for political point scoring between government and opposition, regardless of who is in Government. Neither do I believe that funding to combat hunger and disease in the developing world should be part of the haggling process that goes on each year when budget estimates are prepared.
There is a simple way to take ODA out of the political arena and at the same time ensure that no government can renege on its commitments in the future.
Labour proposes to enshrine the 0.7% commitment in law along the lines already suggested by Pat Rabbitte. Legislation would be introduced to ensure that the 0.7% target is met by an early date. Money would be transferred from the exchequer to a fund, called the Ireland Aid fund.
This fund would then be responsible for dispensing the monies in accordance with government policy. The crucial point is that unspent money would not be returned to the exchequer and used for other purposes. It would be retained in the overseas aid fund for future use.
The government of the day could not reduce its annual contribution to ODA below 0.7% of GNP without specific amending legislation.
In this way Ireland's contribution to the developing world will grow in line with our own prosperity. It will also reverse the breach of faith to the poorest of the world's poor.