I am delighted to be here to launch the latest series of ‘What in the World’ television programmes focusing on the Millennium Development Goals.
The Millennium Development Goals – or MDGs – represent the commitment of the international community to clear, measurable progress by 2015 in the fight to end global poverty and hunger. They are at the heart of the Government’s development aid programme.
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate the commitment of the Government to maintaining and building Ireland’s internationally-recognised development programme. And to strengthening our real partnership with developing countries, especially in some of the poorest countries in Africa. The Programme for Government states our commitment to the target of spending 0.7% of GNP on development assistance. And it states that we will seek to achieve it by 2015. Meeting the target is a major challenge in very difficult circumstances, but this Government was elected to face up to challenges, at home and abroad.
I would like to congratulate RTE for commissioning the ‘What in the World’ series in order to promote a wider understanding of global development and human rights issues. And I want to congratulate Peadar King and Mick Molloy of KMF Productions for their creativity, enthusiasm and determination in delivering the project.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has supported this important series since 2005. It has helped to demonstrate that a focus on fundamental rights, good governance and equality is essential if we are to make an impact in delivering sustainable change for the world’s poorest communities.
The latest programmes will provide viewers with a clear idea of the scale of global poverty and hunger in the world today, and the impact on individuals and communities.
It will make the link, for instance, between the commitment in the first MDG to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and hunger and the reality of the lives of the nearly one billion people who do not today have enough food to eat. And who have to live on less than $1.25 a day.
Poverty and hunger are inextricably linked to a network of complex challenges faced by developing countries. There has been real progress on these challenges over the past decade, but it has not been uniform, and it has not been fast enough. If we are to help empower the world’s poorest communities to lift themselves out of poverty and take their place in the global economy, we need better results across all of the MDGs. These include health, education, governance and improving the lives and prospects of women and girls.
Ireland’s aid programme has been making a strong impact, because it emphasises our partnership with the developing world, and because it is so clearly focuses on poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. The programme prioritises the poorest and most vulnerable communities, building self-respect, dignity and hope. It does so through promoting access to basic education and healthcare services, but also by helping build economic opportunity. The Government is committed to reviewing the 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid, in order to assess the effectiveness of our programme and to ensure that its focus takes account of the changing international environment, and the pressures which the economic crisis have imposed on developing and developed countries.
I imagine the most people here this evening are broadly supportive of overseas aid, but the truth is that there are sceptics who question why we are not focusing exclusively on our own domestic problems. And yet, at times of disaster and extreme need, the Irish people have never hesitated to respond. Last year’s response to the Haiti earthquake and the terrible floods in Pakistan was remarkable. Few, I think, would argue against the need for a rapid and large scale humanitarian response to such disasters by developed countries. However the challenge is to maintain a strong public consensus on how to combat the underlying poverty and inequality that is the root cause of the vulnerability of countries like Haiti.
I think there is a strong recognition in Ireland of the moral side to our engagement with these issues. The truth is, it is also in our self-interest as a people and as a country. We have to engage actively with the wider world if we are to effectively shape our destiny. It is important that we do so at a European level, but also on a global level. It is also in our own interest as a trading nation that we work with developing countries so that they can grow and prosper – and eventually become our trading partners, in charge of their own development and no longer dependent on foreign aid.
Irish Aid, which is managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, works with the media, NGOs and community groups throughout Ireland to build a better understanding of the importance of development issues. One of the most important initiatives in recent years has been the Simon Cumbers Media fund, which has helped to broaden and deepen coverage of global development issues, by supporting journalists to focus on stories and case studies, especially in the countries where our development programme is making a difference.
The role of television is central. RTE has a strong track record of coverage of global development issues – and I know that Mairéad has personally been very committed to this. Programming supported by Irish Aid in recent years includes the “Far Away Up Close” television series and a new series on RTE Radio One to be launched shortly.
May I congratulate again everyone involved in this initiative. I am particularly pleased that it is linked to a ‘Documentaries in Schools’ development education pack for teachers, which widens the audience to what is perhaps the most crucial group of all, our young people.
I would also like to recognise the support of other funders, including the cross-denominational religious orders and aid agencies represented this evening by Brian Hanratty of Gorta. The range of sponsors reflects the scope and the dynamic of the themes covered in the programmes. It also emphasises that, if we in Ireland are to maximise our impact globally, we can only do so through partnership between Government, civil society and individual effort.
Thank you again for the invitation to launch the fifth ‘What in the World’ series. I am sure that there will be a large and engaged audience for the first episode to be broadcast later tonight on RTE One.