As Minister of State for Development, it has been a privilege over the past year to witness the many results delivered through the Irish Aid programme, particularly on my visits to Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. I was particularly honoured to accompany President Higgins on his visit to Ethiopia last November. I believe his three-week visit to Ethiopia, Malawi and South Africa, and his strong focus on the work of Irish Aid, represented a strong statement of the values and concerns of the Irish people globally.
Next week, I will lead the Irish delegation to the International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis. The Conference is about the resourcing and implementation of the new set of Sustainable Development Goals which will be adopted in New York in September, to succeed the MDGs. It will be about much more than ODA. But in launching the Irish Aid report today, I want to emphasise the importance which ODA will continue to play for some of the Least Developed Countries in the world, as they continue to fight poverty, hunger and malnutrition. I will travel to Addis on the basis of the Government’s strong, continuing commitment to that fight, through our aid programme and through our policies across government.
2014 was a busy year for the aid programme, marked by key policy and programme achievements. A particular highlight was the Framework for Action, which I was pleased to launch in September. The Framework outlines the outcomes, activities, and institutional structures necessary to achieve the goals of our international development policy, One World, One Future. It will guide all our work until 2017, and as such, is a critical tool to ensure the continued success of the aid programme.
2014 also saw the successful Peer Review of our aid programme by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee. It involved a thorough and rigorous assessment of our impact, our systems, and our priorities. It concluded yet again that the Irish Aid programme was one of the most effective in the world. The programme was particularly praised for its focus on the poorest countries, and for reaching those most in need.
Last year, the Government provided €614 million in Official Development Assistance. This is a hugely significant amount of public funding. It helped provide support to a wide variety of sectors, including agriculture, education, health, social protection, nutrition, climate change, governance and fair trade programmes. It has contributed to major results in our partner countries – such as supporting 10,000 farmers in Malawi to plant fertiliser trees, providing social protection to 433,000 vulnerable families in Mozambique, and supporting 10,000 people with disabilities in Tanzania to have corrective surgery.
The Annual Report also recognises the unprecedented level of humanitarian crises in 2014. Ireland provided over €85 million in humanitarian assistance in 2014, including almost €7 million to Syria, €6.8 million to South Sudan, and €6 million to Palestine. In addition, almost €18 million was provided in Sierra Leone and Liberia to respond to the Ebola crisis. And I saw for myself the impact of that funding, especially during my visit to Sierra Leone.
Our Rapid Response Initiative provided immediate relief in the form of blankets, sanitation kits, jerry cans; and deployments of our Rapid Response team made a huge contribution to ensuring responses were well-planned and well-executed.
But the Report captures so much more than headline figures. Perhaps most touching are the personal stories – like Ato from Ethiopia, a small farmer struggling to support his wife and four children. With Irish Aid support, he received training and access to finance, allowing him to grow a wide variety of vegetables to improve his family’s nutrition and increase their income. Or Mary from Malawi, who after joining an Irish Aid supported groundnut scheme, quadrupled her income and could afford to build a house. These are the real people whose lives are changed through the aid programme. And whose families will have the opportunity to build better lives and play a role in helping their countries free themselves from aid.
I want also to take a moment to acknowledge our many partners. As the report shows, almost 30% of our funding is channelled through civil society. Many of the results of the aid programme are delivered through our Irish and international NGOs. The progress outlined in this Report would not be possible without their work; and therefore, in a very real sense, this is a report of their achievements too.
It is also important to acknowledge how the aid programme allows us to play a much stronger and more influential role in international organisations. 49% of our funding is channelled through the EU, UN and international financial institutions. This funding allows us to influence the international system to a much greater extent, and to ensure that the principles we hold dear – human rights, equality, justice – are prioritised.
Indeed, the strong reputation of our aid programme played a key role in Ireland’s appointment as co-facilitators to the international negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals represent a huge advance. Never before have all the world’s countries managed to agree goals and targets on areas as diverse as agriculture, education, gender equality, health, justice, employment and environmental degradation. Together with the outcome of the Financing for Development Conference next week and the Climate Change conference in Paris in December, they represent a roadmap for humanity to finally end poverty and build a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world.
Ireland stands ready to play our part in this global transformation, and our aid programme will be a key element.
I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Government, with civil society and with the private sector to ensure the Irish Aid programme continues to deliver the impact and the type of impressive results outlined in this Annual Report.