Reviewing Ireland’s development policy – the major issues
The review of the Government White Paper on Irish Aid is getting into full swing. Irish Aid has recently added some information on the review to its website and they also plan to publish a Review discussion document by December.
Dóchas has also been preparing for the process through our dedicated taskforce and the various thematic working groups in the development sector. At a recent members workshop we also identified 6 major themes which if addresses, will not only enhance Ireland’s international reputation as a principled actor on the global stage but will greatly increase the effectiveness of Ireland’s development programmes.
Have a read and let us know what you think!
1. The focus of Ireland’s development efforts – moving towards the Rights Based Approach
The White Paper on Irish Aid states that:
- the eradication of poverty is the primary objective of Ireland’s development cooperation
- development efforts will be based on and informed by the Millennium Development Goals;
- Ireland’s development cooperation will be guided by key principles (partnership, public ownership and transparency, effectiveness and quality assurance, coherence, long term sustainability)
- the promotion of human rights, directly and indirectly, will be central to Ireland’s foreign policy and all the work of Irish Aid.
These features reflect Ireland’s commitment to improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in developing countries but they also reflect the absence of an explicit coherent approach to development. Dóchas members believe that the White Paper Review is an opportunity for the government to consider the merits of advancing a rights-based approach to foreign policy, international cooperation and policy coherence for development, with indicators of success against which Departments can be held accountable.
2. Results, Accountability and Ownership
When seeking to promote and protect the rights of some of the most marginalised people in the world and when spending tax-payers money to do so, achieving results and being accountable to the various stakeholders involved is of utmost importance.
Ireland’s development programme is one of the most scrutinised areas of public expenditure at home and abroad and a recent OECD DAC review commended Ireland for its excellent track record in applying the Paris Declaration principles. For their part development NGOs have also been working on a framework, known as the Siam Reap Consensus for CSO Development Effectiveness, against which the effectiveness of their efforts can be measured.
Despite progress under the Paris Declaration, the current global context threatens to undermine such progress while an OECD DAC report pointed to a number of challenges impacting on the effectiveness of Ireland’s development cooperation programmes. Though Irish Aid has cultivated a reputation for its commitment to tackling the root causes of poverty; it is important that the value for money agenda does not lead to changes which will prioritise easy wins and short term results over more challenging long-term development outcomes.
3. Public Engagement
People in Ireland are immensely proud of the efforts of the Irish State and Irish NGOs in assisting those in greatest need throughout the world. This is reflected in the continued support which Ireland’s development programme receives, in the reaction of the Irish people to humanitarian crisis such as in the Horn of Africa and in the fact that development cooperation is one of the few areas which enjoys cross party support in the Oireachtas.
The White Paper on Irish Aid, however, recognises that in order to maintain this level of support, a concerted effort is needed to take public interaction on development issues to a different level. It proposes to do this through continued support for Irish Civil Society organisations and international volunteering, a greater emphasis on development education, institutionalising debate on development cooperation into parliamentary practises and increasing Irish Aid initiatives in relation to public information and public engagement.
There has been much progress in this area in light of the White Paper’s commitment but there remain major challenges.
4. Policy Coherence for development
For Dóchas, the fight against poverty is not merely a matter of providing aid. We are proud of Ireland’s record of generosity and professional development assistance, but we also know that aid alone cannot, and will not, bring an end to poverty.
Similarly, the White Paper on Irish Aid correctly identifies coherence of state actions and policies with our development objectives as one of the key areas where the effectiveness of Ireland’s development efforts can be greatly enhanced. Dóchas accepts that incoherence is inevitable in a democracy, and that development priorities will not win out in all cases. For all of us, the challenge is to:
- minimise incoherence and its negative effects on the poor, and on developmental processes;
- mitigate the worst effects where incoherence is unavoidable and;
- look for synergies and value-added where they are to be found.
Though there have been advances in this area, the OECD DAC Review of 2009 remarks ‘though Ireland’s political commitment to PCD is not questioned, this commitment has not yet translated into an integrated policy framework drawing consensus from the highest levels of government as well as parliament.’
5. Development Cooperation, Trade and the Private Sector
This following statement encapsulates all that is good about the Irish Aid programme and explains much about why Ireland has such a strong and positive reputation on the international stage:
‘For some, political and strategic motives may influence decisions on the allocation of development assistance. This is not the case for Ireland. For Ireland, the provision of assistance and our cooperation with developing countries is a reflection of our responsibility to others and of our vision of a fair global society’.
White Paper 2005
The context, in which the 2006 White Paper was written, however, has changed dramatically. And with the publication of the Africa Strategy, the Irish Government has sought to strike a balance between Ireland’s legitimate strategic interests in engaging with African countries and the goals of our development policy.
As development NGOs, Dóchas members are naturally concerned that, however unintended, this significant shift will have a very negative impact on the ability of Ireland’s development programme. We believe it is important that the Review of the White Paper deals directly with the challenges which this shift bring for Ireland’s development programme in particular in relation to Human Rights and labour standards, environmental protection, good governance and the allocation of development assistance.
We in Ireland have a rich and long standing history of volunteering in communities at home and overseas. Volunteering plays an important role in international development as it empowers individuals, organisations, and communities to tackle poverty, take control over their own lives and it fosters solidarity between people of different backgrounds, cultures and traditions.
The current White Paper acknowledges this and provides scope for the Irish public to learn about volunteering opportunities overseas. Dóchas welcomes the formation of the Volunteering Working Group to review the current supports for volunteering overseas and make recommendations how Irish Aid can be of further support. Development NGOs are keen to ensure that best practice is promoted and the potential pitfalls associated with international volunteering are avoided. In particular, volunteer sending organisations draw attention to the internationally recognised Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Organisations.
Seems like we’ve a lot of work ahead of us………..