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Minister’s address to the Misean Cara Annual General Meeting

Aid Effectiveness, Poverty, Speeches, Ireland, Global, 2014

Chairperson and members of the Board, I am very pleased to be here this morning in the Milltown Institute and to have the opportunity to engage with you as important stakeholders in international development.

As Minister for Trade and Development, it is always my pleasure to meet with you and see the important work undertaken by missionaries including members of many of your congregations.  You and your members work tirelessly at the frontline of poverty alleviation in some of the poorest countries of the world.  You deservedly enjoy an excellent reputation both here in Ireland and abroad for your commitment to improving the lives of the most disadvantaged.

It is widely recognised that Irish missionaries led the way for much of what the Irish Government, through Irish Aid, is now doing in the area of development assistance.  Irish Aid’s partnership with missionaries, and in more recent times with Misean Cara, is of real importance in the achievement of the Government’s overseas development objectives. 

Missionaries and other civil society actors play a central role within our aid programme.  Through Irish Aid, we channel a higher proportion of overall assistance through civil society organisations than other international donors.   This is based on our shared commitment to tackling the root causes of poverty, to addressing human rights and to bringing about sustainable development.   Partnerships between Irish Aid and civil society organisations are directed to ensure that aid reaches those for whom it is most needed, with a focus on the poorest and most vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Missionaries, in particular, have built up deep relationships with such communities, often in some of the remotest parts of the world, over many years.   Our appreciation of that work has been reflected in the substantial funding provided by the Irish government to Irish missionary congregations and their partners.  I was very pleased to approve the 2014 grant of €16 million to Misean Cara a number of weeks ago.

Our ability to demonstrate real impact in terms of poverty eradication is critical in safeguarding funding for overseas aid into the future.   That is why, for example, we have placed a significant emphasis on managing for development results and demonstrating long-term, sustainable change through the Irish Aid programme in recent years.  Through all of our programmes, we need to ensure that systems and processes are in place to track results emerging, to document lessons learnt and to readjust interventions, where necessary, so that we remain on track to achieve our goals.   In this way, we can ensure that public funds are used to best effect to reach those in most need.

I would like to commend Misean Cara, in particular, for the significant work that has been undertaken in relation to strengthening the policy framework of the organisation and adopting a results-based approach in recent times.   The guidelines and supports developed in terms of monitoring & evaluation, capacity development and indeed audit and fraud are all critically important.  These will greatly support your work in the field and are crucial given the challenging and risky environments in which we all operate.

Speaking of challenges, there is no doubt but that recent controversies regarding use of charitable funds in Ireland have endangered public trust in the charity sector.  While Irish public support for overseas aid is still strong, it must not be taken for granted.  All publicly funded organisations and initiatives are under increased scrutiny and are being required to show greater effectiveness and accountability, and to demonstrate good value for money. 

In saying that, we have made progress together, working in partnership over the past number of years.  Efforts made in improving governance systems; adopting codes of conduct; ensuring Child Protection is to the fore, and increasing transparency, provide us with a solid bedrock on which to build over the years ahead. 

In the current fiscal environment where we grapple also with increasingly complex development issues, maintaining focus on our strengths and addressing key priorities is critical for us all. 

That is why, for example, we focussed considerable energies on the development of a new national policy on international development – One World, One Future – last year.  

The new policy sets a clear direction for Ireland’s contribution to global development into the future.  Through the clear articulation of three high level goals and six priority areas for action, it maintains focus on our areas of strength, whilst also recognising the new challenges that we will have to grapple with in the period ahead. 

Specifically, the policy reiterates the central importance of addressing hunger; recognises the critical need to address the effects of climate change; highlights the particular needs of Fragile States; reaffirms the centrality of human rights; restates the importance of quality social services; and emphasises the need to focus on trade and economic growth as a complementary approach to tackling global poverty.  

In a changed domestic context – where financial and human resources are at a premium – it is incumbent on us to focus on key commitments and priorities where Ireland can contribute to and demonstrate maximum impact.  To support this end, considerable emphasis has been devoted within Irish Aid in recent months to the development of a new Framework for Action to accompany the Policy.  The Framework for Action will assist in strengthening the effectiveness, accountability and impact of the overall Irish Aid programme.   Most importantly, it will provide us with a clear basis on which to measure progress towards our development objectives.  

In a world where accountability and effectiveness are rightly demanded, it is important that we have a robust means by which to make decisions around policy and programming into the future.  Coupled with this, we must ensure that we communicate effectively about the results that are being achieved, whilst also continuing to build real public understanding about the global development challenges that we face. 

As many of you will be aware, the next year will, of course, be pivotal in terms of ensuring that Ireland’s policy commitments, as set out in One World, One Future, are reflected in the broader international development framework.  The establishment of a new framework, post 2015, is of vital importance in shaping the future direction and impact of our shared development interventions. 

Ireland has been to the fore since deliberations on the post 2015 agenda began. We have played a full and active role in the negotiations, which are now reaching a critical phase.  We are now coming to the end of the Open Working Group process, the report of which will presented to the UN Secretary General and fed into the General Assembly consideration in September.  

From Ireland’s perspective, our input into the post 2015 process is very much informed by our work on the ground, by our development partners, including Misean Cara, and by lessons learnt over the course of the current MDG process.   In that context, we know, for example, that social equity and equality is not a natural outcome of development processes.

Gender inequality remains the most pervasive across most societies. With this mind in mind, Ireland has been advocating for integrating the promotion of equality across the post–2015 framework.   We have also reiterated the importance of achieving basic standards of living for children to include healthcare, quality education, food and nutrition security and youth employment.  

I am aware that many of your congregations, including the Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscans and the Loreto Sisters are involved in advocating on social justice, human rights and other development issues at the UN and through other networks.  Such work is critically important in ensuring that we drive home consistent and vocal messages about tackling the root causes of poverty under the successor MDG framework. 

In this increasingly complex environment, where change is the only constant, reflection on where we are now and what we can do to shape the future, is vital.  The scale and multi dimensional nature of global poverty continues to present us with huge challenges, especially when coupled with the growing threats of inequality and climate change.  Neither aid alone, nor indeed any stakeholder acting alone, can bring about sustainable solutions.  We need to recognise our strengths and what we can achieve while also harnessing cooperation, especially with our southern partners, and indeed actors beyond aid. 

I am aware that such reflection will, of course, be vital for Misean Cara and its members as you work this year on developing a vision for the future.   Given the environment we operate in – and indeed the reality that change will be the only constant in the period ahead – this vision is timely.  I have no doubt that under the guidance of your new CEO, Heydi Foster Breslin, along with her team, you will build on the important work undertaken in recent years to support all Misean Cara members into the future.   I wish you well with this work.

To end, I would like to thank you once again for inviting me to address your meeting today and I wish you all a successful AGM.