I am delighted to welcome you to Dublin Castle this evening for the launch of the 2015 Irish Aid Annual Report. And to do so on the first day of the Department’s Conference, attended by all of our Heads of Mission is especially appropriate. More than ever it is clear that our development and humanitarian work belong at the heart of Ireland's foreign policy in an increasingly interconnected but also uncertain world.
In my three months as Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, I am proud to have witnessed the life-saving effect of our aid programme and have also become inspired by its potential, despite its relative small size, to make a significant impact on global poverty and hunger.
2015 was a year that witnessed the largest migration of people to Europe since the second world war and it was a year once more marked by appalling levels of human suffering as a result of conflict and natural disasters. It was also however, a year, that all Irish citizens can be proud of. In a year of celebration of the 60th anniversary of Ireland’s admission to the UN, that we, together with Kenya, were selected by the President of the UN General Assembly to facilitate the brokering of a new global agreement to replace the Millennium Development Goals, is testament to our internationalism and our role in the world.
In my recent visit to Uganda, one of our Key Partner Countries, I saw what really is in many ways, a snap shot of our entire programme. The urgent humanitarian needs we address every day, across the globe, sit alongside, and often overlap with, the longer term, deeper changes, we seek to bring about, to increase communities’ resilience to disaster; to improve their nutrition; help their children receive an education and to empower them to demand respect for their human rights.
In Adjumani, along the border between South Sudan and Uganda, I met refugees who had fled the violence and chaos of their home, South Sudan. I saw how our programme assists these people. How, through a central component of our humanitarian programme: our Rapid Response Initiative, Irish Aid, in 2015, airlifted 75 tonnes of urgently needed items: tents, cooking sets, water tanks, soap, and mosquito nets to families in Adjumani.
I visited Karamoja, the poorest region of Uganda, and met civil society colleagues doing excellent work on nutrition and also visited a primary education project that Irish Aid supports. I met the students from the school and realised just how important our support is to education in this region. I also visited a prison in Moroto, the region’s capital, where Irish Aid supports a legal aid project.
Back in Kampala, I discussed progress on the roll out of a social protection scheme, supported by Irish Aid, which benefits the elderly and those in the margins of society.
This is our programme, Ladies and Gentlemen, your programme.
In 2015, the Government provided €647 million for Official Development Assistance. This year, we provided for the first budget increase in seven years. The Government is strongly committed to our development programme and to building it up - in terms of resources and impact - as we build on our national recovery in the years ahead.
In 2015 we continued to meet the linked challenges of addressing higher-than-ever humanitarian needs while continuing to embed the slow steady progress we are witnessing in our longer term development work. Progress that will make communities more resilient in the face of the challenges that cause humanitarian disaster in the first instance: lack of respect for rights, extreme weather that decimates livelihoods and homes, and gross inequality that causes poverty and hunger.
22%, €142 million, of the Irish Aid budget was devoted to humanitarian assistance during the year, to provide shelter, food and essential services for thousands of communities across the world. Just under 20% was focused on providing better health care and education and addressing the continuing challenge of HIV and AIDS in our Key Partner Countries and beyond through our civil society partners. And just under 10% was accounted for by action on human rights and accountability.
Through these health, education and governance programmes and through selective support for agriculture projects we have used our established expertise and that of our civil society partners to realise better nutritional outcomes, improved equality between the sexes and greater accountability to communities and individuals that have not been benefiting from the mainstream services in their countries.
The Irish Aid annual report ladies and gentlemen, is a tool of accountability. That’s its primary function. It provides details of grants provided and the methods used to channel those grants. It provides headline results, achieved with our contributions. And it provides testimonies from the communities and individuals, whose lives have benefited as a result of our aid.
We know for example, that because of our contribution, 28,000 victims of violence, 71% of whom were women, received free legal aid in Ethiopia. And that an estimated 382,000 households in Malawi are now using a fuel efficient means of cooking their food, helping them to adapt to climate change.
Through our civil society partners, hundreds of local organisations were assisted in Central and South America to secure their human rights. Schools in Afghanistan, were able to report a 100% retention rate for girls. Peace negotiations in Columbia were supported. And conflict affected states were assisted to rebuild their economies.
As you know Ladies and Gentlemen, the Irish Diaspora is part of my portfolio.
While in Uganda I met members of the Irish community and learnt of the strong bond between our embassies in our Key Partner Countries and the Irish communities there. They spoke of their respect and admiration for our programme and of their involvement also.
During my time in this role, I will seek to further strengthen and encourage those links. Our aid programme belongs to us all at home and it belongs to the Irish community, at home and abroad. It is based, and should continue to be based, on your views and values and your experience.
I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in Government, with academic institutions 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. And I especially look forward to working with our civil society partners and to continuing to share experience and knowledge with them to make our respective and shared programmes more effective.