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Minister of State McHugh Address to the Institute for International and European Affairs

Emergencies, Development Education, Speeches, Syria, Africa, 2017

International Development: Meeting the Challenges with Resolve –
Ireland’s Perspectives

29 March 2017 

**Check against delivery**

A dhaoine uaisle

Is cúis áthais dom bheith anseo libh inniu. Ba mhaith liom buíchas a ghabháil le IIEA as ucht a gcuiridh caoin labhairt libh tráthnóna.

I am delighted to be here today and I am grateful for the invitation from the outgoing Director General, Tom Arnold. Tom has been a leader in the development sector and a hugely effective Director-General of the Institution. I am sure I speak for all you in paying warm tribute to him as he finishes his term. Building on Tom’s work, I know the IIEA will continue to provide a vital forum for debate and analysis in the complex policy environment ahead – and that complexity is underscored today as we witness developments in relation to the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Let me also say how pleased I am that Irish Aid is a partner of the IIEA for the Development Matters series of lectures.

I see that the lecture here two days ago had the commanding title “Beyond Moore’s Law” – a reference to the axiom that that the number of transistors per square inch of an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.

Today, I am glad to have been given the slightly wider canvas of all of the world’s problems and how Ireland can contribute to their resolution, and I have twenty minutes or so to accomplish this!

When I was appointed Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development by the Taoiseach last May, my first engagement was to participate in the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

What I saw in Istanbul was an extraordinarily commitment from an impressive range of governments and organisations to figure out how best to meet the needs of the victims of a crisis that is growing every day and, at the same time, how to redesign the system through which we provide that assistance.

For Ireland, there was the credit rightfully accorded to President Higgins’ decision to provide leadership by attending the Summit. And widespread appreciation for his inspiring call to action. The substance of Ireland’s many commitments was also impressive.
Ireland’s contribution to the Summit was not devised in some back office or drafted in isolation. On the contrary, as many of you know because you were part of it, it was developed in a valuable process of collaboration with civil society, with partner organisations, with members of the public, academics and officials. I believe that this should not be a one-off. Indeed, we will need to build on the momentum and partnerships we enjoy with our civil society and development partners.

Since the summit, I have been wrestling with the question of where the balance lies between crises and challenges, between progress and failure. In other words, is there is a stronger shared purpose in addressing the world’s problems? Or is there, instead, a fraying consensus on how to tackle these issues, or worse still, a growing disagreement on whether to tackle these issues?

The first issue I’d like to address here is the humanitarian challenge. We are facing an unprecedented humanitarian situation globally, greater than at any time since the Second World War. Global forced displacement has reached record levels. By the end of 2016, 65 million people around the world had been forced from home. Among them are over 21 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

And yet the cascade of statistics of displacement can numb us to the lived reality of refugees of migrants.
David Miliband, during his recent visit to Dublin, quoted Stalin’s famous chilling dictum about the death of an individual being a tragedy but that of a million people being a statistic. It’s an extreme account of the way the human mind processes large-scale tragedy. But what is undeniably true is that it sometimes takes a single image or account – maybe a separated child from Syria or Afghanistan walking alone in the freezing Balkans or living in squalor and fear in Calais – to jolt us back to something approaching understanding.

This scale of the crisis compels us to ask fundamental questions while we are addressing it: have we failed in tackling the main drivers of these crises – intractable conflict, vulnerability of certain populations, climate change, generational poverty? How do we make the difficult choices between providing ever increasing assistance to people caught in humanitarian emergencies or sustaining our development programmes in order to have longer term impact?

Over the past seven years, we have all been moved by the appalling suffering in Syria. As the conflict enters its seventh year, at least four hundred thousand Syrians have been killed and millions forced from their homes.

I recently visited Lebanon and Jordan, where I heard directly from Syrian people and witnessed first-hand the impact of Ireland’s humanitarian response - our largest ever - having provided over €76 million to date to meet the needs of Syrians affected by the crisis.

I was struck by the experiences of the Syrians I met, by their capacities and resilience, and by the role that Ireland is playing to support them in meeting their critical needs.

But I returned home with the strong feeling that we can do more and that we need to do more to think outside the box to address the critical humanitarian needs of so many around the world.

I am extremely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situations in the north east of Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Famine has been declared in parts of South Sudan in recent weeks and the UN is calling for urgent action to avoid famine in Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

While some crises understandably grab headlines and the focus of the international community, others tend to be forgotten and underfunded.

A key priority of Ireland’s humanitarian assistance has been to pay special attention to these forgotten and underfunded crises, particularly in Africa.
Since 2012, Ireland has provided more than €100 million in humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa region alone. We provided almost €6 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen since the conflict began in early 2015 and we intend to maintain similar levels of support in 2017. At the recent Oslo Conference for north east Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, Ireland made an indicative commitment of at least €5 million in humanitarian funding for 2017 in response to the ongoing severe humanitarian crisis in this region.

We work to ensure that this funding is targeted towards where needs are greatest. We are also one of the primary funders of the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund and provide funding to the UN’s Common Humanitarian Funds to support protracted and forgotten humanitarian crises.

While we prioritise providing flexible and needs-based assistance in response to humanitarian needs, it is also a matter of grave concern to Ireland that intractable conflict and violence is the main driver of the humanitarian emergencies in these countries, leading to acute hunger and increased displacement.

Without a greater will from all of us to work on conflict resolution, including at the UN Security Council and other relevant international fora, humanitarian needs will simply continue to grow.

That is why Ireland uses every opportunity we have to focus not only on global humanitarian needs, but also on the peaceful resolution of the violence that is fuelling humanitarian crises. This is, indeed, one of the many reasons we are seeking election to the UN Security Council in 2020.

Supporting the peaceful resolution of conflict is a cardinal foreign policy priority for Ireland. Our approach encompasses conflict prevention, resolution, mediation and peacebuilding efforts. This approach is defined by our national experience of conflict and resolution. In the last year, we have engaged in lesson sharing from Northern Ireland in the context of conflicts and peace processes in Colombia, Ukraine, Turkey and the Middle East.

However, it is clear that we all must do more and do better. I mentioned the World Humanitarian Summit earlier where UN Member States all made commitments to go further in responding to crises and to explore new ways of working.

The impetus from the Summit and the thousands of commitments made there – including ground-breaking initiatives such as the Grand Bargain – must be sustained. As donors, we must continue to work together to maximise the resources available and the effectiveness of our action in order to meet the most urgent needs.

We are supportive of efforts to link humanitarian and development approaches and to build resilience to crises and natural disasters. In fragile and protracted South Sudan and Somalia, we need coherence between humanitarian and development financing - facing up to the fact that acute needs will be there for years to come.

We also welcome the UN’s New Way of Working initiative on bridging the humanitarian-development divide. The basic question behind this has not changed: How can we bring development and humanitarian actors together to work effectively towards meaningful, collective outcomes?

This question really is fundamental to our work. The people who receive our assistance have complex needs and live in rapidly changing contexts. It is not possible to draw a clear boundary between where their humanitarian needs end and their development needs begin. They require assistance that can meaningfully and coherently deliver both. And let me say that I welcome the way are our partner organisations are working with us on this.

It is, of course, impossible to discuss humanitarian crises without dealing with the related issue of migration.

Some one million people claimed asylum in the EU Member States in 2016 alone. It has tested the limits of Member State asylum systems and our capacity to respond in a coherent, coordinated and humane way. It has polarised political discourse in many countries.

The migration and refugees crisis facing Europe has inevitably turned the focus less on the potential of migration to contribute to development and more on how development policies can be used to address the root causes of uncontrolled irregular migration. I know that this worries many people, particularly in the development NGO community.

Ireland’s positions have been expressed clearly and consistently. We believe that well-managed, freely chosen migration has a positive role to play in development. We also believe that it is legitimate to address, through our development policies, the poverty, instability and lack of opportunity that lead too often to migration that is not well-managed and that is not freely chosen in a meaningful sense.

We believe that development and humanitarian budgets should be used for development and humanitarian work. We also believe that ODA allocations should be made on the basis of need and that it is essential that regions which are not contributing to irregular migratory flows into Europe do not find themselves overlooked or neglected.

In our own response to the migration and refugee crisis, our contribution to the EU Turkey Refugee Facility over the period 2016 – 2019 will be almost €23 million. This fund aims to support Syrian refugees and others in Turkey by providing them with access to food, shelter, education, and healthcare.

We are also contributing a total of €3 million to the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa established in 2015, which is primarily intended to address the root causes of irregular migration. And we are consistent advocates in the governance structures of the EU instruments that the focus stays on root causes.

We are also aware of the positive impact that migrants make to a host country. Indeed, this lesson is never lost on Irish people. Migrant remittances are the largest source of external finance for many developing countries, far exceeding ODA globally. Migrants also invest in their countries of origin. Well-managed migration contributes to the economies of destination countries. In this context, the 2030 Agenda includes, importantly, a specific target for well managed migration.

Indeed, speaking of the 2030 Agenda, it is also clear that how we address conflict, humanitarian crises, development challenges and migration must be set in the wider challenge of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
If we take comfort from the fact that since 1990, more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty, we also acknowledge that the work of fighting poverty remains unfinished business. Today more than 800 million people around the world still live in extreme poverty.

The 2030 Agenda is not a development framework aimed at the ‘developing’ or the ‘poor’. It is a universal agenda that applies equally to all countries including Ireland. It is predicated on the idea that all countries are inherently unfinished projects. We are all continuously transforming and evolving. We must all play our part in seeking new ways to address the global challenges we face.

The 2030 Agenda demonstrates that “there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”. This is the first time at a multilateral level, peace, political stability and good government are recognised, together with the economic, social and environmental pillars, as a virtual fourth pillar of development policy.

Ownership of the 2030 Agenda is fundamental to the success and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is therefore essential that national governments, civil society organisations, academia and business all play a central role in the realisation of the Agenda just as they played an equally central role in its creation.
I want to congratulate the 2030 Coalition, which was launched on 1 March this year, and to reiterate the Government’s support for its work. I would like to also commend the strong role being played by our young people in helping to create the momentum for national implementation. We all seize the opportunity of delivering this new and transformative agenda.

Like every other country in the world, Ireland’s work to achieve the SDGs is not without its own challenges. We will have difficult choices to make. But we are committed to the project. My Department is working closely with the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment to finalise what we aim to be a robust institutional framework for implementation, monitoring and review of the 2030 Agenda.

A clearly coordinated national implementation plan integrating the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda into clear national priorities, action plans, responsibilities and budgets, is the next crucial step to making progress.

We also understand that it will be important for us to work hard to ensure that our domestic implementation of the SDGs has a positive impact globally and that it complements the actions of others.

Ireland is also working to ensure that Irish Aid, in its programming and policy, supports the achievement of the Goals in developing countries.

I am determined that our aid programme will continue to focus in particular on action to end extreme poverty, hunger and under-nutrition by 2030. I have seen for myself, when I visited Uganda and Kenya, the extraordinary work being done on the ground by Irish Aid, by our partner organisations, our aid worker and our missionaries, and the real difference this work is making to peoples’ lives. This work deserves all our support.

It is, however, impossible, or at least impractical, to talk about our aid programme or the wider issue of SDG implementation with mentioning resources.

The UN and World Bank have estimated the cost of global implementation of the SDGs is trillions rather than billions. While ODA will continue to play a critically important role, particularly for the poorest countries, there is a critical role for innovative financing options and for the private sector and a need to increase domestic resource mobilisation as envisaged in the Addis Ababa Agenda for Action.

For its part, Ireland remains committed to the UN target of 0.7% of GDP spent on Official Development Assistance (ODA). This year we have allocated a total of €651 million for ODA, an increase of €10 million on the 2016 allocation and we are committed to increase allocations in a sustainable manner as resources permit.

We have exceeded most countries in the proportion of ODA which we have directed towards the world’s poorest countries. Additionally, with over 20% of Ireland’s ODA directed to humanitarian assistance, a strong focus on addressing poverty, hunger and under-nutrition, and one of the highest proportions of ODA to sub Saharan Africa, our programme is designed to work where it is needed most.

While implementation of the 2030 Agenda is above all a national responsibility, there is also a huge role for our multilateral system in supporting national implementation. The UN arguably has the most significant responsibility in ensuring the ambition of Agenda 2030 is realised. Ireland strongly supports the work of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) established by the UN to oversee implementation of the Agenda. We have committed to the process of voluntary national review and look forward to presenting our own first progress report in 2018.

And we will continue to work within the UN Framework, to support the changes required of the UN’s institutions to align them to this new integrated agenda. We also welcome that efforts made by the UN development system to realign itself to the new way of working. Last year’s quadrennial comprehensive policy review which directs the work of the UN development system was a good start. As the measures and reforms in that resolution are implemented we will see the UN development system become more effectively responsive to the challenges of the SDGs.

Ireland is also working with our EU partners on this agenda. The EU policy for implementation of the SDGs includes a ‘Global Strategy’ on EU external action and an overarching communication setting out how the EU will contribute to reaching the SDGs through internal and external implementation.

The EU is currently revising its Consensus on Development to be more flexible, integrated and aligned with the 2030 Agenda – and Ireland continues to underline the need to do this in the context of a strong continuing commitment to ending poverty and hunger. Ireland will play its role in these processes to help ensure they provide for the best outcomes for those most in need.

Ireland will also work with our other development partners in the World Bank, other international financial institutions and the OECD with a view to encouraging them to work together rather than in competition, avoiding duplication of effort and ensuring they make the most effective collective contribution to this global effort.

At the outset, I mentioned the question I ask myself about the balance between the prospects for progress and the likelihood of failure. Perhaps it’s a question we can never answer definitively. We have to meet the challenges we face without being overwhelmed by them. And we have to take pride in what we have achieved together without forgetting the work that remains to be done.

Everyone in this room know that there is a crisis today not just in the means and resources to fight poverty and displacement but also, on the part of some, in the will to do so. And yet we know that at the same time, we are also equipped with a universal agreement to work together to fight poverty, injustice and environmental degradation. I remain an optimist but we know that the road ahead will not be easy. I am determined however, that Ireland will play its role and meet its obligations in keeping with our values as a people and our interests as a committed member of the European Union and the United Nations.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.