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Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, TD., Opening Remarks - Concern Worldwide (UK) - Conflict and Hunger


Ambassador O’Neill,
Sir Mark Lowcock,
Permanent Secretary Matthew Rycroft,
distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted and honoured to be here today and to have this opportunity to listen to Mark, and to Matthew, and to all the experience and expertise on the panel. And of course I’m looking forward to staying on to acknowledge and celebrate the work of Concern Worldwide on their 50th anniversary.

First let me offer you some thoughts on the Irish Government’s approach to development assistance.

We begin in a good place: thankfully, we enjoy a high level of public support for our development programme. My sense is that this has got a lot to do with the fact that in Ireland, the words hunger and famine are full of meaning and redolence. An Gorta Mór - the Great Hunger – was a pivotal moment for Ireland.

It changed our people – Ireland remains the only European country with fewer people now than in 1800. Patterns and practices of marriage, of land ownership, of culture all changed. The effects are still visible on the landscape and on our psyche nearly 200 years later.

One example is the nature of the Irish abroad, with whom I engage closely as Minister with responsibility for the diaspora. While there are six million people who call the island of Ireland home, there are 70 million people worldwide who have family links to Ireland. Many of them live here in London – I know that Mark [Lowcock] frequently speaks of his Irish heritage.

For many Irish people at home, our collective memory of the famine remains potent.

It is from that time of hunger that we have built, to today becoming an island of plenty, which exports 11 times more than we can consume ourselves. That story of agricultural development, through research and extensive, successful agricultural cooperatives to a thriving global agribusiness is one which resonates at home and with our development partners.

But we remember what it is to be hungry. And why.

The potato blight thrived in unusually cool wet conditions. We know about ‘vulnerability to climate shocks’;
We understand ‘crop diversification’, and why that’s a challenge on ever smaller plots of land;
We get the need for security of tenure, the influence of policy, and the importance of political will;
And when disaster strikes, we get the need for a coordinated and adequate response.

Working closely with NGOs like Concern, Irish Aid has led my Government’s response to hunger, across both humanitarian and development work. For the last decade or more we have focused on maternal and infant undernutrition, on smallholder agriculture and perhaps most important, as a small country, we linked with the UN and others to leverage the global will and resources to prioritise the issue.

Food and nutrition security underpin so much of the progress we have all committed to in the Sustainable Development Goals. We also believe hunger and malnutrition offer a fundamental measure of human development. That all have the right to food. That this is a measure of our common humanity.

Addressing hunger has been central to our foreign policy, and our development cooperation as an expression of that foreign policy, for many years.

Sadly, our focus on hunger remains necessary. Just this week, we heard renewed warnings of a food crisis in Yemen. Too many millions of people around the world are vulnerable to hunger and under-nutrition.

This is why I want a renewed focus on hunger and malnutrition in Ireland’s new international development policy. We have been working on a White Paper, which will be published before the end of the year.

In focusing on the Furthest Behind First, Ireland will work on greater gender equality, on reducing humanitarian need, to mobilise climate action and to strengthen governance. We will continue to build on our strong track record in areas such as hunger, education and peace.

We want to build on what we are good at but not be afraid to do things differently if that enables us to do things better. We can always influence better, be more coherent, and learn and engage more effectively. Ultimately, we want to play our part as best we can in helping the most vulnerable in their journey to stability. The protection of people will be central to our approach.

Underpinning all of this is my Government’s commitment to reaching 0.7 of GNI by 2030. We have just increased our ODA for the fourth successive budget in a row.

But we cannot do this on our own.

We can only answer the great development questions of our age by working in partnership with others. With partner governments and civil society. With the multilateral system – which is why it is so good to see Mark Lowcock here today. The UN has a critical role to play in the humanitarian and development landscape. We also need to continue to work closely with like-minded donors, such as DfID: I am looking forward to hearing from Matthew Rycroft shortly.

The Sustainable Development Goals are our collective roadmap to 2030. They set out where we want to get to.

However, achieving our Goal 2, on Zero Hunger, will be a real challenge. We were making progress, only to see the trend reverse. As you are all aware, of late we’ve been heading in the wrong direction.

In a perfect storm, with increasing numbers of unemployed youth, with climate shocks and natural resource degradation, we now have evidence that conflict and insecurity is the number one driver of food security crises.

Repeat humanitarian calls and response are not fit for purpose for these protracted crises lasting years. Consequently, Ireland has introduced multi-year funding for protracted crises, which Concern is using very effectively in South Sudan and elsewhere.

And Mark, Ireland wants also to move to multi-year funding for the UN Central Emergency Response Fund which you manage. This should hopefully assist you in your planning processes.

Ladies and gentlemen,
We are here to mark a fiftieth anniversary, that of the foundation of Concern Worldwide. Concern was born in response to the humanitarian need generated by the conflict in Biafra. Many thousands of people have worked with Concern over the past fifty years to make life better for many millions of others. To those who have worked with Concern over that time, thank you.

That linkage between conflict and hunger which prompted the establishment of Concern remains all too stark. Conflict takes its toll not just on today’s generation but also leaves its mark on future generations left bereft of education and job opportunities. As we know in Ireland, the conflict cycle can quickly take hold but take decades to escape.

Concern has been highlighting as part of its anniversary the importance of an effective response to the United Nations call in Resolution 2417 on conflict and hunger. We need to do this because conflict, just like famine, has effects which go far beyond the immediate but last for generations afterwards. It destroys economies, social networks, and support systems. It leads to displacement and has intensely gendered effects.

More needs to be done. In 2106, only 2% of development assistance to fragile contexts was devoted to conflict prevention: only 10% was devoted to peacebuilding. We must do more to reverse the worrying trends in the rise of violent conflict, civilian deaths and forced displacement.

We know in these islands what it is to live without peace. 2018 marked the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement: the journey since then has not been linear but marked by many ups and downs. We also know what it is to be assisted on the journey to peace – the role of the European Union, of the United States, of people from Finland, Canada, and South Africa, amongst others in helping achieve our peace has been well documented. We have a consequential responsibility to help others as they strive for peace.

As the Secretary-General has so often reminded us since he assumed office, sufficient and effective investment in building peace will not only save lives, but will open all of the possibilities and opportunities for development and human flourishing that peace brings. This is essential to accomplish the goals of our shared global solidarity, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. My Government will play its part in this, as I know will Concern Worldwide.

In concluding, can I once again acknowledge Concern, its volunteers and workers, for their invaluable contribution over the years. You have reached millions.

Thank you.

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