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Speech by MoS Ciarán Cannon,TD, Self Help Africa Annual Charity Dinner

I am delighted to join you here tonight for the Self Help Africa Ball in my capacity as Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development.

2019 has been an important year for my Department in its management of the Irish Aid programme, and I would like to thank Self Help Africa for the opportunity to share with you some of the important achievements of what is the Irish people’s development programme.

Of most significance was the publication in February of Ireland’s international development policy, A Better World. This new policy is based on an extensive consultation with our NGO partners and the general public throughout the year last year with events around the country and many contributions from all those interested. The resulting policy provides a clear framework for Ireland’s contribution and leadership to achieve a more equal, peaceful and sustainable world.

A central pillar of the policy is our commitment to leave no-one behind and to reach the furthest behind first. In a world of growing inequality, this commitment is an essential feature of effective development cooperation, and it is going to inform all our engagement across every sector.

The four priorities in A Better World are clear: gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance. These priorities were selected based on our strong existing work in this area, the feedback of the public and our partners, including, of course our colleagues in Self Help Africa and the impact these priorities will have on the most vulnerable.

We are also committed to intensifying work in three clusters of interventions where Ireland has proven expertise: protection, food and people.

As you can see, many aspects of Self Help Africa’s work ties in with these priorities. Your strong commitment to reach vulnerable communities, with a focus on gender, climate and youth, clearly resonates with our new policy.

We know that we can only deliver on the commitments in A Better World through strong partnerships with others, in particular with our civil society partners. We look forward to continued engagement to ensure we are delivering the best development programme we can – for those in the developing world, and for the Irish public, including, of course, the taxpayer.

Another important milestone for 2019 has been the international review of Ireland’s development cooperation programme through an independent process led by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee or DAC. In layman’s terms, this is when the cigire comes in once every five years to look at the quality of the national development programme.

In September, a DAC team came to Ireland to examine the effectiveness of our aid programme and compare it to best international practice. Their visit included many meetings with government officials, civil society and members of the Oireachtas as well as a visit to our country programme in Ethiopia. The strong engagement of civil society, including Self Help Africa was particularly welcome. Indeed, Irish NGOS produced a civil society Shadow report with their own analysis of Ireland’s development programme which was a valuable contribution. Ireland has played a leading role internationally in promoting civil society space and it’s important for us to preserve that at home and to ensure a place for civil society, including as a critical voice and check on Government which is essential in a plural democracy.

We are looking forward to receiving the report of the DAC (or indeed, the cigire) which we expect in March of next year. Previous reviews found that Ireland’s programme is one of the best in the world in terms of delivering aid to those most in need and maintaining a high quality professionally-delivered programme. We hope that this current review will confirm that assessment, and will welcome any recommendations for how we can improve.

In addition to these milestones, it has been a busy year of engagements and discussions. I have travelled to Fiji to see the impact of climate change on that small island state, and indeed to meet with the Foreign Ministers of a range of Pacific Island states; I met many African Ministers during UN General Assembly week in New York; and engaged with many of our partner organisations around Ireland. I have also enjoyed hearing the views of young people across the country through the development education and global citizenship initiatives which are an important part of my portfolio. These engagements have all been very different, but I have been struck by a few common impressions, which I wish to share with you tonight.

First, the world is undergoing profound change and it is clear that business-as-usual is not an option in responding to these radical transformations. Whether it is climate change, political upheaval or changed gender relations, we cannot ignore the demand for change. We are obliged to respond in innovative and imaginative ways to the challenges we face.

A Better World recognises this and includes a commitment to do things differently. That includes new initiatives to increase action on climate change, establish a women’s economic empowerment initiative and protect civil society space.

It also includes changing our narrative on development cooperation. We need to move away from messages around ‘charity’, and recognise that our development work is about the value of international cooperation, solidarity and equality. We also need to come up with innovative ways to communicate more clearly with our public on why this work is so important.

I commend Self Help Africa also for their commitment to innovation, and it is so positive to see it feature clearly in your strategies and programmes. In particular, you have excelled in bringing agriculture research innovations into the farmer’s field, and in establishing partnerships between farmers and enterprise.

Another impression I have from these engagements has been the huge demand from citizens – in Ireland and around the world - for accountability and a stronger voice.

Whether it is in engagement with Irish schoolchildren or my counterparts in the Dáil, the demand for accountability is clear. We need to be able to demonstrate that public money invested in the aid programme is being spent well. We need to show what results it is achieving, and how it is being used to tackle inequality and deprivation. This requires a commitment to the highest standards of transparency for all those who receive public money, and a commitment to communicate widely on the value of our development cooperation.

We are also accountable to those we work with in the developing world. Our programmes must reflect the needs of the most vulnerable, and our international engagement should continually stress the need to reach the furthest behind. We must also strive to ensure our programmes are sustainable, and deliver long-lasting transformative change.

Finally, I have been struck by how much Ireland’s place in the world is expressed through our development cooperation work. It highlights our values of solidarity, fairness and equality, along with our commitment to international cooperation. It allows us to make a clear contribution to the type of world we want to create.

As you may know, Ireland is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council in 2021. Our development cooperation work, along with our commitment to peacekeeping, have been central to our campaign. It is through our aid programme that we have established many of our partnerships around the world, and that Ireland has become known as a country committed to working for the common good.

Next week, Ireland is hosting a series of international meetings on civil society in Dublin. This is again rooted in civil society partnerships we have established through our aid programme. It highlights the importance that Ireland places on partnership, democratic values and civil society space.

Our global reputation relies heavily on the work of Irish civil society organisations around the world, like Self Help Africa. I want to acknowledge the importance of your work in this regard, and how much you contribute to Ireland’s global reputation and contribution.

The next decade will be a critical one for humanity. So many of our commitments are to be met by 2030 – around climate change, poverty reduction and sustainable development. There are huge obstacles to be overcome, though equally many opportunities to be seized.

As we move towards 2020, let us renew our commitment and energy to work together to achieve the changes necessary for a better world.

Thank you.


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