Statement by Minister of State Lenihan in response to recent comments by Mr. John O’Shea of GOAL
Statement by Mr. Conor Lenihan T.D. Minister of State in response to recent comments by Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL
“I am happy to discuss these issues with John O'Shea at any time.”
GOAL, the development NGO, is a valued partner of the Government. We work closely together. Over the period 2003-2005, the Government provided €39 million to support GOAL's activities.
John O'Shea, the Chief Executive of the organisation, is a strong advocate of the needs of the poor all around the world and his work and commitment are admirable.
Mr. O'Shea is a consistent critic of the assistance provided by Irish Aid in partnership with a number of African Governments.
Sadly, he is equally consistent in the inaccuracy of his criticisms.
For example, in a letter to The Irish Independent on 3 February, Mr. O'Shea asserted that the UK Government had decided “to end all financial support to the Meles regime” in Ethiopia “but the Irish Government had taken an entirely different view.”
In a letter to the London Times of 19 January, the UK Secretary for International Development wrote: “I have not decided to reduce the aid budget to Ethiopia, nor have I made a decision to reallocate funds to non-government aid agencies or the UN.
I have made a decision not to give budget support which the Ethiopian Government can use for any purpose. I remain committed to supporting the poor people of Ethiopia.
I therefore hope that we will be able to continue to support basic services for poor people such as education and health and water through a new mechanism”
No Irish Government monies go directly to the Government of Ethiopia via direct or general budget support. Indeed, the UK Government will most likely divert monies into the Social Safety Nets programme, following our example.
On today's Pat Kenny Show, Mr. O'Shea said that the decision by four visiting Ethiopian officials to seek political asylum in Ireland “has the potential to be the most embarrassing situation the Irish Government has found itself in in decades”.
This is sheer nonsense. Under international law the four officials are entitled to apply for asylum and a decision on their application is a matter for the Department of Justice.
I am delighted to note that South Dublin County Council have decided to continue with the Ethiopian Links Project despite this development. The Council presumably recognise that it would be morally unacceptable to punish some of the most vulnerable poor people in Ethiopia because of the behaviour of four officials.
These are just some examples. There are many, many more.
In their recent appearance before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Trocaire and Concern expressed the view that the Irish Government should continue to provide aid to Ethiopia at current levels or higher, and that the most effective way of providing this aid is through Ethiopian Government structures.
In the aid programme, we are trying to deliver assistance to people in some of the most difficult operating environments in the world.
This presents huge challenges. Those challenges underline the reasons we are working in those countries in the first place.
I am happy to discuss these issues with John O'Shea at any time.
I had hoped to be able to debate them with Mr. O'Shea in the context of a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, but he did not show up.
I would note that the hearing was set up at his request and the Committee, I understand, were eager to accommodate him with convenient dates yet he still declined to appear.
I had hoped to debate them with him in the course of a recent interview with Newstalk, but he would not come on. Mr. O'Shea has also declined to debate these issues with the direct subject of his criticism.
In August 2003, he declined to meet with Ugandan Ministers who came to Ireland specifically to discuss issues of concern with him and with the Department of Foreign Affairs. In November of that year, he declined to meet with President Museveni of Uganda and discuss his concerns. In a letter to the Irish Examiner on 22 February, Mr. O'Shea said that it is “time for a serious look at how the Government channels aid”. I am happy to have a serious discussion with Mr. O'Shea. Hit and run tactics do not constitute a serious discussion.
I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the challenges facing the programme with Mr. O'Shea in private, in public, or both.
7th April 2006