Remarks by the Minister of State at the launch of “Attitudes Towards Development Co-operation in Ireland”, 10 June 2003
Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen
I am delighted to be with you this morning to launch the publication of “Attitudes towards Development Cooperation in Ireland” and to open what I hope will be a very informative and interesting seminar on public attitudes to development co-operation.
Last summer through the auspices of the National Committee for Development Education and in consultation with various people within the broader development community, many of whom are here today, we commissioned a major quantitative survey of opinion among Irish people in relation to development issues, development cooperation in general and, within that, aid and Ireland's role internationally.
More specifically the purpose of the research was:
• To measure the level of knowledge of development issues, development cooperation and levels of public support for aid;
• To get an in-depth understanding of attitudes among the general public;
• To establish a baseline for the monitoring of attitudes;
• To assess the implications for Ireland Aid and for NGOs in relation to their development education and public awareness programmes.
This was the first such survey to be carried out in 10 years, and at last we have sound and concrete data about public opinion on development issues in Ireland. The findings of this research will be a major asset as we intensify our activities in the fields of development education and public information and communication about our aid programme.
This data gives us clear indicators against which we can measure our successes – and our failures – in communicating with the public about what we do and how we do it, and it also provides us with indicators as to how successful we are in the provision of effective development education which deepens public understanding of the root causes of global inequality in today's world.
It is one of my key priorities as Minister to raise the public profile of development issues in Ireland and to generate greater public understanding of what we are achieving with our development cooperation programme in the poorest parts of the world. I want to give Irish people a much greater sense of what we are doing on their behalf and the real benefits that are being achieved by the Government with this programme. I want the Irish public to take ownership of the programme, to understand better the objectives we are pursuing, of the channels we are using and to recognise the significant impact we are having on the lives of the poorest people in developing countries.
The results of the research findings presents us with important challenges.
In broad terms there is clear public support for Ireland helping poorer countries. Of the sample polled, 80% were either ‘very much for' or ‘on the whole for' helping countries in the developing world. At the same time, the findings indicate that, while public attitudes to development are positive and there is broad public support for Ireland helping developing countries, there is at present a low level of understanding of the complexity of development issues and the Government's development cooperation programme.
The reduction of poverty, which is our overarching priority, is a highly complex and multi-faceted objective. I believe that there is a moral obligation on us, as a prosperous nation, to help the poorest people in the world and, in so doing, to enable them to take charge of their own development and their own future. I am glad to see that a huge majority of Irish people share this view. This obligation is reinforced in the commitment made by the Government to development in the Programme for Government and it was reiterated in the recently published Government progress report.
However, the decision to give aid – whether through bilateral aid programmes, multilateral organisations or through NGOs - brings with it a whole series of complex questions, on how best to deliver aid, how to monitor its effectiveness and how to ensure that it really does improve, in a sustainable way, the lives of the poorest of the poor.
There are no easy or obvious answers to these questions. Quite often, the right answer in one country or situation will be completely wrong for another place or time. But I am convinced that in all of these situations it is always better to engage than to walk away. To refuse to reach out would represent a moral failure on our part.
In the midst of these debates and differences, which I welcome, we must not lose sight of our collective objectives. In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, for the first time, world leaders from both the developing and developed world endorsed a set of time-bound and measurable goals and targets to combat poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. Perhaps most importantly, it created a partnership framework to achieve these, the Millennium Development Goals.
These goals represent a tremendous opportunity. Never before have all the nations of the world, rich and poor alike, come to a consensus on how to tackle the difficult issue of development. We cannot let this opportunity slip. These goals must be achieved. The time left till 2015 is becoming shorter and shorter. Now is the time for action.
This agreement on international partnership must also be reflected within Ireland. Since coming back to this Ministry, I have stressed the importance of partnership in attempting to achieve our shared goals. We have developed new tools, such as the Multi-Annual Programme Scheme (MAPS) and others, to build further on the relationship between Ireland Aid and development NGOs, and improve our collective effectiveness.
However this sense of partnership has also to include people outside the development community. As is clear from this research, there are a great many people who care deeply about the environment, about human rights and about global inequality and who very much want to make a difference in today's world. As Minister with special responsibility for development cooperation, I have had the privilege of meeting a great many Irish men and women who have volunteered to serve in developing countries. I am always impressed by their generosity and dedication and by their commitment to the poorest and most vulnerable people. As Minister, I am anxious to encourage and rekindle this spirit of voluntarism by people of all ages and backgrounds, building a noble tradition of service to others which goes far back into our history.
In relation to specific sectors, I am developing plans for a mechanism to deepen the dialogue between ourselves and private sector in Ireland in relation to global development issues. While our programme will continue to remain untied, I feel very strongly that we can do more to harness the expertise available in the Irish private sector to the effective delivery of assistance in developing countries. I would like to highlight to the private sector what we are achieving, how we are working in developing countries and what value they could add. This process has already begun with the Task Forces which I established on both agriculture and ICT.
In relation to education, the recently launched Ireland Aid Development Education Strategy Plan charts a course for development education in Ireland over the next three years. It commits us to a number of innovative and exciting new approaches to the promotion of development education. Our aim is to support the mainstreaming of development education within education in Ireland to promote greater public understanding of development issues.
A new website for the programme will be launched next month. This will outline the full breadth of the programme and explain in detail how we hope to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves and the partnerships we have developed in this context. This will help to communicate, in a transparent way, how we are playing our part in the push towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
These are just some of the initiatives I plan to take in an effort to broaden public understanding of the programme and to deepen the Irish people's stake in what we are doing. I know we have a lot more to do.
I very much welcome the publication of this informative and timely report. I would like to thank those who both put this report together and those who contributed to it. In particular I would like to thank Maire Mathews, formerly of NCDE and now with us here in Ireland Aid, and members of the Research Evaluation Group, John Grindle, Dr. Colm Regan, Freda Swords and Professor Sheelagh Droody. In addition, I would like to thank both John Weafer and MRBI who managed and conducted the research, and finally those who placed the research findings in context and contributed commentaries;
• Dr. Peadar Cremin for his article on the education perspective,
• Ms. Ida McDonnell from the OECD in Paris, who has travelled to be here with us today.
• Ms. Cary Gibson and Mr. Howard Dalzell of Concern who contributed on behalf of Dóchas.
• Ms. Lynda Leblanc from CIDA who has contributed a very interesting piece on Canadians' attitudes toward development cooperation. Regrettably she cannot make today's seminar.
• Paddy Coulter, who is Director of the Reuters Foundation Programme, at Green College, Oxford University, and provided us with an excellent article giving us the perspective of the media.
• Maeve Collins, from Ireland Aid, who has outlined what the research means to us here in Ireland Aid.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for the whole morning, however, under the able chairmanship of Professor John Jackson, I know you will have a very open and informative discussion on the implications of this research for all of the stakeholders in development cooperation in the next few years.