Speech delivered by Minister of State for Overseas Aid Mr Michael Kitt T.D. on the occasion of Concern’s 40th anniversary in Iveagh House, 8 April.
Ambassadors, Members of the Oireachtas, former Ministers and Minister of State, former Commissioners, ladies and gentlemen.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you here tonight.
Firstly Minister Dermot Ahern’s has asked me to pass on his apologies for not being here presently, as he has unforseen commitments in the Dail which are coinciding with this event.
We have two very good reasons for celebration. The first is that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Concern Worldwide.
The second is to recognise the special partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Concern.
I would like to pay tribute at the outset to Concern’s Chief Executive, Tom Arnold, whose idea it was to combine these two happy events by bringing us together this evening.
I am delighted to welcome Tom, no stranger to Iveagh House, and Jim
Miley, the Chairman of Concern this evening.
It was an excellent idea to bring together previous Minister for Foreign Affairs, former Ministers of State for Overseas Development and European Commissioners along with founders and previous Chief Executives of Concern.
The principles and ideas that led Fathers Aengus and Jack Finucane and John and Kay O’Loughlin Kennedy to found Concern in 1968 are still very much central to Ireland’s values as a nation today and to our foreign policy.
These include assistance to those who are suffering as a result of factors beyond their control; solidarity with oppressed and marginalised people and a determination to help create conditions for long-term development.
The identity and purpose of Concern was forged in the Biafra crisis and it has dedicated itself since to working with the poorest of the poor.
The Irish Aid programme was established in 1974 not long after the foundation of Concern and it is fair to say that organisations like Concern provided much of the inspiration for our official programme.
The launch of Irish Aid also coincided with a more active role for the European Union in global development through the Lomé Conventions signed with African, Caribbean and Pacific states as former Commissioners and Ministers will be well aware.
Like Concern, our focus for over thirty years has consistently been
the fight against global poverty.
Figures released by the OECD last Friday confirm that Ireland is now the sixth largest aid donor in the world as a percentage of our GNP.
This is something of which Irish people, with their renowned sense of generosity, can be rightly proud.
The scale and complexity of the development challenges remaining require a concerted global response.
This involves Irish Aid and donors like us working at governmental, regional, local and community levels and with a variety of partners.
These partners include NGOs, missionary organisations, multilateral organisatons such as the United Nations, the European Union, global funds, other donor governments and of course recipient governments and communities.
Concern stands out among these partners in encapsulating a spirit of innovation combined with a focus on sustainable development.
Its core values are rooted in an appreciation for human dignity and a respect for human rights.
The work of organisations such as Concern give Ireland the high international reputation we enjoy for our aid effort.
Without our partnership it would not be possible to reach the objectives of the Irish Aid programme itself.
Much like our programme, Concern’s efforts are largely directed by local people in developing countries as they are best placed to determine their own development needs.
Our programmes underpin the right and necessity of poor people to take control of their own futures.
I firmly believe that our role is to facilitate this locally-driven development rather than impose our views or models.
This is best international practice and I know that this spirit of true partnership and mutual respect is held dearly by Concern.
It allows us to work effectively together to deliver sustainable results.
As Ireland’s official development assistance has expanded, so too has the funding available to NGOs and missionaries.
Our funding to NGOs which was approximately €48m in 2001, has risen to almost €140 million in 2008.
Our programme, as many of you will know, is guided by the White Paper on Irish Aid which is now almost two years old.
Although it was before my time I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Concern for their contribution during the consultation stage and their whole-hearted support in seeing a number of White Paper initiatives come to fruition.
The work of the Hunger Task Force is now close to completion.
The aim of the Task Force is to contribute to the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.
I would like to pay tribute to the role Tom Arnold has played in the work of the Task Force and the cause of fighting hunger.
The depth of his expertise and his wise counsel have been of particular value.
Tom is right when he says that Ireland has a distinctive opportunity to draw on expertise, north and south on this island, in the fight against world hunger.
Irish Aid has recently established Malawi as its ninth country programme.
I understand that Concern staff in Malawi have provided valuable support to Irish Aid staff in-country in setting up our operation.
Minister Ahern and I are also well aware that the Irish troops recently arrived in Chad have been welcomed by Concern staff on the ground.
This kind of cooperation at programme country level is very valuable and I hope that it will continue to strengthen in the years ahead.
Concern has also been a long-standing and active partner of Irish Aid in responding to humanitarian emergencies around the world.
Since its establishment Concern has played a pivotal role in the Irish and international response to many of the disasters which have taken place over the last 40 years.
Concern has, time and time again, taken a leadership role in the Sector and shown itself to be forward- thinking.
Examples include its pioneering of Community-based Therapeutic Care which is an innovative approach to managing malnutrition.
Its work on Disaster Risk Reduction and most recently in its use of smart card technology to deliver cash directly to poor people living in remote rural areas of Malawi.
Tonight also offers an opportunity to pay tribute to Concern staff and volunteers, past and present – the visionary and inspiring former CEO and co-founder Fr Aengus Finucane and all those committed and courageous people who were there right at the beginning.
We acknowledge also all those who work tirelessly at all levels of the organisation, both at the head office in Dublin and in the offices in New York, Belfast, Glasgow and London and the staff in the 28 Concern programmes throughout the world.
In the course of their work, a number of Concern workers have paid the ultimate price.
Since its establishment the organisation has lost a number of local and international staff and we remember them tonight.
Ireland is more prosperous than at any other time in our history.
This is, of course, welcome but we are all aware also of signs of more individualistic and self-centred behaviour.
Concern, its staff, volunteers and supporters as well as the many other organisations which strive to support the poorer countries of this world remind us that we still have the capacity to be among the world’s most generous and compassionate countries.
As an organisation you reflect Ireland’s best traditions of solidarity, compassion and action for change.
I am proud to acknowledge this evening the longstanding collaboration between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Concern and our shared values and purpose.
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