Minister of State for Overseas Development, Peter Power’s, address to the Dóchas AGM in Camden Court Hotel, Dublin on April 30
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation to address the AGM this morning. My presence here and the honour of making the keynote address is a positive reflection of the partnership that exists between Dóchas and the Irish government.
Any annual gathering for reflection on the past year is a key event for an organisation, but this has been a particularly uncertain and difficult year and therefore today’s deliberations take on an additional importance as you reflect on the past and anticipate the challenges of the year ahead.
All of us recognise this as a time of enormous challenge for all involved in the international development sector, both for Dóchas and for Irish Aid. It is easy to speak of partnership in good times but more difficult to sustain in a positive manner when difficult decisions need to made.
I trust that the foundation we have built over the last decade can withstand the pressure of the next few years and that our partnership will sustain and emerge more resilient in the future.
We in Ireland are now facing one of our most difficult and challenging periods economically; the negative impact on the public finances is almost unprecedented. It is against that background that the Government has had to make some very difficult decisions. I greatly regret that it has been necessary to reduce funding for the Overseas Aid programme for 2009 but I also recognise the extraordinary responsibility that comes with spending what is a very significant budget of €696 million.
We are forced to make some very painful adjustments to the aid programme and to look critically as every aspect of spending. We are committed to refocus the core elements of the programme on sub-Saharan Africa, on least developed countries and on reducing chronic hunger and vulnerability.
The Hunger Taskforce Report provides a framework for assessing the poverty focus of the programme and for aligning interventions more clearly to contribute to a reduction in hunger and extreme poverty. I do not need to set out to you the extent of chronic poverty in the countries where we work or to remind you that public resources and development aid do not always reach the people most in need.
I am determined that the central criteria for spending must centre
on the degree that the interventions focus on the poorest and
respond to their needs. We will encourage research and
analysis that demonstrates that partners know and understand the
communities with which they work and can develop a differentiated
strategy for reaching various vulnerable groups within the
community. We have to strengthen the focus on results and
demonstrating real, tangible and strategic impact from our
There are many serious challenges in the current budgetary environment, and many of you will also see this compounded by higher food and fuel prices in your countries of operation. But this is also a time of unprecedented opportunity to improve the quality and effectiveness of our joint efforts to reduce poverty and promote human rights.
The Paris Declaration which our Government signed in March 2005 commits donor governments and partner countries to five principles to enhance the effectiveness of our aid efforts. The essence of our commitment under the Paris Declaration is that our partner governments and people in developing countries should be driving their own development, and as donor agencies we will provide coordinated support to achieve the national development objectives.
Never before have donor governments and partner countries set out so clearly how we are going to work together to use aid to reduce poverty and inequality, increase growth, build capacity and accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
The Paris Declaration was reviewed in Accra last September and following this, Ireland has drafted its own action plan setting out our commitments, and how we will continue to contribute to the larger international effort.
The Paris principles have significant implications for civil society organisations which engage both with donor governments and partner countries. At this juncture where all partners are making significant, indeed historic efforts to make aid more effective, the question must be asked:
What is the role of civil society?
How will civil society organisations become more effective, further promote local ownership, and harmonise and coordinate their work better with others?
Clearly civil society is extremely diverse and there is no expectation that civil society organisations can or should speak with one voice. Indeed the diverse contributions of Irish civil society are extremely valued by the Irish government and by Irish society as a whole. Nonetheless, civil society organisations must consider this challenge and set out how the Paris principles might apply to their own work, or what alternative framework could help them to improve their effectiveness.
I know Dóchas and some of its members have been engaging in these discussions and I welcome that. I encourage all of you to give serious consideration to how you can improve your organisations’ effectiveness, viewing the Paris principles as inspiration for this rather than a straitjacket.
The Paris principles are absolutely consistent with our Civil Society Policy, which was finalised in April of last year. Many of you participated in the consultation process and I thank you for that.
I think you will agree that we now have a policy that sets a clear direction for how civil society efforts will be supported by Irish Aid. Similar to the Paris Declaration, the policy promotes civil society engagement in development policy processes, and in ensuring participation, good governance and building a global constituency for development and justice. It also recognizes that civil society’s effectiveness is partly dependant on a positive enabling environment and that the Irish government has a role in creating and maintaining this environment.
I know that in many of the countries in which you operate this environment is becoming more difficult, and in some cases, dangerous for civil society. Yet, there are ways to operate which slowly and creatively will build the capacity of civil society in that country to operate within its own political reality.
This year, Irish Aid will be placing a special emphasis on the complementary implementation of both the Accra Agenda for Action as it relates to civil society, as well as our Civil Society Policy. We look forward to working with you on how best we can leverage this international consensus to improve the effectiveness of all of our work.
In conclusion, I want to wish you a successful AGM here today.
30 April 2009