Driven by its own tragic history of famine, Ireland has made tackling global hunger a top priority. It is now an acknowledged global leader in the fight against undernutrition, which killed approximately 3 million children under five last year.
Ireland's focus on hunger during its recent EU presidency was commended by the CEO of Concern Worldwide, Dominic MacSorley.
Despite severe cuts to its development assistance since 2008, Ireland remains one of the more generous donors in the OECD and one which regularly ranks very highly for the quality of its aid.
The quality of the Irish Aid programme is evidenced by some of the statistics in its annual report. For example, in Malawi, a bednet distribution program has reduced deaths from malaria by 95%. Nevertheless, Irish Official Development Assistance (ODA) falls short of the internationally agreed target of 0.7% of GNP and has been cut once again in Tuesday's budget.
After the Irish general election in 2011, Fine Gael and Labour formed a coalition government. In their Programme for Government for 2011-2016, the two parties stated not only their commitment to the 0.7% ODA target but also that they would seek to achieve this by 2015.*
After the sixth budget cut in a row, it is now plain that the target will not be achieved next year.
In 2008, Ireland was on track to meet the UN target but, following the financial crisis, the then Fianna-Fáil led government cut the budget by 30% in just three years. The cuts under the current government have been much more modest but the direction is still downwards, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of GNP. The total budget is now 34.6% below what it was in 2008, according to Dóchas, the association of Irish Non-Governmental Development Organisations. Dóchas estimates that Irish ODA will be 0.43% of Irish GNI in 2014.
Dóchas director, Hans Zomer said on Tuesday that "the world’s poorest people are making a disproportionate contribution to the Government’s austerity programme." He said that this was happening despite the results of an opinion poll they commissioned in June, undertaken by Ipsos MRBI, which, he said, showed "that 4 out of every 5 people in Ireland do not want the economic crisis to be a reason for us to turn our back on the world’s poorest people.”
"The Government has indicated that the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is at the heart of Ireland’s foreign policy. It is therefore imperative that Ireland now delivers on fairer trade rules and strategic financing of the type of policies that we know are working," he said.
The budget cut was also criticised by Trócaire and Plan Ireland. Concern Worldwide CEO Dominic McSorley said that Ireland has “a world class aid programme that is internationally recognised for its impact and cost-effectiveness" but described the latest cut as a disappointment.
The problem of falling aid is a global one. Worldwide, development aid fell by 4% in real terms in 2012 after falling 2% in 2011.
Zomer also criticised the abolition of the airline tax in Tuesday's budget but welcomed the announcement of increased funding for Garda vetting – which will help NGOs to do background checks on staff and volunteers – and the government's commitment to clamp down on corporate tax evasion.
*The coalition's other commitments on humanitarian and development assistance and on climate change are summarised here.