Speech in Brussels by Deputy Pat Breen, Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade

April 22nd, 2013 - Pat Breen

photo1Chairman, Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee

Tuesday, April 23rd 2013

At the end of March, I hosted, in Dublin, the second meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy. Members of national parliaments and the European Parliament had a valuable opportunity to debate and to exchange views informally in a way that, I believe, was suggestive of a strong potential for greater policy coherence across the Union in a number of areas. It is heartening to see that same process of deepening inter-parliamentary contacts continues at this meeting. I commend the Standing Rapporteur on Policy Coherence for Development for her initiative in calling for structured annual meetings and, of course, our host, Ms. Eva Joly, for giving practical effect to that recommendation.

With the current global economic downturn and the consequent budgetary constraints, governments everywhere are being forced to focus on the key priorities they need to deliver upon. Similarly, scrutiny by the public of how public funds are spent has never been greater. Despite austerity measures and reductions in our aid budget, public support in Ireland for our Government’s development aid programme remains remarkably high. That said, taxpayers want to know that their money is being spent effectively and for the benefit of the people who need it most. Positive public sentiment towards development aid programmes must not, however, cause us to take our foot off the accelerator. Rather, it must be seen as providing a welcome space in which we can drive aid effectiveness and policy coherence.

Poverty reduction cannot be achieved by aid alone and other policies such as trade, agriculture, climate change, migration and security, have the potential to have both positive and negative impacts on the poor in developing countries. Recognition of this important principle is fundamental to our search for Policy Coherence for Development, or PCD, and is the cornerstone of our discussions here today.

The Irish Government set out its political commitment to PCD in 2006 in its White Paper on Irish Aid, in its 2012 Framework for Sustainable Development and, of course, in various EU and international agreements. In the 2006 White Paper, it was stressed that “coherence is about more than vetting decisions for potential negative impact on development” and “it is also about harnessing the potential across Government for ideas and actions which can contribute to sustainable global development and to the objectives of Irish Aid.”

Much progress has been made since 2006. Irish Aid has been described by the OECD and other international agencies as a champion in making aid more effective. A survey in 2011 by the Centre for Global Development shows that Ireland is one of only three donors to score in the top ten across four areas of effective aid.

While independent reviews of Irish Aid, the Government’s agency for overseas development assistance, have been largely positive, a number of challenges remain to be addressed. This is being done in the context of a review by the Government of the 2006 White Paper. Among the key challenges to be addressed are some of those we have been discussing here today.

The problem of fragmentation of aid needs to be dealt with. Irish Aid, although it prioritises nine Programme Countries, currently directs funds to more than 80 countries. There needs to be an improvement in the way we measure development results achieved; always a difficult task. And, of course, we need to match our country programme ambition with existing capacity and staffing.

The Irish Government’s new policy on international development, arising from its White Paper review, is expected to further elaborate its commitment to policy coherence and a whole-of-Government approach to development.

We have a number of processes, operating for several years now, that help to achieve policy coherence. An Inter-Departmental Committee on Development provides a forum for dialogue on the Government’s approach to development, and on how to make best use of the expertise and skills available across the public service to benefit Ireland’s development aid programme. The Committee’s secretariat liaises with all interested parties and stakeholders including civil society organisations and academics. It also participates in the informal EU PCD network and in the OECD’s PCD focal point meetings. Irish Aid spends up to €30 million annually on commissioned research in order to provide an evidential basis for its work.

Coherence in our development assistance programme is assured through regular Programme Coherence meetings. There are also formal and semi-formal co-ordination mechanisms between Government departments. Key to the success of these mechanisms are the compact nature of Government and short lines of communication within and between Departments.

Last year, the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, which I chair, submitted proposals on effectiveness and coherence of aid to the Government’s review. For example, we emphasised the need to ensure cohesion between Irish Aid policy and the Government’s more broadly-based Africa Strategy. Our embassies in Africa should, we believe, report annually on progress in this regard. The Committee urged the Government to continue to co-operate with robust parliamentary oversight of the Irish Aid programme with a further strengthening of results-based reporting and greater funding transparency. Importantly, we recommended that the Government communicate more clearly to the public the message that effective development works.

A key recommendation of my Committee was that the Government support closer co-ordination between NGOs. This arises from our belief, which I know you share, that donor coordination is essential if duplication is to be avoided and effectiveness promoted and achieved. That principle also finds expression at EU level in the principles and commitments established by the EU in the area of aid effectiveness, most recently in the Joint Programming Framework.

As you know, in May 2012 the Commission and the EEAS confirmed that Joint Programming would be launched in six countries in 2012. I know that, in late 2011, the selection of Ethiopia as pilot country for the EU joint programming exercise was met with some initial reluctance among Member States. However, a better explanation of the benefits of joint programming overcame some of that reluctance and, hopefully, joint programming may offer an opportunity to improve the dialogue on sector policies and good governance. I am glad to note that the Irish Embassy in Addis Ababa has taken an active part in discussions on joint programming. We look forward to the completion of tasks which mark the way forward for joint programming in Ethiopia, for example, sign-off on the draft Joint Cooperation Strategy in the coming weeks. I hope we will see the draft Strategy meet its main objectives of articulating a common vision of development challenges and priorities in support of Government development plans, and progressively aligning EU partners’ country strategies with the agreed EU priorities.

Last October, ladies and gentlemen, I led a delegation of the Irish Parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade to Sierra Leone, to see the work being done there by the Irish Aid office. I was impressed by the way in which the small team of staff there worked in partnership with local and international NGOs to support, for example, nutrition programmes, agricultural development projects and a sexual assault referral clinic. The benefits of effective co-ordination, although on a small scale, were clear to see. It underlined for me the difference that co-operation among donors and other actors can make to real people in a country with shocking rates of infant mortality, sexual violence and underdevelopment. I hope that, as we deepen our level of engagement with each other as parliamentarians, we can keep our focus on those people whose lives can depend on the decisions we make and on how we live up to our obligations.

May I conclude by thanking the Chair of the Committee on Development, Ms. Eva Joly, for hosting this important meeting.