Mr Justin Kilcullen of Trocaire has severely chastised the Government (The Irish Times Opinion & Analysis, 20 September) for ‘reneging’ on its commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP per annum on international aid, a target set by the UN a decade ago.
The Irish Government is spending €535.3 million on this programme in 2010. It spent €422 million on development aid in 2002 when our tax revenues were last in the region of €30 billion, when the exchequer surplus was €94 million and our national debt was €31 billion. The government has spent over €5.8 billion altogether between 2001 and 2010, so even if we stand indicted in the eyes of lobbyists, Irish people have pulled their weight on the delivery of ‘real change’ to the less privileged.
But the view of the aid agencies is that the government needs to commit €1.1 billion per annum for an on-target performance. They exhort the Government to ‘find the money’ and, in the classical language of a lobbyist, ‘to set out clearly defined, year-by-year steps’ to meet their aspirations – in circumstances of unprecedented turmoil and volatility. The Government is also asked to introduce new legislation so that Ireland can lead the world in the safeguarding of aid commitments from any and all prevarication, doubt and uncertainty.
This approach would be a difficult challenge at any time because Peter has to be robbed to pay Paul, but when government expenditure is €54 billion and government income is €30 billion that challenge becomes even more elusive because the only source of money is from international moneylenders whose penal rates of interest are a reflection of their below-par confidence in the country’s capacity to recover from the brutal mauling inflicted by our banks and building societies and their capacity to regain functionality.
It still appears that a great deal of money spent on aid by Ireland is based on the ‘black baby principle’ of merely giving it away with no economic advantages being conferred on our economy. Other countries spend aid on the provision of long-term infrastructure and assets by their own enterprises so as to stimulate self-sufficiency, not nurture chronic and infinite dependency and, critically, to minimise exposure to bribery, corruption and price gouging – a widespread experience anecdotally reported following the horrific earthquake in Haiti.
Turning to the future, how can Ireland meet the ambitions of those seeking to alleviate world poverty if our policy is really founded on the practice of borrowing money to give it away and the scale of the expenditure bears no relationship to our capacity to afford it? It would be preferable for Ireland to participate in the international aid arena with integrity and modesty rather than indulging our vanity and always seeking a status and recognition in the eyes of the world that is beyond our capacity to sustain. Finally, why should our values be shaped dictated by lobbyists who have no mandate beyond the perimeter of their own T-shirt and not the elected Government who are presumed to act vicariously and in the best interests of the people?