Foreign aid is a necessity, not a luxury

Monday, 04 Jul 2011

Recent debates in Ireland about the value or affordability of aid in Ireland‘s current economic climate have exposed the assumption that Overseas Development Assistance is regarded by some as a luxury.

For many years we in Ireland have regarded ourselves "generous" and yet this assumption is open to question – despite years of government commitments to reach the target of 0.7% of GNI to be spent on ODA, Ireland has never actually met this target, and in the last three years alone the Irish Overseas Development Assistance budget has been cut by 30%. But is aid about "generosity" or is it an obligation? Part of the problem with the notion of aid as generosity or charity or a luxury, is that it is regarded as something bestowed by the richer on the poorer. Aid is not a "luxury" and it is not about "generosity" with all its associated patronising connotations. It should not be bestowed or reduced by the donor at their whim but it is an integral part of Ireland’s obligations regardless of economic circumstances.

Regarding aid as an obligation is the position that David Cameron has just taken in the UK with his announcement of increased spending on international aid. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore on his recent visit to Tanzania (one of Irish Aid’s programme countries) has reaffirmed Ireland’s commitment to achieving the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNP to Overseas Development Assistance (aid) by 2015. This is a welcome but relatively weak commitment when compared to that of the British prime minister.

When viewed through the narrow and patronising lens of "aid as generosity", it is easy to argue that aid is a luxury and that Ireland can’t afford its current allocations. But there are other ways of viewing aid – through the lens of solidarity and commitment to Ireland’s obligations and as a mechanism for achieving justice. Aid is not merely a stop-gap while the causes of inequality and poverty are being addressed through other means, it can facilitate those means, eg, through debt cancellation, trade negotiations or civil society activism. From this position, aid is not a luxury, it is a necessary first step. It is time for Eamon Gilmore to follow David Cameron’s example and to announce an increase in Ireland’s aid budget.

Eilish Dillion
Dublin 7

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