International aid is a means of investing in our future

Tuesday, 27 Mar 2012

By Hans Zomer

Ireland is going through a difficult time. Some 14% of the workforce is out of a job, and across the country people are struggling to keep up payments. The state is borrowing 25 billion euro annually to finance public services, and this despite harsh cuts in public sector spending. For many people, Ireland’s economic “Celtic Tiger” miracle has left a very sour after-taste.

It is no surprise at a time of such strain that Ireland’s overseas aid programme should come under increased scrutiny. In fact, it is only proper that the feasibility and desirability of every area of Government expenditure, including overseas aid, should undergo public debate. The citizens of Ireland deserve greater transparency about where the money is going and what the outcomes are.

Obviously, this is not as easy as it sounds. “Overseas aid” is difficult. It involves having to negotiate complex political, international and local relationships in some of the world's most inhospitable places. Some money is wasted and some aid programmes do not deliver meaningful results. But these are not good enough reasons to stop all overseas aid – rather they are an argument for focusing aid on the areas where it has the greatest impact.

In February, the Government launched a public consultation on the future of Ireland’s aid programme, with precisely that in mind. It wants to know what the people of Ireland think are the strengths of our aid programme, and what they think should be the driving forces behind Ireland’s overseas aid. We will be arguing that aid is no different from investment. And the returns are equally visible. Overseas aid is an investment in a country's future. The countries with which we work will, in time, become part of a growing group of Ireland’s trading partners.

China sees this clearly and has left Europe far behind in creating long-term relationships, through massive investment, with many African countries. Africa's enormous population boom will create the next big market for producers. But it is Chinese producers who are set to benefit.

There are many reasons to fight to maintain or increase aid – moral, economic, pragmatic, political. And then there is, as Bono said recently, the human reason: "As we know more about each other it's impossible to keep up the scam that brutal, ugly, dumb poverty is something we can live with." Increasingly, and for all kinds of different reasons, we're finding that we really can't. 

If we make the right choices now, we have a real opportunity to build a new society, and a new global society, that is more resilient, safer and more predictable.


The recent succession of global crises has shown how inter-connected the world is: the web of economic, financial, credit, trade and human movements is now tightly woven, binding the fate of nations together. Financial crises, pandemics and climate chaos affect all countries,irrespective of size, geography or political orientation.  This inter-dependence has brought great advantages, and great risks. The current global crisis is a powerful reminder of the need to manage more effectively the associated risks. To build a safe and sustainable world for all, globalisation has to become more sustainable and equitable. One of the key lessons of recent years is that regulation must be at the heart of globalisation, and that the political primacy over “the market” must be re-established. Only a coordinated, coherent and sustained international effort can re-dress the balance that is so urgently required. A small, open economy such as Ireland - highly vulnerable to global shocks - must invest fully in international efforts to set the parameters for the future.


Ireland’s future lies in international trade and in international cooperation. And our aid programme is the most tangible expression of our awareness of the need to invest in the future. As Ireland re-shapes its own model of development, and as it needs support from the international community, it is in our own short-term and long-term interest to invest in strong, democratic, accountable and effective governance mechanisms for the globe.  

And that is precisely what our aid programme is about.

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