OUTSPOKEN Cork East TD Ned O'Keeffe has called on his government colleagues to halt food aid funding to the Third World until Ireland recovers from the current economic crisis.
The Fianna Fail TD has said he believed that the money Ireland spends on overseas aid must be diverted to help Irish people affected by the recession.
His comments come following a recent announcement by the government that it is to reduce Ireland's overseas aid budget by €95 million. However, there are no plans on the table to reduce the Dept of Agriculture's annual contribution to the World Food Programme.
Ireland currently gives almost €10 million per annum to the programme, making it one of the top ten per capita contributors to the initiative.
The programme, established in 1962 as the food aid organisation of the United Nations, provides food aid to poverty stricken countries. The central fund is distributed to nations across the globe and is used to lend on going support to economic, social and developments projects. The money is also used to bring relief to particular third world regions hit by natural and other disasters.
Deputy O'Keeffe said that while he sympathised with the problems faced by third world countries "charity must begin at home".
"The bottom line is that we can not afford to be generous to the Third World given our own domestic financial problems. We have been overgenerous in the last number of years and the fact of the matter is that the Irish taxpayer can no longer afford it," said Deputy O'Keeffe.
"Charity begins at home and seeing that amount of money going out of the country at this present time is not right. If we are going to be generous, it should be given to our own people," he added.
His comments are bound to raise eyebrows, particularly among Irish bodies working within some of the worlds most poverty stricken areas.
Already Labour foreign affairs spokesman Michael D Higgins has branded Deputy O'Keeffe's comments as "regrettable". He said he was confident the government would keep to its commitments under the programme, pointing out that Irish aid is as important now as it has ever been.
He said that figures show the number of people at risk from hunger globally has risen to one in seven. "Deputy O'Keeffe's view is one that I profoundly disagree with and I suspect the majority of Irish people will also," said Deputy Higgins.