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Taoiseach gets embroiled in Irish aid funding row between comedian Tommy Tiernan and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney


Tommy Tiernan meets Abshro Adan Mohammad and Faduma Adan Abdi in Trócaire’s health outreach centre in Dullow, Gedo Region, Somalia. Picture by Miriam Donohoe

Tommy Tiernan meets Abshro Adan Mohammad and Faduma Adan Abdi in Trócaire’s health outreach centre in Dullow, Gedo Region, Somalia. Picture by Miriam Donohoe

Tommy Tiernan meets Abshro Adan Mohammad and Faduma Adan Abdi in Trócaire’s health outreach centre in Dullow, Gedo Region, Somalia. Picture by Miriam Donohoe

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has become embroiled in a row between Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and comedian Tommy Tiernan over food poverty.

The comedian criticised the Government for not hitting its target of 0.7pc Gross National Income (GNI) to overseas developmental aid on his podcast in recent days.

Mr Coveney hit back on Wednesday, speaking from New York, where he is currently attending the UN General Assembly.

He said the commitment to meet the target remains and said the “increased contribution” for overseas aid will be a “very large sum” in next week’s Budget.

Tiernan criticised the Government’s contribution of €50m to tackle malnutrition in the Horn of Africa, saying “it’s not enough”.

Yesterday evening,  Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney announced that Ireland made the financial commitment in response to a call from the US humanitarian relief agency, USAID, and Unicef.

Unicef, the UN’s children’s fund, and USAID launched the urgent response initiative which aims to improve the wellbeing of millions of children.

The US has contributed €200m to the programme, while a call went out for other nations to pledge a further €250m.

Announcing Ireland’s contribution, Mr Coveney said the international intervention “will save lives”.

"Ireland pledged €50m today, in partnership with USAID and Unicef, to respond to child malnutrition on the Horn of Africa,” he wrote in a Twitter post.

"A famine is almost certain as a result of drought, poverty and conflict. This will save many children’s lives.”

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However on social media this morning, RTÉ chat show host Tiernan said the funds that have been pledged fall short of what is needed, and “if they wanted”, first-world leaders could eliminate starvation in the developing world.

Mr Tiernan has recently returned from a trip to Somalia with the Irish Emergency Alliance.

“This is what they do, they bamboozle the public with numbers and figures and charts, the truth behind these statistics is that it’s not enough money and they know it’s not,” he said.

“They could give what’s needed if they wanted, they could address global food structures at the UN.

“If they wanted, they could address crop dependency and market interference if wanted. They don’t.

“The money is there, a Fine Gael Government first promised in 1974 to give 0.7pc of G.N.I (gross national income) in Overseas Development Aid… we’re still waiting and a child will die today of hunger.”

Now the Taoiseach has said Mr Tiernan’s comments are not “fair criticism”.

He said it is “not that simple” as just giving more money to countries.

“I've always been wary myself with percentages of GNI and GDP as barometers, because it very much depends on a high growth level, for example.

“I would say that there's always room to improve, of course, but the idea that Ireland doesn't want to help is not true. Ireland does want to help, Ireland has been helping for a long, long time in many, many countries.”

He said Ireland has “already” made commitments to reducing food poverty.

“Ireland has been one of the stronger countries now historically, on nutrition, on global food programs.

“Ireland is seen positively across the developing world as a country that is serious, not just in terms of financial allocation, but in terms of how best to change systems, from governance, from women and conflict, resourcing those areas,” Mr Martin said.

He said sometimes the funds from Ireland to other countries are “not well received”.

“Sometimes that's not well received in recipient countries, in terms of the governance questions, which I think have to come more and more into the reckoning now in terms of when we allocate funding and so on like that we do want to see improvements in governance.”

Writing the in the Sunday Independent, on September 18, Mr Tiernan detailed his experiences of meeting people on the ground who were facing starvation.

He visited a camp of “tens of thousands of people” whose “crops had failed and their animals had died”.

“Hundreds of thousands of children may die before the year is out and they will all be victims of logistics. There is food, there just isn’t the global will to get it to them. Governments have other priorities,” he wrote.

“The Government of Ireland has for years broken its promises."

He said that in 1974, the government pledged to give 0.7pc of our gross national income to overseas aid.

"Successive governments have all made the same commitment but yet here we are 48 years later and still no delivery. Germany does it, Sweden does it. Norway and Denmark do it — 0.7pc.

“That would be enough. It doesn’t sound like a lot, does it? It seems like such a small amount, yet the work that money can do is colossal. It can stop needless suffering and death.”

He added: “The people of Ireland can be proud of the work that Trócaire is doing in Somalia. Proud of the fact that after the civil war in 1993 when every other humanitarian organisation left Somalia, Trócaire stayed. Stayed and set up hospitals, stayed and set up schools. Stayed to such an extent that the people of western Somalia refer to Trócaire as “our mother”.

Let "the Government of Ireland now do something that we can also be proud of,” Mr Tiernan said. 

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