Saturday 16 December 2017

As a former minister, I'm frustrated by Ireland's response to appalling humanitarian crisis

A British Royal Navy sailor from HMS Bulwark gives water to a woman on a Royal Navy Landing Craft after rescuing a boat-full of people in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy
A British Royal Navy sailor from HMS Bulwark gives water to a woman on a Royal Navy Landing Craft after rescuing a boat-full of people in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy
Liz O'Donnell

Liz O'Donnell

As an awestruck observer of the unfolding humanitarian refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, a theme recurs from my time as Minister for overseas development and human rights from 1997 to 2002. Of speeches made over that period, at home and abroad, advocating an increase in aid budgets for the poor countries of the world, most included the argument that it was in the economic and security interests of the rich north to foster stability, economic development and poverty reduction in the least-developed countries in Africa and in the Middle East.

Admittedly, the "enlightened self-interest" point was additional to the overwhelming case for aid based on humanitarian values which has fuelled decades of development assistance, channelling billions of euros in aid to poor African countries and Palestine. Europe is by far Africa's biggest donor. In Ireland's case, our highly-regarded development programme of assistance to poor countries has always focussed on a small number of the poorest African countries.

Irish aid in Africa developed from the template established by Irish missionaries and goes to basic needs, in areas such as education, healthcare, vaccination programmes, food security and agriculture, water and sanitation and support for democracy and good governance. A major part of the budget is via Irish and international NGOs for emergency and humanitarian relief.

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