Ireland’s development cooperation constitutes an integral part of the country’s foreign policy. The Development Cooperation Directorate as a division of the Department for Foreign Affairs is responsible for administering Ireland’s development cooperation under the name “Irish Aid”. In 2002, a Review Committee commissioned by the Irish government concluded that Ireland’s development activities (previously know as Development Cooperation Ireland, DCI) should remain a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The overarching policy objective of Ireland’s development cooperation activities is the reduction of poverty, inequality and exclusion in developing countries. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) underpin all policies and activities of Irish Aid, which are gauged against the progress they achieve towards the internationally agreed MDG targets. The thematic priorities of Ireland’s development assistance have shifted over time but have always focused on education and health in particular. In recent years, the government has increasingly shown a commitment to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Irish Aid’s priority issues are:
- Gender Equality
- Environmental Sustainability
- Good Governance
In 2006, the Irish government published a White Paper on ODA to provide a framework for the future direction of Ireland’s development assistance. It reinforced the key principles of Irish Aid:
- Focus on poverty reduction
- Geographical focus on Sub-Saharan Africa
- Providing untied aid
- Close cooperation with bilateral, multilateral and civil society partners
- Coherence and donor co-ordination
- Effectiveness and Accountability
Ireland’s ODA levels have risen dramatically since the early 1990s, backed by strong domestic economic growth. Ireland’s net ODA spending increased from US$70 million in 1992 (0.16% of GNI) to US$1 billion (0,54% of GNI) in 2009, according to OECD figures.
Through multilateral and bilateral aid, Irish Aid funds projects in more than 90 developing countries. However, Ireland has always concentrated its bilateral partnerships on a limited number of countries, with a strong focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. This tight concentration on a small number of priority countries is regarded as one of the strengths of Ireland’s development programme.
The bilateral relationship with all of Ireland’s programme countries is governed by individual Country Strategy Papers. These policy documents are based on the country’s own development strategy and are negotiated between Irish Aid, the national government, other donors and international organisations, with a review every three years.
Over the past few years, Ireland has gradually replaced its project support in key priority areas with sector wide approaches (SWAps) and budget support. In the health sector in particular, Irish Aid is implementing SWAp programmes and channels its funding through government-managed pooling arrangements to strengthen the government’s capacity to direct and manage health sector reforms. Budget support is provided to specific government departments in programme countries (e.g. education, health) based on set priorities in order to support national development strategies.
In recent years, Irish Aid has expanded its cooperation with UN agencies and has increased funding to UN programmes that reinforce its development objectives. At the same time, Ireland has withdrawn its support for several agencies to which it was making largely symbolic contributions or which did not fit with one of its development priorities.
Support for SRHR and HIV/AIDS activities
The fight against HIV/AIDS is a key focus area of Ireland’s development cooperation, becoming a priority in the ‘White Paper on Irish Aid’ in 2006. Irish Aid’s initial emphasis was on global responses, including support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), Ireland has increasingly enhanced its capacity for HIV/AIDS programming at the country level. Over the period 2001 to 2006, Irish Aid spent over €250 million on HIV and AIDS prevention, care and treatment.
A comprehensive HIV/AIDS strategy was first published in 1999 “A HIV/AIDS Strategy for Irish Aid”. This strategy has since been supplemented by the document “Experiences and Lessons of Best Practice in Addressing HIV/AIDS”, which was launched in 2002. These policy documents lay down Ireland’s response to HIV/AIDS. To support the prevention of HIV/AIDS and to reduce its impact on developing countries, Irish Aid aims to:
- Mainstream HIV/AIDS into all developing programmes
- Support specific programmes that have been shown to be successful in slowing down the epidemic
- Strengthen the capacity of Irish Aid to respond effectively to the pandemic
Irish Aid’s HIV/AIDS activities largely focus on the provision treatment and anti-retroviral drugs as well as HIV/AIDS education. Compared to its large primary health care and HIV/AIDS programmes, Ireland’s activities in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are less visible, partly due to the widespread influence of the Catholic Church on Irish society. The promotion of condoms and abortion rights is still regarded a sensitive issue within the government.
Disbursements of Multi-Annual Programme Scheme
Co-operation with NGOs
The engagement of Irish citizens in development activities through missionary and voluntary work or through involvement with civil society organisations has always been a feature of Irish society. Consequently, the Irish government has long supported the work of NGOs in developing countries through ever-evolving funding mechanisms.
In 2003, Irish Aid launched a new funding scheme to support long-term development programmes of five large Irish NGOs. The objective of the Multi-Annual Programme Scheme (MAPS) was to provide a more strategic approach to the way aid is delivered through NGO co-financing programmes and a concentration on strategies that move away from small scale project-to-project activities and focus on macro-level issues within a broader development context.
After the completion of the three-year pilot phase, Irish Aid commissioned an independent evaluation of MAPS, which has made several recommendations as how to strengthen and improve future Multi-Annual Programme Schemes. MAPS II is a five year scheme covering the period 2007-11. Under the Partner MAPS 2009 scheme the following amounts were disbursed in 2009:
Organisations from developing countries, if interested may set up partnerships with one of the participating MAPS.1
Ireland is also supporting local civil society organisations in developing countries through a variety of mechanisms. Apart from indirect support through Irish NGOs, support is also channelled through its bilateral country programmes. The Civil Society Fund are open to Irish NGOs for projects in developing countries and offer a possibility for Southern civil society groups to establish partnerships with Irish development organisations.
1NGOs will find the relevant contact information on the Irish Aid website.
OECD Development Assistance Committee: Ireland DAC Peer Review (2003).
UNFPA: Donor payments and pledges for 2004.
OECD Development Assistance Committee
IrishAid: Towards Poverty Reduction: Mainstreaming Strategy (2007-2009).
Irish Aid: Building Good Governance through Development Cooperation.