Ireland — a global leader in foreign aid

The flag of Ireland. The country allocated 0.24 percent of its gross national income and more than half of its development assistance budget to least-developed countries. Photo by: Wendy / CC BY-NC-ND

Ireland is a world leader in directing foreign aid to countries most in need.

Global development assistance reached a new record high of $135 billion last year, but many countries are giving a smaller share to the least developed countries. This trend must be reversed. Ireland allocated 0.24 percent of its gross national income and more than half of its development assistance budget to least-developed countries. That is among the highest in the world and well above the U.N. target of 0.15-0.20 percent.

Other countries should be inspired by Ireland’s willingness to focus on sub-Saharan Africa by allocating 81 percent of total bilateral aid to the region, and use poverty and fragility as formal criteria for selecting priority countries.

The Irish approach to recovery and term development helps bridge humanitarian efforts and development programming. Ireland’s cooperation with Sierra Leone, which became a priority country this year, is a good example of how it implements this approach. Ireland is realistic about what can be achieved overnight in countries like Sierra Leone, where the civil war that ended in 2002 put the country back more than 20 years. Building a state takes decades. It is necessary to be focused and avoid setting unrealistic targets. That is why the latest OECD peer review of Ireland’s development cooperation recommends focusing on activities and partnerships where it can add greatest value and ensuring it has the right levels of staff and competencies to deliver on its commitments.

Ireland is demonstrating its commitment to the Busan principles by aligning with the priorities of developing country governments, using country systems and providing fully untied aid. This can be risky as demonstrated by the alleged theft of aid by the office of the Ugandan prime minister in 2012. Ireland reacted to this in an exemplary manner by not turning its back to the people of Uganda, but rather putting in place new and better systems to manage risk and avoid corruption.

Eradicating poverty and implementing the post-2015 sustainable development goals will require political will and action on the ground. Much can be achieved by leading coalitions for action to solve specific development problems. Ireland is targeting hunger and has developed an effective whole of government approach. The “One World, One Future” strategy on hunger and nutrition is rallying various actors behind a common cause.

Ireland is also increasingly recognizing the importance of bringing in more private investments to support development, and Irish development assistance will be much more effective when inspiring other nations, private investors and agricultural companies to invest more in food security and green agriculture.

Irish aid has been falling from a peak of 0.59 percent of GNI in 2008, but it is truly impressive that the country has kept development assistance higher than the OECD average of 0.30 percent during such difficult economic times. Development assistance was at 0.45 percent last year and Ireland remains committed to meeting the U.N. overall 0.7 percent target as soon as the economy strengthens. The government has been able to keep up spending because Irish development cooperation is integral to its foreign policy and has broad political support, including nongovernmental organizations, community volunteer organizations, church groups and bishops, activists and pop stars are all keeping the pressure to provide development assistance. The government, though, also deserves much credit for its leadership.

Development assistance has been a huge success and we need more of it. The high levels and good quality of Irish development assistance to the least developed countries is an example to follow. Mobilizing the political will to get things done is just as important. Irish leadership is needed to drive a global coalition to end hunger once and for all!

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

You have 2 free articles left
Log in or sign-up to unlock all of the free news on Devex.

About the author

  • Erik solheim profile

    Erik Solheim

    Erik Solheim is chair of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee since January 2013, and incoming executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. With a solid background in climate, the environment and peace building, Solheim was also Norway’s minister for international development from 2005 to 2012.