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Address by Minister of State Cannon to Irish Civil Society Organisations

Check against delivery


Ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh ar fad as ucht a bheith anseo ar maidin.


As we approach the end of 2019, and indeed the turn of the decade, Ireland is in a very different place than it was ten years ago. Think back to 2009. Most of you here will no doubt recall the emergency budget and the resulting unexpected grant reductions. Our future was very uncertain. However, our economy is now growing at an impressive rate, particularly since 2014. Our banking system has recovered gradually from near collapse and the Government balanced the budget in 2018. According to the United Nations’ most recent Human Development Index rankings, Ireland now has the third highest quality of life in the world.   


We have much to be proud of over the last decade, not least our successful co-facilitation with Kenya of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015. Importantly, against the odds, the development cooperation programme has been protected and we have maintained our reputation for the quality of our assistance.


Ireland’s bilateral ODA as a proportion of GNI continues to be amongst the highest in the OECD. This is evidence of the high value that we place on supporting civil society in our development cooperation and our partnerships with civil society here at home. We are very proud of your work and I feel privileged to have seen firsthand the real difference you are making.


This year we made a good start with the publication of our new Policy for International Development: A Better World. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all again for your invaluable input to the consultation process. As you know,it delivers on a core commitment in the Government’s Global Ireland strategy. It positions ODA as a key instrument to deliver on our overarching foreign policy objectives to reach ‘the Furthest behind First’.


We face formidable obstacles in achieving our vision of A Better World.  Human rights violations, the climate emergency and protracted conflicts are exacerbating inequality and driving vulnerability and suffering.


A record 168 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2020. Restrictions on civil society are growing at an alarming rate. Data from Freedom House points to a lost decade with declining political rights and civil liberties. According to CIVICUS, only four percent of the world’s population live in open societies while over one hundred countries have closed; repressed and obstructed space for civil society in recent years and these trends are increasing.


An engaged and empowered civil society is critical to solve these seemingly intractable challenges. From Malala in Pakistan, to Ireland’s marriage equality campaign, to the global “Me Too” movement, we know that when people come together and demand change, Power has no choice but to listen. Who would have thought that a sixteen-year old schoolchild, leading other schoolchildren, could be the Time magazine person of the year?


How, then, can Ireland support a vibrant civil society through our development cooperation programme?


We have much to learn from previous generations of missionaries and volunteers who gave so selflessly to work with some of the poorest and most marginalised communities.


Whilst the world has changed, the core values of solidarity, courage and an unshakeable belief in the essential human dignity of every person, remain as relevant as ever.


All of us need to take a long-term view and consider what the international development cooperation landscape will look like in the future.  If we want development to be sustainable and locally led, we need to reflect upon the imbalance of power, privilege and resources that exists between international NGOs in donor countries and local civil society in the developing world. There needs to be a shift from a transactional approach to true partnership and beyond. That, of course, is easier said than done!


Whenever I travel, I feel proud when I see the work of Irish organisations living their values and constantly seeking ways to work better.


In the years ahead, good governance, public engagement, development education and global citizenship will underpin our continued success.


The Irish development NGO sector as a whole sets a very good example in terms of good governance, thanks in part to the Dóchas Code of Good Governance. It is essential we maintain this.


Good governance is clearly not the end-game. However, it is critical to the achievement of results, the maintenance of the reputation of the sector and the aid programme as a whole. As you are no doubt aware, 2020 will be the first year that all charities will be expected to comply with the Charities Regulatory Authority Governance Code.


In terms of maintaining public support, we need to think carefully about how our overseas development programme will resonate with our people over the decade ahead. Our development cooperation is reliant on well-informed citizens at home.  We must challenge our traditional understanding of development with the undertones of enduring divisions between North and South. I’m sure you will continue to have frank conversations with your fundraising teams and weigh up the benefits of generating short-term income against the real risks of undermining development by reinforcing stereotypes. 


That catchy song, “Do they know it’s Christmas?” is now 35 years old. As the development sector here has been saying for some time - it is beyond time to change the narrative -and maybe the song, particularly in relation to Africa. The Government’s new Africa Strategy sets out our intention to build upon and expand Ireland’s strong political partnerships with African countries.


It is important that we communicate to the public that Ireland’s relationship with Africa should be one of consistent, respectful and whole-hearted support for sustainable development, and that the place of African countries is as equal partners at the global table.


As former Minister of State for Training and Skills, education is a matter close to my heart. I want us to build on our development education programme, engaging with students and schools around the country. In 2019, we have worked to extend our reach, finalising multi-annual partnerships with both the National Youth Council of Ireland and Development Perspectives for work in the adult and community sector. I look forward to launching this new programme named “Saolta” early in the New Year.  


As you are aware, A Better World commits us to dedicating more resources to development education. I am delighted to announce that there will be close to a ten percent increase in the development education budget in 2020, despite the overall challenging budget context. Next year will mark the mid-term point in the implementation of the 2017-2023 Development Education Strategy and we are planning to conduct a formal mid-term review of the strategy in the first quarter.


This will be an important opportunity to reflect on progress and challenges as well as to consider how we can expand the reach and depth of the current programme. I hope that the “Dev Ed” community, which I know to be very vibrant and engaged (and many of whom are here this morning), will participate actively in the process.


I would also like to congratulate the Irish Development Education Association on the launch of the “Code of Good Practice for Development Education” which I understand is the first of its kind. Well done to all involved. This is an important initiative to strengthen capacity and ensure quality.


Just to recap on our achievements this year:


  • We reframed our development priorities in A Better World;
  • Wepublished our Third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security;
  • We’ve launched new strategies for our relationship with Africa, the Asia-Pacific, and Small Island Developing States;
  • We’ve recently hosted our international civil Society Week;
  • We’ve had a visit from the cigire – the DAC review team was here in September – to peer review the value, and effectiveness, of what we are doing.


We have more to look forward to in 2020:

  • Evaluative work will begin on both the Programme Grant and Humanitarian Programme Plan and will progress the design of the successor scheme or schemes from 2022 on;
  • We will continue work to develop our internal capacity and strengthen our understanding of what it means to reach the ‘Furthest behind First’, and how we measure it;
  • We await the findings of the recent OECD DAC Peer Review to reflect on where we are doing well and where we can improve.  And thank you all again for your contributions to that process, particularly the Shadow Memorandum prepared by Dóchas.
  • We willwin a non-permanent seat at the UN Security Council in June. 2020 is a year of important commemorations for the UN - with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration; the twentieth anniversary of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the UN itself.  


I would like to thank you all for being with us today and for all of your hard work in delivering our shared goals.


Nollaig shona daoibh uilig.