Facilitating the peace process in Colombia to end a 50-year civil war. Providing legal aid and social support to women affected by violence in Ethiopia. Organizing demining efforts in Cambodia.
Although Ireland is a small country, it has an outsized impact around the world through its generous foreign aid program, funding development initiatives in more than 130 countries.
In 2017, the country spent €743 million on overseas development aid (ODA), including €181 million on humanitarian assistance in conflict zones and climate crises.
Ireland sees foreign aid as an opportunity to ease global inequality, unlock human potential, and foster a more sustainable future. Foreign aid can help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending unnecessary suffering and making human rights universal, but only if funding levels are sufficient to meet global needs.
That’s why Ireland plans to double its ODA spending by 2025 — to spur other countries to do the same, and to put the world on track to achieving the SDGs. Doubling its ODA will bring Ireland in line with the standard established in 1970 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which calls on countries to spend 0.7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) on ODA.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister of foreign affairs, announced the 0.7% goal at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in New York — including a €250-million increase to education programs over the next five years — after thousands of Global Citizens urged the government to boost foreign aid spending.
“This is about being very public about a commitment that Ireland wants to make to the world,” Coveney told Global Citizen at the time. “Between now and 2030, when we want the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be complete, we want Ireland also to complete it’s promise to deliver 0.7% of GNI in Ireland to a whole series of incredibly worthy causes.”
Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s prime minister, followed up on this announcement later in the year at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in Johannesburg, South Africa, in December.
“Ireland has a proud tradition of helping people around the world, particularly in the areas of health and education,” he told the audience. “We are committed to the goal of investing 0.7% of our gross national income in international development as part of our ambitious ‘Global Ireland’ programme.”
“Next year we will increase our development budget by 15%,” he added. “We see it as a step on the journey to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“This will allow us to intensify our work with our partners around the world to improve education, particularly for girls; build health services; and reduce hunger as we work together to be the generation that eradicates extreme poverty from the world,” he continued. “Madiba’s dream of equal opportunity for all is Ireland’s dream.”
Ireland is setting an example of what global leadership looks like in an era marked by climate change and growing inequality. Hunger is on the rise again for the first time in decades, and water scarcity is spreading across cities and rural communities. Health care and education remain elusive for billions of people, while civil liberties are being rolled back in an increasing number of countries.
Rather than shrinking from these problems and focusing strictly on domestic issues, Ireland recognizes that its fate is bound up with the rest of the world.
The country’s 0.7% initiative is fueled by optimism and a desire to achieve the SDGs, but it’s grounded in practical matters. Foreign aid uplifts specific communities, but its effects ripple outwards, making the world safer and more prosperous for all.
Ireland’s foreign aid can only be fully effective as part of a broader network of donors. That’s why it’s joining Global Citizen in calling for more countries to reach the 0.7% benchmark, a level only a handful of nations have achieved — Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
Global Citizen has calculated that $350 billion has to be raised annually to achieve the SDGs in the 59 poorest countries.
It’s a goal we’re championing throughout our 2020 campaign Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream — which will culminate in a 10-hour live concert taking place in the US, West Africa, Europe, Asia, and Latin America, featuring global artists and policymakers.
Ireland’s leadership on this issue could be critical.
“Ireland is a small country, but we’re trying to make as big an impact as we can,” Coveney said at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival. “And I hope what this will do, is it will encourage other countries to do the same, to make similar commitments, to do it over time because nobody can do this in one or two years.”
He added: “As long as countries are moving in the right direction, in terms of a percentage of their wealth going towards people who largely have nothing, then I think this Irish initiative will be worth something.”