By Ray O’Hanlon
Ireland’s relationships with the countries of the world is manifested at many levels.
But what has become especially prominent in recent years is a twin-pronged approach that can be summed up thus: “trade and aid.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs is, of late, also the Department of Trade.
“Aid,” too, could be easily tagged on to the department’s current title.
Ireland is not a superpower, not a big and powerful country.
But it is rich and prosperous compared to many of the world’s nations and sees this position of privilege as a primary spur for giving aid and comfort to less well-off countries, or countries that suffer sudden calamitous disasters.
So it was of little surprise that the Irish government announced in recent days that it would continue to spend “at least” fifty percent of Irish overseas aid in the world's poorest countries.
Ireland, said the Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion, and North South Co-Operation, Seán Sherlock, is among the most effective countries in the world at targeting aid at those who need it most, “a policy we are committed to pursuing in the coming years.”
Minister Sherlock made his remarks to coincide with Global Citizen Earth Day, organized in Washington, D.C. by the ONE Foundation. Ireland’s Ambassador to the United Nations, David Donoghue, made the announcement in Washington on behalf of Ireland.
“I am proud to commit that Ireland, through Irish Aid, will continue to spend at least fifty percent of our aid budget in the least developed countries and to do as much as we can on aid. We will work with our partners in Europe and beyond to convince them to do so too,” Minister Sherlock said.
Given the state of affairs in a number of countries and regions of late, there is no doubt that every cent that Ireland has set aside for overseas aid will be spent.
In recent months, Irish relief aid has been allocated to parts of the world as far apart as West Africa (to combat the Ebola crisis) Syria, where the civil war continues to rage, even as the country suffers the appalling depredations brought upon it by ISIS, Libya, and now Nepal, devastated in a recent days by a major earthquake.
Ireland has dispatched thousands of blankets, tents, tarpaulins, jerry cans and other urgent supplies to assist families affected by the recent earthquake in Nepal, this according to a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade release.
Over 63 tons of Irish humanitarian supplies will be distributed by Irish Aid’s NGO partner, Plan Ireland, in the Kathmandu-Makwanpur area, focusing on those most severely affected, and those living in temporary settlements or in the open air since their homes were destroyed, said the release.
The first of three airlifts, worth over €500,000 in total, was dispatched from the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai, where Ireland pre-positions supplies for use in global emergencies.
Irish Aid - the government aid arm and the Irish equivalent of U.S. Aid - also has pre-positioned emergency humanitarian supplies in Accra in Ghana, Brindisi in Italy, Panama City in Panama, and Subang in Malaysia. The supplies are held within airport complexes.
The Irish government also has a Rapid Response Corps, a roster of highly-skilled and experienced volunteers who make themselves available to deploy, at short notice, to work with Ireland’s UN partners in disaster stricken parts of the world.
The Corps currently comprises over 90 individuals with specialized skills in logistics, engineering, water and sanitation, humanitarian coordination and protection.
Those skills are currently being put to the test in Nepal.
“The government of Nepal has requested international assistance and Ireland is responding to the best of our ability. These emergency airlifts will focus on the most vulnerable,” said Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan.
“My department is monitoring the situation closely and, as needs assessments come in and a fuller picture of humanitarian needs emerges, we will consider what further assistance we can provide, including further stocks airlifts. We are also liaising with our UN partners to deploy highly skilled members of Ireland’s Rapid Response Corps," Flanagan said.
"We need to ensure that the right aid is delivered to the region to assist in the efforts in a meaningful way. These supplies are designed to have immediate impact and we are monitoring this situation closely," added Minister Sherlock.
Two days after the earthquake, Minister Sherlock announced initial funding of one million euro to provide life-saving assistance to displaced Nepalese families.