Irish delegation begins five-day trip to Ethiopia to gauge effectiveness of aid
Tuesday, 15 Nov 2011
Mary Fitzgerald, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
A cross-party delegation from the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs and trade yesterday began a five-day visit to Ethiopia, during which it will examine Irish Government-funded projects and raise concerns over the country’s human rights record with Ethiopian officials.
The delegation includes committee chair and Fine Gael TD Pat Breen, Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Sinn Féin TD Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Fine Gael TD Dan Neville, and Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins.
The committee has responsibility for parliamentary oversight of programmes run by Irish Aid, the Government’s overseas aid division. The Irish Aid budget for Ethiopia for 2011 amounts to €25.7 million, making the country one of Ireland’s largest aid recipients.
Members of the delegation said the visit was aimed at assessing the effectiveness of Irish overseas development assistance. “In the current economic climate people have questions over the scale and effectiveness of Irish Aid’s programmes. There is a need to ensure monies are well-spent,” said Mr Ó Fearghaíl.
The delegation dismissed criticism by some of their fellow Oireachtas members who have questioned the need for the trip.
“This is a serious visit by a serious committee and there will be no apologies made to anyone about that,” said Mr Breen.
Mr Mac Lochlainn said he was “disappointed” by the criticism and said the delegation would be presenting a “forceful report”.
The delegation is due to meet Ethiopia’s prime minister Meles Zenawi and a group of parliamentarians, as well as opposition figures. They will also meet representatives of Irish NGOs working on the ground, including Concern, Trócaire and Goal.
They are due to visit the northern region of Tigray, where Irish Aid has been operating since 1994, and will travel to a refugee camp for people fleeing the growing conflict in the Sudanese states of Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan.
Mr Breen noted that Ethiopia had made considerable progress in recent years, with economic growth in 2010 estimated at between 8 and 10 per cent.
“These statistics demonstrate the benefits of effective and strategic development policies,” he said.
“However, Ethiopia continues to face a number of challenges, including in the sphere of human rights and continuing high numbers living in abject poverty.”