Ireland’s New International Development Policy: An Inside View

February 14, 2019
Sarah Catherine Baker, Key Correspondent for the Irish Forum for Global Health

The Irish Forum for Global Health’s 2018 Global Health Exchange Conference kicked off last Tuesday with a series of talks about equality and inclusion in healthcare. Aidan Fitzpatrick, senior development specialist in Irish Aid’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, gave an opening presentation on the progress of the new Irish Aid international development policy. Listening as an audience member the talk was an insider’s view of how international policy is created, and a sneak-peak at the new ways Ireland will soon change the world.

Fitzpatrick described how a variety of internal analyses, expert opinions, and public consultations contributed to the policy now taking shape. At each stage engagement and interest from the general public was high. During the public consultation process Fitzpatrick reported that185 substantive submissions were received alongside 14,000 other contributions. Priorities listed in the submissions included climate change, gender equality, and a desire to focus on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Other recurring themes included a desire to increase Irish involvement in fragile states, harness Irish expertise in agriculture to strengthen global food systems, and increase quality and access to education, especially for marginalized groups. At a conference about inclusivity in health, the engagement and interest of the Irish people in international development was encouraging to see.

For Fitzpatrick, the new international development policy is an opportunity to do things differently. He stressed the policy’s potential to be coherent with other international and health-related policies, encouraging cross-government coordination and cooperation. He underlined the importance of balancing innovation and risk, and expressed hope that it could create a culture of learning. One of the most important aspects of the new international development policy will be prioritization of goals. Fitzpatrick stated that these priorities would be guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the public consultations conducted earlier this year, and a desire to focus on the people most in need. In Fitzpatrick’s words, one of the greatest impacts of this new policy could be, “putting the furthest-behind first.”

The intent to draft a new policy was formally announced by the Irish government in June 2018. A key goal of the new policy is to align Ireland with the current UN recommendation that 0.7% of Gross National Income be devoted to international development by 2030. Ireland is currently at 0.3% and, according to Fitzpatrick, must increase its international development spending by two to three billion to reach the 0.7% mark. Fitzpatrick stressed that this additional money could do significant good in low-income countries where healthcare spending is often less than 30usd per person. He hopes that a draft of the policy will be released in the coming weeks.

This talk gave the audience a unique perspective into how one of Ireland’s most impactful policies is being formed. Although this policy is incredibly complicated, with many challenges to overcome and perspectives to consider, its potential to create change the world is huge. If it stays on the path Fitzpatrick’s team intend – a path that is transparent, values the input of the Irish people, and aims to deliver aid to those who need it most – there’s no telling what it might do.


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