Does Northern Ireland need its own aid strategy?

11 September 2017 - by Anna

Recent weeks have seen both political and climatic events devastate people and places already ill-equipped to deal with their impacts: accusations of Rohingya Muslims suffering ethnic cleansing in Myanmar; widespread flooding across South East Asia impacting an estimated 40 million people; a devastating famine in South Sudan, to name but a few.

Whilst responding to humanitarian crises remains a reserved matter for Westminster, under the jurisdiction of the Department of International Development (DfID), both Scotland and Wales have carved out their own strategies within the parameters of devolution. Just last week, the Scottish Government donated £300,000 from an emergency fund to help those left homeless by the Asian floods.

In Wales, the government has established the Wales for Africa programme, which hosts an annual grants scheme of £180,000 for small-scale Wales-Africa programmes.

But, in spite of a vibrant and active development sector in Northern Ireland, and the renowned generosity of the public in responding to humanitarian disasters, there is no specific strategy to formally represent Northern Ireland's place on the world stage.  

Whilst the All Party Group on International Development and the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies have made strides in addressing this policy gap and opportunity, the Executive Office, which would have responsibility in implementing a strategy, has yet to deliver.

At a time when money is tight, and cuts are being made across public services, development aid can become a popular target for reducing spending – why invest at a time when we are unable to adequately provide for our own people?

One might consider the parts played by other countries in helping to get Northern Ireland back on its feet after 40 years of conflict, with the US and the EU investing in rebuilding our society. Without the support and generosity of others, particularly through PEACE funding streams from the EU, it is unlikely that the economic growth we have seen over the last two decades would have been so significant.

Brexit is on the horizon, as is a threatened “power grab” by Westminster around issues like the environment and agriculture. Perhaps a potential response is to seek to cement our international position as a caring, compassionate region. And although the scale of our Troubles may not equate with those of many countries suffering under dictatorships and corruption, our unique experience may well mean that Northern Ireland can play a special role in giving hope of a better future to countries ravaged by conflict.