Ireland’s Overseas Development Aid and Support of Family Planning in the Developing World


[Speaking in the Seanad during Matters on the Adjournmnet]

Link to video of this debate:

Senator John Crown: I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well in his various undertakings at present.

I have had representations made to me by concerned citizens who are interested in our development aid programme and who asked that I highlight the issue of the attitude of the statutory Irish developed authorities towards efforts at population control.

Access to birth control is critical to managing the earth’s populations. During the 20th century alone, the global population exploded from 1.65 billion to 6 billion people. Over the course of my young lifetime the world population has doubled. There is a huge burden on global food supply. Today 842 million people do not have enough to eat and one in four Sub-Saharan Africans are hungry. As a consequence of the increasing population we have also been quickly depleting the earth of its resources, poisoning its water supply, so critical for life, and disrupting other aspects of the environment. Thankfully, in many parts of the world, this is a situation which is beginning to be ameliorated. However, the situation in Africa – a very troubled continent, where many of our fellow humans live in terrible conditions, to which we have pointed a great degree of our own national aid – is very troubling. Africa’s population is likely to double in the next 30 years. Historically, access to birth control has been a deeply divisive political issue in western countries but over the course of my lifetime the ability to access and use contraception is something that women in the western world and Irish women have come to take for granted.

Sadly, family planning is much less readily available in Africa than in any other region on the earth, including other regions which are facing development challenges. Some estimates indicate that a quarter of married women in Africa want contraceptives but cannot get them. In the first 14 years of the current millennium, access to birth control was restricted because of political tensions between the Bush Administration in the US and the UN population programmes, as a result of internal political and cultural issues in the US. As the then Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development noted in 2011, providing women with access to reproductive health care is not just an end in itself, it can have a transformative effect on women’s vulnerability to poverty, hunger, economic and social discrimination. The choice to have smaller families allows for greater investment in each child’s health care, nutrition and education, improved productivity and better long-term prospects for women, their families and societies.

I understand that between 2006 and 2011, only €30 million was donated to the UN population fund by the Republic. When the then Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, addressed this issue in 2011 the world’s population was just under 7 billion people. In the three years since that address, the population has increased by 0.25 billion. How much has the Republic given to the UN population fund since 2011? Does Ireland engage in any programmes which provide increased access to birth control other than the UN population fund? Is the availability of birth control an issue that Irish Aid addresses when it develops programmes with its partner countries?

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Sean Sherlock):I thank the Senator for his good wishes and extend my own good wishes to him and his betrothed on their impending nuptials and wish them the best of luck in their future.

I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello. I thank the Senator for raising the issue. We must acknowledge the work and support of the all-party Oireachtas group on sexual and reproductive health and development in supporting the aid programme in difficult financial circumstances domestically and particularly for its work in raising the profile of the issues around gender equality and sexual and reproductive health rights. Population planning remains a priority for Ireland. This is reflected in the funding allocated to population assistance. According to the UNFPA’s latest report on tracking the financial resource targets agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD, Ireland ranked fourth in terms of the percentage of our official development assistance allocated to the specified population assistance activities. This funding is vitally important to ensure that our partners, such as UNFPA, various NGOs and other partners can deliver programmes which empower women and provide access to sexual and reproductive health rights not only in key partner countries but in more complex settings, such as those referenced by the Senator, affected by natural disaster or conflict and where continued access to reproductive health is particularly critical for women and girls.

We have strongly supported the ICPD global review process which provides the continued evidence to incorporate broader population planning issues into the new sustainable and universal post-2015 development framework. The review report confirms the importance of the linkages between human rights, non-discrimination, equality, sexual and reproductive health and population dynamics for sustainable development.

Under the General Assembly the UN will convene a special session on 22 September to follow up on the programme of action from the ICPD. Ireland will use this opportunity to reiterate our commitment to the full implementation of the programme of action and we will work closely with the EU and UN to ensure its recommendations are fully reflected in the post-2015 development framework which must ensure no one is left behind. This means addressing the fragmented implementation of the programme of action. It also means being unafraid to address all elements of the ICPD vision, including sexual and reproductive health, and in doing so that we reach the most marginalised. It is only through this approach that we can address the reason we are all here and truly achieve gender equality and sustainable and inclusive development.

Senator John Crown: I thank the Minister of State. I acknowledge in particular Mr. Cartan Finegan, who has been an activist and advocate on behalf of the inclusion of population policy in our foreign aid. He was the source of many of the documents I have used in this debate. When we get into the specifics of our aid programmes with our bilateral partners in recipient countries I urge that we ensure an appropriate level of emphasis is given to the need for population control as a component of development policy in these countries.

Deputy Sean Sherlock: I thank the Senator for raising the issue. We use many acronyms in this business, and I should state the ICPD is the International Conference on Population and Development. I acknowledge this year is the 20th anniversary of the ICPD, which itself marked an important new consensus recognising that increasing social, economic and political equality, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, should be the basis for individual well-being, lower population growth and sustainable development.

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