Mr. Dermot AHERN, T.D.
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Ireland
Geneva, 28 June 2000
It is a great honour for
me to speak on behalf of Ireland and to reaffirm my Government's continuing
commitment to social development. I also wish to fully associate Ireland with
the speech made by the representative of Portugal on Monday on behalf of the
I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to the Secretary General and to the Division for Social Policy and Development for the excellent preparatory work done before this session.
I want to emphasise how the Copenhagen Commitments have helped social development in Ireland, and how fully supportive we are of further initiatives to continue the process.
One of the key tasks in the process is to convince people that social development not only improves the living conditions of the less advantaged, but also achieves economic development. We must underline the complementarity of economic and social development.
The tangible benefits have been seen in a dramatic fashion in Ireland. As our economy has been growing at an unprecedented pace, unemployment is now below 5% and long-term unemployment below 2%. This compares with respective figures of 12% and 7% just four years ago.
Following Copenhagen, a National Anti-Poverty Strategy was put in place in 1997. It included a target to significantly reduce consistent poverty over a tenyear time frame. Ireland was the first European Union member state to adopt such a global poverty target.
In light of significant progress made towards achieving the original poverty target, we set a new target in June 1999 of reducing consistent poverty to below 5% by 2004. Initial findings show that we are well on our way to attaining this target.
We now have the opportunity to effectively eliminate poverty in Ireland and that must be our main policy objective.
The influence of the Copenhagen process was paramount in the development of the NAPS. Indeed, there must be an increasing coherence between national and international strategies and programmes to combat poverty. Interdependence is a key concept - locally, nationally and internationally.
We need to bring about an international commitment to ensuring that people have access - in their own right as citizens - to services which will enable them to effectively participate in society.
As part of Ireland's latest National Partnership agreement - negotiated between the social partners - we are reviewing and broadening out our Strategy to encompass areas which were not directly included up to now. Existing targets will be reviewed and new targets will be considered. The original poverty targets were set following extensive and innovative research. One of the most valuable elements of this was a clear demonstration of the deficiencies of looking at income levels alone, be they relative or absolute. The wider approach which addresses commonly acceptable standards of living has proven itself to be both useful and effective.
The involvement of civil society in the process of poverty reduction and social development is becoming increasingly important. We must recognise this and provide an appropriate framework for this to happen. In relation to this, the Irish Government will shortly publish a White Paper on the relationship between the state and the communitv and voluntarv sector.
A key factor in promoting social and economic development is in creating the political will to make the often fundamental changes required. This is being achieved in Ireland through partnership. In the period since 1987, successive National Partnership programmes have been negotiated with the social partners - employers, trade unions, farmers and, latterly, the voluntary and community sector. These have created the widespread consensus on social and economic policy that has underpinned the successful transformation of Irish social and economic life in recent vears.
Our relative success in recent years has been due not only to our own efforts but also to the supports and the policy guidance we received from the European Union, the Council of Europe and the UN itself, through the Copenhagen process. We were particularly pleased during our recent Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to facilitate the Council in preparing a pan-European contribution to this Assembly as part of the implementation of the social cohesion strategy.
Ireland very much supports regional co-operation on social development, which we have found so useful in Europe, and would also very much welcome this cooperation developing further at inter-regional level.
The support Ireland has received internationally in achieving social and
economic development has made us very conscious of the importance of such support, and of our own obligations to less developed countries.
Ireland Aid has one of the most rapidly expanding ODA programmes in the OECD. Indeed, since the World Summit, allocations have more than doubled, rising to $241m in 1999. This represented a volume increase of 22.8% over the previous year.
The Irish Government is determined to reach the UN target of 0.7% of GNP for overseas development assistance in the short term. The Government is currently considering a detailed financial and organisational road-map to enable us to reach the target within a specific time-frame.
I warmly welcome the fact that this Special Session will formally endorse the target of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. In order to achieve this target, flows of ODA will have to increase from their current levels.
We will also have to work harder together to deal with such threats to development as the debt burden on less developed countries and the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. Ireland has now mainstreamed the fight against HIV/AIDS in its development assistance programme and is devoting additional resources both bilaterally and multilaterally.
The huge burden of external debt on some of the poorest countries in the world impedes social development. I welcome the enhanced HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) initiative with its promise of broader, deeper and faster relief. However, there remains a worrying shortfall in the funding of the
initiative. Its slow progress in extending debt relief to more than just a handful of countries is also of increasing concern.
Our experience over recent years has shown us that the Copenhagen consensus is the way forward to people-centred, sustainable development that can eradicate poverty and create a stable world order. We are a country whose people have experienced under-development, great poverty and high levels of emigration. We now know from recent experience that it is possible to eradicate poverty, if we have the will to do so.
This has to be based on national consensus, pursuing the right policies and a supportive international environment.
Ireland, therefore, is fully committed to the Copenhagen process and looks forward to being part of a committed global effort to implement it in the new century.