A chance to do some useful twinning

20th October 2000

ACCORDING to the World Bank, Ireland’s GNP stood at £65 billion last year. This is roughly twice what it was seven years ago and it’s growing at about £6 billion a year.

Ireland has probably been the most successful economy on the globe over the past 10 years. We now have so much money that we can’t physically spend it.

For those who think globally this must cause a few qualms. One fifth of the world’s population survive on less than a punt a day.

What should we do?

There’s no need to ask because this Government has already done something.

In the most remarkable announcement by any government in a generation, Bertie Ahern told the United Nations General Assembly that Ireland was making a commitment to reach the UN development target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007.

If this commitment is met (all right, I said if), it will increase our aid from £198 million this year to about £800 million in 2007.

Although the Government is committed to increasing aid gradually up to 2007, there is really no reason why the target couldn’t be met this year. Even if the projects are not in place the cash could be put into a fund to be spent later. We will have a £2 billion budget surplus this year and we can’t spend it because of the fear of inflation.

I’d be afraid that the commitment might be let slide when the good times fade. Perhaps we could put it in the constitution as an obligation and reminder to ourselves that there are people far worse off than we are.

But let’s be positive. The question arises as to how we should spend these millions.

Our current activities are a mix of emergency relief and localised development work across a range of countries. This work must continue.

But two things come to mind about this approach. It is rather piecemeal and it doesn’t focus the public mind on development issues.

For example, Ireland is aiding a number of projects across Africa. But the real necessity in Africa is to get the economies there working for themselves.

In this respect our success has been based on the ability to operate as a nation state and a national economy.

All of the parts – political, administrative, economic, financial, civic and so on – have gone to make the whole function as it does.

This is why an attempt to change the situation in one particular district in any country cannot guarantee permanent change.

So what I would suggest is a twinning process between Ireland and a developing country.

I have in mind a country like Mozambique which has a population four times greater than ours.

We could twin our administrative structure where officials and civil servants from Mozambique could train in Ireland and our civil servants could work in Mozambique.

With economic assistance in the order of £400 million a year, an enormous benefit could be wrought in the social and economic fabric of the country.

Instead of the fatuous twinning culture that we have at the moment, every Irish town and county could twin with an equivalent in Mozambique. Imagine the change in development awareness that could bring.

We would have to be careful to recognise that in this relationship Ireland would be the dominant partner.

Any hint of imperialism or cultural dominance should be anathema to us, given our own experience, and so the Mozambiqueans would always have the last say in any decisions.

I believe that Ireland would gain immensely from such a twinning and to show the potential for Mozambique I would like to compare a few statistics, Ireland first.

GNP/head: £18,000; £200.

Life expectancy: 76; 45.

Infant mortality/1000: 6; 134.

Under 5 mort/1000: 7; 213.

Hunger(Under 5s): 0%; 27%.

Power/head (kwh): 4,120; 44.

Female Illiteracy: na; 72%.

Internet Hosts/head: 147; 0.1.

Phones/1000: 434; 4.

Flight Deps (,000): 123; 5.

As well as that…

Gardai get a blank cheque

ONE night about two years ago a Nigerian man was awoken by gardai looking for someone they thought was staying at his house.

He refused to let them in so they broke down his doors. Not finding what they came for, they found some stereos and concluded that the Nigerian was a thief. They arrested him. These facts are undisputed. The disputed facts include the gardai beating the man and racially abusing his children.

The man was charged with assault, theft and obstructing the guards. In court the charges of assault and theft were dropped. He was sentenced to six months (suspended) for obstructing the gardai.

This is yet another disgraceful example of the gardai and courts collaborating to deny a citizen his rights.Why should anyone have to justify what happened during a gardai raid? Why wasn’t the raid recorded?

The gardai said the man appeared ‘agitated’. If they arrived at my door in the middle of the night on a botched mission I’d be more than ‘agitated’. Now this man has a criminal record and the gardai have gotten away without as much as an apology.

The man has made a complaint but after two years he’s heard nothing, while the gardai investigate themselves. What a sick joke!