Peer reviews of DAC members

Ireland (2003), DAC Peer Review


Main Findings and Recommendations

See also Ireland's Aid-at-a-glance

The context for Ireland’s development co-operation

Ireland’s tradition of solidarity with the poor

Ireland’s own experience of colonisation, poverty, famine and mass emigration has provided a basis for a long tradition in Ireland of solidarity with the poor and dispossessed. A manifestation of this has been the active engagement by many Irish people in development activities in poor countries, through missionary work, volunteer service or involvement with non governmental organisations (NGOs). The Irish have also displayed a strong interest in specific development issues including the abolition of apartheid, debt relief and support for East Timor, concerns shared by many Parliamentarians and civil society institutions.

Another manifestation of this tradition is Development Co-operation Ireland (DCI), the official development co-operation programme managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs formerly known as Ireland Aid. The programme distinguishes itself by its sharp focus on poverty reduction and its commitment to partnership principles. In 2001, half of Ireland’s official development assistance (ODA) was channelled to least developed countries, the largest share in the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). DCI’s activities take account of their likely contribution to reducing poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals in turn provide the context in which DCI’s priority sectors are decided. DCI’s long standing focus on education and health is now complemented by a strong commitment to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Providing support to “forgotten emergencies” is a priority for DCI’s humanitarian assistance. A field visit to Tanzania to prepare for this Peer Review found that Ireland was appreciated as a collaborative partner.

Sustained domestic economic growth up until 2002 enabled successive Irish governments to increase ODA dramatically, including when public expenditure was under tight control and spending on domestic social services was being reduced. Ireland’s net ODA disbursements expanded from USD 70 million in 1992 [0.16% of gross national income (GNI)] to USD 187 million in 1997 (0.31% of GNI) and USD 398 million in 2002 (0.40% of GNI).

Heading towards the United Nations 0.7% target

In 2000, the government committed itself to a timeframe for reaching the United Nation’s ODA target of 0.7% of national income – the end of 2007 – with an interim target of 0.45% by the end of 2002. Achieving the 0.7% target implies almost doubling Ireland’s present ODA volume to an annual level of nearly USD 1 billion.

In the wake of this decision, the government established a committee in 2001 to conduct a comprehensive review of Ireland’s aid programme. Through its deliberations, the Ireland Aid Review Committee addressed the two main issues the DAC identified as confronting the Irish aid programme at the time of its last Peer Review in 1999, i.e. how best to grow and how best to manage that growth. The Review Committee reconfirmed that the reduction of poverty in its various manifestations should remain DCI’s overarching objective. It recommended that the principles of effectiveness, value for money, transparency and accountability underpin the programme. Ireland’s ODA should remain completely untied. The Review Committee’s findings and recommendations were accepted in whole by the government in March 2002.

The Irish economy slowed down sharply in 2002 and this has affected the ODA programme. DCI’s final budget outcome for 2002 was USD 30 million less than initially announced. The budget for 2003 essentially returned to the level originally announced for 2002. The allocation for 2004 provides a modest cash increase (EUR 25 million) but is not expected to affect the ODA/GNI ratio. Achieving the 0.7% objective by 2007 nonetheless remains Irish government policy. Reaching this objective will now require doubling the ODA volume in three years.

Strengthening public awareness and ownership

Nine out of ten respondents in a public opinion survey conducted in 2002 were “on the whole for” or “very much for” helping developing countries. Despite this favourable environment for providing aid, DCI’s objectives, approaches and achievements are not well known or understood by the public: 62% of respondents had “never heard” of the DCI programme and 48% had “absolutely no idea” how much ODA the Irish government provided.

Building up public awareness and ownership of the official aid programme are among the most important issues for Ireland to address at this time, if it is to achieve and sustain the 0.7% objective. There are complexities associated with this due to DCI’s focus on strengthening public sectors in developing countries. Support for Ireland’s ODA must consequently rest more on its contribution to achieving main partner countries’ development goals, rather than being closely associated with specific and identifiable activities. In the past, DCI may have relied too heavily on the NGOs it co finances as its principal means of promoting public awareness and support of the official aid programme. DCI recently adopted a more strategic approach to the issue.


• A sizeable increase in ODA in 2005 will be crucial for putting Ireland back on a path towards reaching its 0.7% objective by 2007. To maintain quality as it repositions itself as a medium sized donor, Ireland should plan now how it will manage and implement a USD 1 billion ODA programme.

• To generate greater understanding and sustain public support for reaching the 0.7% target, DCI should inform the Irish public of the achievements Ireland can rightly claim through its ODA programme. The 30th anniversary, in 2004, of Ireland’s official development co operation programme presents an appropriate opportunity for taking stock.

• DCI could consider promoting broader debate in Ireland on development issues and intervening pro actively to ensure that the public receives balanced information on the strengths, weaknesses and risks associated with the different but complementary forms of development co operation provided by the Irish people through both governmental and non governmental channels. As part of this process, DCI could outline its reasons for having moved to fund sector wide approaches (SWAps) and to provide budget support.

Aid allocations, channels and selected key issues

ODA allocations

Managing the rapid expansion in ODA was facilitated by the predictability provided through a multi year agreement on increases to DCI’s budget for 1999, 2000 and 2001. This agreement has now lapsed. The resulting uncertainty regarding annual allocations renders planning more difficult for DCI which now needs to plan each year to implement an aid programme whose volume may be significantly larger, essentially unchanged or subsequently reduced, with the initial allocation being decided only a few months before the new budget period starts. As part of its planning processes, DCI could consider protecting existing commitments fully in core areas – such as programmes in programme countries, HIV/AIDS and public awareness activities – before taking decisions on funding levels for other programme components.

International good practice stresses the importance of donors who channel funds through partner government systems providing predictable funding commitments. DCI has been expanding its range of long term partnerships containing multi annual funding engagements. DCI already agreed triennial country strategies with its programme country partners that spell out how Ireland’s support complements the partner’s own vision statement for development. But DCI has now also entered into agreements with key United Nations development agencies, some of the major international actors in the provision of emergency assistance, five of the main Irish development NGOs and Dóchas (the NGO umbrella organisation). The slowdown in ODA growth, coupled with uncertainty about DCI’s budget allocation, places DCI in an awkward situation even though the funding commitments given were indicative and ultimately non-binding. To demonstrate its commitment to partnership principles, it would appear preferable that DCI fulfil the funding commitments made, if necessary by redirecting funds from other programme components.

Bilateral assistance

Ireland has a great asset in that its main bilateral partnerships are concentrated on a limited number of programme countries: Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – all least developed countries in sub Saharan Africa – and, since March 2003, East Timor. In 2001 02, the then six programme countries received two thirds of Ireland’s bilateral ODA. There are nevertheless signs of dispersion in the DCI programme as more than 85 other countries received ODA in 2001-02. Comparative experience in the DAC shows how difficult it can be to refocus once dispersion occurs. Ireland should consequently remain vigilant to ensure that high priority continues to be given to deepening its engagement in DCI’s existing programme countries which have been severely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Having put staff in the field to support implementation of an expanded and more strategic engagement, Ireland can reap an efficiency gain by scaling up funding through pooled funding arrangements where this is feasible. Ireland can also consider engaging more with local civil society organisations and supporting local private sector development and assessing the regional impact of its interventions in countries involved in conflict.

An expanding ODA volume has brought with it the issue of whether DCI should further increase the number of programme countries. DCI has been approaching the issue cautiously, developing a clear and rigorous set of criteria to guide decision making. These considerations have had to be put on hold, however, due to uncertainties about DCI’s future funding levels. The Ireland Aid Review Committee recognised that a tight concentration on a small number of programme countries has been one of Ireland’s strengths and there are some risks in departing from this approach. An issue for Ireland in this context is the extent to which there should be an expectation, by the country itself and the Irish public, that countries receiving substantial emergency and then recovery assistance will automatically graduate to full programme country status, as East Timor has.

Multilateral assistance

Slightly more than one third of Ireland’s ODA is disbursed multilaterally, broadly in line with the DAC average. Ireland has been increasing its voluntary contributions to multilateral agencies demonstrating a commitment to reform and has actively supported reform processes in both the European Union and United Nations. Ireland aims to give development issues a high profile during its presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2004, and intends to pay particular attention to enhancing the ten accession states’ institutional capacities as donors, promoting better donor harmonisation and aid effectiveness and developing greater awareness of the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on developing countries. Ireland is strengthening the linkages between the Departments of Finance and of Foreign Affairs in relation to its participation in the Bretton Woods institutions, including by possibly placing a DCI staff member in Ireland’s office at the World Bank.

Ireland has adopted a more selective approach with United Nations agencies, increasing funding to agencies that reinforce its policy objectives. These include the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). DCI has stepped up its capacity to engage with and monitor the performance of these agencies, which have become more important channels for Ireland’s ODA. In parallel, Ireland has withdrawn from several agencies to which it was only making symbolic contributions or which had a poor fit with DCI’s objectives. These measures will improve the effectiveness of Ireland’s multilateral ODA, but this approach is demanding in staff terms and highlights the importance of continuing the process of consolidation in the number of multilateral agencies funded.

The HIV/AIDS challenge

Ireland is committed to addressing the challenge that HIV/AIDS represents for achieving the MDGs. DCI continues to develop its strategic framework and aims to mainstream, not just integrate, HIV/AIDS throughout the programme -  i.e. all decisions are informed by and take account of HIV/AIDS issues, and HIV/AIDS concerns are reflected at the policy, planning and project levels. A prime ministerial commitment in 2001 of at least USD 30 million annually for HIV/AIDS is enabling Ireland to support activities at the multilateral/global, regional, national and community levels. The initial emphasis was on global level responses, including substantial support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As DCI and its partners enhance their capacity for HIV/AIDS programming at country level, bilateral allocations are likely to increase in the future, especially for the provision of treatment.

There is an opportunity for DCI to enhance its efforts to make a profound and distinctive contribution to addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis. But this will require further strengthening DCI’s capacity for HIV/AIDS mainstreaming. DCI needs to recruit additional specialists in Dublin and in partner countries and develop a significant HIV/AIDS training programme for all staff. The requirement to mainstream HIV/AIDS in NGO co-financing schemes could be reinforced. When up dating its strategic framework in 2004, DCI could highlight the mainstreaming approach it has adopted and develop guidance for staff on how to address gender, human rights and equity concerns in access to treatment programmes.


• To provide the basis for a predictable growth path for the expected further rapid expansion in ODA and to help DCI fulfil the multi annual funding commitments it has made, Ireland should re introduce a multi annual agreement on budget allocations for ODA.

• Ireland should continue deepening its engagement in existing programme countries where needs remain great. Ireland should examine the scope for regional engagement and assess the regional impact of its current activities. It should continue its cautious approach to designating new programme countries.

• Ireland should pursue implementation of a more strategic and programmatic engagement with a selected number of key multilateral agencies. In doing so, Ireland should remain aware of the advantages of increased co ordination and harmonisation with other donors.

• DCI should continue strengthening its capacity to mainstream HIV/AIDS and scale up support for its most successful mainstreaming approaches. As part of the preparations for the next generation of HIV/AIDS activities, it would be appropriate for DCI to initiate a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of Ireland’s HIV/AIDS activities to date.

Policy coherence for development

The OECD and its members recognise that sustainably reducing poverty in developing countries and attaining the MDGs will require mutually supportive and coherent policies across a wide range of economic, social and environmental issues. This can create challenges for Ireland because specific issues commonly involve domestic interest groups and government departments with primary interests and responsibilities other than that of reducing global poverty. In addition, Ireland may need to act at both the national and European Union levels. As an example of the challenges encountered, reforming agricultural policies can create difficulties for Ireland because agriculture is an important sector in its economy and an influential domestic constituency. Ireland nonetheless strives to increase coherence between development and agricultural trade policies in negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and within European Union contexts.

The complexities associated with promoting greater coherence in policies across government and within the European Union highlight the importance of DAC members being well organised to address relevant issues. The range of subjects that impinge on developing countries is wide and evolving, as recognised by the Department of Foreign Affairs which has set itself the ambitious objective of ensuring that developing countries’ concerns are taken into account in the formulation of government policies. This suggests a need for DCI to strengthen links with other departments and to bolster actions currently taking place in specific areas or on an ad hoc basis. This could be done by: communicating political commitment, expanding parliamentary involvement, establishing dedicated consultation mechanisms, enhancing analytical capacity within DCI and conducting assessments of the impact of policies adopted in Ireland and by the European Union on developing countries.


• Ireland should consider a range of actions to enhance its institutional capacity to address the effects of government policies on developing countries; the creation of a dedicated unit responsible for assessing policy coherence for development in DCI is an important step in this regard.

Aid management and implementation

Organisational arrangements and human resources management

After reflecting on the appropriate institutional framework for delivering Ireland’s ODA, the Ireland Aid Review Committee concluded that DCI should remain a division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It considered this structure to be most attuned to DCI’s needs at the time but recognised there were shortcomings, mainly in relation to staffing levels and managerial flexibility. It would consequently appear prudent that Ireland keep its institutional framework under review to ensure it has, in a medium term perspective, the operational flexibility needed to manage its ODA and the capacity to adapt to rapid change, especially if budget growth projections to 2007 are realised. This could be valuable if DCI pursues options for co operation with the private sector, in Ireland and in programme countries.

The 1999 DAC Peer Review highlighted some critical human resource issues facing DCI. Since then, staffing levels have increased (from 84 in 1998 to 143 in 2003), employment conditions for contract staff have improved and movement of staff between headquarters and the field has been occurring more frequently. DCI’s human resources capacity nevertheless remains barely adequate, especially in some technical fields and for policy elaboration, and rotation occurs regularly of its diplomatic staff who make up most of DCI’s senior management and constitute the bulk of staff in some sections. The benefits of recent improvements can be eroded if Ireland’s ODA continues to grow without further increases in staff.

The Ireland Aid Review Committee also recommended establishing a new high level oversight and ministerial advisory body, the Advisory Board for DCI, which was created in 2002. Its remit includes: i) enhancing the independence of DCI’s evaluation and audit arrangements; ii) commissioning research; iii) keeping overall staffing needs under review; and iv) organising Development Forums to facilitate regular strategic dialogue between DCI and Irish NGOs. This wide range of responsibilities creates a challenge in terms of ensuring that the board maintains a clear strategic view while performing both executive and advisory functions.

NGO co-financing schemes

Ireland devotes around one sixth of its ODA to co financing activities by NGOs, a large share by comparative DAC standards. Some three quarters of this funding is provided to NGOs based in Ireland. DCI, and its main NGO partners, have gone through a considerable change process since the last Peer Review to put their relationship on a more strategic basis. Three new co-financing schemes have been developed. The Multi Annual Programme Scheme (MAPS) will provide EUR 117 million in funding between 2003 and 2005 to five Irish NGOs (Concern, Trócaire, GOAL, Self Help Development International and Christian Aid Ireland), as part of partnership arrangements. A HIV/AIDS Partnership Scheme (HAPS) has been established to support the short term institutional development of Irish NGOs with regard to HIV/AIDS programming. The Missionary Development Fund aims to promote a more programmatic approach to co financing missionary congregations.

The complexity and evolving nature of DCI’s engagement with NGOs points to a need for DCI to be well structured to manage its relationships with NGOs. DCI intends to elaborate a policy framework for its engagement with civil society, both in Ireland and in developing countries. Another objective for DCI is the development of appropriate monitoring frameworks and audit and evaluation programmes for its various NGO co-financing schemes. Given the size and influence of NGOs in the DCI programme, these measures would appear overdue.

Assessing performance

Promoting an evaluation culture is an objective for DCI due to the contribution it can make to increasing institutional learning, improving programme implementation and enhancing accountability. Currently, the mission in each DCI programme country prepares various reports on activities in that country. These could possibly be streamlined by concentrating on reporting on more significant results. In a few sectors, specialist advisors in Dublin prepare reports on implementation progress across the DCI programme, a practice DCI hopes to expand further. As well as participating in joint assessments with other donors, DCI’s small Evaluation and Audit Section commissions up to 15 evaluations a year of activities at project or sectoral levels, activities conducted by organisations funded by DCI or DCI’s own internal practices and management systems. Transparency and confidence in DCI could be enhanced by more clearly differentiating evaluation and audit functions as Ireland’s ODA programme expands further and by making evaluations more readily available to the public, such as through DCI’s new Internet site. A continuing challenge for DCI is adjusting its performance assessment systems as rapidly as the programme expands into different aid modalities, notably SWAps and budget support. A further issue is the Advisory Board’s role in relation to evaluation. This should be separate from the evaluation process, so that the board can provide independent and strategic advice to the minister.

Promoting partnership and building local ownership

The field visit to Tanzania confirmed that Ireland is a strong performer in putting partnership approaches into practice in its programme countries. Ireland is regarded as an agile and flexible donor by its partners in Tanzania. Its country strategy is aligned with Tanzania’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), which in turn provides the basis for Ireland’s programming. Support for ownership underlies DCI’s strong support for pooled funding arrangements and harmonisation of donor procedures. Ireland places emphasis on capacity building at all levels of government. At the same time, Ireland’s approach to promoting ownership tends to increase the centralised power of the Tanzanian state and so Ireland could give more attention to enhancing broader strategic alliances with local civil society actors and the local private sector as well. Pooled funding arrangements also require careful assessment by both donors and partners of the various risks involved.

Ireland’s missions in DCI programme countries are staffed by a combination of diplomatic, technical and local staff, including some specialist sectoral advisors. As in other programme countries, Ireland has a compact and professional local mission in Tanzania which puts emphasis on partnership and negotiation skills. While final programming and funding decisions are taken in Dublin, these represent the culmination of processes initiated from the field and involving an open dialogue with headquarters. DCI reports that it has so far not experienced any difficulties as a result of this approach. However, as the programme expands further, maintaining Ireland’s capacity to respond rapidly and flexibly, co-ordinate with others and build local ownership may require redefinition of the roles and responsibilities of headquarters and field offices. DCI has commissioned an assessment of staffing arrangements in programme countries. This is timely because increased funding through SWAps and budget support have resulted in changed requirements in field offices in terms of their capacity to engage more substantially in country level dialogue and to promote harmonisation and partnership approaches.

Implementation modalities

Ireland now channels most of its assistance in programme countries through three modalities: area based programmes, SWAps and budget support (in Mozambique, Tanzania and, until recently, Uganda). Area based programmes – i.e. multi sector partnerships with a local level of government in a poor region – are a long-standing feature of Ireland’s bilateral ODA. A recent evaluation found that these constitute a viable, mature and optimistic approach to development, even if their potential benefits may remain largely unfilled. Ireland views the emergence of SWAps as a response to inadequacies in many other aid modalities, particularly stand alone projects. It is confident that SWAps can lead to more effective aid and result in better policy dialogue at sectoral levels. In Ireland’s view, budget support also has a number of potential advantages because it is linked to an agreed set of policy reforms and an agreed pattern of public expenditure that gives priority to pro-poor strategies.

Ireland finds its three main aid modalities complementary and mutually reinforcing. Area based programmes give DCI a basis for monitoring the impact of public sector reforms and the introduction of new ways of working through SWAps. In turn, both modalities provide information which can be used to validate the impact of moving from a project to a more programmatic approach. Compared to some other donors supporting SWAps or providing budget support, DCI has an extra advantage because its area based programmes enables it to ensure that experiences at local and community levels are fed into policy dialogue at the national level, as was seen in Tanzania. DCI’s preference is to try to incorporate all three modalities in its country programmes in a balanced way.


• Ireland should monitor the experience of mixing executive and advisory functions in the mandate of the Advisory Board for DCI.

• Ireland will need to remain vigilant regarding staffing levels, skill mixes and the use of diplomatic staff within DCI, especially as Ireland’s ODA volume continues to grow. Addressing human resources issues pro-actively is a key component of planning to manage and implement an effective USD 1 billion ODA programme.

• In its co-financing schemes for NGOs, DCI should continue promoting more strategic approaches, greater mainstreaming of cross cutting issues (gender, governance, HIV/AIDS and the environment) and more systematic auditing, monitoring and evaluation.

• DCI is encouraged to pursue its efforts to promote an evaluation culture and could consider preparing a multi annual evaluation plan, to support lesson learning and serve as the basis for a training plan for DCI staff.

• DCI could consider redefining the roles and responsibilities of headquarters and field offices for a range of issues relating to country strategy, programming and operations, financial management and administrative procedures.

Visit the OECD country web site for Ireland.