Peer reviews of DAC members

Ireland (2009) DAC Peer Review - Main Findings and Recommendations


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> See also Ireland's Aid at a Glance
> Ireland (2009), Full report (pdf)


Overall framework for development co-operation

Legal and political orientations


Ireland’s 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid provides the vision and orientation for the development programme. Irish Aid’s Operational Plan 2008-2012 lays out the roadmap for managing and implementing that programme. The White Paper reaffirms Ireland’s priorities in development: poverty reduction, reducing vulnerability and increasing opportunities for the poor, particularly in Africa. Its key features include: a phased approach to achieving the United Nations target for spending 0.7% of gross national income on ODA by 2012; setting development co-operation in the context of wider foreign policy and as a policy priority across the Irish government; respecting developing countries’ leadership of their own development; and ensuring effectiveness and quality assurance of the development programme, using the Paris Declaration as the roadmap.

The forward-looking orientations outlined in the White Paper are a good foundation for Ireland’s overall objective of poverty reduction. These orientations cover basic needs and the productive sectors, governance capacity and accountability and humanitarian action; they also recognise the role that other donors and NGOs can play in development co-operation. Irish Aid has put a number of strategies in place, e.g. for civil society, HIV/AIDS and environment, to translate the orientations into actions that can be implemented and tailored to each context. Given the White Paper’s ambitious policy agenda it will be important for Irish Aid to continue to focus on a limited number of strategic priorities.


The White Paper calls for mainstreaming gender, HIV/AIDS, governance and environment into the planning, implementation and evaluation of all development assistance interventions. While still evolving, mainstreaming is a strong feature of Ireland’s aid programme. Irish Aid has developed good practice based on its 2007-2009 mainstreaming strategy and using specific materials and analytical tools. Its approach involves training in mainstreaming, building knowledge in the four priority issues and strengthening accountability and senior management oversight. The DAC encourages Irish Aid to share good practice with other donors and to capture and document lessons and outcomes on mainstreaming through reporting systems, using key indicators to measure impact.


Communicating results


Public engagement with the aid programme is strong in Ireland. Irish Aid maintains high levels of public support by combining activities to increase awareness of global development issues with activities to promote its own work. One example is the newly established Volunteering and Information Centre. The DAC commends Irish Aid for its comprehensive development education strategy backed by a dedicated budget and encourages it to adopt a strategic approach for communicating development results as well as the less visible and more complex aspects of development co-operation, such as aid effectiveness.


Promoting policy coherence for development


Ireland has progressed on policy coherence for development (PCD) since the last peer review. The White Paper acknowledges the interconnection of government policies on development, trade, agriculture, investment and migration, and the Programme for Government 2007-2012 commits the government to an integrated approach to development across departments. There is broad consensus among officials, parliamentarians, academia and civil society that the fight against poverty is not merely a matter of providing ODA. A good example of coherent policy is in the area of trade where Irish Aid has worked closely with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment over the trade negotiations on the Doha Development Agenda. Irish Aid’s involvement is reflected in the 2005 National Trade Policy Strategy, which devotes a chapter to the national trade agenda for developing countries. Nevertheless trade is an area in which Ireland could do more in its priority countries, for example by prioritising aid for trade to complement interventions that are made through government and civil society.


The DAC is concerned that the move of Irish Aid’s headquarters away from Dublin could make it more difficult to ensure that all government policies are considered for their coherence with development objectives. The move poses challenges in terms of maintaining close linkages with other government departments, embassies and other organisations and NGOs based in Dublin. Ireland is encouraged to find innovative ways to address these challenges.


Strengthening monitoring, analysis and reporting

The DAC welcomes the creation of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Development (IDCD) in 2007. The IDCD’s role includes monitoring and evaluating activities in areas with implications for developing countries and observing the policy coherence work of like-minded countries. However, the IDCD is not mandated to address potential conflicts across government policies. While the compact size of government and short lines of communication within and between departments help co-ordinate Ireland’s positions in international fora, it will be critical for the IDCD to have sufficient political support and  resources to tackle legislative and policy decisions that may negatively affect developing countries.
Irish Aid acts as IDCD’s secretariat, but lacks the required institutional capacity to conduct research and analyse policies for coherence or to trace policy coherence impacts once these have been identified. The previous peer review’s suggestion to create a policy coherence unit within Irish Aid has not been implemented. The government has relied on the Advisory Board for Irish Aid (ABIA) to provide independent policy advice and to commission research. Trinity College Dublin and the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex have contributed data, quality analysis and research on demand, for example on trade and agriculture. It is important that Irish Aid retains an adequate research and analytical capacity.
Parliament’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Public Accounts Committee ensure control over and oversee ODA. Since 2007, a sub-committee has focused exclusively on development co-operation. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State for Overseas Development are responsible for PCD and may be called upon to report to the Joint Committee. As IDCD’s chair the Minister of State briefs parliamentarians on IDCD’s work. While Ireland’s political commitment to PCD is not questioned, this commitment has not yet translated into an integrated policy framework drawing consensus from the highest levels of government as well as parliament. Institutionalised reporting to parliament on PCD would facilitate this process.


  • Irish Aid’s approach to mainstreaming its priority issues – namely gender, environment, HIV/AIDS and governance – is a strong, though evolving, feature of its aid programme which already provides lessons that could be shared with other donors. Irish Aid is encouraged to improve reporting on mainstreaming and focus on measuring development impacts to enhance its own learning as well as that of other donors.
  • To maintain public support for the aid programme, Ireland is encouraged to enhance its efforts to communicate the development results achieved by working with other donors and partner countries.
  • Ireland should ensure that the Inter-Departmental Committee on Development has sufficient political backing and institutional support to effectively address any inconsistencies and potential policy conflicts between government departments that might adversely affect developing countries. To support the IDCD it should identify a policy coherence focal point with the capacity to analyse potential areas of policy conflict; commission longer-term studies; co ordinate research; and monitor and champion policy coherence for development among government departments on the IDCD’s behalf. The focal point will also need to find innovative ways to overcome the physical limitations linked to Irish Aid’s relocation to Limerick.


Aid volume, channels and allocations

Ireland’s net ODA amounted to USD 1.3 billion (EUR 0.9 billion) in 2008, a 90% increase over 2003 in real terms. Ireland’s aid grew from 0.39% of its gross national income to 0.58% in 2008. This represents significant growth achieved during a period of exceptional economic expansion. The DAC welcomes this performance and commends Ireland for increasing aid to least developed countries (LDCs) through untied grants. Ireland is a generous donor, ranking 6th out of 22 DAC members in 2007 in terms of the share of ODA as a percentage of GNI and 17th in terms of net ODA volume.


The Irish government is committed to meeting the United Nations ODA target of 0.7% of GNI by 2012. It has adopted a phased approach and plans to meet an interim target of 0.6% in 2010. The challenge for the government is to reach these targets despite severe economic downturn and increased budgetary pressure. These have translated into a EUR 95 million reduction in Ireland’s 2009 budget for overseas development, which is likely to have an impact on the ODA/GNI ratio.  Ireland has stated that it will continue to work towards meeting the 0.7% target. The DAC urges the government to refrain from further budgetary action that would undermine this commitment.
Ireland does not have an overarching strategy for deciding on allocations to the different aid channels but nevertheless strives to maintain the balance between bilateral and multilateral aid (a ratio of approximately 70:30). The proportional growth in allocations provided through civil society, multilateral and humanitarian channels has been greater than the growth in funding channelled through programme countries. Ireland could clarify how it will allocate its aid between channels, sectors and modalities over three to five-year cycles. It is encouraged to fulfill its intention to rebalance its programme by increasing the proportion of ODA delivered through its programme countries.


Ireland’s multilateral assistance has more than tripled in absolute terms over the past ten years, reaching USD 368 million in 2007. The European Commission (EC) is the single largest recipient of Irish multilateral ODA, followed by the United Nations and the World Bank. Since the last peer review the government has strengthened its strategic approach towards the United Nations (UN) by signing multi-year framework agreements with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It has also targeted more assistance to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria while funding several other smaller funds. Ireland’s commitment to and investment in the multilateral system will require adequate levels of human resources to engage more fully with its key partners, in particular the European Commission.

Concentration on a limited number of poor African countries and sectors


The concentration of Ireland’s development assistance on a limited number of poor countries is one of its main strengths. Currently, Irish Aid has intensive, wide-ranging and long-lasting development co-operation programmes in nine countries (seven of which are in Africa); together they accounted for 47% of bilateral spending in 2005-07. All but one of the top 20 recipients of Irish aid are least developed countries (LDCs). The percentage of gross bilateral spending to the poorest countries has been both high and remarkably constant over the years, reaching 89% in 2007 compared to an average of 56% for the DAC as a whole. As recommended in the 2003 Peer Review, Irish Aid now funds a regional programme in southern and eastern Africa. Ireland reports that it spent EUR 156 million on HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases in 2007. The last peer review recommended an evaluation of the impact of HIV/AIDS activities. An evaluation is currently underway. Its recommendations are even more critical now to ensure the coherence and impact of the programme as well as to guide future allocation decisions.


In addition to HIV/AIDS, Ireland’s spending in programme countries concentrates on governance, humanitarian action, health and education, in line with its overall policy. Ireland’s aid allocations to governance and humanitarian assistance have followed an upward trend in recent years. By contrast, the share of spending on education and health has decreased although funding for these sectors remains significantly higher than DAC averages. While modest, spending on priorities such as the environment and gender shows a slow upward trend. The DAC encourages Irish Aid to adequately resource its initiatives on gender and environment to match its commitments, to document good practice in mainstreaming and to report on outcomes.
Other priorities of the White Paper emphasize productivity and efficiency in African agriculture and private sector support. To date, spending in these areas is only a small proportion of Ireland’s aid budget. Activities in the private sector, in particular, are somewhat fragmented. The DAC believes that taking a more strategic approach to the private sector in priority countries would strengthen the pro-poor growth dimension of Ireland’s aid programme. The visibility given to the Hunger Task Force report, and the fact that the task force is part of Irish Aid’s new structure, are positive indications of Ireland’s intention to increase its focus on hunger in the future.
A strategic approach to non-governmental organisations
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – and in particular Irish NGOs – play a prominent role in Ireland’s development, emergency and recovery work. Funding to NGOs represented 25% of total net ODA in 2007. Of its civil society budget Irish Aid uses 84% to support 29 organisations, and over 50% of the budget is allocated to five major partners. Irish NGOs actively contributed to the 2006 White Paper and generally consider the dialogue on policy development with Irish Aid to be of good quality. Many Irish NGOs are concerned that Irish Aid’s relocation to Limerick will affect the level and pace of that dialogue. Funding to Irish NGOs flows directly from Irish Aid headquarters. Where this is programmed in partner countries, Ireland should encourage NGOs to consult with the Embassy and to align their interventions with national development strategies.


As recommended in the 2003 peer review, Irish Aid has adopted a more structured approach towards NGOs by introducing new funding mechanisms and strengthening the grant appraisal and approval system. A new Civil Society Policy provides the framework for government-civil society interactions. The funding scheme for the large Irish NGOs has improved their financial stability and reduced the administrative burden However, some concerns have been raised by smaller NGOs seeking access to the multi-annual programming scheme. More generally, there remains significant room for further engagement by Irish NGOs with Southern partners and the discussions with Irish Aid around funding modalities could provide a vehicle for setting broad strategic goals in this area.

  • The DAC commends Ireland for its impressive growth in ODA from 2003 to 2008. The DAC, further, strongly urges Ireland to continue to make progress towards meeting the ODA/GNI target of 0.7% in 2012. Reaching its interim target of 0.6% in 2010 is essential even in an environment of declining GNI. This would send a strong, positive signal to the development community.
  • Ireland should clarify how it prioritises aid channels, modalities and sectors in its priority countries and fulfill its intention to rebalance its programme by increasing the proportion of ODA delivered through these countries.
  • To fulfil the White Paper’s support for pro-poor economic growth, Ireland should invest strategically in initiatives linked to agriculture, rural development and the private sector, and avoid programme fragmentation.


Organisation and management


The relocation to Limerick


In 2008 Irish Aid headquarters was moved to Limerick from the capital, Dublin, as part of a government-wide decentralisation which involved the relocation of some 10,300 public sector posts. The relocation took place while a major review of the organisation and structure of the aid programme was underway. This management review was one of the recommendations of the White Paper on Irish Aid. It has been completed and is currently under consideration by the Government. In the meantime, work has begun to ensure that development co-operation is more fully integrated within overall foreign policy.
The management of the Department of Foreign Affairs, including the Development Cooperation Division (Irish Aid), has worked hard to meet the challenges linked to the relocation. Overall, the full integration of the development programme into the mainstream of DFA is positive. The system is likely to be more coherent, flexible and efficient in responding to development challenges and demands arising from the field. The development voice within government is expected to be strengthened, and Irish Aid’s management should be more fully involved in the overall decision-making structure. However, it will take time before the full impact on the aid programme can be assessed. The DAC encourages Irish Aid to monitor carefully the impact of its move.


Major challenges remaining


Strengthening human resource capacities


The need to develop flexible approaches to staff deployment and rotation across the department, combined with the need to reinforce staffing levels and skills, are major human resources challenges. Irish Aid has acted promptly to replace skills lost due to the move, such as by recruiting and training new staff and deploying additional development specialists across core divisions. Other appointments are on the way and a staff development and training strategy is being drafted. Irish Aid’s management must pursue its efforts to achieve the level of expertise needed to deliver the aid programme, to ensure that a career in development is valued by diplomatic staff and to maintain cutting-edge knowledge of critical issues.


Focusing on results and knowledge management


The government is keen to develop an aid culture which emphasizes results, and Irish Aid has begun to track results in its programme. The process of placing results at the centre of planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation begins with Irish Aid’s Operational Plan 2008-2012. In addition, a results-based approach to country strategies has been developed to capture Irish Aid’s development effort. The complexity of the processes involved will require adequate capacities for monitoring performance at headquarters and in the field. Support from senior managers as well as staff training and incentives will be required to ensure the sustainability and usefulness of Irish Aid’s strategic planning and performance management approach.


Irish Aid recognises that a more systematic approach to learning and knowledge management is needed. It has established a knowledge management working group in March 2008 drawing on staff across the core sections. The group has built an intranet and is strengthening statistical and data management as well as staff training. Irish Aid has also invested in videoconferencing to better support the programme. These initiatives are welcome but need to be linked, including to the results framework and the evaluation function, in order to strengthen knowledge management.


Irish Aid relies on outside sources for specific analytical inputs and research relevant to its policy agenda. Sector specialists provide expert analysis of programme proposals and monitor the effectiveness of programme implementation, in association with locally-recruited specialists in partner countries.  When in-house expertise is not sufficient or where an independent assessment is required, Irish Aid draws additional support from external sources. However, internal analytical capacity should still be developed within Irish Aid to deal with policy coherence and other issues emerging from the White Paper.

  • Irish Aid should finalise the training strategy for staff development as a priority and review staffing levels and skills regularly to ensure that they provide the expertise needed to deliver the aid programme. It is encouraged to dedicate appropriate resources to engage actively with its key multilateral partners.
  • Irish Aid should institutionalise its approach to knowledge management building on the results framework for country strategies as well as on evaluations, and ensure that the analytical, evaluation and policy development functions are well integrated.


Practices for better impact

Implementing aid effectively


The DAC congratulates Ireland on its high level of political commitment to the aid effectiveness agenda and for embedding aid effectiveness in Irish Aid’s system. Ireland has fully untied its aid and does not use project implementation units. At international and field level it is appreciated for advancing key messages on aid effectiveness, in particular on cross-cutting issues and mutual accountability. Evidence from the field suggests that Irish Aid staff has a detailed understanding of the principles underpinning the aid effectiveness agenda and the challenges these pose. The Action Plan for Irish Aid’s response to the Paris Declaration is being updated to reflect commitments under the Accra Agenda for Action.


Irish Aid can be commended for its excellent track record in applying the Paris Declaration and for the results of the OECD’s 2008 Survey on Monitoring the Paris Declaration. Discussions with the Ugandan Government confirmed that Ireland’s activities aligned with Uganda’s own priorities. The Irish programme relies extensively on national systems and locally-available expertise, and Irish Aid is very flexible in accommodating needs as they arise from the field. Ireland is encouraged to extend the country strategy cycle from three to five years to synchronise its timing with partner countries’ planning cycles. This would make aid more predictable and better aligned. Ireland is engaged with partner governments and other donors to improve monitoring frameworks for budget and sector support. It should continue to balance partner countries’ ownership with ensuring the highest level of standards to manage fiduciary risks.
In programme countries, Ireland works closely with other donors, particularly the EU members and the Nordic Plus group, taking part in Joint Assistance Strategies, division of labour exercises and other joint approaches. It stands ready to challenge its perceived comparative advantages based on the local context, the needs expressed by national government and the existence of other donors working in the same sectors. Ireland has withdrawn from some sectors responsibly by adjusting its internal organisation and staffing requirements, sharing expertise with donors remaining in the sector and providing indirect support. The recruitment of national auditors within each Irish Embassy in programme countries has reinforced oversight, and the status and authority given to local staff are very beneficial to the quality of the programme.


Broadening the scope of aid effectiveness


Ireland strives to maintain a balance between the different aid channels and modalities and is committed to making its aid predictable for programme countries. Each embassy is responsible for programming direct bilateral aid, whereas humanitarian aid, aid to NGOs and multi-bilateral aid (about 25% of bilateral aid) are planned and programmed from headquarters. As a result, Irish Embassies may not always have a complete picture of the funding that supports the countries in which they are represented. In addition, the results-based approach to country strategies is internal to Irish Aid and does not guide all of Ireland’s interventions through all its channels and instruments. A full ODA picture is needed for Irish Aid to enhance synergies across the different aid channels as well as to facilitate partner governments’ efforts to track aid and build a consolidated accountability mechanism. The Irish Embassy in Uganda is beginning to address this together with the Ugandan Government and could usefully share good practice with field missions located in other programme countries.

Learning from experience on priority issues


Assessing the impact of capacity development interventions


The Memorandum of Ireland emphasises the importance of capacity development and the White Paper commits Irish Aid to “help build government systems…[and] capacities to plan, deliver, manage and monitor services”. Irish Aid’s sectoral and thematic policies reflect these orientations. The Operational Plan 2008-2012 targets systems for building capacity and the delivery of services in health, education, water and sanitation. The 2008 Civil Society Policy commits Irish Aid to support capacity building and organisational development for civil society organisations. Capacity development is not, however, among the seven priority areas of the White Paper. As for most other donors, Ireland does not have an overarching policy or guidelines indicating how it should design and implement capacity development or integrate it into development programmes.
In partner countries, capacity development is dealt with primarily through using national systems, sector-wide approaches and pooled funding for delivering Irish development assistance. Evidence from Uganda suggests that Ireland performs well in this respect. Irish Aid encourages partners’ self-reliance and uses national capacities as a first option. However, Irish Aid needs to continue to assess and measure the impact of its capacity building interventions. The results-based approach to country strategies will help to clarify capacity development objectives and outcomes in the design phase of these strategies.
Documenting results in governance


Governance is one of the priority areas for Irish Aid as well as a cross-cutting theme. Currently, Irish Aid has a draft strategy on good governance. In the case of Uganda, Irish Aid’s support to governance addresses both the supply and demand side of good governance and combines targeted as well as mainstreamed activities. Irish Aid works with the partner government, other donors and Irish and local NGOs to provide support through sector-wide approaches, basket and pooled funds and government or donor-led programmes. It consistently aims to use and strengthen the partner country’s capacities for financial accountability and transparency.

Irish Aid is building its competence to identify entry points and advance good governance in all of its programmes. However, successes in mainstreaming governance are difficult to observe in practice. The scale and diversity of Irish Aid’s intervention calls for a need to reflect on priorities and outcomes, and mainstreamed activities need to be better documented and communicated. The next round of country strategy papers offers an opportunity for field missions to address this challenge.

  • Ireland is a leading player in implementing the aid effectiveness principles. Irish Aid is encouraged to engage peers, civil society and partner country governments to implement the Accra Agenda for Action and to continue working collectively at country level to strengthen partner countries’ monitoring and results frameworks.
  • Ireland should make every effort to enhance synergies across the different aid channels and provide a full ODA picture to allow partner governments to track aid, build consolidated accountability mechanisms and plan future investments for development.
  • Irish Aid should consider developing guidance to support capacity development of partner governments and civil society. It should also co-ordinate and build synergies across the different capacity building initiatives which it finances. It is encouraged to further enhance efforts to assess and measure the impact of its interventions in this area.
  • In finalising its draft strategy on Building Good Governance Irish Aid is encouraged to ensure that it promotes a coherent overall approach, taking into account available principles and instruments addressing the promotion of good governance in specific contexts, including in fragile states. The next round of country strategy papers offers an opportunity to identify priorities and outcomes and to better document and report on mainstreamed activities.


Humanitarian action

The goals, objectives and strategic directions of Irish humanitarian action are derived from the White Paper and are therefore anchored within the broader poverty reduction agenda for Irish development co-operation. They promote a “poverty and vulnerability” approach that aims to address the causes – as well as symptoms – of crises. Close liaison between Irish Aid and the Conflict Resolution Unit of DFA on conflict transformation reinforces Ireland’s holistic approach in crisis-affected societies. Notwithstanding these broader linkages, however, Ireland has been careful to ensure that core humanitarian principles are protected and that Irish humanitarian support is in accordance with the Principles and Good Practice of Good Humanitarian Donorship. These fundamental humanitarian commitments could be enshrined in the White Paper on Defence scheduled for release in 2011.


Ireland is developing two policies: (i) on humanitarian relief and response; and (ii) on the linkages between humanitarian and development assistance, including disaster risk reduction. Associated guidelines will provide more detail on humanitarian action to implementing partners. While recognising the need to develop these policies and guidelines at a pace that ensures they are fully institutionalised within the agency, the protracted period for their release (up to 18 months) has created some concern about fragmentation of the humanitarian agenda. Ireland is therefore encouraged to minimise the time lag between launching policies and issuing guidelines. Furthermore such policies would benefit from clearly defined action plans, containing specific targets, against which progress can be systematically monitored and demonstrated.


Flagship initiatives arising from the White Paper, such as the Rapid Response Initiative (RRI) and the Hunger Task Force, have given Ireland considerable credibility within the international humanitarian community. The RRI adds an operational response capacity to Irish Aid’s funding support for international humanitarian action while the Hunger Task Force’s report has given Ireland a prominent role in international dialogues on global food insecurity.


The Sierra Leone and Liberia Fund supports post-crisis programmes with a distinct developmental character. Ireland should reflect on how to sustain its level of humanitarian allocations as post-crisis programmes in these countries are transferred to mainstream development assistance budget lines or phased out as the situation stabilises.



  • Ireland should ensure that its commitments under the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative are adequately reflected in the policy frameworks and operational guidelines of other government departments and joint training is promoted.
  • Ireland is urged to ensure the timely release of its policies on the linkages between humanitarian and development assistance as well as its associated guidelines in order to present a comprehensive package to the Irish humanitarian community. Ireland should identify specific targets and action plans for both humanitarian policy documents in order to provide suitable transparency.
  • Ireland should build on its expanding financial commitments in the humanitarian sector and the positive impressions created by the Rapid Response Initiative and the Hunger Task Force to play a more prominent role in international humanitarian fora and governance structures of key multilateral agencies.