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“Can we throw our shoes?”

I spent the morning crammed into the Camden Court Hotel with about 100 other people from the Irish charity sector.

We were waiting to see Pete Power, the Irish Minister for Overseas Aid, and we were angry.

 Marc O Why so angry? He was representing the government which cut €222 million from the aid budget in less than a year.

 

A death sentence

The general position of the people there could be summarised as follows: granted, the country is facing extremely difficult times. But the aid budget cuts have been disproportionate, and are effectively a death sentence for many of the people who receive assistance from Irish NGOs. Last week’s news that the UK had left their aid budget untouched only added to the sense of outrage. When we were told the minister was about to arrive, we were also jokingly warned that we couldn’t throw any rotten tomatoes. Then someone shouted “Can we throw our shoes?”

Ireland’s NGOs had turned out in force. It was – by far – the biggest attendance ever at a Dóchas annual general meeting.

Pleasantries

Things started with a string of platitudes. Pete Power was thanked for his attendance. He thanked us for our efforts throughout the year. I began to fear that the large turnout would be interpreted as a sign of support, not disapproval.

Too polite

Thankfully, things got back on track in the question and answer session. Justin Killcullen from Trócaire outlined the problem: “We’re too polite, and you’re too nice!” He demanded that our frustrations be communicated to the government. Concern’s Paul Obura also spoke of the situation on the ground in South Sudan.

Now what?

So, now what? Last April, before the last budget, we launched a campaign urging the government not to make another cut. A letter was sent to the Irish Times, addressed to the Taoiseach. Many people responded to us here on the site

Which was all fine but, essentially, a complete failure: the budget was cut again by another €100 million. Which begs the question: how do we campaign in a way that actually gets results?

The next budget is in October. Beyond that, the government has committed to giving 0.7% of the GNP by 2012. This time, we have to find a more effective way of holding them to their promises.