copy the linklink copied!7. Ireland’s approach to fragility, crises and humanitarian assistance


This chapter first reviews Ireland’s efforts to engage in fragile, conflict and crisis contexts. It assesses Ireland’s political directives and strategies for working in these contexts; the extent to which programmes are designed coherently to address key drivers of fragility, conflict and disaster risk; and the needs of women and the most vulnerable; and whether systems, processes and people work together effectively in responding to crises.

The second part of the chapter considers Ireland’s efforts to fulfil the principles and good practices of humanitarian donorship. It looks at the political directives and strategies for humanitarian assistance; the effectiveness of Ireland’s humanitarian programming and whether it targets the highest risk to life and livelihoods; and whether approaches and partnerships ensure high-quality assistance.

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In brief

Ireland is a key actor on the global policy stage, backing up its global commitments with special efforts on important issues such as United Nations (UN) reform and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. A Better World has a strong focus on fragility and reducing humanitarian need in line with the push by Ireland to reach the furthest behind first. Allocations follow intentions: In 2017, 57.5% of the country’s official development assistance was allocated to fragile contexts.

Ireland has a unique approach to crises and fragility that builds on learning, including from its troubled past, and focuses on key issues such as refugees and migration and gender. A good range of tools –diplomatic, development and humanitarian – ensure that Ireland can design an appropriate response to individual fragile contexts. Efforts to clarify Ireland’s risk appetite in fragile contexts and to scale up conflict prevention programming would be useful.

Ireland is widely seen as an excellent partner, providing quality financing and supporting its investments with a presence on key partner bodies such as boards and donor support groups where Ireland uses its influence to improve effectiveness and coherence. There are good efforts to align internal funding streams to support the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. Ireland could now continue to improve its coherence with other humanitarian, development and peace actors on the ground.

A Better World provides a clear mandate for Irish humanitarian assistance, and is working to translate this into strategic and operational guidance for the humanitarian programme.

Ireland allocates its funding to partners and then focuses on supporting those partners to increase their effectiveness and programmes, with a focus on the furthest behind. Progress has been made on monitoring and communications following the 2014 peer review recommendation. Ireland’s intentions to further strengthen links between partner performance and future funding allocations should be encouraged.

Ireland has a good range of rapid response and protracted crisis tools, and is a very progressive donor in terms of predictable and flexible financing. It would be useful to document Ireland’s experience and good practice in this area – including what this quality funding has allowed partners to improve – to make the case for this kind of financing to other DAC members.

The model for Ireland’s humanitarian programme is built on its influencing power, and for this, Ireland must have staff with the right knowledge and skills in key positions. However, almost without exception, partners report that Ireland seems stretched in its global engagements. Ireland will need to take care that it invests in the needed staffing capacities to retain credibility and influencing power.

copy the linklink copied!7.A Crises and fragility

Strategic framework

Ireland uses its good offices to advance global efforts on crises and fragility

Ireland takes its role as a global standard-bearer for better policy on crises and fragility very seriously. The Irish approach involves leading global efforts on key policy issues, as well as encouraging the multilateral system to do better in terms of delivery. In both aspects, Ireland certainly has more influence than its financial weight would suggest. Notable actions include Ireland’s promotion of the Women, Peace and Security agenda both internationally and domestically (Chapter 1) (Government of Ireland, 2019[1]); its launch of the OECD flagship publication, States of Fragility, in 2018; its proactive diplomacy to support the good offices role of UN Resident Coordinators during the UN reform process; its active membership of the Peacebuilding Commission; and its leadership role on donor support groups and boards, including as the:

  • 2018 chair of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs donor support group

  • 2015-2016 chair of the Pooled Fund Working Group, where Ireland facilitated the development of the common performance framework

  • 2019 chair of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) donor support group.

Ireland’s development co-operation policy focuses strongly on fragility and reducing humanitarian need

A Better World focuses on the furthest behind first and the importance of reducing humanitarian need by addressing its key drivers, conflict and fragility (Government of Ireland, 2019[2]). The policy calls for greater investment in conflict prevention, tackling root causes, peacekeeping, and the gender aspects of peace and security. A Better World thus constitutes a useful framework for Ireland’s overall programming and advocacy efforts across the government.

Ireland’s allocations largely follow its policy commitments to address crises and fragility

In 2018, 55.5% of Irish official development assistance (ODA) was allocated to fragile contexts,1 well above the average of 38% for all DAC donors. However, the share has been declining each year since 2013, when allocations to fragile contexts made up from 67.9% of Ireland’s total ODA. Ireland will need to take care to ensure that its allocations match its policy ambitions. In terms of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, 28% of Ireland’s ODA to fragile contexts goes to humanitarian assistance and 11% to peace, which is roughly consistent with the average share to these areas allocated by other DAC members (OECD, n.d.[3]).

Effective programme design and instruments

Ireland’s history provides the backdrop for its unique approach to crises and fragility

Although there is no formal cross-government mechanism guiding Ireland’s engagement in fragile contexts, there is general coherence across Irish efforts. This is largely driven by Ireland’s history. For instance, Ireland drew on its experience with the Good Friday Agreement to push for the participation of women in peace processes. However, a more deliberate co-ordination around Ireland’s approach to fragility would be beneficial, for example by ensuring the close alignment of Department of Defence contributions to peacekeeping; Department of Finance work on World Bank International Development Association replenishments; Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine support to the Rome-based agencies; and the development co-operation programme of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Efforts to build a more systematic common Irish approach, as reflected in A Better World, are to be encouraged and are especially important as the development co-operation programme grows.

There is potential for more conflict prevention programming

Ireland’s tools for programme design are well adapted to developing a risk-informed strategy for individual fragile contexts. In particular, the poverty and vulnerability approach to programming allows Ireland to identify drivers of fragility and ensure that power dynamics are considered, i.e. working politically to complement development inputs. Regularly sharing learning and experience (both good and bad) from Ireland’s peace process with key actors in fragile and crisis contexts – the peer review team heard many examples of this occurring – is one clear demonstration of Ireland’s approach to thinking and working politically. As is the case for other donors, more could be done to develop a systematic approach to conflict prevention, across both development co-operation and diplomatic tools. Ireland has a useful toolbox for fragility and crises.

Ireland’s fragility toolbox includes a useful mix of ODA and non-ODA diplomatic, development, peace and humanitarian tools. On the diplomatic side, sharing experiences from the Northern Ireland peace process – often under the radar for political sensitivity reasons – has proven useful in a variety of conflict situations. Development tools allow for un-earmarked funding to key partners and funds, including the Peacebuilding Fund, alongside targeted capacity-building interventions. On peace, Ireland is the largest per-capita contributor to peacekeeping missions, and a Stability Fund finances peace programming to a range of partners, now on a multi-annual basis. Humanitarian financing is to a large extent provided on a multi-annual basis, with some financing tools now potentially moving to five-year multi-annual cycles to align with development programming and thus facilitate the nexus; this is a progressive approach that other donors could learn from. Risk appetite is one area where Ireland could firm up its approach and it is critical, given planned budget increases (Chapter 4). Working in fragile contexts is inherently risky, results are less sure, and the cost of delivering in risky environments may run counter to traditional views of value for money. DFAT has not yet elaborated its risk appetite nor communicated on this to the Irish public. Doing so would provide useful clarity to partners and is thus to be encouraged.

Ireland took a lead role in the New York Declaration

Ireland played a key role in shepherding the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and related compacts, which represented a useful contribution to global public goods. Ireland also contributes to European Union (EU) trust funds in this area to demonstrate solidarity with its EU partners. But migration, and particularly the EU’s approach to migration, is an area where Ireland’s values and interests do not always correspond with their EU partners. Ireland’s efforts to promote a principled approach to refugees and migrants in multilateral settings – including the DAC – are thus much appreciated.

Gender issues are a key focus

A Better World makes a significant commitment to gender equality, and this plays out in Ireland’s fragility and crisis programming. Ireland leads on the gender aspects of peacekeeping reform. It also has a strong global voice, policy and programming focus on Women, Peace and Security and is working on this through its humanitarian programming; for example, it is using its leadership role on ICRC donor support group to focus on sexual and gender based violence. Ireland’s role on gender equality issues in these contexts is much appreciated by partners.

Effective delivery and partnerships

Predictable, flexible financing underpins a strategic approach to partnership

Ireland’s approach to partnership in the fragility and crisis space is to provide long-term, flexible funds – up to three years for humanitarian partners and five years for peacebuilding – to allow partners the freedom and predictability to tailor responses to evolving crisis contexts. This is good practice. Interestingly, Ireland then adds value to these partner funds through its own diplomatic efforts. These efforts take the form of sharing its experiences from its own peace processes, as noted, and using its presence and influence on organisation boards and donor support groups to nudge partners to do better. On the ground, Ireland backs its investments with engagement, for example through the new embassy in Jordan to cover the regional aspects of the Syria crisis. It also seeks coherence on the global stage, for example by seeking to connect the Peacebuilding Fund and the work of the Peacebuilding Commission, which Ireland joined in 2019. This overall approach is highly strategic, allowing Ireland, as a moderate-size donor, to gain maximum benefit from its fragility investments.

Efforts to deliver the DAC recommendation on the nexus are promising

Alongside the other DAC members, Ireland adhered to the DAC Recommendation on Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus in February 2019. In line with this recommendation, Ireland is already making good efforts to promote coherence across funding streams involved in fragile contexts, including through:

  • concurrent application and appraisal processes for non-governmental organisation (NGO) funding across development and humanitarian funding streams

  • including the humanitarian programme and budget in country strategies

  • raising the nexus in discussions with major partners

  • accepting joint humanitarian and development reports from partners

  • reflections on extending multi-annual funding to humanitarian partners to five years, to match the development cycle.

There are opportunities for Ireland to go further as it looks to deliver on commitments under the DAC recommendation. These opportunities include greater links with the Defence Forces where they are present, for example as part of peacekeeping missions. But such opportunities centre around enhancing Ireland’s coherence with other actors on the ground – bilateral, multilateral and civil society – in recognition that the nexus is about coherence of the international community’s efforts as a whole, not just Ireland’s efforts. Ireland is encouraged to continue its efforts in this regard and to share its learning with the wider DAC community.

copy the linklink copied!7.B Humanitarian assistance

Humanitarian assistance strategic framework

Humanitarian efforts are recognised in A Better World

Humanitarian programming is given priority in A Better World as part of Ireland’s ambition to reduce humanitarian need. Given the principles behind the DAC Recommendation on Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, it is good practice for humanitarian and development programming in fragile and crisis-affected contexts to be guided by one overarching policy statement. Ireland is now working to develop strategic and operational guidance to translate A Better World into its humanitarian programme. In conjunction with this, it will be interesting to watch efforts to determine what the global aspiration of reaching the furthest behind first means for the humanitarian programme and its related implications for the cost of response and the risks that need to be taken to respond to this often hard-to-reach group (Chapter 2).

Effective humanitarian programming

In line with its overall approach, Ireland allocates funds by partner (the who) rather than by where and what, and then seeks to improve effectiveness

Ireland sees itself as a true partner to the humanitarian community and accordingly a significant proportion of its funding allocations are by partner. Overall, approximately 30% of its allocations go to the Central Emergency Response Fund and country-based pooled funds, 30% to UN agencies, 20% to the EU, 12% to NGOs, and 8% to the ICRC, with the majority of this funding (53% in 2019) not earmarked to particular crises or sectors (Government of Ireland, 2019[4]). This is in line with the importance Ireland places on a rules-based global system. Ireland then works to ensure that partner programming is effective and needs-based, for example through its work to improve the quality of Humanitarian Response Plans and to develop the common performance framework for pooled funds. A smaller proportion of the envelope, approximately 30%, allows Ireland to target geographically, based on the severity of need, using tools such as the INFORM risk index, and selecting partners – mainly country based pooled funds, UN and NGOs – based on their track records in those contexts. This is good practice. Ireland does not make direct allocations to local partners, preferring instead to encourage its partners, especially NGOs and pooled funds, to pass funds through to local actors.

Monitoring and reporting have improved

The 2014 peer review recommended that Ireland move towards more systematic publication of its own reviews and results, and there has been progress in this direction, including a new section in the annual report. The new grant management system may help bring about further transparency in the future. A thematic evaluation of the humanitarian programme in relation to the humanitarian business plan is under consideration. This is to be encouraged. Partner reporting has been simplified. For the most part, Ireland accepts partner standard reports, supplementing them with field visits for real-time monitoring. Work has already begun to link partner performance to future allocations and this, too, is to be encouraged. It might also be useful to review the reporting and administrative burden due to reporting requirements from NGO partners, against those Ireland requires of the UN system. A move instead to a more risk-based approach might be considered.

Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments of humanitarian assistance

Ireland has a solid rapid response toolbox

As noted in the previous peer review, Ireland has a range of tools for rapid response. The most useful is prepositioned funding with a core group of Irish NGOs, under its Emergency Response Funding Scheme. Funding to NGOs is sometimes supplemented by calls for proposals, with a rapid turnaround, for specific issues, as was recently done for Ebola in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ireland also supports the in-kind stocks of the Humanitarian Response Depots, although staff informed the peer review team that this would be reviewed in light of the global push towards greater cash programming and for local purchases of response items.

Ireland is doing better than most DAC members on multi-annual funding

Ireland’s funding arrangements are considered of high quality. In 2017, 42% of Ireland’s humanitarian funding was multi-year funding up to three years for NGOs under the Humanitarian Programme Plan –and 53% was un-earmarked or only softly earmarked. This quality funding allows partners to plan ahead, include resilience approaches, save money and retain key staff. Ireland could usefully collect some of these success stories and share them with other, more reluctant, donors. Even funding through other government departments is highly predictable and flexible, as is the case in relationship of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the World Food Programme. Partners across the board are highly appreciative of Ireland’s engagement and the quality of funding arrangements.

Organisation fit for purpose

Ireland must make sure it has the right staff in place and that they are not overstretched

Ireland’s humanitarian programme model is laudably based on the ability to have strategic influence at the highest levels of the global humanitarian system. This approach is to be commended and is effective. However, the approach is dependent on Ireland having sufficient staff with deep humanitarian knowledge and influencing skills in key positions. Almost without exception, partners interviewed for this review noted that despite excellent quality staff across the board, Ireland is often stretched with its leadership role on many boards and donor support groups and in global processes such as the Grand Bargain falling on a small number of key staff spread across Ireland, Ankara, Nairobi, New York and Geneva. In addition, staff are cycled in and out of posts regularly, increasing the strain on those remaining while new staff get up to speed. This overstretching – whether real or perceived – risks harming Ireland’s credibility in the policy space, which will in turn impact its influencing potential. Ireland will need to reflect on ensuring that humanitarian staff have the right expertise to develop the appropriate trust and gravitas that will ensure it retains influencing power and thus delivers to the full potential of the Irish humanitarian model.


Improvements in communications

Ireland has committed to improving its external communications, including through the Government of Ireland’s annual report on development co-operation, parliamentary questions and social media. The government engages with the media when there are high-level visits, particularly from the UN, to Ireland. Going forward, Ireland could look at updating its website with a view to also sharing information about its own progress – for example on Grand Bargain commitments – rather than in more publicity-focused media work.


[2] Government of Ireland (2019), A Better World: Ireland’s Policy for International Development,

[4] Government of Ireland (2019), DAC Peer Review 2020: Memorandum of Ireland.

[1] Government of Ireland (2019), Women, Peace and Security: Ireland’s Third National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 and Related Resolutions, 2019-2024,

[3] OECD (n.d.), States of Fragility Platform,


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