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The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) conducts periodic reviews of the individual development co-operation efforts of DAC members. The policies and programmes of each member are critically examined approximately once every five to six years, with five members reviewed annually.

The objectives of DAC peer reviews are to improve the quality and effectiveness of development co-operation policies and systems, and to promote good development partnerships for greater impact on poverty reduction and sustainable development in developing countries. DAC peer reviews assess the performance of a given member and examine both policy and implementation. They take an integrated, system-wide perspective on the development co-operation and humanitarian assistance activities of the member under review.

The OECD Development Co-operation Directorate provides analytical support to each review and is responsible for developing and maintaining, in close consultation with the Committee, the methodology and analytical framework – known as the Reference Guide – within which the peer reviews are undertaken.

Following the submission of a memorandum by the reviewed member, setting out key policy and programme developments, the Secretariat and two DAC members designated as peer reviewers visit the member’s capital to interview officials, parliamentarians, as well as civil society and non-governmental organisations’ representatives. This is followed by a field visit, where the team meet with senior officials and representatives of the partner country or territory’s administration, parliamentarians, civil society and other development partners. The main findings of these consultations and a set of recommendations are then discussed during a formal meeting of the DAC prior to finalisation of the report.

The Peer Review of Ireland involved an extensive process of consultation with actors and stakeholders in Dublin and Limerick, Ireland and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in September and October 2019. The resulting report, which contains both the main findings and recommendations of the DAC and the analytical report of the Secretariat, was approved on 2 April 2020.

The peer review took into account the political and economic context in Ireland, to the extent that it shapes Ireland’s development co-operation policies and systems. However, the drafting of the peer review including its main findings and recommendations preceded the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar of the Fine Gael party took office in 2017. The minority government of Fine Gael and independent members had been underpinned by a “confidence and supply” arrangement with the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil. General elections took place in February 2020 and a new government is in the process of being formed.

Ireland is emerging from what is dubbed “a lost decade”. The global financial crisis that started in 2008 threatened the stability of private banks as well as public finance in Ireland and increased unemployment. Ireland required a bailout and support from the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. Painful reform measures spurred Ireland’s recovery, with renewed high growth since 2013. In 2015, Ireland’s gross national income (GNI) per capita surpassed its 2007 levels. Ireland has already repaid large parts of the bailout. Unemployment dropped from 11.9% in 2014 to 5.8% in 2018 and is projected to further decrease.

Internal challenges persist. Ireland’s population is growing at a rate of 1.1% in 2017, far above other European Union (EU) countries. This is putting pressure on the job market, housing and infrastructure, against a backdrop of reduced investment during the economic crisis, and is increasing demands on the health sector. The planned transformation towards decarbonising the economy is making only slow progress, and Ireland is projected to miss its 2020 climate change emission targets.

Brexit and other external factors create uncertainty. The United Kingdom is one of Ireland’s most important trading partners and the establishment of an EU external border between them is expected to slow growth. Ireland anticipates it may need to introduce a budget deficit, although debt is still high (the Central Statistics Office calculates debt at 104% using its modified gross national income measure). The 1998 Good Friday peace agreement put an end to decades of violence, aided by the softening of the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but there is fear that Brexit could reignite tension in Northern Ireland. Ireland could also be affected by global agreements on corporate taxation, while pressure on the multilateral trade system increase risks for Ireland’s open economy.

To sustain economic growth, Ireland is set to rely on and diversify its open economy. In the foreword to the foreign policy document, Global Ireland, Taoiseach Varadkar said, “We are at a moment in world history where we can turn inwards and become irrelevant, or we can open ourselves to opportunities and possibilities on a global scale that we have never had before”. Ireland aims to substantially diversify its trade relations and partnerships with countries around the world, with the ambition to double its global footprint by 2025. Opening new diplomatic missions, active outreach across the globe and Ireland’s campaign for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council are part of these efforts.

The set-up of Ireland’s development co-operation system has been stable. Ireland has steadily pushed forward integration of development co-operation in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The Development Co-operation and Africa Division within the department steers and co-ordinates policies of Irish development co-operation and manages the bulk of Irish official development assistance (ODA).

The effects of the financial crisis affected DFAT still in the period under review. The public sector was heavily impacted by the crisis, which led to reductions in overall spending and staffing, and pay cuts. The previous peer review in 2014 acknowledged these challenges and found that Ireland had managed to continue its co- operation and implement budget cuts with as few negative effects for partners as possible. Since the last peer review, Ireland has steadily increased ODA volumes but not yet reached pre-crisis levels. And only towards the end of the period under review could DFAT start remedying staffing cuts and rebuilding its capacity.

Ireland now anticipates expanding its activities. In February 2019, Ireland launched its new international development policy, A Better World, after an extensive consultation process. In the spirit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Ireland affirms its strong commitment to reaching the poorest and most vulnerable by making the furthest behind first the guiding principle of its development co-operation.

A 2018 review by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence of both parliamentary chambers expressed strong support for Irish development co-operation. The committee made numerous recommendations, including to attain the level of 0.7% of GNI as ODA, take action on policy coherence for sustainable development, and maintain a focus on least developed and fragile countries and on the poorest and most vulnerable segments of populations.

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