copy the linklink copied!5. Ireland’s delivery modalities and partnerships


This chapter looks at the principles that guide Ireland’s partnership approach across its development portfolio and how Ireland uses its financial, diplomatic and technical resources in its global engagement and in partner countries. It assesses whether the approach and principles are consistent with Ireland’s development co-operation policy and international commitments on development effectiveness: ownership of development priorities by developing countries; a focus on results; inclusive development partnerships; and transparency and mutual accountability.

The chapter first considers Ireland’s approach to partnerships for development co-operation with a range of actors, assessing whether they embody the development effectiveness principles. It then explores whether Ireland’s work in partner countries is in keeping with its domestic and international commitments to, and principles of, effective development co-operation.

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In brief

Its long-lasting commitment to engagement in partnerships is the trademark of Ireland’s development co-operation. This partnership approach also provides the backdrop for realising A Better World. Ireland’s partnerships with civil society are particularly strong and are characterised by mutual trust, quality funding based on clear criteria and an open culture for substantive, regular dialogue.

Known for its strong commitment to multilateralism, Ireland is also considered a reliable partner to multilateral organisations. Building on good funding practices, Ireland seeks to intensify strategic dialogue with its multilateral partners. For some humanitarian partners, it has already moved away from committing funding on a yearly basis. Ireland is much appreciated for its constructive engagement in boards and strategy development.

The ambition of A Better World to partner with research organisations and the private sector will require more substantial engagement that recognises the need to rebuild and expand its research partnerships and to intensify dialogue that contributes to the articulation of Ireland’s private sector engagement strategy.

Ireland is also actively engaging at the country level. It uses joint approaches, takes a proactive role in donor co-ordination and political dialogue to make its voice heard and is making efforts to improve the quality of its aid information. Ireland continues to champion development effectiveness but has room for improvement in the application of the effectiveness principles across its modalities and partnerships. For instance, Ireland could make progress on ownership, alignment and the use of country systems, and there is scope to strengthen its medium-term predictability for the benefit of its partner countries.

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Ireland’s partnership approach provides the backdrop for realising A Better World

Ireland’s long-standing commitment to engaging in partnerships is the trademark of its development co-operation. A trusted and energetic partner, Ireland is known and appreciated for the long-term and principled support it provides, often making the extra effort to ensure partnerships deliver beyond expectation and in ways that respond effectively in some of the most challenging and fast-changing environments. A Better World is keeping a focus on directing ODA to partnerships, in particular those that directly help people living in difficult contexts. The new policy also places emphasis on innovative partnership opportunities that maximise Ireland’s footprint and the impact of its development interventions in line with the needs of its partner countries. Ireland strives to make all its partnerships effective and, like other development partners, has advocated for recognition of such efforts in the current monitoring through the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC).

Ireland promotes multi-stakeholder dialogue. Specific platforms on agriculture, health, development education and violence against women that bring together government, civil society, academia and the private sector foster regular exchange and co-ordination. Ireland’s leadership role as chair of the Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment is an illustration of the commitment to multi-stakeholder dialogue, in this instance to advance effective civil society participation in development processes. While Ireland funds many partners that participate in these types of dialogue structures and provides ad hoc support for specific activities or initiatives, it does not have instruments that could provide systematic and longer-term funding for joint initiatives that could emerge through these platforms.

Quality funding and dialogue distinguish Ireland’s civil society partnerships

Partnerships with Irish and local civil society organisations (CSOs) are characterised by mutual trust and an open culture of substantive, regular dialogue. Ireland engages closely with its CSOs on all aspects of its co-operation, often through informal dialogue that at times can be resource-intensive. Umbrella organisations not only help Irish CSOs join forces in advocacy, but also drive quality through knowledge exchange and code of conducts. Among these are Dóchas for development non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including faith-based organisations; Comhlámh for volunteering agencies; and the Irish Development Education Association for development education. Irish CSOs welcome the government’s progressive approach to promoting civic space and consider the government a potent ally in global policy debates.

Ireland provides its funding to CSOs based on clear criteria, focusing on where needs are greatest and on engaging with a wide range of partners in predictable and flexible ways and through appropriate channels. These make Ireland an indispensable partner and role model for civil society partnerships (Box 5.1). At the same time, Ireland has strengthened its due diligence and risk management processes related to all its partnerships (Chapter 4). This has raised the overall quality standards. However, some CSOs are concerned about what they perceive as a shift away from Ireland’s partnership model to a contractual relationship for implementation, and an associated high administrative burden, particularly for smaller organisations. Ireland provides quality and predictable funding through annual disbursements, early on in the implementation cycle, and is considered to be flexible in terms of adjusting in-year, also to avoid challenges arising from the obligation for partners to spend resources within the calendar year in which they have been allocated.

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Box 5.1. The quality of funding to civil society organisations

Ireland has consistently ranked among the DAC donors with the highest percentage of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) channelled to and through civil society. With most of its bilateral ODA allocated to CSOs as core contributions (Chapter 3), Ireland places great emphasis on supporting CSOs as independent development actors. Allocations to and through CSOs were also safeguarded during the financial crisis and its aftermath. In 2017-18, CSOs for the first time also received funding under a joint humanitarian and programme grant arrangement.

DFAT selects Irish CSO partners for funding based on a competitive and rigorous screening process. The CSO programme grant assesses CSO proposals based on clearly identified criteria. Ireland requires co-funding from all its civil society partners. Missionary Orders that are members of Misean Cara contribute at least 25% of the total cost of projects in cash or in kind. Diplomatic missions also have the ability to provide direct support to partners that are pre-identified and vetted for their organisational capacity to deliver. Ireland provides predictable funding where appropriate through multi-year agreements. For example, contributions to 13 Irish NGOs in 2017 are committed for up to 5 years, with grants ranging from EUR 500 000 up to EUR 20 million, totalling an estimated EUR 320 million (2017-2021) and partners having great flexibility in the use of their funding. Agreements of up to 3 years are now common for humanitarian assistance (Chapter 7).

Ireland makes good use of joint approaches with other development partners in funding CSOs, including for example pooled funds that reduce partners’ reporting burden and are considered largely more effective than individual programmes. As became evident in the field visit in Ethiopia, there is an impressive diversity of such efforts, in particular through the Civil Society Support Programme and the Ethiopia Social Accountability Programme (Annex C).

Building on good funding practices, Ireland seeks to intensify strategic dialogue with multilaterals

Ireland is considered a reliable partner by multilateral organisations and is known for its strong commitment to multilateralism. This is reflected in the large share of its ODA going to core contributions, for which it is appreciated. Over 50% of Ireland’s earmarked contributions to the United Nations (UN) in 2017 were provided through UN interagency pooled funds. This is the highest share of any UN member country and is politically important in the context of the UN reform (Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation/UN, 2019[1]).

Ireland is increasingly moving towards multi-annual funding for its multilateral partners. Funding to multilaterals is part of long-lasting partnerships with the respective institutions, though many partners do not have a framework (or multi-year) agreement or a memorandum of understanding with Ireland. As Ireland has already moved to multi-annual funding for some multilaterals that are focused on humanitarian assistance, it could consider doing the same for all multilaterals. Ireland is appreciated for making its payments on time, with some partners reporting slight delays, and for its high degree of flexibility in using and reprogramming funds. Ireland is also valued as a donor with appropriate reporting requirements and limited transaction costs. One exception is the management burden that can arise in the context of providing annual grants only, such as the negotiation of no-cost extensions for earmarked funding.

Ireland is much appreciated by its multilateral partners for its constructive engagement in boards and around strategy development, where Ireland promotes its own policy priorities in coherent and focused ways. It is known for making a point of ensuring that poverty orientation and partner countries’ needs are considered in board-level strategic programming decisions. Ireland is considered an active partner in annual strategic dialogues with priority partners that adds useful perspectives. Ireland engages actively and jointly with other donors in the context of UN reform and other reform processes, including de-linking the resident co-ordinator system in UN field offices and supporting the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to strengthen its approach to reporting on results.

Given these high standards, some multilateral partners encourage greater engagement by Ireland. This has already taken shape in the growing Irish presence in Geneva, New York and Washington, DC, including through secondments, although Ireland’s presence is less in Brussels to date. A more active presence could help Ireland respond to the parliamentary request to enhance oversight over its multilateral engagement.

The ambition expressed in A Better World to partner with research organisations and the private sector will require more substantial engagement

Ireland is exploring how to rebuild and expand its research partnerships and activities to deliver cutting edge research on the priorities set out in A Better World. At present, funding is limited and often provided through EU co-financing arrangements or small grants, including through the Irish Research Council. More capacity is required to rebuild research expertise and develop long-term partnerships with a diverse set of higher education institutions, research intermediaries and learning partners to meet a diverse set of research, evidence, knowledge and learning needs. The development research landscape in the United Kingdom is attractive to universities in partner countries, and Ireland must consider how the government and Irish research institutions can strengthen their research activities to engage more systematically as part of this ecosystem or to differentiate their activities in ways that show Ireland’s value added.

Ireland would benefit from stronger whole-of-government co-ordination for its private sector engagement. This could usefully build on existing partnerships between DFAT and other departments, for example with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine around the AADP. DFAT could also foster more regular and open dialogue with Enterprise Ireland and other institutions such as Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board), Teagasc (the Agriculture and Food Development Authority), Sustainable Food Systems Ireland, Geoscience Ireland, and Sustainable Nation Ireland.

Dialogue with private sector partners both at headquarters and in the field can be more structured. Despite good efforts, including through the annual Africa Ireland Economic Forum, dialogue with Irish companies and potential private partners in the field remains reactive rather than proactive.1 Consultations in preparation of Ireland’s private sector strategy are helping to familiarise existing and prospective new partners with Ireland’s development objectives. More regular, structured dialogue around practical challenges and opportunities can help to engage all the companies in Ireland with the necessary product mix, scale and interest and drive home the value added for Irish businesses to become actively engaged. Such dialogue would also be a first step towards a joint agenda for private sector partnerships for sustainable development in Ireland and at partner country level that brings all the different efforts under one umbrella. It would also provide a platform for discussing financing and accountability arrangements in more concerted ways.

Capacity is a prerequisite for serious private sector engagement. Strengthened technical expertise and capacity would allow DFAT to engage with other stakeholders across the government and co-ordinate the process of learning from the experience and expertise of others. Further upgrading and clustering of resources at DFAT headquarters and at mission level could also enable Ireland to seize emerging opportunities and innovative approaches to climate finance and risk insurance in Dublin as well as in hubs such as Nairobi. This could also benefit initiatives led by non-governmental organisations and the private sector to raise private finance such as the Vita Green Impact Fund and the African Agri-Growth Initiative.

Ireland uses joint approaches and takes a proactive role in donor co-ordination and political dialogue to make its voice heard

In many partner countries, Ireland is taking leadership roles in donor co-ordination, fostering critical alliances that lead to greater harmonisation among development partners and greater alignment to the needs of partners. It is widely recognised as a strategic influencer, forging consensus around key policy issues among partner country governments, development partners and other actors. Its relatively small size allows Ireland to act nimbly and to address sensitive issues at higher political levels.

The peer review team witnessed Ireland’s leading role in donor co-ordination first-hand in Ethiopia. While Ireland provides only 1% of the total ODA received in Ethiopia, it plays a lead role in the Development Assistance Group, through its Executive Committee and active engagement in national and sectoral co-ordination efforts. It proactively engages in political dialogue with development partners, civil society and the government of Ethiopia, lobbying for the support it requires in its reform efforts and also addressing sensitive topics, such as the lack of civic space.

Ireland remains an advocate for mutual accountability. Building on a long history in this area, Ireland continues to support partner country governments, civil society and other stakeholders to participate in mutual assessment reviews at country and sectoral levels in meaningful ways. It helps to ensure mutuality around a shared agenda that does not place the onus for reporting on one partner and enables non-state actors to engage.

Ireland also acts as a lead donor for joint programmes, using pooled funds and other joint approaches where appropriate and cost-effective. Its engagement in Ethiopia shows the strategic roles Ireland takes in some of the major joint approaches by development partners, in particular the Productive Safety Nets Programme, which provides food and cash to millions of rural people living in poverty, including in response to economic and natural shocks. Within this challenging context, Ireland chaired the programme’s Donor Working Group and led dialogue with the Ethiopian government.

About 1% of Irish total ODA is channelled through delegated co-operation (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland, 2017[2]), a modality that could be utilised more if ODA is being scaled up in future.

Ireland is making efforts to improve the quality of its aid information

Ireland is committed to providing access to information on the effective use of its ODA. Thanks to rigorous monitoring and oversight practices and relatively little fragmentation across ministries, Ireland is well placed to be a transparent donor. It is using annual reports and debates in the parliament to explain where and how ODA is spent. This could have greater impact if paired with an updated and interactive website that would help to foster greater citizen engagement.

Ireland can build on its achievements in aid transparency to reap benefits fully (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]). Since the last peer review, Ireland made improvements in terms of the timeliness, completeness and accuracy of data for the OECD Creditor Reporting System, with room for improvement still around the quality of data.

Its performance in the International Aid Transparency Index has also improved on coverage, timeliness and comprehensiveness, but has deteriorated on forward-looking information. The Aid Transparency Index of Publish What You Fund (2019[4]) rates Irish Aid as “fair”, placing it in the bottom quintile of performance. The organisation recommends that Ireland publish more financial and project budget data and performance-related information, and it highlights the need to better use the data Ireland publishes to promote co-ordination, effectiveness and feedback loops at partner country level. Once its information technology-based system is rolled out, Ireland could publish data on a quarterly basis and promote the use of these data across the system. This will require clear procedures alongside awareness raising and training for DFAT staff. Ireland has also significantly improved its transparency on climate finance between 2014 and 2016 (AdaptationWatch (Weikmans et al.), 2016[5]), ranking second after Germany.

copy the linklink copied!Country-level engagement

Ireland continues to champion development effectiveness

In line with its foreign policy Ireland considers the effectiveness of its international development co-operation to be instrumental. A Better World acknowledges the importance of development effectiveness but lacks a reaffirmation of Ireland’s commitment to effectiveness, which had been included in One World, One Future. However, the new policy document rightly observes that the principles of aid effectiveness no longer dominate, “changing the dynamics and types of policy influence at country level”.

Ireland demonstrates continued leadership on development effectiveness in action at both headquarters and mission level. It has been an effectiveness advocate in its collective and multilateral engagements and actively engages in relevant global efforts, such as the GPEDC and the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network. Similarly, at country level, mission strategies signal efforts to act on the effectiveness principles, including by promoting alignment to partner country needs, monitoring and tracking results, investing in inclusive partnerships, and fostering quality assurance through oversight, value for money and risk management.

Building on a solid foundation, Ireland has room for further improvement on ownership, alignment and the use of country systems

Ireland strives to work with partner country authorities despite often challenging contexts. Reflecting a shift away from budget support, Ireland’s country programmable aid dropped from 47% in 2014 to 31% of total bilateral ODA in 2018. The share of its gross bilateral ODA to the public sector is one of the lowest among DAC members, at 22% in 2017. Funding recorded in national budgets has dropped (Table 5.1) (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]). Ireland operates in challenging environments and fragile contexts and makes efforts to deliver through the public sector where possible. The peer review team witnessed this in Ethiopia, where, despite challenges, Ireland is channelling 55% of its bilateral budget to the public sector. Ireland can continue to play a lead role in strengthening or rebuilding trust through political dialogue in its partner countries (Annex C).

Ireland is committed to taking country context as the starting point for strategic planning and programming but can improve its alignment to country priorities where appropriate. In preparing its mission strategies, Ireland consulted the government and civil society in all partner countries that reported to the GPEDC in 2018, but consulted less with private sector and other actors (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]). Effectiveness considerations underpin the mission strategies, they are informed by national development and growth plans, and they result in a memorandum of understanding with the government. However, not in all cases are mission strategy priorities aligned to country priorities (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]). While there may be context-specific reasons for this, Ireland strives for continued alignment at the strategic and project levels. It further should conduct joint and inclusive evaluations of mission strategies where feasible and appropriate to ensure that partner country governments continue to buy in to Ireland’s bilateral development co-operation activities.

Alignment to and use of partner country results frameworks can also improve. Despite the ambition to ensure that results frameworks draw on country-level indicators, GPEDC 2018 data show that a decreasing share of Ireland’s development interventions aligns to and uses country-led results frameworks to programme and design new interventions.2 The use of country results indicators to monitor progress in the implementation of these projects also decreased (from 65% in 2016 to 55% in 2018) (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]).

Ireland remains committed to the use of country public financial management systems and carefully studies where such engagement or re-engagement is appropriate. A Better World stresses its ongoing commitment to strengthening the use of country systems where appropriate. While country systems are used far less (declining from 80% in 2010 to 63% in 2018), Ireland remains a top performer viewed against the DAC average of 55% in 2018,especially given that all its funds are disbursed as grants; the DAC average for the use of country systems for grants is 36% (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]).

Ireland also limits the number of the conditions it places on its partners. Financing agreements focus, as far as possible, on ensuring that results are drawn from partner countries’ own commitments as reflected in their strategies and plans.

Ireland is considered an open and transparent donor, and has some scope to further strengthen its medium-term predictability for the benefit of its partner countries

Partner country governments perceive Ireland as an open and transparent donor. It provides information to country-led aid information platforms in 70% of countries that reported on Ireland in the 2018 GPEDC monitoring round (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]). As seen in Ethiopia, Ireland also actively supports the management and improvement of such platforms, for example by reflecting more information on effectiveness indicators, and also works to keep such platforms manageable and well aligned to partner country governments’ needs. Ireland also places emphasis on capacity building for data at country level in areas of priority for Ireland, for example nutrition data. It also does this through diverse means, including through support to civil society and community-based organisations.

While Ireland is committed to budget predictability through the use of multi-annual funding frameworks, it does not regularly make available forward-looking expenditure plans. Disbursements, however, occur on an annual basis. In its contributions to the public sector, Ireland continues to perform well in terms of annual predictability, with most funds (95%) disbursed within the same year for which they were originally budgeted (against the DAC average of 85%). Regarding medium-term predictability, however, Ireland remains among the bottom group of DAC members; it makes 26% of forward-looking expenditure plans available to partner countries (against the DAC average of 65%), a sharp decline from the 52% share in 2016 (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]). Ireland establishes indicative estimates of the ODA envelopes it reserves for bilateral programming in mission strategies for their whole period (usually five years) and disaggregated by year. Systematically sharing these with partner countries – with the caveat of annual budget approval – would improve the predictability of Ireland’s aid.

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Table 5.1. Ireland’s results in the 2018 Global Partnership monitoring round

Alignment and ownership by partner country (%)

Predictability (%)


SDG 17.15 Use of country-led results frameworks

Funding recorded in countries' national budgets

Funding through countries' systems

Untied ODA

Annual predictability

Medium-term predictability

Retrospective statistics (OECD CRS)

Information for forecasting (OECD FSS)

Publishing to IATI

2016 round







Needs improvement


Needs improvement

2018 round









Needs improvement











Note: CRS = Creditor Reporting System; FSS = Forward Spending Plans; IATI = International Aid Transparency Initiative.

Source: (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]), Making Development Co-operation More Effective: 2019 Progress Report,


[5] AdaptationWatch (Weikmans et al.) (2016), Toward transparency: The 2016 Adaptation Finance Transparency Gap Report,

[1] Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation/UN (2019), Financing the UN Development System: Time for Hard Choices, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden/United Nations, New York,

[2] Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland (2017), Irish Aid 2017 Annual Report,

[3] OECD/UNDP (2019), Making Development Co-operation More Effective: 2019 Progress Report, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[4] Publish What You Fund (2019), The Aid Transparency Index 2018,


← 1. When developing in-country strategies, Ireland consulted the private sector in only two out of seven (29%) partner countries reporting in the 2018 Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation monitoring round. See (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]) at

← 2. The GPEDC monitoring data show a decrease from 91% in 2015 to 64% in 2017 (OECD/UNDP, 2019[3]).

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