This is the second in a series of blogs that will be published in the lead up to the Dóchas Conference 2019 – Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty – on 2 May 2019 in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. Find out more.
We are asking leaders, innovators and thinkers working in the areas of equality, justice and development to respond to a set of questions around the theme of the conference - the key challenges facing international cooperation and how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way.
Today, we are delighted to feature Éilis Ryan, Dublin City Councillor and European Parliament candidate for the Workers' Party. Éilis has worked for a range of human rights and community development organisations in Ireland, Asia and Latin America. Find out more.
What do you see as the main challenge facing international cooperation between now and 2030?
For those whose objective is to use aid as a mechanism to build global equality and human wellbeing, the most significant challenge over the coming decade will be the increased power and presence of corporations focussed on profits and bottom lines, both in the Global South itself, and in the aid industry.
With declining returns on investments in the stagnating economies of the Global North, the Global South, together with all forms of international aid, have become sources of potential profit for investors and speculators. This comes at a time when there is distinct absence of proper public financing to build infrastructure and public services, to tackle climate change, to mitigate disasters, in developing countries. Private finance moves fast into that vacuum. It provides an easy ‘get out of jail free’ card for western governments unwilling to make the types of deep, structural changes required to redress the imbalance of the global playing field. But it has consequences. It turns what should be basic goods into financialised assets. It saddles countries with debts they did not earn. And it undermines the democratic relationship that should exist between elected government and citizen.
What role can civil society, particularly in Ireland, play in overcoming this challenge, and how will civil society need to change to achieve this?
Civil society has found itself having to debate whether it is “pro-” or “anti-” private sector. This is the wrong approach. I personally do not feel private, for-profit industry will ever play a positive role in the provision of basic, public services. But neither do I feel the need to think about them very much. Rather, I am only concerned with ensuring public money is not used to prop up, facilitate and create profit opportunities for private investors.
What would that type of approach look like for civil society? Oppose the use of public money to create risk-free investment opportunities for private companies - that is, blended finance, public private partnerships and all publicly-backed private finance. Create a charter of good conduct which includes, at a minimum, full trade union recognition in every country of operation, and a record of paying all taxes in the country in which money is made, which any company who wishes to ‘partner’ with aid organisations is obliged to sign up to. Remove the access of corporate lobbyists to inter-governmental negotiations on aid, sustainable development and the environment. Create a code of conduct which ensures funding for NGOs coming from the private sector - including corporate philanthropy - remains below an agreed threshold.
And above all, close the vacuum, by lobbying for proper public finance to close the funding gap - not aid, but domestic government budgets in the global south, grown through raising taxes on wealth and corporations, investing in productive, green industry, including state enterprise - a corner of development and modernisation in Europe - and rising wages to help grow economies.
How do we bring the Irish public along with us to believe in and champion the importance of international cooperation?
The Irish public is not a united people. 50% of workers in this country earn below €30,000. 58,000 families who are in full-time employment receive ‘Family Income Supplements’ because the state recognises their employer does not pay them enough to live off. 85,000 households do not have access to secure housing.
Meanwhile, the combined wealth of the richest 300 people in Ireland grew by 10% last year.
Before civil society can figure out how to bring the Irish public along with it, it must decide which Irish public it wants to appeal to.
The 50% of workers who earn below €30,000 don’t need to be convinced of the importance of tackling inequality, or taxing wealth, or investing in public hospitals and schools. If they are the audience for civil society, they are already on board.
The challenge is not convincing them of these ideas - it’s convincing them that NGOs and international aid civil society is on their side. Working class people in Ireland are struggling. They deserve to know that we will stand in solidarity with them in that struggle. Without that, given the scale of crisis they face, it is not reasonable to expect their support.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dóchas.
The Dóchas Conference 2019 - Finding Our Voice: How Civil Society is Countering Uncertainty - will take place on 2 May 2019, 2pm - 5.30pm, in the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Golden Lane, Dublin 8. Registration from 1.30pm - 2pm. The Conference will explore the key challenges facing international cooperation between now and 2030. It will provide a space for discussion and new ideas about how we can shape the Irish response to these challenges, find opportunities within them, and build public support along the way. Speakers include Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, and Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International, and more.
Dóchas is grateful for the partnership of: