COVID-19 and the New Irish Government

COVID-19 and the New Irish Government

The COVID-19 crisis has changed our world. The new Irish government has the opportunity to change Ireland and help build a fairer, more sustainable world in the wake of the pandemic. While here in Ireland we have successfully flattened the curve and supported those among us affected by the virus, both physically or financially, the situation in poorer countries is dire.

COVID-19 could potentially have a devastating impact on people living in poorer countries, where access to healthcare and social protection mechanisms is already extremely limited. In addition to causing loss of life and unprecedented human suffering, COVID-19 will exacerbate existing inequalities between rich and poor, men and women. To date, Ireland has played an important role in contributing to the international response to COVID-19. We particularly welcome the Irish Government’s announcement of €10 million in funding to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to the virus, and are grateful for the ongoing support through Irish Aid in responding to this pandemic.

However, the scale and complexity of this crisis is unprecedented. If we do not take more urgent preventative measures now and on an extraordinary scale, this could easily become the biggest humanitarian crisis the world has seen since World War II. We call on the new government and the Dáil to concentrate on resourcing the development needs of poorer countries, supporting systemic changes in healthcare, food production, and protection of the vulnerable, and building a more sustainable and just world.

We call on all members of the new Oireachtas, but especially party leaders and the new Government, to use their position to ensure that Ireland’s contribution to the international response to COVID-19 continues to extend to the most vulnerable countries. A key lever for Ireland to help address the COVID-19 crisis and contribute to a fairer, more peaceful and sustainable world is its Overseas Development Aid (ODA) programme. Ireland committed to spend 0.7 percent of national income on ODA for a number of decades. However, given the scale of the challenges facing low-income countries, we are calling on the next government to reach this commitment within its lifetime, in 2025.

While there has been increased ODA spending in recent years, Ireland’s current contribution still leaves the country far short of its 0.7 percent pledge. In the face of COVID-19, reducing aid budgets would be not only be inexcusable, but also self-defeating. If poorer countries cannot control the spread of the virus, it could return to wealthier nations. At a minimum, Ireland should maintain, preferably increase, its existing aid investment in the short term.

Most importantly, Ireland’s funding response to the pandemic must be additional, so as not to divert existing aid budgets away from other pressing humanitarian and development needs. As well as increasing ODA budgets, cancelling debt payments is the fastest way to keep money in countries and to free up resources to tackle the urgent health, social and economic crises resulting from the global pandemic.

To be effective in the short and long term, the response to the health crisis as a result of the spread of COVID-19 will need to be globally coordinated and locally led. There is an obvious need to prioritise prevention measures, health, social protection and food security to save lives and limit the outbreak and its economic impacts. Health systems in poor countries are unable to cope with COVID- 19; therefore, urgent action is needed to save lives. This includes doubling health spending through a global public health plan and emergency response. A coordinated and massive investment in public health is desperately needed now if we are to stop the spread of this deadly virus and prevent millions of deaths.

Countries must also be protected from slipping into food insecurity as a result of reduced income, agricultural production and increases in food prices. Today, 113 million people across 53 countries are already suffering from acute hunger. Ireland should support efforts to maintain food availability by ensuring food can move from rural areas and ports to urban centres, and avoid harmful actions such as export restrictions or tying food to national food producers. In addition, donors including Ireland must protect humanitarian access, and work to ensure that governments do not use emergency measures and special legislation as a tactic to criminalise civil society organisations, humanitarian actors and human rights defenders, and obstruct their legitimate work.

A better future must be guided by universality, collaboration, human rights, interconnectedness and leaving no one behind. It must be based on the international framework of human rights and intergenerational cohesion to deliver income security, the best possible health, decent housing, safety, and enjoyment of rights for all. We need a major economic stimulus that underpins a new social contract between people, governments and the market, that radically reduces inequality, gender inequalities and lays the foundations for a just, equal and sustainable human economy that works for all throughout their lives. We must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place.

For example, the current scale of corporate tax avoidance continues to drain financial resources from low-income countries – resources which should be used to provide essential services such as health and education. Oxfam Ireland recognises that Ireland has made some reforms to address corporate tax avoidance; however, these reforms have not gone far enough to address the scale of tax avoidance that is facilitated by Ireland’s current corporate tax regime.

Additionally, the climate crisis is the most pressing issue that facing us today. It is affecting many of the communities with which Oxfam works, undermining their livelihoods through gradual, insidious changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, and increasing the frequency and/or intensity of hazards such as floods and droughts. In many ways COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal for climate breakdown. Ireland has been a laggard on climate action, with the government dragging its heels and missing key targets.

According to the UN, Ireland must reduce emissions by 7.6 percent a year, year-on-year, from now to 2030. To achieve this, it is important that Ireland implements faster and fair climate action as set out by the One Future Campaign. As well as reducing carbon emissions at home, wealthier countries like Ireland must provide sufficient climate finance to ensure that countries most impacted by climate breakdown have adequate resources to implement necessary adaption measures. Along with much needed reform in the care system, Ireland must support the development of a circular economy, which brings a holistic perspective to the lifespan of a product from design, material choice, sustainable production processes, product use, reuse and recycling.

The time is now for Ireland to cement its place in the world as a country at the forefront of combatting this pandemic, caring for the most vulnerable, and ensuring human rights across the world. With COVID-19 threatening to set the fight against poverty back by decades, we must seize this moment to save lives and repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place – and create a new and better world that is just, sustainable and feminist.

To read more about Oxfam Ireland’s recommendations to the new Irish Government, read our briefing Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the New Irish Government and Oireachtas.

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