There is no single Irish Aid policy document on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the context of development. However, Irish Aid policies on gender equality and gender based violence consistently and increasingly include SRH. For example, Irish Aid’s 2013 overseas development policy statement ‘One World, One Future’ includes, for the first time in Irish Aid policy, a strong commitment to International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Among the “priority areas for action” under the heading “essential services” the policy states: “Consistent with the ‘Cairo Programme of Action’, we will support efforts that reduce maternal and infant mortality, and promote universal access to reproductive healthcare, including ante-natal care and family planning services.” The policy also includes contraceptives among the priority information and essential commodities and undertakes to support efforts to increase both information flows and the availability of essential commodities through the private sector.
Policies & funding
Despite the significant impact of economic downturn on the Irish Aid budget, which fell 34.6% between 2008 and 2014, Irish core funding to UNFPA has remained relatively stable. Although Irish core funding to UNFPA decreased in 2015, there was a significant increase (by almost €3 million) in Ireland’s contribution to UNFPA projects. As a result, Ireland’s total contributions to UNFPA increased by 27% in 2015. We view the major increase in project funding to UNFPA in 2015 as an important development as this funding was completely cut in the initial years of the economic downturn. Contribution figures to UNFPA projects for 2016 are not yet available, but Ireland maintained its core funding to UNFPA at 2015 levels.
Ireland held a general election in early 2016. No party emerged with a majority. There is now a minority government, which is unlikely to last the full five-year term. There are no signs of roll-back on policy commitments to SRHR, nor are these anticipated. However, a significant new challenge is the outcome of the British referendum on membership of the European Union. The Irish economy is very closely tied to the UK’s, and withdrawal will potentially have profound impacts on Ireland’s economic growth over the term of this government—and the next. The government is likely to be very cautious about making any new funding pledges and promises.
Ireland has committed €651 million to Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) for 2017, an increase of €10 million on the 2016 allocation. This is the second consecutive year that ODA funding has been increased. There is no specific commitment to FP/RH in the budget: the spend for FP/RH is included within the overall budget for health. So it is unclear whether the budget for FP/RH will be increased in line with the overall rise.
Health priorities include strengthening national health systems and improving health services for women and children, including reproductive health services. Most of Ireland’s health funding goes through either general budget support or for specific HIV/AIDS initiatives, and the FP/RH aspect is not made explicit. However, for the 2015/2016 tracking period, Irish Aid has provided some additional information about initiatives it is supporting in the area of FP/RH. For example:
- Ethiopia: Ireland’s health sector funding to Ethiopia is provided under the Health SDG Performance Fund. This is a broad fund that works across the health sector in Ethiopia, but the procurement of family planning commodities was prioritised in the June 2015 to July 2016 period. Also under this fund, family planning services were strengthened in 300 districts in 2015 through the training of 2,000 health professionals and 2,500 health extension workers.
- Sierra Leone: It is notable that since Ireland’s presence in Sierra Leone was upgraded to Embassy level in 2014, there has been a strong focus by Irish Aid on family planning and reproductive health, with an emphasis on adolescent girls. This has included support to UNFPA’s HOPE for Girls project and for a Helen Keller International project which included counselling new mothers on family planning.
Note: Ireland funds the IFPA’s treatment clinic for women who have undergone FGM, but not from the ODA budget.
Successive ministers for development and foreign affairs have made political commitments to ICPD in parliamentary speeches and debates. This commitment has been reaffirmed at the Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Population and Development. Ireland also played a strong role within the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals to push for SRHR with its troika partners, Denmark and Norway. In a statement on behalf of Ireland at the September 2014 UNGASS on Follow Up to the Programme of Action of the ICPD reiterated that the principles, objectives and outstanding commitments of the ICPD “simply must be at the centre of the development agenda”. In May 2016, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins addressed the World Humanitarian Summit and made a strong statement of Ireland’s commitment to universal reproductive health as a key aspect of gender equality and critical to the SDGs.
Updated October 2016
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