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The Irish famine, the missionary movement, Ireland’s colonial legacy, and Biafra are all historical events that have shaped Irish humanitarian action

Education / Food Security/ Health
All of the above (Children, youth, women, elderly, disabled, internally displaced, refugees)
€637 million in official overseas development aid (2013)

Turning point

Several events have shaped Irish humanitarian action at different points in time. Historically the work of missionaries shaped Irish charities and philanthropy abroad. The Irish experience of colonialism, the Potato Famine (1845-1852) and mass migration shaped Ireland’s focus towards natural disasters, hunger and food insecurity, giving it greater impetus to respond to these emergencies. In more recent times, the Biafra war (1967-70) led to the creation of major Irish NGOs like Concern Worldwide. A further turning point might be the ‘Celtic Tiger’, which is the name given to Ireland’s unprecedented economic growth in the 1990s – 2008. In 1994 Ireland’s contribution to overseas aid remained below €100 million and represented less than 0.3% of GNP. This rose to €941 million in 2008, which was almost 0.55% of GNP. This massive growth in support to overseas aid encouraged the growth of indigenous NGOs and existing INGOs and also new INGOs to situate in Ireland. The global economic downturn since 2008 has reversed these funding trends. In 2013 the total Irish government contribution was approximately €634 million which represents approx. 0.45% GNP.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

Ireland is well served by a wide range of NGOs. Prior to the 1990s the NGO sector was dominated by a small number of indigenous NGOs that have expanded in scale and scope to become INGOs in their own right. In addition many small NGOs were established in the 1990s and 2000s in reaction to major global disasters such as Chernobyl, the Balkans crisis and Haiti. The aforementioned increase in national donor support to overseas aid also resulted in well-established INGOs locating in Ireland such as Oxfam, Plan International, Christian Aid etc. The Irish NGO community is quite diverse with a strong constituency of both faith-based organizations (e.g. Trócaire) and non-faith based organisations. Dóchas is the umbrella organization for NGOs in Ireland.

National Red Cross Society

In Ireland, the Irish Red Cross provides voluntary Ambulance Services, Mountain and Lake Search and Rescue Services and a broad variety of Community Based Health, Social Care and Youth programmes. Overseas the Irish Red Cross contributes to the overall mission of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement worldwide in preventing or alleviating human suffering wherever it may be found.

Faith-based organisations

Ireland’s humanitarian outreach has deep roots in missionary movements dating back to the eighteenth century. There are more than 4000 Irish Catholic missionaries serving in over 90 countries. Trócaire, established in 1973, is the official overseas development agency of the Catholic Church of Ireland. In addition, larger faith-based transnational organizations such as Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund have been in operation in Ireland since the 1980s. The Irish public has been generous in contributing to projects run by the church and faith-based organizations.

Armed Forces

The Irish Defence Forces contribute regularly to peacekeeping and peace enforcing missions led by the UN and/or the European Union. In recent years, Irish contribution has progressed from Chapter-VI UN missions to deploying highly mobile mechanised units for Chapter VII UN supported peace enforcing missions. However, Ireland’s military neutral status sets limits on its involvement in Chapter VII peace enforcement operations. The Irish Government has developed several guidelines for Defence Force’s participation in these missions. Further the Irish Defence Forces provide several trainings on Civil-Military Coordination in emergencies through the UN Military School.

Private Sector

Private voluntary contribution to global humanitarian response increased three fold over the period 2006-2010 from $2.1 billion to $6.3 billion. In that same period private funding as a share of total humanitarian response doubled – this was achieved despite the economic crisis that continues to put pressure on traditional donors’ aid budgets. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that this picture holds true for the Irish context. The humanitarian landscape in Ireland has undoubtedly experienced much greater corporate influence as many humanitarian actors sought innovate ways to compensate the recessionary effects of shortfalls in donor and civil society funding. NGOs have established a wide variety of relationships with multi-national corporations ranging from corporate philanthropy to corporate partnerships and all evidence suggests that companies are increasingly searching for more direct ways of engaging in disaster response. The Irish Government is fully supportive of a strong private sector involvement in humanitarian action especially in its drive to enhance the resilience agenda. Their view is that a strong private sector is essential for any country to sustainably overcome poverty which is central to vulnerability and risk. This philosophy was reinforced in 2011 when the Irish Government expanded the brief of its Department of Foreign Affairs to include trade. While trade is an increasing focus of the Irish aid development agenda, it also influences the emergency and recovery division and increasing attention is being afforded to identify how humanitarian – corporate partnerships can contribute positively to humanitarian work. The full impact of this increased corporate involvement has yet to be measured and mechanisms are being sought to mainstream private sector involvement in Humanitarian action.

State humanitarianism

Ministries and State Agencies involved

Irish Aid is the Irish Government’s overseas development and humanitarian programme. It is managed by the Development Co-operation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Fighting global poverty and hunger are integral to Ireland’s foreign policy. In 2013, Irish Aid contributed €637.10 million as Overseas Development Aid which represents 0.46% of the country’s GNP. Out of this, €94 million was dedicated to Emergency Relief and Recovery. The key priority areas for Irish Aid are: ending poverty, hunger, gender equality, environment and climate change, health, HIV and AIDS, governance and human rights, education, water and sanitation, trade and economic growth.

According to 2013 annual reports, approximately, 68% of Ireland’s ODA is through bilateral aid and majority of it is directed towards Africa (62% approximately). Around 32% is distributed through multilateral channels like The EU, The World Bank, UN Multilateral Institutions, voluntary contribution to UN Agencies. 25% of Ireland’s ODA was channelled through NGOs where Concern Worldwide received the maximum share.

Ireland’s emergency response is guided by the Humanitarian Relief Policy. Irish Aid has created the Rapid Response Initiative (RRI) which maintains a pool of emergency supplies (positioned at UN Humanitarian Response Depots) and a Rapid Response Corps (comprising of approximately 200 highly skilled humanitarian professionals including defence forces) for effective and efficient emergency relief.

Legal framework

Major domestic disasters are managed at the strategic level by pre-designated Government Departments. There are several hazard-specific national plans. Overseas humanitarian aid provided is governed by bilateral and multilateral agreements. Ireland has been committed to the principles and good practice of Good Humanitarian Donorship since its initiation in 2003.

Principles and accountability

Irish humanitarian practice in general draws on international humanitarian policy documents and codes of conduct. Humanitarian NGOs like Concern Worldwide are guided by the principles and values enshrined in the Code of Conduct of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in Disaster Relief, The Humanitarian Charter, The People in Aid Code of Practice, the Sphere Projects Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International, the Accountability Framework, the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising.

Official overseas development and humanitarian relief policy in Ireland is governed by the values of sustainability, effectiveness and results, equality, human rights, accountability, partnership and coherence. The first White Paper on Irish Aid was published in 2006 which outlined the key principles and goals of Irish development and humanitarian engagement. Irish Aid’s One World One Future-Ireland’s Policy on International Development published in 2013 outlines the core values and strategic priority areas for overseas development and humanitarian action. The Humanitarian Principles and principles for Good Humanitarian Donorship remain core to Irish humanitarian response. The government engages with platforms such as COHAFA to operationalize these principles. NGOs in Ireland have also adopted the Dochas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages (2006) to ensure respect, dignity and justice for the beneficiaries.

Improving transparency and accountability remains one of the key goals of Irish Aid and the Irish humanitarian NGOs. Value for money reviews, audits, external evaluations, annual reports and freedom of information are some mechanisms through which the agencies remain accountable to their donors and beneficiaries.


The Irish Aid Emergency and Relief section coordinates all major Irish humanitarian response. The Humanitarian Aid Working Group (HAWG) of Dóchas is a platform that brings together NGOs and the Red Cross. HAWG members also regularly coordinate with the Emergency and Relief section in Irish Aid. The UN Military School conducts periodic simulation exercises in collaboration with Irish Aid, Irish NGOs and universities to train and improve civil military coordination in the field.

Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

Ireland has been at the very fore in championing the ‘resilience’ agenda’ –it made significant strides in this furthering this during the Presidency to the Council of Europe and it continues to be at the fore in Ireland humanitarian aid policy agenda. One of the main objectives during the Irish Presidency of the EU was “to break down the barriers” between relief, rehabilitation and development.

Civil Protection

Ireland has adopted the five-stage emergency management paradigm involving a continuous cycle of hazard analysis, mitigation, planning and preparedness, response and recovery. Guidance on these five stages are provided in the Framework for Major Emergency Management and expanded on in a suite of guidance documents, which include A Guide to Risk Assessment and A Guide to the Writing a Major Emergency Plan. The Framework and the associated guidance are available at www.mem.ie.

Humanitarian assistance is a matter for determination by the Department of Foreign Affairs in consultation, as appropriate, with Irish Aid.

Specific expertise

Ireland’s official overseas aid programme commits to the following three guiding principles which are as follows:

  • Reduced Hunger Stronger Resilience
  • Sustainable Development and Inclusive Economic Growth
  • Governance, Human Rights and Accountability

Specifically, Ireland has had a specific focus on hunger and seeks to address both its causes and consequences. It has a Hunger Task Force and engages with the international community on issues of food insecurity. It is Irish Aid policy to consider some elements of early recovery and some aspects of preparedness from its EHAF (relief) budget line – where they form part of a larger response to acute needs in an emergency.

Humanitarian Education

Higher education

University College Dublin has successfully hosted the European Joint Masters in Humanitarian Action since 1997. In 2012, UCD reaffirmed its commitment to excellence in research, education and professional development in humanitarian action by establishing the Centre for Humanitarian Action (UCD-CHA). The Centre provides a full range of educational programmes in humanitarian action- i.e. structured electives, MSc in Humanitarian Action, Research Masters and PhD in Humanitarian Studies. In 2013, NUI Maynooth, Dublin City University and the Royal College of Surgeons jointly launched an MSc in Humanitarian Logistics. In addition to these multi-disciplinary programmes, universities in Ireland deliver modules or occasional teaching on humanitarian action from a disciplinary perspective.

In-house training

All the major humanitarian NGOs offer in-house training on specific issues like security (delivering both own security management workshops, and delivering hostile environment training; humanitarian protection; preparedness in emergency response (PEER); disaster risk reduction (DRR); humanitarian principles and practice; accountability; engineering; digital data gathering; and rapid surveys including nutrition surveys. It also has in-house sectorial training on WASH, education, HIV, etc. It should be noted, however, that staff gain most of their skills through field experience.

Seminar/short courses

An important number of short courses is provided by a wide range of institutions in Ireland. Particular mention ought to be made here of the ‘Kimmage Development Studies Centre’


Irish Aid, Annual Report 2013 https://www.irishaid.ie/news-publications/publications/publicationsarchive/2014/july/irish-aid-2013-annual-report/

Dochas, Trends in Irish Aid Expenditure1995-2009, 2011, www.dochas.ie/Shared/Files/2/Trends_in_Irish_Aid_Expenditure_1995-2009.pdf

ECHO, Country Profile; Ireland, http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/civil_protection/vademecum/ie/2-ie.html

European Commission, Public Opinion, http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/index_en.htm

Hunger Task Force, Report to the Government of Ireland, 2008, https://www.irishaid.ie/media/irishaid/allwebsitemedia/20newsandpublications/publicationpdfsenglish/hunger-task-force.pdf

Irish Aid, Humanitarian Relief Policy, 2009, https://www.irishaid.ie/media/irishaid/allwebsitemedia/20newsandpublications/publicationpdfsenglish/humanitarian-relief-policy1.pdf

Irish Aid, How Our Aid Works, https://www.irishaid.ie/what-we-do/how-our-aid-works/

Irish Aid, Ireland’s Humanitarian Standby Roster- Irish Aid Rapid Response Corps, https://www.irishaid.ie/get-involved/volunteering/rapid-response-corps/

Irish Aid, How we Channel Our Aid, https://www.irishaid.ie/what-we-do/how-our-aid-works/where-the-money-goes/how-we-channel-our-aid/

Irish Aid, Humanitarian Relief Policy, https://www.irishaid.ie/media/irishaid/allwebsitemedia/20newsandpublications/publicationpdfsenglish/humanitarian-relief-policy1.pdf

Irish Nonprofits Knowledge Exchange, Irish Nonprofits: What do we know? January 2012, http://www.comhlamh.org/

Irish Red Cross, Our Work in Ireland, http://www.redcross.ie/our-work-in-ireland/

University College Dublin, ‘Centre for Humanitarian Action’; Irish Red Cross International Disaster Relief Law Study, http://www.ucd.ie/cha/research/irishredcrossidrlstudy/

United Nations Training School of Ireland, http://www.military.ie/education-hq/military-college/united-nations-training-school-ireland/

Researchers (University College Dublin)

Pat Gibbons
Anne Markey
Sulagna Maitra
Brian Casey
Alex Freris Barolo

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