This month I went to visit ActionAid Ireland. It was a pleasure to get to know the dynamic Dublin-based team, to spend some time with the brand new Country Director, Siobhán McGee, and to hear from members of the ActionAid Ireland Board.
Listening to them all, I was struck by how little I knew of what they do. Of course, I was aware that ActionAid Ireland really focuses on women’s rights. I knew about their work, with the support of Irish Aid, to promote and share learning on women’s rights programming across four countries (Vietnam, Nepal, Kenya and Malawi) in particular in tackling gender based violence, promoting the leadership of women and economic empowerment. (You can read more about some of the women working within this programme in Monday’s Irish Times). Bless me, I even knew that there was a newly recruited tax campaigner!
Ultimately however, there was a lot more I didn’t know about the wealth of work to reach out to Irish people to empower and engage them in debates around development and social justice.
First, what is the situation like in Ireland at the moment? The economic situation - whether described in terms of macro statistics or on the ground realities for families - is still not easy, particularly given the level of indebtedness of the country which has had a direct affect on poverty levels and on the delivery of public services. This in turn means that raising funds to tackle poverty and inequality globally is no easy task. Against this however, the collective consciousness on rights and the overall climate of campaigning has seen a boost. There is notably greater mobilisation of people to act on issues like living wages, water charges, women’s rights, LGBT rights. Earlier this summer, Ireland made the headlines by becoming the first country to vote for equal marriage rights via a citizen’s referendum and with a substantial majority voting in favour. It seemed to give the country a kind of new confidence that things can change and it opens new potential for organisations like ActionAid to join forces and be part of a buoyed-up movement in favour of rights, justice and equality.
So what is ActionAid Ireland up to these days?
First they are increasingly seeking to empower and engage Irish youth on the issue of women’s rights. One example of this from earlier this year is a Schools Speech Writing competition that saw hundreds of really inspiring Irish students delving into the issue of women’s rights, solidarity and the role of women in societies globally. You can see a 4 minute video about it here:
Back in 2014, the team launched the Safe Cities for Women campaign in Ireland and it continues to roll out across the country. For Safe Cities Day back in May, ActionAid Ireland worked with No Drama Theatre, At Large Theatre and writer Alan Flanagan to produce a play on violence against women which you can see below. ActionAid Ireland also worked locally with Women’s Aid to share the script, distribute leaflets and jointly promote the day and they plan to work together to jointly campaign and raise awareness on violence against women in public spaces for 16 Days of Activism in 2015.
Last but not least, with the support of a new campaigner, ActionAid Ireland launched the ActionAid Tax Power campaign on June 23rd, World Public Services Day, with the Irish premiere of The Price That We Pay documentary. If you haven’t heard about the Tax Power campaign, you might like to check out the last video below. It’s all about challenging a massive and inexcusable barrier to development: that of tax avoidance and harmful tax practices. How can it be that a multi-million pound UK company in Ghana, pumping out £29 million of beer a year, pays less tax than a single Ghanaian woman selling individual bottles in the shadow of that same brewery? How can it be that many developing countries are still dependent on foreign aid, whilst companies from those same aid donor countries are dodging billions in taxes in the same recipient countries? How can it be that more money still moves from the Global South to North than North to South?
The answer is this: to date we have failed to set rules on tax globally and poor and marginalised people are those who are most affected. Whilst this is not an anti corporate campaign, it is about unashamedly exposing those who are dodging taxes. ActionAid Ireland will be working over the next two years to set up local groups and train hundreds of people. Campaigners will come on board across Ireland and link with other tax justice campaigners in Europe, Africa and Latin America, working to multiply and ensure progressive tax laws globally.