Kevin O’Sullivan
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‘If we’re Christians at all’
Irish foreign aid
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This chapter describes the conflagration of forces from above (the rapid expansion of the foreign aid regime) and below (the rise of an increasingly powerful NGO sector) that transformed aid and humanitarianism into key constituents of international relations in the 1970s. It illustrates how these twin themes became the defining elements in the ‘fire brigade’ states’ relationships with the developing world. The resulting description acts as a distillation of several key narratives at the heart of this book. It describes increasing Irish government interest in foreign aid (including the birth of the official aid programme in 1974) as a result of changes in the international environment, pressure to match the contributions of its peer group of states, and the obligations of its membership of the European Community, but also as a response to growing domestic debate – not least the consolidation and expansion of the NGO sector in the post-Biafra period. The chapter concludes by emphasising the important link between aid and Irish state identity: as an extension of the country's colonial and missionary heritage, its anti-colonialism, and its approach to international relations (the pursuit of justice, collective security, and the creation of a stable international system).

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Ireland, Africa and the end of empire

Small state identity in the Cold War 1955–75


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