10. Deputy Darragh O’Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the procedures his Department has in place to protect against the staff of aid agencies being involved in sexual abuse and exploitation; if he is reviewing their procedures in view of reports of same in the media with a view to improving them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 10853/18 asked on 08 Mar 2018)
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade(Deputy Ciarán Cannon): I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.
Sexual exploitation and abuse in any context is an affront to our values and the humanitarian imperative to ensure the safety, security and dignity of people affected by disaster or living in extreme poverty.
Effective delivery of any aspect of Ireland’s Overseas Development Assistance programme requires not only the achievement of results but also sustained investment in robust systems of governance and oversight, financial management, human resource management, and safeguarding procedures across those organisations which help deliver the programme.
Grant compliance, a condition for receipt of funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs, is regularly assessed through appraisal of aid partners’ organisational systems as well as monitoring of results achieved.
The Department expects partner agencies to manage all cases of staff misconduct effectively, in compliance with the terms and conditions of their employment contracts and local law.
Organisations in receipt of funding from the Department are expected to have in place: robust human resource management policies which outline organisational standards of behaviour and related safeguarding practices; a clear framework for reporting issues internally as they arise, keeping in mind the protection and well-being of those making a complaint; and, documented procedures for investigation and disciplinary action, and / or referral to statutory authorities when necessary. Sharing information on complaints of sexual harassment must be handled with the utmost sensitivity and diligence by all organisations.
Reporting obligations for organisations are detailed within funding contracts. While the Department is not a statutory body with specific responsibility for handling cases of sexual exploitation or abuse, it does expect to be informed of issues that indicate a breakdown of any organisational systems necessary for effective programme delivery. Compliance issues linked to these systems are addressed on a case-by-case basis as they arise, in line with contractual obligations of funding.
As part of the process of ongoing grant monitoring and oversight, the Department will continue to request updates from partners on compliance with their policies and procedures.
The Department is convening a meeting with NGOs receiving Irish Aid funding, to share good practice in the area of safeguarding and to continue to strengthen systems to prevent and respond effectively to cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s processes for dealing with bullying, sexual harassment and related complaints are outlined in the 2015 “Dignity at Work” policy – an anti-bullying, harassment and sexual harassment policy for the Civil Service. The policy aims to promote respect, dignity, safety and equality in the workplace. Prior to 2015, such complaints were dealt with under the “Positive Working Environment” policy.
The Department examines all formal complaints made to its Human Resources Unit no matter what category they fall under. The Human Resources Unit of the Department has not received any complaints of sexual harassment against staff of its Development Cooperation Division (Irish Aid) under either the Dignity at Work” or “Positive Working Environment” policies.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to invest in its own systems and to promote best practice principles in aid delivery, to prevent and respond to issues of sexual exploitation and abuse; principles to which we expect every organisation in receipt of funding to adhere.