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Address 169 Booterstown Avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin Formed 1973

353-1-288 5385

Director Justin Kilcullen
Fax 353-1-288 3577 Overseas staff 15 expats / 150 local
email HQ staff 52


IRĀ£ 19.6m


Interview by Stacy Reid

Justin Kilcullen director of Trocaire spoke to Field Exchange in the agency's modest but spacious offices in Dublin's suburbs. Kilcullen began his career as an architect designing refugee camps for UNHCR in South Asia and Central America before taking up a management position with Trocaire. "I've never looked back" he stated.

"Trocaire means mercy and compassion in Gaelic", Justin explained and was formed in 1973 as the Irish Catholic Church's official channel of aid. Trocaire has now linked with CIDSE the international federation of Catholic development agencies and Caritas International to become part of a wider network of Catholic aid spanning the globe.

Trocaire receives its dual mandate from the Bishops of Ireland: to provide much needed assistance to people in greatest need and to educate the Irish people about their duty to ensure justice in poorer regions of the world.

According to Justin in order to fulfil its mandate Trocaire must be and is "an agency devoted to societal change and transformation," this involves an obligation to campaign for political reform both at home and abroad, although this is not done by aligning with any political party or ideology. The 'straight-talking director' explained that as poverty and vulnerability are often, if not always, the result of political forces, humanitarian agencies have to enter the political realm if they wish to have an impact. "Development issues are political issues and to deny this is to be naive. While other agencies see being political as negative, we see it as a positive mandate."

A clear illustration of how Trocaire takes a political stance and then acts upon it was seen in Cambodia in 1980-4. Trocaire broke the EU embargo on humanitarian aid to Cambodia and Vietnam through intense lobbying. The agency also brought Vietnamese delegates to Bruxelles. This opened the door for many other agencies to start providing aid.

Trocaire has been very active lobbying at home. Recently, it played a major role in lobbying the Irish government over its position on East Timor. This resulted in a stronger Security Council resolution labelling the events there as genocide. "Small agencies with a well thought through position can use their influence on government successfully" Kilcullen says.

While Trocaire's emphasis is on long-term sustainable development, it is committed to supporting the populations with which it works no matter what the situation. "Emergencies are the reality of Africa" Kilcullen asserts. Trocaire does not take part in debates over whether to focus resources on development or emergency interventions but rather commits itself to assisting communities in need whether the problems are of a chronic or acute nature.

Trocaire also considers that it has a responsibility to those who provide donations to specific emergency appeals, i.e. the Irish public. In this way, Trocaire has become involved in a number of the recent disasters including Hurricane Mitch in Central America, and the complex emergencies in Rwanda and Somalia.

Trocaire responds to emergencies using a committed long term approach: thirty percent of emergency funds for a particular crisis would be allocated to immediate response and the rest would quickly go into rehabilitation and development. The rehabilitation phase is always accompanied by an analysis of the underlying causes of the emergency. It is then followed by a lobbing strategy. An emergency programme is implemented with a three-year operational plan contrasting with certain other agencies who may only remain until the immediate emergency is over. In essence both development and emergency programmes have an underlying emphasis on long term solutions from the start.

Kilcullen believes that humanitarian aid efforts can be manipulated very skilfully by political forces as they were in Goma by Hutu genocidaire's or in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. For this reason, and because the agency is committed to long term solutions, Trocaire did not join the hundreds of NGOs who assisted in the Goma refugee camps where the Hutu rebels fled. Resources are finite, so Trocaire prefers to expend efforts in addressing underlying causes. The agency therefore rarely works in refugee camps. In the Great Lakes crisis Trocaire saw its role as meeting needs within Rwanda rather than in neighbouring refugee camps.

Sometimes these programmes take on a non-traditional role. For example, one such programme in Rwanda, involved providing the new government with basic office supplies. The proximity to government allowed trust to be built up but at the same time did not compromise the agency's independence. For example, Trocaire was still able to condemn the executions of former genocidaires carried out in Rwanda.

Trocaire operates primarily through implementing partners but, on occasions, jointly with other agencies. Trocaire has operated in 60 countries through local partners within Africa, Asia and Latin America. In these programmes Trocaire has essentially been a funding agency focussing on programmes of leadership training, community action and micro-credit involving the poorest elements of society. Wide ranging development programmes have included food security, promotion of human rights and democracy, healthcare, skills training and education. Presently there are six field offices in Africa and Central America supporting local partners in the regions.

In situations where there is no identifiable local partner, Trocaire may become fully implementational itself. This happened during the Somali crisis where there was no governmental structure or local NGOs through which to work. Trocaire began working in Gedo region during the crisis in 1992, and still has major education and health care programmes in place today, a full 8 years later.

What is Trocaire's plan for the future? "To do what we do and do it well" said Justin. Elaborating further, he spoke about the constant push toward professionalism in all activities enabling the agency to be ready for whatever demands the future holds.

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Reference this page

Stacy Reid (). Trocaire. Field Exchange 9, March 2000. p13.



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