Thursday, 3 February 2011

Why was £1.85m of overseas development money spent on the Papal Visit?

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Pope Benedict XVI
MPs sitting on the international development select committee have asked ministers to explain why £1.85m was transferred to the Foreign Office from the Department for International Development in order to help fund the Papal Visit last September. Querying the allocation of funds, the committee's chair, Malcolm Bruce, said:
"Many people will be as surprised as we were to discover that UK aid money was used to fund the pope's visit last year. Ministers need to explain exactly what this was spent on and how it tallies with our commitments on overseas aid."
Defending the decision, a spokesperson for the department said:
"Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church's role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries. This money does not constitute official development assistance and is therefore additional to the coalition government's historic commitment to meet the 0.7% UN aid target from 2013."
The news is sure to cause outrage among those who opposed the decision to grant the Pope a state visit last year. Questions have already been raised about the use of public money to pay for the visit, which cost a total of around £10m, and the revelation that a sizeable portion of this came from international development funds will prove particularly controversial, given that one of the key objections to the Papal Visit centred on the impact of the Pope's stance on contraception on health in the developing world.

Interested to hear you thoughts on this – do share in the comments.

Update: The British Humanist Association have responded to the news. Their Head of Public Affairs, Naomi Phillips, said:
"Millions and millions from the public purse has been used to foot the cost of the Pope’s visit to the UK, with much of that diverted from crucial funds, including from foreign aid designated to help some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. It is irrational and wrong for government to say that the money was paid to recognise the work that the Catholic Church does overseas as an NGO – questionable in itself – when the money was used to fund the state visit. Most people, including Christians, did not think that the British taxpayer should pay for the Pope’s visit in the first place, and many will be astonished to see the detrimental impact that this illegitimate use of public funds has already made."
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