Civil Society Coalition Criticises Ireland's Progress on UN Sustainable Development Goals

Posted on Wednesday, 26 July 2023
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Furthest Behind First, or Falling Behind Further? The human stories that challenge Ireland’s claims to be leaving no one behind
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This day last week, Wednesday 19th July, the Irish Government delivered its second Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the UN headquarters  when Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan presented a largely positive picture of Irish progress towards the SDGs. 

Coalition 2030, an alliance of over 70 Irish civil society organisations and networks which includes Social Justice Ireland, expressed concern that Ireland is falling behind on its commitment to implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The coalition outlined its concerns in a report published in response to the Irish Government presenting its second progress report on the SDGs at the United Nations in New York. 


The coalition criticised Ireland’s claims to be reaching 80% of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets and has called for increased ambition from government to reach the SDGs by 2030. In particular, the State is failing to reach the furthest behind in Irish society which is a core principle of the SDGs, and as a result it is leaving thousands of people behind. The criticism comes in advance of the government delivering its Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the UN headquarters, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan will present a largely positive picture of Irish progress towards the SDGs. But Coalition 2030 challenged those claims, pointing to a lack of urgency and ambition as being at the heart of Ireland's lack of meaningful progress on the SDGs, and in particular its efforts to reach the furthest behind in Irish society.

Coalition 2030 Coordinator Meaghan Carmody said: “What the government will present is completely at odds with the lived experience of thousands of people across Ireland. Key to achieving the SDGs is ensuring that those on the margins of society are reached first. But we know that there are vast swathes of Irish society being left behind. One parent families, disabled people, migrants, people living in Direct Provision, older people - these are just some of the people who live life on the margins of society, for whom every day can be a struggle, and who face barriers in accessing their human rights. It’s 8 years since the Goals were agreed, and we are still waiting for the kind of urgency, ambition and cross-governmental leadership from the State that would drive progress. Ireland has earned a reputation as being an SDG champion internationally, but we are concerned that there is a growing chasm between the State's international leadership and leadership domestically.”

Tim Hanley, Policy and Communications Officer at the European Anti Poverty Network Ireland pointed to the lack of relevant data as contributing to a skewed picture of Irish progress towards the SDGs. “The review raises questions about how Ireland is measuring its progress towards achieving no poverty. For example, the international poverty line of $1.25, while important for the poorest countries, is a meaningless measure when it comes to assessing progress towards achieving ‘No Poverty’ in Ireland. Its use in bolstering the Government’s claim that Ireland is achieving no poverty points to the need for relevant and tailored measures to ensure an accurate and useful picture of where we stand. If we don't have the right data, it's not possible to develop the right policies.” 

Susanne Rogers, Research and Policy Analyst with Social Justice Ireland and part of the Coalition 2030 group, called out the use of a misleading traffic light system in Ireland’s review. “At first glance, Ireland’s SDG review looks very positive, appearing to show that we are achieving four of the 17 SDGs. But this doesn’t reflect what is actually meaningful for people in Irish society - adequate housing, decent work, quality healthcare, equitable education etc. We should consider following the approach of Finland as a world leader in the development of nationally relevant indicators. In short, we must measure what matters. We also aren’t reaching the furthest behind and so we can’t say we’re achieving the SDGs. You don’t get a medal for running 25 miles in a marathon. Unless we see a shift in political mindset and a commitment to innovation, we’ll keep getting the same results - increasing inequality and poverty. ”

In light of record breaking temps and rocketing numbers of those facing hunger across the world, Louise Finan, Head of Policy at Dóchas said, “Last week in New York, countries affected by climate change, conflict and hunger have called for global solidarity, global climate action and financing reform. The urgency in their calls must be reflected in Ireland’s commitments at the upcoming SDG Summit in September and our action on the SDGs at home. Ireland’s leadership is vital.” 

Dr. James Casey, Policy Officer at Independent Living Movement Ireland and member of the Coalition 2030 delegation in New York read a statement to the UN after Ireland presented its VNR on behalf of Irish civil society.

Voluntary National Review (VNR)

A Voluntary National Review (VNR) is a reporting mechanism through which countries assess and present national progress made in implementing the 2030 Agenda, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including the pledge to ‘Leave No One Behind’. It is a voluntary, country-led review, which aims to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of Agenda 2030. A VNR also seeks to strengthen policies and institutions of governments and to mobilise multi-stakeholder support and partnerships for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. A country reports into the UN membership when they present their VNR. Ireland submitted its first VNR in 2018. 

Building Back Better while Leaving No One Behind

Ireland’s 2023 VNR was developed under the theme of ‘Building Back Better while Leaving No One Behind’, guided by the central commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the theme of the 2023 High Level Political Forum (HLPF). In this context, civil society and stakeholders were invited, along with Government Departments, to contribute to the VNR through a public consultation, stakeholder fora and a special youth consultation process. This has resulted in input from civil society and stakeholders, as well as a dedicated youth chapter — the first time a country has provided a standalone youth chapter in its VNR. Agenda 2030 In September 2015, all 193 UN Member States, including Ireland, adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ‘end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all’ as part of the new agenda — Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This framework is made up of 17 SDGs and 169 targets. Ireland had a significant role in its development and adoption, as co-facilitator, together with Kenya, of the intergovernmental negotiations in September 2015.


United Nations High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF)

Agenda 2030 recognises the importance of follow-up and review at the national, regional, and global level to measure implementation progress of the SDGs. The UN High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the main United Nations platform for sustainable development and Agenda 2030, and has the central role in overseeing follow-up and review at global level. The 2023 HLPF will be held from 10-19 July 2023 at the UN Headquarters in New York, with the central theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”. Find out more on the United Nations website.

2023 SDG Summit

The 2023 SDG Summit will take place in September 2023 during the United Nations General Assembly high-level week, marking the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Heads of State and Government will carry out a comprehensive review of the state of the SDGs, respond to the impact of multiple and interlocking crises facing the world, and provide high-level political guidance on transformative and accelerated actions leading up to the target year of 2030 for achieving the SDGs. The outcome of the summit will be a negotiated political declaration which Ireland and Qatar are co-facilitating.