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National Conference on the SDGs, Human Development and Inequalities

Sustainable Ireland, National Conference on the SDGs, Human Development and Inequalities. Session: Government and Civil Society Engagement on the SDGs, Croke Park 

Good morning to you all. I am delighted to be here with you at this National Conference. I would like to thank Sustainable Ireland for arranging this important event on what, I am sure we can all agree, are critical issues for the future of us here in Ireland, and for the future of all global citizens.

Complementing my colleague from the Department of Climate Action, Communication and the Environment, who spoke on the domestic context, I will speak this morning about the role that Ireland plays, and the role that we intend to play between now and 2030, supporting the implementation of the SDGs internationally. This includes the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at the UN and in developing countries, as well as our work promoting global citizenship in Ireland. In both of these aspects, the role of our partner civil society organisations is crucial.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 marked the first ever global agreement on the future of our world. I am extremely proud that Ireland played a pivotal role in brokering this historic agreement. In this regard, let me join Minster of State Kyne in paying tribute to David Donoghue with whom I am delighted to share the podium this morning.

Let us take a step back for a moment and ask why Ireland chose to take on this leadership role at the UN, and indeed, in general, why we place such a high priority on multi-lateralism and development cooperation within our foreign policy.

Part of our motivation is about our values. The Irish public leads with their generosity and Ireland stands out for its solidarity with people in need far from home.

But a safer, more peaceful, sustainable and equal world is also in Ireland’s fundamental interest as a small country with an open economy in an ever more interconnected and uncertain world. Our international development cooperation, along with our work at the UN on human rights, peacekeeping, disarmament and security, is at the heart of our efforts to create a more secure, stable and inclusive world. It reflects our best interests, as well as our values as a people.

Through our work at the UN and our development cooperation programme, Irish Aid, we have helped to shape the world over the past 50 years. We have contributed to the reduction of global poverty, brought about transformative change in responding to crises, in resolving conflicts and in bringing about stability. We have supported the building of national systems and have helped transform many people’s lives.

Irish influence throughout the long and difficult SDG negotiations leading up to the landmark agreement in September 2015 is an outstanding example of how we continue to shape the world.

We will continue to bring our influence to bear within the United Nations, in line with our values and interests. We are presenting ourselves as a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 term, compelled as we are to ensure that the shared values of peace, justice and the protection of the human rights of all, guide the work of the United Nations.

Furthermore, we are committed to showing the same global leadership in the implementation of SDGs as we did in their negotiation in 2015 and I would like to demonstrate how we are doing this at the international level.

The first aspect is how our international development assistance supports the achievement of the SDGs in developing countries.

The vision of the Irish Aid programme is one of a sustainable and just world, where women and men are empowered to overcome poverty and hunger and fully realise their rights and potential. This strongly aligns with the vision of Agenda 2030. For 2018, the Government has allocated just over €707 million for Official Development Assistance, the third consecutive year our aid budget has increased.

Allow me to give an example of how we are supporting the realisation of SDGs on the ground.

SDG 4 commits us “to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. As a former Minister at the Department of Education and Skills, I am acutely conscious of the importance of quality learning. In line with the 2030 Agenda, if we are to make sure that no child is left behind, that all receive the education that is their right, our guiding principles should be equity and inclusion.

These principles are particularly relevant as we approach the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December. And these are the principles which orientate Ireland’s development cooperation approach. Our aim is to reach the most vulnerable and neglected through education, and positively affect their lives. In so doing, in enabling everyone to maximise their potential, we all benefit – it is through education that human genius is unlocked, that people are enabled to live more productive lives.

This has been the experience of Ireland over my lifetime. It is only fifty years since free secondary education was introduced. In that time, we have changed from a nation which exported its young, unformed and ill-prepared, to a country which has one of the highest levels of third level education in Europe, attractive to migrants, and able to offer its citizens a higher standard of living than their grandparents could have ever imagined. Inclusive education was the key to this transformation.

Irish Aid’s work on education includes direct support to local governments providing education in remote areas such as the Karamoja Region in Uganda or Niassa province in Mozambique. We then use these experiences to feed into global initiatives such as the Global Partnership for Education. Ireland was a founding member of the Global Partnership for Education and we recently doubled our contribution, contributing €25 million between now and 2020. We are working with the Partnership to ensure that the 264 million children who are out of school, mainly because of conflict or other crises, are not left behind.

Minister of State Kyne gave a powerful example in the Irish context of the inter-connectivity of SDGs. SDG 4 on education is one of the Goals that can and does enable the achievement of so many others. We see in the Irish Aid programmes that the education of girls in particular, has far reaching effects on child and family health and nutrition (SDG 3) among other goals.

This is a flavour of what we are doing now on SDGs, but what of the future?

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will produce a new White Paper on international development policy in 2018. This Paper will build on our existing development cooperation programme and further strengthen its alignment to the SDGs. It will also have in its sights a specific SDG target, 17.2, which calls for “developed countries to implement fully their official development assistance commitments, including the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income for official development assistance.” The White Paper will inform an ambitious pathway towards making greater but sustainable progress on the UN target.

Reaching the 0.7% target will involve significant increases to the ODA budget and requires careful planning and consultation with other Government Departments and stakeholders. In this vein, we will shortly be launching a public consultation process on the White Paper, involving both public meetings and online opportunities to input, and I very much hope that you will all engage in this process.

As well as covering aid targets, SDG 17 more broadly speaks of partnerships for the achievement of the SDGs. This is about governments like Ireland, but it is also about many others, including the international organisations that Ireland supports like the UN and critically, civil society.

Civil society organisations are well placed to make an important contribution to the implementation of the SDGs through their work in advocating for and providing essential services such as education and health to vulnerable people in developing countries. They are active, along with Irish Aid, in working to empower people to set their own path for justice and development.

Another key role for civil society is in helping to ensure that all their partners and the wider public fully understand the importance of the implications of the 2030 Agenda. Such advocacy and encouragement of participation is essential. This is captured in SDG Target 4.7, which aims to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development.”

Development education strengthens public understanding of the interconnectedness of global and national poverty and inequality, supporting the Irish public to acquire the necessary knowledge, values and analytical skills to understand the global justice focus and underlying values of each of the SDGs.

The Irish Aid Development Education Strategy now requires all development education partners to include awareness-raising of, and engagement with, the SDGs in their projects and programmes.

This work is carried out in a wide variety of settings. I recently saw for myself the excellent work we are supporting in Donabate Portrane Educate Together National School who have partnered on the SDGs in Ireland and Cambodia and are organising an SDG festival.

Development education is therefore an essential component in raising awareness of the 17 SDGs and is essential for Ireland’s successful delivery of the Goals, inspiring and enabling citizens to take action at local, national and global levels.

Let me close by thanking the members of Sustainable Ireland, World Vision Ireland, the Irish Environmental Network, Social Justice Ireland and ECO-UNESCO, and all other civil society organisations and SDG activists present for your ongoing work on this critical agenda.

Thank You.

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