Sunday 23 October 2016

Will Ireland really have the courage to help eradicate poverty by 2030?

Jim Clarken, CEO Oxfam

Published 25/09/2015 | 18:42

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York REUTERS/Mike Segar
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York REUTERS/Mike Segar

This week the Taoiseach joined 153 world leaders in New York to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals.

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The ambitious global goals, if properly implemented, could eradicate poverty, address the creeping destruction of climate change, achieve gender equality and end hunger by 2030. 

This is not just about the “over there”, the parts of the world we associate with people trapped by grinding poverty, with the cards stacked against them in every way imaginable.

It’s here as well – adopting these universal goals means addressing the poverty and inequality that exists in Ireland.

As the Taoiseach solemnly agrees to adopt the new goals we have to ask, does Ireland really have the courage to help eradicate poverty by 2030?  Because to dare to achieve this will require Ireland to do things very differently.

In fact, to bring the global goals to reality both here and overseas, an inversion of attitude to public finances and our broken global tax system is required. 

Ireland will need to draw up an action plan showing how it will both implement the goals domestically – and support their fulfilment internationally.

We will need a whole of government approach in Ireland to ensure one department’s policy doesn’t negatively impact on another’s – i.e. trade and development and climate – and this requires new way of thinking and planning at policy level. 

Next month’s Budget offers a key moment for the Government to spell out how committed it really is to make the goals a reality and to make a statement of intent, in both foreign and domestic policies. 

Vital to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals is how they will be paid for. To bring the goals to reality, public finances must be prioritised over private funds for public solutions to public problems.

International aid plays a role in saving millions of lives and alleviates poverty and inequality. But rich countries continue to break their aid promises, many by a considerable margin. 

The 2016 Budget must urgently reverse the downward spiral of funding to overseas aid of recent years and deliver on Ireland’s decades-old commitment to achieve the UN target of spending 0.7pc of Gross National Income on overseas development assistance.

The projected spend on overseas aid for 2015 is 0.35pc – the lowest contribution we have made as a country since 2001 – so the Government must also set out a clear, credible and binding plan for achieving its target by 2020. 

And while aid is crucial, it’s not going to be enough. We must also fix the broken global tax system so poor countries can meet the new global goals.

Multinational companies everywhere are exploiting loopholes in the global tax system to cheat developing countries out of billions of dollars every year – money desperately needed to invest in tackling poverty and inequality. 

Governments, including Ireland, can raise the necessary revenue to invest in our fight against poverty, hunger, inequality and climate change by tackling tax evasion and avoidance, obliging multinationals to publicly disclose how much tax they pay and where, setting up progressive and sustainable domestic taxation systems. 

Ireland can make a crucial contribution to the international fight against tax havens and tax dodging by putting our own house in order first.

According to recent reports, Budget 2016 could see Ireland become one of the first countries to introduce moves obliging multinationals to disclose more information about their activities to tax authorities – i.e. how much they pay in tax and where – welcome news but only if this information is made publicly available.

In most countries today, extreme inequality is working for a few people, but robbing fair opportunities for the majority. That’s in part because the mega rich park $18.5 trillion of their wealth in tax havens, depriving governments of more than $156bn in tax revenue.

Developing countries are losing out on around US$100bn in tax revenues each year – according to the OECD, three times more than they receive in aid each year.

Oxfam estimates that almost half of the world’s wealth – $110 trillion – is owned by the top 1pc and the richest 80 people own as much as the poorest half of the planet.

Cracking down on corruption and pressing for progressive politics and inclusive governance will also ensure that political decisions are taken to distribute power and resources in ways that empower poor and marginalised people. 

We want to be and can be the first generation to end extreme poverty and hunger. We are the last generation who can avert catastrophic climate change. But we all have to take responsibility for making this happen. 

None of this is easy: it involves taking on the power of the 1pc in favour of the interests of the most poor and most marginalised. But the goals are achievable, and people in Ireland and all over the world can – and should – use these to hold governments to account from now on.

The Sustainable Development Goals, if implemented correctly, will have an impact on everyone in Ireland – in terms of better public services, fairer allocation of resources to the most vulnerable, more focus on protecting the environment and hopefully a better life for everyone.


Now is the time for the Irish Government to decide what type of global community it wants to foster. The real work starts now.

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