Missing targets defining decency: Report sets agenda we can’t dodge

When the history of the Brexit debacle comes to be written, and depending on who writes it, the assertion by Britain’s then justice secretary, Michael Gove, in June 2016, that “people in this country have had enough of experts” may be recognised as a call to the basest instincts of an uncertain, unnerved electorate longing for a return to the imagined magnificence offered by the catchall deception called “sovereignty”.

Gove made that bizarre assessment in an interview in which he also ruled himself out as a candidate for the Conservative leadership.

Within weeks he was a candidate, bringing his credibility as well as his judgement into question. Today he sits in the Downing St cabinet reminding the prime minister, Theresa May, how pathetically weak she is is and how comfortable the Tories are with ignorance and mendacity.

Michael Gove

It is also a clear indication of why the “mother of all parliaments” has become a dysfunctional, divided parody of what it imagines itself to be.

The publication yesterday of Measuring Progress, which placed Ireland in the bottom half of 15 European peer countries on a range of pivotal UN-backed indicators covering the economy, the environment, and society will give Gove’s Irish cousins an opportunity to decry the experts but it will not, no matter how they harrumph or mislead, change the facts.

Published by Social Justice Ireland the report shows that on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on environment, gender equality, responsible consumption and production, climate action, affordable clean energy, reducing inequality, and international partnership on sustainable development goals we lag behind what should be achieved by a rich, well-educated society.

The report is critical of our “particularly poor performance on low pay, long-term unemployment, household debt, and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions”.

It suggested we need to “drastically change waste-based consumption patterns and recognise that short-term economic growth policies are unsustainable”.

Anyone familiar with our institutionalised failure to meet targets designed to slow climate destruction will not be surprised by the warning on greenhouse gas emissions, a warning given even more weight by last week’s announcement that we have secured a “derogation” on using greater volumes of nitrates than our EU partners.

This warning must have implications for grand plans to expand the farm and food sector but because business trumps environment it is dispiritingly unlikely that they will have any real impact.

It is interesting too that the report identifies household debt as a pressing issue. Cheap credit — soon to be a thing of the past — fuelled consumerism must be an issue but so too is our dangerously antisocial, anti-family housing market.

Securing this necessity has become a contract of exploitation with few parallels in history.

Low pay adds to that pincher squeeze.

It is, thankfully, not all gloom. The report commends our education system — which raises a question Gove is entitled to ask and we, if we have the wit of a beermat, should feel obliged to answer honestly: If we are so well educated why are we failing on so many important criteria?

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