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Is Ireland Thriving? Answers from International Assessments

The theme of NESC’s 50th anniversary NESC@50 programme of research and events is A Thriving Ireland: Inclusive, Protective, and Forward Looking.

This Secretariat Report examines the extent to which Ireland can be described as a thriving country with reference to nine regularly cited assessments (covering well-being; human development; sustainable development; transition performance; social progress; biodiversity; competitiveness; inclusive wealth; and the doughnut model incorporating ecological and planetary boundaries).

The approaches examined have limitations, yet their consideration is a necessary starting point in any discussion of a country’s social, economic, and environmental position. This paper reinforces the position that they can only be a starting point.

Some key findings are:

  1. There is no one ideal measure of a country’s performance.
  2. While Ireland ranks highly on many metrics, and in several ways is a successful and prosperous nation, there are obvious, significant areas for improvement.
  3. It is important to distinguish between current and future performance.
  4. The question of whether a country is thriving must consider distributional issues.
  5. There are huge challenges to be faced for Ireland and the international community in living within planetary boundaries.
  6. Decoupling of economic growth and environmental impact is possible, but there is a lack of evidence to show that decoupling can be achieved at the scale and speed required to live within planetary boundaries.
  7. There is judgement involved in the selection of indicators for any framework and the results are invariably influenced by indicators chosen. The indicators in Ireland’s well-being framework should be kept under ongoing review.
  8. Overall, Ireland today is thriving in many aspects, with some obvious capacity and distributional challenges; but more must be done on environmental sustainability and for the Ireland of tomorrow.