Cultural sustainability is still a conceptual outlier both in cultural policy and sustainable development policy in Ireland. Cultural sustainability rarely appears in policy as a stand-alone goal. Neither is there a distinct strategy to progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals taking account of cultural sustainability.
‘Sustainability’ is interpreted in cultural policy as a term to refer to the sustainability of the arts sector or cultural and creative industries. More recently with the Arts Council’s Creative Places pilot initiative, sustainability has been interpreted as a strategic sustained investment in a local community.
Policies related to investing in the cultural wellbeing of communities appeared more recently in the cultural policy framework document Culture 2025 (2020) of the Department of Culture, Heritage, and Gaeltacht: “The value of culture as a means of fostering a more sustainable future for Ireland, including through economic, environmental and social policy”. Increasing public engagement with the arts is a goal of the Arts Council’s strategy Making Great Art Work (2016-2025). This goal then translates to a principle of recognizing the value of culture and creativity to the individual and society.
In the Voluntary National Review 2018 submitted to the Sustainable Development Goals knowledge platform by the Irish Government, culture is not mentioned at all. The Sustainable Development Goals National Implementation Plan 2018-2020 also makes little mention of cultural sustainability. Goal 8.9 states that by 2030 the government will devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products. Goal 12.b aims to monitor impacts of tourism development on culture. The emphasis on culture is mostly related to supporting economic development. Sustainable cultural development is not emphasised as a distinct goal or sub goal in itself.
Within the governmental tourism strategy People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025, culture (mainly cultural heritage) is only seen as worth protecting as one of a number of valuable assets to ensure a positive visitor experience for tourists. But the responsibility for this protection is clearly passed on to the Office of Public Works and Department of Heritage and Heritage Council. There is a lack of coordination over the shared responsibility for the sustainability of cultural heritage from the tourism bodies, the cultural heritage bodies, as well as bodies responsible for national infrastructural development. Within the governmental framework Our Sustainable Future (2012), culture is only mentioned in relation to sustaining a multicultural society. Thus, culture is not recognised as a strategic priority in achieving sustainable development. This lack of recognition of culture within sustainable development is clearly evidenced by its absence in the Irish Government National Reviews submitted to UNESCO on progress towards the UNESCO sustainable development goals as well as the National Development Plan (Project 2040).
ICOMOS Ireland contributes to international dialogue, debate and policy related to the sustainability of heritage and cultural heritage. ICOMOS International has recently published an important set of principles for EU funded interventions with potential impact upon cultural heritage in 2018.