What we do where:  Regions, Sectors and GVA

In this final post on regional Gross Value Added (GVA) data, the focus is on the role of different sectors in our regions.  As discussed in the previous post, the economic contribution of the regions is related to the size of the population and the workforce, but also to the strength of different sectors in each region.  This is examined, followed by a discussion on the importance of each region in national sectoral GVA and finally, although this data has only been available for the last two years, I take a brief look at the changes in Regional GVA for sectors for 2015 and 2016.  As before, there is a main focus is on the Border and West regions as they are the regions most aligned with the WDC’s Western Region[i].

The importance of different sectors in each region

It is useful to examine the importance of different sectors in each region and in Figure 1 the contribution of each sector to the individual region’s GVA is shown.  As noted in the previous blog posts on this topic (here and here), the data for the Mid West and South West regions was supressed by the CSO to preserve the confidentiality of some large Multi National Entities (MNE).  I have, therefore, inferred the data for a combined region (Mid West & South West) so that it can be included here.  Strikingly, in the combined in the combined region of the Mid West & South West the significance of GVA from Industry[ii] is evident (accounting for an extraordinary 64% of the total GVA in this combined region).  This compares to 36% of GVA nationally.  Industry is also particularly important in the Mid East (36% of GVA) and the West (35% of GVA).

The largest sector in the Border region is Pubic administration, heath and education[iii] (26% of GVA) and this is also the largest sector in the Midlands (27% of GVA) as well as being an important sector in the West (20%) and the South East (16%).  Unsurprisingly, the largest sector in GVA terms in Dublin is Information and communication.

Source: CSO, 2019, County Incomes and Regional GDP Table 9d

Looking at other sectors, Agriculture forestry and fishing contributed most to GVA in the Border region (4% of GVA) and accounts for 3% of Midlands GVA.  These figures somewhat underestimate the importance of this sector as the processing element of this sector is included with Industry.  The Agri-food sector therefore makes a greater contribution to the economy than shown here (estimated as 7% of GVA nationally, compared to 1% in this data).  Additionally, economic activity in the agriculture and food sector is derived from a much higher proportion of Irish inputs (74%) than other traded sectors (43%).  See here for discussion.

In 2016 the most important sectors in the economy of the Border region are Public administration, health and education (26%), Industry (20%) and Locally[iv] traded services (14%).  As noted above, Industry accounts for more than a third of the economy of the West (35%), Public administration, health and education accounts for 20% and Locally traded services and Real estate activities both contributed 11%.

The size of GVA from each sector varies significantly (see Figure 2), with Industry the most significant sector (nationally 36% of all GVA), followed by Locally traded services (13%), Public administration, health and education (12%); Professional and administrative services (11%) and Information and communications (9%).

Source: CSO, 2019, County Incomes and Regional GDP Table 9d

 Key sectors in the regions

While it is very useful to look at which sectors are most important to each region,  (as above in Figure 1) but it is also interesting to see which region are most important to different sector’s total GVA (Figure 3 below).  As discussed in the last post on this topic, the regions are very different sizes, in terms of population and persons at work as well as in terms of economic output.  It is important to remember this when looking at contributions from each region (especially Dublin and the combined region of Mid West & South West).

While, as noted above, Industry is very significant in GVA of the combined region Mid West and South West, this is turn translates into this region accounting for a very significant proportion of GVA from Industry (Figure 3) in all regions, close to two thirds of all GVA from Industry in Ireland (62%).  In contrast, Dublin, which is the largest region in terms of population, persons at work and GVA, only accounts for 16% of Industrial GVA (see Figure 3).

Dublin clearly accounts for the highest proportion of GVA in all other sectors (with the exception of Agriculture, forestry and fishing).  It is however, completely dominant in Information and Communication, accounting for 82% of all the GVA of that sector.

Source: CSO, 2019, County Incomes and Regional GDP Table 9d,

As noted, the size of the different sectors should be borne in mind, but it is also interesting to consider relative importance of the different regions (the Border and West in particular) contribution to national GVA in that sector.  Looking at the Border region, Agriculture (14%), Construction (7%), Public administration, health and education (7%) and Real estate activities are the sectors where the Border contributes more than 5% of each Sector’s GVA.

Although manufacturing is important in the West (the high value added medical device sector has a globally significant cluster), the significance of the sector in the Mid West & South West in this  means the West only produces 5% of sectoral GVA, even though this is the largest sector in that region accounting for more than a third of all GVA (Figure 2 above).  The West contributes more than 5% of national GVA in the Agriculture (10%), Construction (10%), Real estate (10%), Public administration (9%) and Arts, entertainment and other services (7%).

Changes over Time

Data on regional sectoral GVA has only been available for the last two years so it is not possible to look back at changes over the longer term.  It is, however, interesting to look at the difference between 2015 and 2016, bearing in mind that the data is very volatile across these two years.

It is difficult to say how much of this volatility relates to the factors underlying the level shift in GVA in 2015 (read more about this here) but it appears to apply in all sectors when looking at growth and decline across regions (Table 1).  Because we can only look at the change between 2015 and 2016, it is important not to place too much significant on the changes but, the significant volatility is evident at a glance.  In the table all declines are highlighted in pink with declines in GVA of more than 20% in bright red.  Growth of more than 10% is shown in pale blue and growth of more than 15% and 25% is shown in darker blues.  Both Construction and Financial and insurance activities grew significantly in all regions, while Industry, Information and communication and Arts, entertainment and other services each grew in some regions while declining in others.

Table 1: Changes in regional sectoral GVA 2015-2016

Source: CSO, 2019, County Incomes and Regional GDP Table 9d, 9e (own calculations)

Looking more closely at the Border and West regions (Figure 4), it is clear that while there was growth in most sectors the growth rates was often different in the two regions, for example in Professional and administrative services GVA in the Border grew by 26% and only by 5% in the West.  In contrast, Arts, entertainment and other services grew by 20% in the West and showed no growth in the Border region.  GVA from Industry fell in both regions (-23% in the West and -7% in the Border region) and while Agriculture, forestry and fishing grew in the Border region (6%) it fell in the West region (-6%).

Source: CSO, 2019, County Incomes and Regional GDP Table 9d, 9e

As noted above, this detailed data on sectoral GVA for the NUTS 3 regions have only recently been calculated.  It was published last year (2018) for the first time in relation to 2015, and this year 2016 data is available.  In future years it will be very useful to be able to examine trends over a longer period in relation to regional sectoral growth.  This will also be important to increasing our understanding of regional productivity issues as well as the different rates of economic growth and development across regions.  This post has been the first opportunity to consider this in more detail, but I look forward to continuing the analysis next year.



Helen McHenry

[i] Clare is the only Western Region county not in these regions.  Clare is part of the Mid West, for which data has been suppressed.

[ii] Mining and quarrying; manufacturing; electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply; water supply; sewerage, waste management and remediation activities.

[iii] Public administration and defence; compulsory social security; education; human health and social work activities

[iv] Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles; transportation and storage; accommodation and food service activities

Size matters: relative changes in regional economies

In the last post on this topic I examined some of the recent trends in regional GDP.  In this post, that analysis is continued, with a focus on the changing share of national Gross Value Added (GVA)[i] coming from each of the NUTS3 regions, regional size and productivity.

As ever, it is important to remember that regional GDP (and associated GVA) is just one measure of regional development and this measure has significant limitations.  It does not provide an indication as to the distribution of wealth between different population groups in the same region, nor does it measure the income ultimately available to private households in a region.  You can read more about this here.  In addition, other issues such as the relocation to Ireland by significant Multi National Enterprises (MNEs) of some or all of their business activities and assets (in particular valuable Intellectual Property) alongside increased contract manufacturing conducted abroad (which is included in Irish accounts), has clearly influenced shares of regional GVA and contributes to the widening disparity.  Despite these difficulties, however, it remains one of the most important regional economic statistics and is a key measure of regional development progress and it is useful to consider the contribution of the regional economies to the national total in more detail.

Unfortunately, as noted in the last post, data for both the South West and the Mid West have been suppressed by the CSO for confidentiality reasons (related to the very significant contribution to GVA by a small number of firms).  In this post these regions are combined into a region “Mid West & South West” for the purposes of discussion (with their combined statistics inferred from the data).  GVA at basic prices is the key statistic discussed here.

Regional Shares of GVA.

The Dublin region (39%) and the Combined Mid West & South West (35%) together account for almost three quarters of the Gross Value Added in the state (see Figure 1) with the Mid East, the next largest region producing 10%.  The Border and Midland regions account for the smallest part of national GVA, at 3% each.

Source: Source: CSO, 2019. Statbank, RAA06 Gross Value Addded by Year, Region and Statistic (2000-2016)

There has of course been very significant growth in GVA in recent years (especially in 2015, as discussed here) and, as much of this occurred in the South West, this has changed the balance of regional GVA with further concentration in the Mid West & South West.

Looking back to 2000 and 2008 the gradual change is evident.  In 2000 Dublin the Mid West and the South West together accounted for 68% of national GVA, in 2008 it was 66% and by 2016 it was 74%.  This is the consequence of very significant growth in the Mid West &South West economies (240%) between 2000 and 2016.  At the same time, GVA in the South East (164%), Dublin (149%) and the Mid East (138%) all more than doubled in size in that period.  Growth in the West (85%), Midlands (82%) and Border (69%) was significantly less.  The proportion of national GVA produced in these regions consequentially declined, although, as discussed in the previous post on this topic, their output did grow, just at a slower rate.

Source: Source: CSO, 2019. Statbank, RAA06 Gross Value Addded by Year, Region and Statistic (2000-2016)

This growth had two phases which can be seen when examining two different periods (2000-2008 and 2008-2016).  During the earlier period (2000-2008) GVA, grew in all of the regions, with the percentage growth highest in South East and Mid-East (Figure 3) and lowest in the Mid-West & South West and the West.  The Celtic tiger was an opportunity for regions to develop rapidly.  Since then (2008-2016) the Mid West & South West and the Dublin region have grown most rapidly.

Source: Source: CSO, 2019. Statbank, RAA06 Gross Value Addded by Year, Region and Statistic (2000-2016) –

The recovery from recession has been slower in the smaller regions, between 2008 and 2016 there was a decline in the size of GVA in the Border region, no growth in the Midlands and only an 8% increase in GVA in the West over the 8 year period.

Looking at the share of regional GVA over time (comparing the years 2000, 2008 and 2016) the consequences of the different growth levels is evident.  We can see (Figure 4) that between 2000 and 2008 the share of GVA from both Dublin and the Mid West & South West combined had reduced and the share from the South East, Mid-East and Midlands increased slightly.  Between 2008 and 2016 the very significant growth in GVA in the Mid West & South West increased the percentage share of the economy in that region to 35% while the share from all other regions consequently declined.

Source: Source: CSO, 2019. Statbank, RAA06 Gross Value Addded by Year, Region and Statistic (2000-2016) –

The West (which is all part of the Western Region) showed a very small decline in its percentage of national GVA (7.1% to 7.0%) while the Border (three of its five counties are in the Western Region) showed a small increase (4.9% to 5.1%) in the period 2000-2008.  Their percentage contribution declined further between 2008 and 2016, with the West accounting for 5% of GVA in 2016 and the Border 3%.

Size of Regions and Regional Economies

The size of the Dublin and the Mid-West & South-West economies is evident when we focus on regional GVA, but for a more balanced picture it is important to look at how these compare to the regional populations and persons at work.  The percentage of the State GVA, Population and Persons at work are shown in Figure 5 below.

Clearly Dublin (39%) and the Mid-West & South-West (35%) account for the highest proportions of GVA, but these regions also have the highest proportion of the population (Dublin 28%; Mid-West & South-West 25%) and the persons at work (Dublin 30%; Mid-West & South-West 27%).  Other regions are significantly smaller.  The Border region accounts for 3% of GVA, 9% of the population and 8% of the persons at work.  The West accounts for 5% of GVA, 10% of the population and 9% of the persons at work.

Source: CSO, 2019. Statbank, RAA06 Gross Value Addded by Year, Region and Statistic (2000-2016) –

There is a clear difference in shares of GVA compared to shares of both population and persons at work (which are quite similar in most region).

It is therefore useful to look more closely at productivity (GVA per person at work).  This is significantly higher in Dublin plus Mid East (these are combined for the purposes of discussion because many of the workers living in the Mid-East are contributing to the GVA of Dublin) and in the Mid West & South West (Figure 6).  GVA per person at work is lowest in the Border, West and Midland regions.  For the Midland region in particular, the commuting effect may be quite strong, workers living in the Midlands are producing GVA in Dublin but counted as persons at work in the Midlands

Source: CSO, 2019. Statbank, RAA06 Gross Value Addded by Year, Region and Statistic (2000-2016) –

The GVA per person at work in the Border and the West are significant lower than that for the state.  As discussed previously, other regions’ GVA has significantly benefited from the relocation to some regions by Multi National Enterprises (MNEs) of some or all of their business activities and assets alongside increased contract manufacturing which all contributed to the very significant growth in GDP and GVA in certain regions (and of course nationally) 2015 (see here for more discussion of this).

Productivity is also influenced by the sectors in each region.  Regions with more high value added enterprises (which are generating a larger margin between the final price of the product and the cost of inputs used to produce it[ii]) will tend to have higher GVA per worker.  The importance of different sector to regional economies is considered in the next post on this topic.



Helen McHenry

[i] GDP is Gross Domestic Product, GDP and GVA are the same concept i.e. they measure the value of the goods and services (or part thereof) which are produced within a region or country. GDP is valued at market prices and hence includes taxes charged and excludes the value of subsidies provided. GVA at basic prices on the other hand excludes product taxes and includes product subsidies. See background notes .

[ii] See here for more discussion of this issue

Professional Services in the Western Region

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published the latest in its ‘Regional Sectoral Profiles’ series which analyses the most recent employment and enterprise data for the Western Region on specific economic sectors and identifies key policy issues.[1]

This report examines the Professional Services sector which includes two sub-sectors: ‘Professional, Scientific & Technical Activities’ (legal, accountancy, architecture, veterinary, graphic design, translation services etc.) and ‘Real Estate’ (auctioneers, valuers, property letting and management). Both are knowledge intensive services sectors, relatively high value and are highly sensitive to the level of overall economic activity.

Two publications are available:

Employment in Professional Services

According to Census 2016, 14,499 people worked in Professional Services in the Western Region.  Professional Services play a far smaller role in the region’s labour market than nationally (Fig. 1).  In 2016 Professional Services accounted for 4.3% of total employment in the Western Region compared with 6.1% in the state.

As would be expected, Galway City is where this sector is most important in the region (5.2% of its residents work in Professional Services), but this is still well below the state average and is in fact only tenth highest of all counties in Ireland.  Donegal is where it is least important (3.8%) and it has the second lowest share in the state.

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011

Between 2011 and 2016 there was 10.8% growth in employment in this sector in the region.  Although growth in the region was only half that occurring nationally (21.1%), the sector still grew considerably more strongly than total jobs over this period in the region (7.5%) as the sector responded to increased economic activity and growing demand.  At 18.2%, Leitrim had the highest growth in the region, followed by Donegal and Sligo showing a strengthening of this sector in the North West.

Professional Services sub-sectors

Within the Professional Services sector, ‘Accountancy & Management Consultancy’ is the largest activity (22% of Professional Services employment) though its share is notably lower in the region than nationally (26.2%) due to the concentration of the head offices of large accountancy firms in Dublin.  The next largest sub-sector is ‘Architectural & Engineering Services’ accounting for 20.1% of all Professional Services jobs in the region (similar to the national share), linked to the construction and manufacturing sectors.

The third largest sub-sector is ‘Advertising, Market Research & Other’[2] and it is considerably more important in the state (20.3%) than the region (17.2%).  As this includes many quite specialised activities mainly serving business/commercial clients there is high concentration in cities and particularly Dublin.

Two sub-sectors where the region has a notably higher share are ‘Testing, Research & Development’ (10.9% v 7.3%) and ‘Veterinary’ (5.4% v 3.3%).  The region’s strength in manufacturing[3] with companies providing testing or R&D services to these factories influences the first, while the region’s rural and agricultural nature influences the second.

Employment in western towns

When considering towns, commuting can be particularly important and it must be remembered that this data refers to residents of the towns, although some may travel to work elsewhere.

Bearna (8.1%, 72 people) has the highest share of residents working in the sector (Fig. 2) and ninth highest among Ireland’s 200 towns and cities (1,500+ population).  Within the region, Strandhill (7.1%, 57 people), Loughrea (6.9%, 159 people) and Buncrana (6.4%, 153 people) have the next highest shares.  In all cases, this is influenced by commuting, with other commuter towns such as Oranmore and Athenry also having quite high shares.

A number of more rural, medium-sized towns such as Castlerea, Boyle, Carndonagh and Ballymote also have relatively high shares and clearly act as service centres for their rural hinterland.

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Profile 11 – Employment, Occupations and Industry, Table EB030

Self-employment in Professional Services

Of the 14,499 people working in Professional Services in the Western Region in 2016, 30.3% (4,399 people) were self-employed (employer or own account worker).  This is among the highest rates of self-employment across all economic sectors which is not surprising given the nature of the sector with many small and micro businesses e.g. solicitors, photographers, vets.

Self-employment is considerably more common in the Western Region (30.3%) than nationally (25.7%) (Fig. 3). More people in the region have chosen self-employment as a route to work in this sector, perhaps due to more limited job options and also the fact that the smaller size of the local market favours smaller operations.

At 32.5%, self-employment is most common in Sligo, followed by Leitrim (32.4%).  This implies these counties tend to have a large number of smaller businesses and fewer larger firms.  Roscommon (27.5%) and Galway City (28.9%) have the lowest shares. In the case of Galway City, the presence of larger firms contributes to a lower share of self-employment.

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Profile 11 – Employment, Occupations and Industry, Table EB033. Special run from CSO.

In the Western Region, the number of self-employed people working in Professional Services grew by 5.7% between 2011 and 2016. This compares with a 1% decline in total self-employment over the same period, indicating that this sector differed from the general trend of declining self-employment in the region.

At a county level, Leitrim had the strongest growth in self-employment in the sector, increasing 20.4% between 2011 and 2016.  This was clearly a very strong driver of the county’s total jobs growth in this sector.  Sligo (11.4%), Donegal (11.4%) and Clare (9.1%) had the next highest growth.  Roscommon had the lowest growth (2.8%) which contributed to its current low share of self-employment.

Professional Services Enterprises

In 2017[4]  there were 8,139 Professional Services enterprises registered in the Western Region. This was 14% of total enterprises[5] (Fig. 4), well below the 17.3% state average.  The sector’s share of total enterprises in the region (14%) is substantially greater than its share of all employment in the region (4.3%, see Fig. 1), though it should be noted that the employment data refers to 2016. Again this illustrates that this sector is characterised by a large number of quite small enterprises.

At 16.2%, Galway[6] has the highest share of its total enterprises in this sector, though still below the national average. Sligo, Mayo and Clare have the next highest shares influenced by the presence of quite large urban centres.  In common with employment, Donegal has the lowest share of its total enterprises in this sector which points to less activity in the sector.

Source: CSO, Business Demography 2017, Table BRA18.

During the period 2012 to 2017 there was 16.8% growth in the number of Professional Services enterprises in the Western Region, the highest increase across all economic sectors.  Growth in the region was higher than the 15.7% increase nationally.

Key Policy Issues

Lower level of activity in Professional Services in Western Region:  Given that this is a knowledge intensive services sector offering high quality employment, increasing the level of Professional Services activity in the region could make an important contribution to diversifying and strengthening the region’s labour market as well as increasing income levels.

Responds strongly to economic cycles and changing domestic demand: While several Professional Services activities can be traded internationally e.g. architectural services, most enterprises in this sector serve clients in the domestic market and often quite locally.  It therefore relies heavily on the level of domestic demand in the economy including from the construction sector.  The fact that economic recovery in the Western Region lagged that occurring elsewhere in the country[7] was an important factor in the region’s lower jobs growth in this sector.

As well as responding to the economic cycle, this sector also helps to facilitate it, as Professional Services play a key role in business growth by providing legal and accountancy services, market research, advertising and so on, to enterprises. The presence of a strong Professional Services sector within the region is therefore a key driver for wider regional economic growth.

Smaller scale operations and high self-employment: Professional Services enterprises in the Western Region tend to be smaller in scale than the national average and it is characterised by high self-employment.  As many Professional Services are outside the remit for direct financial supports from enterprise development agencies, continuation of existing, and the development of new, soft supports for self-employed and micro-enterprises in this sector is important, particularly in smaller urban centres and rural areas where self-employment can be a key pathway to work and this sector is an important source of professional career opportunities.

Large urban locations play a critical role but there are also opportunities for growth beyond these:  More specialised Professional Services tend to be quite concentrated in larger urban locations.  Nationally, there is strong concentration in Dublin and within the region Galway City is a key location. It is important that the locational advantages of Galway City and the region’s other larger centres (e.g. office space, networking opportunities, digital infrastructure) are enhanced to allow them to play a greater national role as centres for Professional Services activity.

There is also potential for further expansion, at a suitable scale, in smaller centres and more rural areas, including through remote work.  Access to high speed broadband is a critical factor in facilitating this sector to such areas.

For more detailed analysis, download Professional Services in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile and WDC Insights: Professional Services in the Western Region here

Pauline White


Feature image by Robert-Owen-Wahl from Pixabay

[1] Previous Regional Sectoral Profiles are available here https://www.wdc.ie/publications/reports-and-papers/

[2] The ‘Other’ includes graphic and fashion design, translation, agents/agencies etc.

[3] See WDC (2019) Industry in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile 

[4] Data in this section is from CSO, Business Demography 2017

[5] Total enterprises includes all ‘business economy’ enterprises (NACE Rev 2 B to N(-642)) plus the sectors of Health & Social Work, Education, Arts, Entertainment & Recreation and Other Services.

[6] Business Demography data does not distinguish between Galway City and Galway County.

[7] WDC Insights Blog Post, ‘Recent Trends in Regional GDP’ 14 June 2019

Our 5th Birthday! 5 years of the WDC Insights Blog

Five years ago today we published the first WDC Insights blog post.  This special anniversary post today is our 208th post.

As we noted in the celebration for our 200th post, the blog covers a wider range of topics from the impact of the famine on the Region’s population, to the analysis of economic and social issues for the Western Region.  We are delighted that the blog has given us an effective way to let you all know about our work and given us, the authors, the opportunity to explore issues we might not have otherwise considered.

In this short celebratory post we thought we should give you a little insight[1] into the workings of the blog and show you some of the other places where you can find our work.

About us

The WDC Insights blog is written by the Policy Analysis Team in the Western Development Commission.  There are three of us, Deirdre Frost, Pauline White and me, Helen McHenry.  Regular readers may have spotted that, while we all post on social and economic issues for the Western Region and for rural areas, we also have a few specialist areas. Deirdre, for example, is our telecoms and rail expert; Pauline posts on employment and enterprise; and I cover energy and low carbon issues.  These are just examples of some our work areas. We all cover specific issues relevant to different aspects of regional and rural development and , of course, have a particular focus on our seven county Western Region.

In general we rotate posting among the team, so we are all familiar with the three week deadline and the ‘what will I write about this week?’ question.   Sometimes it is obvious.  We may have completed or published some analysis, attended an interesting event or given a presentation.  Sometimes it is not so obvious.  The posts we write on these occasions, in retrospect, are often most fun to prepare, covering some issue important to the Region following something of particular interest to us, or analysing unusual data available at county level (something that still excites us!).  One great thing I have learned about those posts is that you never know when a piece of analysis will suddenly become relevant or useful.

Where to find our work

As the blog is a showcase for the work of the Policy Analysis Team at the Western Development Commission this is a good opportunity to highlight some of the other work we do which may be of interest.  All our work is on the website of the Western Development Commission www.wdc.ie and you can read more about the areas covered by the team here.

On the website we have statistics about each of the seven counties and the Western Region in our County Profiles.  The areas covered include:

  • Physical data (e.g. land mass)
  • Human Resource
  • Centres of Population
  • Education levels
  • Natural Resources
  • Employment
  • Local Sustainability
  • Tourism
  • Enterprises


So, if you want to know more about one of our seven counties (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway or Clare) or the Western Region itself, check out the County Profiles.



The best place to find our range of outputs in on the publications page of the WDC site which has all of our reports and papers and our submissions.

We produce a range of reports and papers including:



We also make submissions to national policy consultations on an on-going basis to provide a Western Region perspective to national and regional policy making.  These are on the submissions page.  Recent submissions were on European Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network, the options for the use of revenues raised from increases in Carbon Tax and to the Northern and Western Regional Assembly on the Draft of its Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy. See all of our submissions here


We hope that you continue to enjoy the blog and find our analysis useful and interesting.  Don’t forget that to be sure of getting our weekly posts you can follow the blog here.  You can also sign up to the WDC Insights Policy Mailing List for monthly updates on our work and publications or follow us on twitter where we are @wdcinsights.

In the meantime we are off to celebrate our five years of blogging!


Helen McHenry, Deirdre Frost and Pauline White

[1] Pun intended.

WDC submission to the Public Consultation on the development of the trans European transport network (TEN-T)


Since 1993 the EU holds responsibility on infrastructure policy – in the fields of transport, energy and telecommunications. In the transport sector, Europe’s TEN-T policy aims to boost economic, social and territorial cohesion between all Member States and their regions. It aims to prevent obstacles to the free circulation of goods, services and citizens throughout the EU.

Developments over the last few years which impact on transport policy include;

  • Climate change
  • Automation
  • Digitalisation
  • Interconnection and interoperability
  • Brexit

As a result, the European Commission has decided to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the guidelines for the development of the TEN-T and have undertaken a public consultation. The WDC submitted a response which is available for download on the Submissions page of the WDC website, see here.  In this blogpost we summarise some of the key points.

The importance of transport infrastructure policy at EU level

EU transport infrastructure policy is crucial to ensure that transport infrastructure & policy contributes to enhancing the connectivity & accessibility of outermost & peripheral regions.

In parts of the Western Region of Ireland, geographic peripherality is compounded by relatively poor transport infrastructure which militates against effective participation in the EU Single market. This will be exacerbated further after Brexit.

EU transport policy is critical to support the transport needs to peripheral island member states such as Ireland & its Western Region. The Irish Exporters Association has noted that the transport needs of exporters in the West & Mid-West would be better served by ports & airports located there.

What are the benefits if infrastructure policy is made at European level

One of the benefits will be to support, guide & enhance member states’ transport policy. In Ireland’s case some aspects need to be revised in order to support the broader policy framework of Project Ireland 2040. For example, the National Ports Policy (2013) & National Aviation Policy (2015) were devised well before publication of Project Ireland 2040 which seeks to balance growth more effectively across Irish regions & will need regional transport investment to enable this. This will require EU support for funding.

In view of the cross-border nature of transport infrastructure, policies & subsequent investments should be harmonized in order to address existing bottlenecks to keep the Union accessible and competitive. This is very important in view of Brexit for Rep. of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

A coordinated approach at EU level is the most effective way to address challenges such as the transition to a carbon-neutral economy & the subsequent investment in the required infrastructure.

Form of the TEN-T network

The comprehensive TEN-T network is not sufficiently connected with the core network since there still exist missing links. The current network also does not serve all EU regions, including the North Western region of Ireland, whose importance will grow in the face of Brexit and the uptake of renewable energies.

There is concern that designation on the Comprehensive network, compared to the Core, provides for less access to TEN-T funding. In the context of peripheral regions such as the Western Region of Ireland where there is a ‘need to ensure connectivity & accessibility of all regions in the Union’, it is important that designation does not alter the level of funding available.

The inclusion of Shannon and Ireland West Knock airports and ports such as Galway & Killybegs as nodes is important in the context of the Atlantic Economic Corridor which extends from Letterkenny/Derry south to Limerick & Kerry.

The EU Designation on the core TEN-T network, as currently defined on the island of Ireland, extends from Belfast to Dublin to Cork with a connection to Shannon Foynes port. Given its peripherality, the WDC would like to see the transport links north of Shannon Foynes, and particularly from Galway north to Sligo and Letterkenny (the Atlantic Economic Corridor – AEC) to be included in those TEN-T classifications which provides for the maximum sources of funding support from the EU.

There is a need to join existing networks together & complete ‘unfinished sections’. The priority should be to improve the outstanding road sections between Tuam & Sligo as this is a key element of the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) and part of Irish Government policy. This network is even more important in the context of Border traffic and Brexit and the peripherality of the North west.

Also, the WDC urges the European Commission to take into consideration the added economic value of airports & ports, such Shannon & Knock airports & the further development of the Galway inner port & its future potential o to play a key role in the development of renewable energies and alternative fuels.

In the absence of investment, the relative standard of a transport network vis a vis another transport network which does attract funding is a relative disimprovement & therefore the region experiences a relative disadvantage in access. This should not be the effect of policy.

Infrastructure Use

The TEN-T guidelines specifically aim to achieve a better and more efficient use of existing and new infrastructure while increasing the benefits for the users.

Despite overall passenger growth, there is an ever-increasing share of passengers travelling through Dublin airport which is in part due to the investment in motorway access there. There is un-used capacity available for international access at Shannon & Ireland West Airport Knock which have received significant state support over decades. Improved services at these airports will reduce the need for residents in regional locations to avail of services at Dublin Airport which in turn will reduce journey numbers through an already congested Greater Dublin Area.

These airports provide efficient access both to & from the region to destinations in the UK, Europe and the US vital to supporting the various businesses across the region as well as tourism access. Shannon Airport is particularly important to the Limerick, Shannon and Galway regions and is the only airport on the Western seaboard with hub connectivity via London Heathrow. It also offers pre-clearance facilities to the US. The Irish Exporters Association has reported that exporters in the West & Mid-West would be much better served from the ports and airports there rather than at Dublin.

The Western Region’s many valuable marine assets are relatively under-developed. The port facilities at Galway & Killybegs & Sligo are critical to supporting potential in seafood products, tourism, amenity, ocean renewable energy & marine innovations for the lifesciences sector & need to be enhanced.

Freight facilities at ports, railway depots & interurban road/motorway junctions should be safeguarded & invested in. Brexit will likely lead to new freight transport routes which need to be supported.


Transport policy is an important tool of economic policy. In Ireland there is a Government policy commitment to rebalance growth away from ‘business as usual’ and to support greater population growth in the regions including the West & North West. For this to be achieved there needs to be investment in transport infrastructure especially along the Atlantic Economic Corridor. The WDC believes that EU support and TENT-T classification can help in delivering greater investment in transport infrastructure along this corridor.

In an Irish context there is an increasing concentration of traffic through Dublin Port and Airport which in turn demands additional new investment to allow expansion of services. Meanwhile there are port and airport facilities, as well as road and rail capacity with much spare capacity which could service existing and new demand.

EU policy should more effectively support member states to capitalise on the capacity already available and ‘sweat’ the state investment already made, such as the rail network, port facilities in the Western Region including Galway and the international airports such as Shannon and Ireland West Airport Knock.  This is especially as this is consistent & supportive of the overarching policy framework of Project Ireland 2040.

In view of Brexit, and potential ‘Third country status for the UK & Northern Ireland’, peripherality of Ireland should not become an obstacle and should not lead to a lack of competitiveness. The existing transport infrastructure across the WDC region, including the key ports, airports, the road and rail network should be recognized as an important contributor to enhancing the social, economic and territorial cohesion of the EU. The inclusion of these nodes and networks in the comprehensive network would provide access to funding need to develop infrastructure that enhances the accessibility and competitiveness of the Western region, Ireland, and ultimately, the Union.

Deirdre Frost

The Public Administration & Defence Sector in the Western Region

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published the 9th in its Regional Sectoral Profile series which analyse employment in different economic sectors in the Western Region.

And this one is of particular interest to us, as it’s the sector we work in!  The report examines the Public Administration & Defence sector which includes all those working in the civil service, local authorities and state agencies, as well as Gardaí, prison officers and the defence forces.  It does not include those working in Education[1], Health & Care[2] or ‘semi-state’ companies e.g. Bus Eireann.

Two publications are available:

Employment in the Western Region

According to Census 2016, 18,858 people worked in Public Administration & Defence in the Western Region.  It plays a somewhat greater role in the region’s labour market than nationally (Fig. 1) accounting for 5.6% of total employment compared with 5.3%.

There is considerable variation across western counties and at 8.4%, Roscommon has the highest share working in Public Administration & Defence in Ireland with Leitrim (7.9%) second highest and Sligo (7.5%) fourth. Donegal is also in the top ten nationally.  North Connacht and the North West have high reliance on the public sector to sustain employment, partly due to more limited job options in the private sector.  In addition to Public Administration & Defence, Sligo and Leitrim also have the highest shares in Ireland working in Health & Care while Donegal has the highest share working in Education.

In contrast, at just 3.6% Galway City has the lowest share of its residents working in Public Administration & Defence in Ireland, with Galway County (4.6%) also in the bottom ten nationally.  Greater economic and employment diversity around Galway reduces this sector’s relative importance.

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011

During 2011-2016, the Western Region experienced a 7.4% decline in the number working in Public Administration & Defence, greater than the 6.3% decline nationally.  In both cases this decline contrasted with overall jobs growth.  This period was characterised by a moratorium on recruitment in the public sector.

Every western county, except Clare (+3.9%), saw a decline over this period.  Donegal (-14.2%), Galway City (-12.5%) and Mayo (-10.1%) saw particularly large losses.  One factor would have been reduced staffing in their respective local authorities which are significant employers, as well as declines in the defence forces.

Employment in western towns

In 2016 there were 40 urban centres with a population over 1,500 in the Western Region. The relative importance of Public Administration & Defence as an employer varies across these towns (Fig. 2).  It is important to note that commuting is a particular issue when considering towns and this data refers to residents of the town.

At 11.4% (53 people) Lifford (county town of Donegal) has the highest share working in Public Administration & Defence in the region and second highest of Ireland’s 200 towns and cities (1,500+).  Lifford shows the potential jobs impact of locating the administrative centre of an area away from that area’s main economic centre both to support development in smaller towns and also to ease congestion in larger centres.

Strandhill in Co Sligo (9.4%, 75 people) and Roscommon town (9.2%, 208 people) were next highest in the region and third and fourth highest nationally. Except for Galway City and Ballina, the region’s larger (10,000+) urban centres all have around 7% working in this sector. Many host local authority head offices as well as offices of Government Departments and state agencies.  The very low share in Galway City is due to the wider range of alternative job options as well as the role of surrounding commuter towns e.g. Athenry.

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Profile 11 – Employment, Occupations and Industry, Table EB030

Of the 38 towns in the region for which data is available for both 2011 and 2016,[3] 28 of them experienced a decline in the number working in Public Administration & Defence between 2011 and 2016, nine had an increase with one unchanged.  Bearna (18.5%, +5 people) and Gort (15.8%, +6 people), had the largest percentage growth possibly due to commuting to Galway City or Ennis as several of the other towns which grew are also commuter towns e.g. Strandhill, Sixmilebridge, Moycullen.  In absolute terms, Ennis (6%, +40 people) had the biggest increase in the number of residents working in the sector.

Many more towns experienced decline than growth however. Clifden had the largest decline (-49.1%, -26 people) and was also the town with the largest population decline of all western towns. Ballyhaunis, Ballybofey-Stranorlar, Castlerea and Loughrea also experienced large declines. These are all medium-sized rural towns, at some distance from larger urban centres.

Employment by gender

Overall, employment in Public Administration & Defence is quite gender balanced.  In the Western Region women account for a small majority (51.4% are women) in contrast to the state where there is a male majority (52.4% are men).  The female share has been higher in the region than nationally throughout the past two decades.

In terms of the sector’s relative importance to total male and female employment (Fig. 3), 6.2% of all working women and 5.1% of all working men in the Western Region work in Public Administration & Defence.  While the sector plays a notably more significant role in total female employment in the region than nationally (6.2% v 5.4%), its importance to male employment is the same.

In all areas the sector accounts for a greater share of all women’s jobs than men’s.  In Leitrim (9.4%), Roscommon (9.2%) and Sligo (8.9%) Public Administration & Defence plays a critical role in total female employment.  More limited options for alternative professional career opportunities, particularly in more rural areas, increases the role of Public Administration & Defence in women’s employment.

For male employment, Roscommon (7.6%) is where the sector is most important by quite some margin.  This may reflect the nature of some public sector employment in the county e.g. Castlerea prison.  Again, neighbouring Leitrim (6.6%) and Sligo (6.2%) is where it is next most important for men’s jobs, while it is least important in Galway.

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011

The period 2011 to 2016 saw both male and female employment in Public Administration & Defence decline by 7.4% in the region.  For both, this was a greater decline than nationally with the difference greater among women (-7.4% in the Western Region v -5.8% in the state) than men (-7.4% v -6.7%).

Key Policy Issues

Higher reliance on public sector employment in the Western Region: Public Administration & Defence is a more significant employer in the Western Region than nationally (5.6% of total employment v 5.3%) and this is the case to an even greater degree for the two other predominantly public sectors of Health & Care and Education.  The three primarily public sectors of employment jointly account for 28% of all jobs in the Western Region (24% in the state).

This is also reflected in income earned.  Recent analysis by the CSO[4] found that 41.7% of earned income by employees living in Sligo came from Public Administration & Defence, Education and Health & Care combined, the highest share in Ireland, followed by Leitrim (37.8%) and Donegal (37.8%).  The spatial pattern is very vividly illustrated by Fig. 4.  This higher reliance means that developments, such as the moratorium on public sector recruitment, had a greater economic and employment impact in the region.

Fig. 4: Proportion of earned income from Public Administration & Defence, Education and Health & Care combined, 2016

Source: CSO, (2019), Geographical Profiles of Income in Ireland 2016, Map 6.8


Important role in female employment: Public Administration & Defence is a more important source of female employment in the region compared with nationally and the gap widened over the past two decades as women’s employment in the region became increasingly dependent on this sector. This is particularly true in more rural counties with 9+% of women in Leitrim, Roscommon and Sligo working in public administration.  Such employment may help maintain the viability of household income, particularly during a recession when there are large private sector job losses e.g. in construction.  Future trends in public sector employment will have a greater impact on female than male employment levels.

Providing professional career opportunities in smaller towns and more rural areas: Public Administration & Defence plays a critical role in providing professional career opportunities, including in more rural areas and smaller towns where there may be fewer alternatives.  North Connacht and the North West, which is the more rural part of the Western Region, has particularly high reliance on the sector (see Fig. 4).  More limited private sector job options increases this sector’s impact on the local economy.  While the main focus for Public Administration & Defence policy must be on the provision of quality public services, it parallel role as a provider of jobs, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas, should also be a factor in policy decisions on the location of such jobs.

Contribution to achieving regional and rural development: As was highlighted in a previous WDC study ‘Moving West’[5] the location of Public Administration & Defence employment is a key policy tool at the disposal of Government. The relocation of public sector offices and jobs from Dublin to other locations has considerable potential to both stimulate development in these areas and to ease pressures on the capital.  The Government, national and local, can therefore play a very direct role in delivering the regional development objectives of the National Planning Framework (NPF) through its location decisions.  Lessons learned from previous relocations, as well as technological developments to facilitate more dispersed work locations, can contribute to implementing such moves.

For more detailed analysis see ‘The Public Administration & Defence Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile’.

Pauline White


[1] See WDC (2019) The Education Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile

[2] See WDC (2018) The Health & Care Sector in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile

[3] Two towns with a population above 1,500 in 2011 (Portumna and Bunbeg-Derrybeg) dropped below in 2016. Two towns (Collooney and Convoy) rose above the 1,500 threshold in 2016.  There were also town boundary changes between 2011 and 2016 for 15 of the 40 towns in the Western Region which has an impact when considering change over time. For most towns the impact was relatively minor, however there was a quite substantial change for Ballina.

[4] CSO (2019), Geographical Profiles of Income in Ireland 2016

[5] WDC (2008), Moving West: An Exploratory Study of the Social and Economic Effects of the Relocation of Public Sector Offices to Towns in the Western Region

Diverse Neighbourhoods: New report analysing the residential distribution of immigrants in Ireland

Recently I attended a very interesting seminar on ‘Migrant Integration: policy and place’ organised by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the European Migration Network (EMN).

At the seminar two new pieces of research were presented and discussed: ‘Diverse neighbourhoods: an analysis of the residential distribution of immigrants in Ireland’ and ‘Policy and practice targeting the labour market integration of non-EU nationals in Ireland’.

Given the Western Development Commission’s (WDC) regional development remit, the spatial analysis of the residential distribution of immigrants in Ireland was of particular interest.  The ‘Diverse Neighbourhoods’ report[1] points out that previous research has highlighted both positive and negative reasons for the residential clustering of migrants. Proximity to migrant networks can provide support and information (as the Irish of the Kilburn Road know only too well). However, high levels of residential segregation may be a signal of poor integration and disadvantage, especially if the areas in which migrants are clustered are themselves deprived.

The purpose of this analysis was to investigate the residential pattern of Ireland’s migrant population, to identify the extent of residential segregation and the characteristics of areas where migrants are concentrated.

Distribution of Migrant Groups in Ireland

The analysis used the results of Census 2016 for 3,409 Electoral Divisions (ED) in Ireland.  Individuals were assigned according to their country of birth (to take account of foreign born naturalised Irish citizens) and UK-born migrants were excluded because they have a different experience and there are complexities for Northern Irish citizens.

Four broad groups were analysed (the size of each group as a proportion of the national population in 2016 is in brackets):

  • Total migrant population – excluding UK-born (11.4%)
  • EU migrants – excluding UK-born (6.3%)
  • Migrants born outside of the EU (5.1%)
  • People with poor self-rated English-language proficiency (1.8%).

Total, EU and non-EU Migrants

The total migrant (non-Irish/UK born) population is highly concentrated in urban areas in Dublin city and its commuter belt, as well as around Cork, Limerick and Galway (see Figure 2.1).  In fact half of all foreign-born migrants live in the three cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick.  The top 10 EDs in terms of the percentage of their total population who are foreign born were all in Dublin, Limerick, Cork or Waterford cities.  Half of the total foreign-born population live in just 159 EDs (out of 3,409 total EDs).

The patterns for both migrants born in the EU and migrants born outside of the EU are relatively similar to the total. For EU migrants, there are high concentrations around Dublin, Cork and Limerick with low concentrations in North Connacht and Donegal.  For non-EU migrants the pattern is very similar, though with even greater concentration in Dublin.  For both, most of the top 10 EDs are to be found in Dublin, Cork or Limerick.

People with Poor English Language Proficiency

The fourth group examined are people who reported in the Census that they speak English ‘not well’ or ‘not at all’. This group was examined as they may have particular integration difficulties. Nationally there were about 86,000 people in this group in 2016.

It was found that the residential pattern for those with poor English language proficiency differs from the other groups (see Figure 2.4). While there is also significant concentration in the larger cities, this group are less centralised and there are also strong concentrations in small towns.

The ED of Monaghan town has the highest share with poor English language proficiency at 15.3% with is linked to the mushroom industry.  Ballyhaunis in Co Mayo has the fifth highest share (11.1%) connected to both the meat processing sector and a Direct Provision Centre.  Another town in the Western Region, Roscommon Urban ED has the eight highest share (10.7%).  Other smaller towns with high shares include New Ross in Co Wexford, Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan and Navan in Co Meath.

It seems that migrants with poor English language proficiency are less centralised in the larger cities and are more likely to be located in smaller towns (often linked to specific sector or legacy), they are also more clustered in fewer locations with half located in just 135 EDs.   This pattern has implications for service provision.

Integrated Communities

The report goes on to assess the level of segregation of migrant communities. It found that the level of segregation in Irish cities is near or below the international average and there was no discernible trend of increasing residential segregation between 2011 and 2016 with some groups becoming less segregated over this time.

The report also profiled the characteristics of areas which have a high share of migrant residents.  It was found that immigrants in Ireland tend to be concentrated in more affluent areas (based on the Pobal Deprivation Index) and also in areas with an above average share with a third level education. The other key characteristic was that migrants tended to be concentrated in areas where private rental housing was plentiful.

One area of concern however are those with poor English language proficiency.  This group is more likely to reside in areas with average levels of affluence/deprivation and low third level education attainment.  For those living within the three largest cities, they are also concentrated in areas with higher unemployment rates.

Policy Implications

The results have implications for many policy areas including integration, housing and regional development.  The National Planning Framework contains targets to rebalance growth towards the ‘second tier’ cities and regions.  Reducing the level of concentration of the migrant population in Dublin, through the provision of job and housing opportunities, would contribute to achieving NPF targets.  Reliance on the private rental market among migrants means that the provision of such accommodation in other locations is important, as well as employment policies which stimulate job opportunities for migrants in these locations.  There is the potential for smaller towns and more rural areas which, as a result of out-migration, may have poor age dependency ratios to benefit from inward migration by those in economically active age groups.

The greater distribution of migrants with poor English language proficiency in smaller towns (often associated with employment in specific sectors e.g. agri-food) and concentration among this group is an area of policy concern.  As this analysis was conducted on an area basis (rather than at the individual level) it is not possible to determine the characteristics of this group but issues such as gender, age, employment status and education level are likely to be important factors.  Policy responses and tailored service provision at a local level targeting this group would be important given their higher risk of poor integration and also the potential impact on the agri-food sector from Brexit.

Reports and presentations from the ‘Migrant Integration: policy and place’ seminar are available here

Pauline White

[1] Fahey, É., Russell. H., McGinnity, F. and Grotti, R. (2019), Diverse Neighbourhoods: An Analysis of the Residential Distribution of Immigrants in Ireland, Economic and Social Research Institute and Department of Justice and Equality, funded by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration

Carbon Tax: Use of revenue to address climate action issues in rural areas

The WDC made a submission to the Department of Finance Consultation on the options for the use of revenues raised from increases in carbon tax.

A detailed consultation paper was prepared by the Tax Division of the Department of Finance which provided background information on carbon tax revenues, proposed changes in the rate of the tax and possible implication of these increases for users.  They also outlined a number of options for the use of revenues from the tax.

The ESRI has also done a number of studies on distributional effects of carbon tax and revenue recycling options and noted that the carbon tax disproportionately affects lower income households and rural households.  I hope to look at these studies in more detail in a future post.

As regular readers of the blog know, the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit) is a largely rural region which takes in some of the most remote parts of the state. Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000. Thus WDC work has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.  The five most rural counties in Ireland are in the Western Region (Leitrim, Galway county, Roscommon, Donegal and Mayo, and the Western Region also has a higher share of the population living in smaller towns.

In this submission we therefore concentrated on issues for rural areas and our region.  Climate action for rural dwellers is not often discussed in policy and there is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emission issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions in rural areas.  Hence, the main focus of the submission was on key climate matters for rural dwellers including energy efficiency; home heating; transport; and stimulating rural enterprise.

The WDC emphasised that a portion of the revenues from increases in carbon tax focus should focus on addressing issues for rural areas, and on actions to ensure that rural areas are in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy.  There are many opportunities to do so and targeted programmes would enable rural dwellers to make a fair contribution to national goals for renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.


You can view the submission here.


Helen McHenry

Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region

The WDC has just published the latest in its series of Regional Sectoral Profiles analysing employment and enterprise data for economic sectors in the Western Region.

It examines the Financial & ICT Services sector which covers two sub-sectors: ‘Financial & Insurance Activities’ (banks, mortgage brokers, insurance and pension funding) and ‘Information & Communication’ (publishing, film, video, TV and music, telecommunications, computer programming (software) and IT services/support). Both are knowledge intensive services sectors, relatively high value, high skill and highly paid and tend to be quite concentrated in larger urban centres.

Two publications are available:

Employment in Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region

According to Census 2016, 17,884 people worked in Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region. This was just 9.9% of everyone working in this sector in Ireland, compared with the region’s 16.6% share of overall employment.

Financial & ICT Services plays a significantly smaller role in the region’s labour market than nationally (Fig. 1); 5.4% of total employment compared with 9%.  The balance between ‘Financial & Insurance’ and ‘Information & Communication’ also varies in the region.  Nationally, each accounts for the same share of total jobs (4.5% each) however in the Western Region ‘Information & Communication’ is notably more important than ‘Financial & Insurance’ (3% of all jobs v 2.3% of all jobs). This reflects the concentration of financial services activity in Dublin and particularly around the IFSC.

In the region Financial & ICT Services is most important in Galway City (9.1%), followed by Donegal (6.2%), Clare (5.6%) and Galway County (5.5%) with large urban centres and the Shannon Free Zone influencing the pattern.

Fig. 1: Percentage of total employment in Financial & ICT Services in Western Region and state, 2016

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Summary Results Part 2, Table EZ011


At a more detailed level, ‘Computer Programming & Consultancy’[1] is the largest employer among Financial & ICT Services activities (36.8% of all employment in the sector) and accounts for a higher share in the region than nationally (32.8%).  In contrast the region has a notably lower share in the next largest activity of ‘Financial Services’[2] (25.1% in the region v 31.3% in the state).  The two other ICT Services activities of ‘Audio-visual, Publishing & Broadcasting’[3] and ‘Telecoms’[4], also account for a greater share in the region, whereas the other financial activity of ‘Insurance, Pension & Fund Management’ accounts for a similar share in both.

Employment in western towns

At 14.3% (1,111 people) of total employment Letterkenny has by far the highest share of residents working in the sector (Fig. 2) and is the eleventh highest of Ireland’s 200 towns and cities (1,500+ population).  Most of the towns with a higher share surround Dublin city. Within the region, Bearna (11%, 98 people) and Oranmore (10.6%, 275 people) have the next highest shares working in Financial & ICT Services, likely due to commuting to Galway City.

Four towns in the Western Region are among the bottom ten nationally (Ballyhaunis, Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Ballymote) at less than 2.6% working in Financial & ICT services. All are rural towns at some distance from larger urban centres.  It is clear there is limited activity in this sector in such towns or commuting to work in other centres.  Remote work offers the possibility for more people working in this sector to live in such locations.

Fig. 2: Percentage of total employment in Financial & ICT Services in towns in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO, Census 2016: Profile 11 – Employment, Occupations and Industry, Table EB030

Change in employment in the Western Region and its counties

There was 4.6% jobs growth in Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region between 2011 and 2016 (Table 1). This was less than half the 12.1% increase that occurred nationally and significantly lower than overall jobs growth in the region (7.5%).  Galway City (14.5%) and Donegal (12.9%) experienced jobs growth higher than the national average and this sector exceeded overall jobs growth in both counties.

Mayo, where the sector is least important as an employer, had the largest job losses with a fall of 9.1% in the number working in Financial & ICT Services.  Leitrim (-6.8%) and Sligo (-6.6%) also saw large declines between 2011 and 2016 and in all cases this sector performed worse than jobs overall.  It is important to note that this data is from 2016 and there have been some significant job announcements in this sector since that time, particularly in Sligo.

The performance of the individual activities varied very significantly with a 49.3% increase (2,176 people) in employment in ‘Computer Programming & Consultancy’ in the region contrasting with a 22.8% decrease (1,330 people) in ‘Financial Services’.  Regardless of whether an activity grew or declined, its performance in the region was weaker than nationally, particularly for those activities which declined. The region was closer to the national average for the two growing activities

‘Computer Programming & Consultancy’ showed strong jobs growth across every western county, growing by 60+% in Roscommon, Donegal and Galway City. ‘Financial Services’ saw significant job losses across all western counties, declining by over a quarter in Galway City, Donegal, Sligo and Clare.  One of the main reasons for this was the closure of many bank and building society branches, particularly in smaller towns, growing online banking and increased automation reducing staffing levels.

Agency Assisted Jobs in Financial & ICT Services

In 2017, there were 12,844 agency assisted[5] jobs in Financial & ICT Services based in the Western Region.  Jobs in Financial & ICT Services account for 19.3% of all assisted jobs in the Western Region, but 32.4% of all assisted jobs in the state, consistent with the sector’s lower importance to total employment.

The relative importance of different activities varies (Fig. 3).  The share of total assisted jobs accounted for by ‘Computer Programming’ is essentially the same in both the region and state, indicating that this sector is well developed in the region.  For all other Financial & ICT Services activities, their share of total assisted jobs in the region is considerably lower than nationally. This is particularly the case for ‘Computer Consultancy’ which accounts for 8% of all assisted jobs in the state, making it the largest among these five activities, but less than half this share in the region.  Indeed, for all other activities, their share of assisted jobs in the region is roughly half that nationally.

Fig. 3: Percentage of total assisted jobs in each Financial & ICT Services activity in Western Region and state, 2017

Source: Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation (2018), Annual Employment Survey 2017, special run

Ownership of Agency Assisted Jobs

Financial & ICT Services has a very high level of foreign ownership with 79% of jobs in foreign owned agency assisted companies, among the highest shares of foreign ownership across all sectors.  The level of foreign ownership has risen, in 2008 71.6% of jobs in the sector were foreign owned.

The balance between Irish and foreign ownership varies across the different sub-sectors (Fig. 4).  All assisted jobs in ‘Computer Facilities Management’ in the region are in foreign owned firms.  The largest activity of ‘Computer Programming’ is strongly foreign dominated with 97.6% of all assisted jobs in this activity in foreign owned firms.  International ‘Financial Services’ is another area of high foreign involvement, with 91.3% of all jobs in the region in foreign owned firms.

‘Computer Consultancy’ has considerably greater Irish owned involvement with only 49% of jobs in foreign owned firms.  In this activity the region has a lower foreign owned share and therefore greater Irish owned involvement.  This activity saw large job losses in the early part of the recession, only recovering somewhat in more recent years. The greater level of Irish ownership within this activity contributed to greater losses of Irish owned Financial & ICT Services jobs during the recession than foreign owned.

Fig. 4: Percentage of total assisted jobs in Financial & ICT Services activities in foreign owned companies in Western Region and state, 2017

Source: Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation (2018), Annual Employment Survey 2017, special run


Key Policy Issues

Low current level of activity in Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region and the gap is widening as the rate of growth in the region significantly lagged that nationally between 2011 and 2016.  Given that this is a high value, high skill and highly paid sector, increasing the level of activity in Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region could make an important contribution to regional economic development, productivity and income levels. However as this is not a highly labour intensive sector it plays a modest role in direct job creation.

Lower level of international activity in the region but internationally trading firms performed better than domestically trading sector, particularly in financial services.  Sustaining and accelerating this growth in internationally trading Financial & ICT Services firms is the main route to increasing the sector’s regional economic impact.  Access to talent, high quality telecommunications, research capacity and a supportive business ecosystem, as well as an attractive quality of life, are critical to this growth.

High level of foreign ownership means there is a need to stimulate the Irish owned sector.   Stimulating start-ups and the scaling of Irish owned technology and finance companies, to a stage where they have the capacity to trade internationally, is important to creating a more sustainable balance in the structure of this sector in the region.  This is particularly important in light of planned changes to international corporation tax rules, developments in the US and Brexit.  Current initiatives such as NUIG’s TechInnovate[6] are trying to address this by facilitating technology start-ups in the region.

There is a growing gender imbalance as the male share of all employment in Financial & ICT Services rose from 50.9% in 2011 to 54.9% by 2016 mainly because of stronger growth in male dominated ICT Services (67.9% male) compared with large job losses in the more female dominated Financial Services (62% female).  Ongoing initiatives to encourage greater participation by women in computer science, technology and finance courses, addressing the perceived male culture within the sector, raising awareness of female role models and female entrepreneurship programmes can all help to redress this imbalance.

Key urban locations play a critical role as centres for Financial & ICT Services activity with Galway City and Letterkenny two key locations particularly in ICT Services, Shannon/Ennis also having notable activity especially in Financial Services and a number of high profile recent announcements for Sligo. The availability of suitable office space, physical and digital infrastructure, links with education and training providers, access to talent and quality of life, as well as addressing issues such as traffic congestion and rising costs, will be important to ensuring these key urban locations can enhance their regional and national role as centres for Financial & ICT Services activity.

Opportunities for growth exist beyond large urban locations, including remote workDevelopments in technology, the world of work and the need to develop more sustainable approaches means that remote work (from home, a co-working hub or other location) holds considerable potential for smaller urban centres and rural areas to host increasing activity in this high skill, high value and highly paid sector. Initiatives such as Grow Remote[7] are currently highlighting the potential for increased remote working and also highlighting key policy changes needed to facilitate its expansion and wider acceptance among employers.  Access to high speed broadband is one of the most critical factors.

Limited self-employment activity in this sector, but higher incidence in the Western Region, particularly for ICT Services in Sligo, Leitrim and Mayo. This implies the structure of the sector in these counties differs from that elsewhere with many sole traders or freelancers engaged in AV production, IT services or software development and fewer large employers. An opportunity exists to target these ICT entrepreneurs, many of whom may be based in quite rural areas and smaller towns, by providing networking opportunities, business support, co-working space and opportunities to collaborate.

Access to talent is critical.  A co-ordinated approach between education and training providers in the region, in collaboration with employers, is needed to ensure an adequate supply of the necessary skills including a strong focus on upskilling and lifelong learning.[8]  Attracting talent to relocate to the region is the complementary approach.  Promoting the quality of life, lower cost of living and shorter commuting times in the region, as well as the job and entrepreneurship opportunities available, are important to attracting people to relocate.  [9]The demand for talent is also increasing the incidence of permanent full time jobs and wages in the sector.[10]

For more detailed analysis see ‘Financial & ICT Services in the Western Region: Regional Sectoral Profile’ https://www.wdc.ie/publications/reports-and-papers/

Pauline White


Image by Free Photos at Pixabay


[1] Software and app development, IT services, data analysis consultancy etc.

[2] Banks, building societies, credit companies, venture capital, mortgage advisors etc.

[3] Publishing, newspapers, film, photography, music recording, TV production, TV and radio broadcasting etc.

[4] Wired, wireless and satellite telecommunications (phone, broadband).

[5] Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation (DBEI), Annual Employment Survey 2017. A survey of all firms in Ireland who have ever received support from IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland or Udarás na Gaeltachta.

[6] See http://techinnovate.org/

[7] See https://growremote.ie/

[8] See https://www.regionalskills.ie/

[9] See www.LookWest.ie

[10] ‘Information & Communication’ had the highest growth in average weekly earnings nationally over the past five years increasing 21.1% Q1 2014 to Q1 2019. CSO, Earnings, Hours and Employment Costs Survey Q1 2019, Table EHQ03

The Benefits as well as the Costs of the National Broadband Plan

There are significant benefits associated with the planned rollout of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), though the recent media coverage seemed to focus largely on the costs.

A review of newspaper headlines over the period following the announcement of the preferred bidder and the likely cost of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), suggests that the overall benefit is significantly lower than the cost. For example some of the headlines included;

  • Its wrong to endorse broadband plan and ignore officials’ warning on costs, Independent, 12 May 2019
  • National Broadband Plan, labelled ‘the worst deal ever seen’ Irish Examiner, 13 May 2019
  • Government to press ahead with €3bn broadband plan despite cost warnings, 26 April, 2019

But in reality, the cost benefit analysis (CBA) conducted by consultants on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, found that under all three different scenarios considered, the benefits outweigh the costs. The CBA also made clear that many benefits were not included in the computations and some of the benefits were estimated on a very conservative basis.

The Costs and Benefits of the National Broadband Plan

The table below shows the costs and benefits anticipated under three different scenarios; pessimistic, central and optimistic. There is a detailed analysis showing how each of the costs and benefits are computed, all of which is published and available for download on the Department of Communications website, see here  (825KB)

Costs: The total project costs include both costs to the State and costs to the operator.

Benefits include benefits to residents and enterprises. The residential benefits refer to the residents who will benefit from the NBP through various savings which will be made in communications services, time savings through online access of services as well as time and cost savings from remote working.

The enterprise benefits refer both to benefits to all firms, those within the NBP area and those outside it.

For firms outside the NBP area one of the largest benefits to be realised is that many of their staff (who live in the NBP area) will now have better broadband access enabling productivity gains from remote/tele-working.

For firms within the NBP area, all SMEs will benefit. Farm enterprises will be able to engage in smart farming, while all SMEs will benefit from higher upload and download speeds to serve their clients and suppliers more efficiently.

Scope of Costs and Benefits

Table 1 shows that under all three scenarios the benefits of the NBP exceed the costs. In the analysis, the entire range of costs have been considered and furthermore they are capped and there are various clawback mechanisms to ensure limited and capped costs to the State.

The benefits that have been measured are just some of the range and a whole range of benefits have not been included. As the CBA report notes, in including and profiling benefits, the consultants adopted a deliberately conservative approach to ensure benefits were not overstated. As a result, there are important categories of benefits which are not quantified and therefore not included in the CBA analysis. Table 2 below provides an overview of these benefits and examples of how households and enterprises in the NBP area may benefit.

Measuring benefits – Other international examples

In making the case for various state supports and state aid for broadband investment, other countries have also grappled with how to measure and capture benefits. While investment in fibre networks can be evaluated in a similar fashion to investment in other infrastructure, technological innovation and new product and service developments are continually extending the range of benefits from investment in broadband infrastructure generally and fibre deployment in particular. Consideration of these other benefits is not new and other countries have valued the benefits of fibre rollout across various sectors.

For example, research undertaken in Sweden provides some economic calculations on additional returns to fibre which need to be captured in evaluation. In Sweden, higher rents are charged for homes with fibre connectivity. Tenants pay an extra €5.50 per month for a home with a fibre connection and this is valued at €267 million per year for all fibre connected homes, which yields €185.6 million per annum return on investment.

Investment in fibre networks can also reduce telecommunications costs to the user, for example the Stockholm Regional Council (regional government) reduced its telecommunications costs by 50% following deployment of the fibre network. This is attributed to increased efficiency and greater competition with more telecommunication operators providing services on the high capacity fibre network.

The development of eHealth technologies including remote monitoring and diagnosis will provide opportunities to deliver some healthcare direct to the community rather than through hospitals. Community care is generally significantly less expensive than hospital care. The greater bandwidth and symmetrical (upload and download) speeds with fibre networks can support those applications requiring very good upload and download speeds. As many of these applications such as eHealth are still being developed, it is difficult to estimate their full value and benefit.

At a wider economy level, the OECD has examined the benefits arising to other economic sectors (transport, health, education and electricity) of a national ‘fibre to the home’ network. The analysis examines the cost of deploying ‘fibre to the home’ across different OECD countries, including Ireland, and has estimated that the combined savings in each of the four sectors over a 10 year period could justify the cost of building a national ‘fibre to the home’ network. These examples are outlined in the WDC report, Connecting the West, Next Generation Broadband in the Western Region, see here (1.5MB).

Measuring the benefits of State investment should also take account of the impact on other Government policy objectives. More balanced regional and rural development and greater regional economic growth are important Government policy objectives.

State Aid

The Telecoms sector just like most other economic sectors are subject to strict EU State Aid Rules. State aid is subject to very strict criteria, one of which is that there is market failure. In the NBP areas, defined according to a detailed mapping process which was undertaken as part of the requirements for State aid, it is clear that no commercial deployment of high speed broadband has been or is likely to occur. This is then a case of market failure. Just as with other utility provision (transport, water, energy) the State intervenes where commercial provision does not occur.

One of the other criteria for State aid is that the aid serves an Objective of Common Interest. The European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe (DAE) is an objective of common interest to which Ireland has committed and this sets out a minimum of 30Mbps download for all homes and businesses by 2020. Given the increasing demand for higher speeds the EU Commission has revised upwards the target for member states which is now to achieve a basic service of 100 Mbps for all households by 2025. This objective and need to reduce the current digital divide complies with State aid requirements.


The NBP has been subject to probably the most extensive, thorough and comprehensive evaluation both within various Government Departments as well as across the wider public domain.

When the benefits exceed the costs, and the costs are capped while the benefits that are measured are only partial and conservatively estimated then the results of the CBA are positive and clearly make the case to proceed with the investment.

The full report on the benefits from the NBP (February 2019), is available for download on the Department of Communications website, available here (2.5MB).

The NBP Cost Benefit Analysis report (April 2019), is available for download for the Department of Communications, see here  (825KB).



Deirdre Frost