WDC Insights Publications on County Incomes and Regional GDP

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just published two WDC Insights: How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region and What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA.

Both of these examine data from the most recent CSO County Incomes and Regional GDP publication for 2015 (with preliminary data for 2016) and they have a particular emphasis on the counties of the Western Region and on our regional economy.

These two page WDC Insights publications provide succinct analysis and commentary on recently published data and on policy issues for the Western Region.  Both of these WDC Insights are shorter versions of the series of blog posts on County Incomes and Regional GVA which you may have read previously.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

In this WDC Insights data on County Incomes in 2015 are examined with a focus on the difference among Western Region counties and changes over time.

Five Western Region counties had Household Disposable Income per Person (Disposable Income) of less than 90% of the state average, while Galway and Sligo were both 93%.  They  had the highest Disposable Incomes in the Western Region in 2015 (Galway (€18,991) and Sligo (€19,001)).

Donegal continues to have a significantly lower Disposable Income than any other county in Ireland (€15,705 in 2015).  Disposable Income in Roscommon was also significantly lower than the state average at €16,582 in 2015. This was the second lowest of any county in Ireland, while Mayo had the fourth lowest.

Regional divergence was at its least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession. Since then, incomes in some counties have begun to grow faster and divergence has again increased, particularly since 2012.

The WDC Insights How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region can be downloaded here  (PDF 260KB)


What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA

The most recent regional GVA and GDP data (for 2015 and preliminary 2016) published by the CSO is discussed in this WDC Insights with a focus on the regions which include the seven Western Region counties.

Between 2014 and 2015 there was very significant growth in GVA and GDP nationally (a level shift which occurred for a variety of reasons). It is therefore valuable to examine how this rapid economic growth was spread among regions. While data for the largest regions of Dublin and the South West has been suppressed by the CSO, to preserve the confidentiality, variation in growth and disparity in the other regions continues to be of national and regional importance.

The data shows that disparities are widening and economic activity, as measured by GVA, is becoming more and more concentrated.  The smaller contribution to national GVA from other regions highlights their significant untapped potential.

The WDC Insights What’s happening in our regional economies?  Growth and Change in Regional GVA can be downloaded here  (PDF  350 KB)


If you find these WDC Insights on County Incomes and Regional GVA interesting and would like to read more detailed discussion of the data please visit these recent WDC Insights blog posts:

Leprechauns in Invisible Regions: Regional GVA (GDP) in 2015

What’s happening in our regional economies? Growth and change in Regional GVA.

How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

I hope that you find these WDC Insights useful.  Let us know what you think.  We’d welcome your feedback.


Helen McHenry

Annual Conference of Regional Studies Association

The WDC is sponsoring this year’s Annual Conference of the Irish Branch of the Regional Studies Association. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘City Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions’ and takes place on Friday, 7th September at IT Sligo

Submission themes

The call for papers for the conference is now open. Abstracts of no more than 250 words can be submitted here. Presentations from policymakers, academia and practitioners active in the field of regional studies, as well as post-graduate students are welcome. Presentations may deal with, amongst others, the following themes:

  • Cities as a source of economic growth
  • Development in peripheral regions
  • Urban centres and economic development
  • The National Planning Framework and governance
  • The National Planning Framework and housing
  • Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies
  • Local and regional economic forums
  • New approaches to regional development
  • International comparator cases

Other contributions dealing with the topic of regional studies are invited and may be included in focussed sessions.


Two international speakers have already been confirmed:

Dr Andrew Copus, The James Hutton Institute, Scotland: Andrew Copus joined the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences Group of The James Hutton Institute in March 2013. For the previous eight years he was a Senior Research Fellow at Nordregio (Nordic Centre for Spatial Development, Stockholm) and the Centre for Remote and Rural Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.

Andrew is an economic geographer by training, whose research interests relate to the changing rural economy and rural/regional policy. Much of his work has been based upon analysis of small area or regional secondary data and indicators. He has a long-standing interest in territorial rural development and regional disparities, which through recent projects is presented as “rural cohesion policy”.

Much of Andrew’s work has had a European perspective, variously funded by Framework Programmes, ESPON and as a consultant for the European Commission. He has studied the role of rural business networks, the changing nature of peripherality and most recently, patterns and trends in poverty and social exclusion.

Professor Mark Partridge, ​Ohio State University, USA: Mark Partridge is the C. William Swank Chair of Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University and a Professor in the AED Economics Department. He has published over 125 peer-reviewed journal papers in journals such as the American Economic Review, Journal of Economic Geography, Journal of Urban Economics, and Review of Economics and Statistics. He co-authored the book ‘The Geography of American Poverty: Is there a Role for Place-Based Policy?’

Dr. Partridge’s current research interests include investigating regional economic growth, urban spillovers on rural economies, why regions grow at different rates, and spatial differences in income equality and poverty.  Dr. Partridge has consulted with OECD, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and various governments in the U.S. and Canada, as well as with the European Commission. He has presented to the U.S. Congress and the Canadian Parliament on regional issues.


The conference fee will be €70, including lunch, and online registration will open in the coming months. In the meantime any queries regarding registration should be sent to chris.vanegeraat@mu.ie or Justin.doran@ucc.ie

Broadband benefits – but when?

Recent statistics show that Ireland will not meet the EU 2020 targets for the universal availability of fast broadband[1]. Like other EU states, in Ireland there are particular challenges delivering fast broadband to rural areas and this is not helped by the complicated and lengthy procurement process.

Given the many initiatives in the recent past aimed at delivering better universal broadband, the WDC has believed that this current Plan, aimed at providing ‘future proofed services’ is the right approach, however given the fast pace of technological change, it is and will be imperative that future proofed technology is at the cornerstone of delivery to all.

There have been various analyses of the economic and social benefits of broadband and some Irish research was presented at a recent ESRI seminar. The seminar, titled Evidence of Some Economic effects of Local Infrastructure in Ireland focussed on the economic benefits of broadband infrastructure. Key findings included:

  • The availability of broadband infrastructure is a significant determinant on the location of new business, but its effects may be influenced by the presence of the levels of human capital and skill levels in the area.
  • Therefore when rolling out broadband in a structurally weak area, parallel measures to boost human capital should be deployed.
  • Human capital and proximity to third level institutions is important for all firms.
  • The effect of broadband depends on education levels within an area.
  • Infrastructure roll-out can help to re-balance economic activity.
  • Government departments and agencies usually have discrete mandates designed not to overlap too much.
  • Decisions to build infrastructure often not taken together (e.g. broadband or transport) or considered along with other factors such as health care provision or education.

The latter two points in particular highlight the need for co-ordination and the value of a comprehensive spatial and economic development plan such as Project Ireland 2040. See here for more information on the ESRI seminar.

Previously, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment conducted its own research which examined the benefits of high speed broadband and research and this is available here. In particular the research identified travel savings through more remote working and increased gross value added, see here.

The analysis measured benefits arising from delivery of high speed broadband planned under the forthcoming National Broadband Plan, to the ‘Intervention Area’ (IA), which comprises approximately 757,000 premises across rural areas throughout Ireland. These areas are not currently receiving high speed services from commercial providers.

The analysis found that each house in the IA could yield a benefit of €89.00 per household per annum resulting from journey time and fuel cost savings from increased e-Working as a consequence of the availability of high speed broadband. This would amount to an annual total saving of €48.39 million, which does not include other benefits such as carbon emissions savings etc.

Increased productivity is also forecast, generated from improved productivity of white collar workers living in rural areas (the IA) but commuting to work in urban areas. This shows the benefit to the enterprise expressed as an increase in GVA per employee of 1.53% (€1,342) per worker, working from home or remote working on a 1 day per week basis. This does not capture benefits such as increased staff retention and more satisfied employees.

Research elsewhere reflects some of the findings of the ESRI research. For example, work undertaken in the US by Professor Mark Partridge found that our review of the economic research finds that broadband’s contribution to economic development in rural regions is often overstated. Broadband expansion does produce positive economic effects in certain rural area, specifically more populated rural counties adjacent to metro areas.

The same research quantifies the economic benefits of additional consumer choice, produced when households are able to access a broader range of products and services at lower prices. The research conducted in Ohio, see here, estimates that reaching full broadband coverage there would generate between $1 billion and $2 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years. This estimate does not include other potential benefits that broadband offers such as reducing the period of unemployment among job seekers.

Professor Mark Partridge is due to present at the forthcoming Regional Studies Association Irish Section Annual Conference, to be held in Sligo IT on Friday 7th September 2018.

The theme of the conference is ‘City-Led Regional Development and Peripheral Regions’ and the call for papers is now open. Further details are available here.

The WDC believes that to realise all benefits from next generation broadband, it is imperative that the National Broadband Plan deploying future proofed broadband is delivered as soon as possible.

Deirdre Frost

[1] Reported in Irish Times 6th June 2018

‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ … 10 years on

I was recently reminded that it’s been ten years since the WDC’s conference ‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ in May 2008. The context at that time was that balanced regional development had been included as a key objective of the National Development Plan 2007-2013 and was to have been a key consideration in public investment decisions.  At the same time however, the economic crisis was beginning to unfold. The WDC therefore felt it was timely to provide a forum in which the policy issues involved in balanced regional development could be discussed and debated.

Held at the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, speakers included academics and researchers Professor Neil Ward from the Centre for Urban and Rural Development Studies at Newcastle University, Professors Gerry Boyle (NUI Maynooth) and Michael Keane (NUI Galway), as well Dr. Edgar Morgenroth (ESRI).  The line-up also included a number of policymakers including Julie O’Neill, Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Mark Griffin (Department of Planning) and Dermot O’ Doherty (InterTradeIreland).  All the presentations can be downloaded from here.

The focus of this post however is the paper by the WDC Policy Analysis team, presented by Dr Patricia O’Hara, then Policy Manager of the WDC.  Looking back at the paper I’m struck by how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.  The past ten years have seen massive changes in the country – the recession and recovery, a return to emigration, Brexit, significant social changes (very evident from last week’s referendum).

While the initial years of the recession actually saw some narrowing of regional disparities as all regions took a hit, the recovery has been spatially uneven and it could be argued that some of the trends driving the recovery e.g. multinational IT services firms, is accentuating regional imbalance.

2018 has seen the launch of the new National Planning Framework and a new National Development Plan, with three Regional Economic and Spatial Strategies currently being devised.  Therefore it seems an opportune time to reflect on what we had to say about balanced regional development a decade ago.

Deirdre Frost, Helen McHenry, Éamon Ó Cuív TD, Patricia O’Hara, Pauline White at the ‘Delivering Balanced Regional Development’ conference, 23 May 2008

The WDC’s paper was titled ‘The Regional Development Challenge: A Western Region Perspective’ and it set out what we considered better regional balance might look like, i.e. what regional development policies should be trying to achieve.  The list still seems as relevant today as then (but replacing the word ‘Gateway’ with city and key regional centres).

  • Future population growth distributed more evenly across Ireland.
  • Gateway centres with sufficient critical mass to serve as drivers for their regions.
  • Population increase in hubs and in small and medium-sized towns across the regions based on inward investment and indigenous economic activity, including significant employment in the public sector and locally traded services.
  • The natural resources of rural areas utilised in a sustainable manner and such areas well-linked to local centres.
  • An infrastructure base that enables all regions to optimise their participation in, and contribution to, the knowledge economy.
  • Quality social provision at local level and efficient access to services in other centres so that location does not contribute to social exclusion.
  • Careful planning and management of the environment, including landscape, cultural and heritage resources.

Following a discussion of regional disparities and trends, as well as international insights, the paper concluded with seven policy recommendations on what was needed to achieve more balanced regional development:

  1. Political commitment and vision based on an understanding of the kind of spatial structure most suited to Ireland’s social values, history and geography.
  2. Clear responsibility for delivery of regional development policy so that key government departments ‘mainstream’ the regional dimension into their spending decisions. One government department should have the mandate and resources for this and ensure, for instance, that other relevant departments include regional development outputs in their Annual Output statements to the Oireachtas.
  3. Resources should be provided to address the research and intelligence gap for policy-making, especially the development of regional indicators, measures of output and urban-rural links. Robust analyses of policy successes and failures are also necessary.
  4. Regional investment strategies should be directed to improving regions’ infrastructure, skill endowment and quality of life as the key drivers of their capacity to maximise their resource endowment and attract inward investment. Spending decisions in transport, energy, telecommunications, human resources, research, development and knowledge issues should clearly target reducing structural disparities between regions and not reinforce them.
  5. The NSS provides a robust framework for balanced regional development, but its operationalisation needs to be informed by a thorough understanding of the investment and planning requirements at different spatial levels.
  • The new, smaller gateways need support appropriate to their scale and state of development that maximises the possibility of sustainable growth and encourages them to form strategic alliances.
  • The interaction between gateways, hubs, provincial towns and rural areas needs to be investigated and understood in order to construct effective policy to support their function in the spatial hierarchy.
  1. All levels of government and stakeholders should be involved with common purpose in structures that facilitate knowledge-sharing and efficiency. Pending other reform, ‘ad hoc coalitions’ of local authorities could be an effective way of tackling common problems and facilitating cross-boundary/border cooperation between towns and smaller centres.
  2. The north-west of Ireland has some particular weaknesses that could be addressed by acceleration of investment in infrastructure links which would facilitate crossborder links and act as a counterbalance to the Dublin-Belfast corridor.

It can be argued that some progress has been made in a number of these areas with efforts to more closely align the National Development Plan investment priorities with the National Planning Framework. However many of these recommendations remain relevant, the need to integrate regional development far more closely in the investment decisions of the main spending Departments, the need to understand the interactions between different levels on the spatial hierarchy far better and to develop effective policy for cities, towns and rural areas and of course the continuing challenge for development in the north-west, which has been further exacerbated by Brexit.

It seems that delivering on effective balanced regional development is still a work in progress.

Pauline White




How can we develop renewable heat use in the Western Region?

The WDC has recently published an analysis study of opportunities for the development of the renewable heat sector in the Western Region.  The study ‘A Regional Renewable Energy Analysis: Using Biomass to Contribute to the National Renewable Heat Target’ was under taken as the Western Development Commission (WDC), along with SEAI, were tasked under the Action Plan for Jobs: West Region 2015 – 2017  (Action 134 ) to undertake a Regional renewable energy analysis on the use of biomass as a local contribution to the national renewable heat target and develop a range of actions to support the development of renewable energy in the region”.

The study considers the use of biomass use in the WDC region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare), along with an assessment of the potential contribution to the national renewable heat target.  The analysis focused on ‘solid biomass’ – that is forest derived wood fuels used for energy production[1].

The use of biomass for heat generation is likely to have the greatest potential for the Western Region in the immediate future in achieving the renewables heat target and reducing carbon emissions.  An EU 2020 target of 16% renewable energy is to be achieved by 2020 across the electricity, transport and heat (and cooling) sectors in all member states. Ireland is one of only four countries in Europe expected to miss its renewable energy target[2][3].  Heat is the largest of these three sectors, and Ireland has a target of 12% of final heating demand be derived from renewable sources by 2020.

Between September and December 2017, the survey of biomass deployment in the WDC region was undertaken which found seven large industrial biomass schemes using 110,000 tonnes of wood fuels a year. The installed capacity of these schemes ranges from 2,000kW to 22,000kW (31.2 Kilotonne of Oil Equivalent (ktoe)). The survey also found 43 smaller non-domestic biomass installations with installed capacities ranging from 50kW to 550kW. Only 24 of these are known to be operational, representing 6,600kW of installed capacity using 6,269 tonnes of wood fuel a year (1.74 ktoe).

In the WDC region, total biomass deployment is equal to 32.94 ktoe. This represents 8.1% of the Western Region heat market.  Taking into account the already installed biomass, this means 7.78 ktoe of new biomass deployment is needed by 2020 to achieve a target of 12% renewable heat for the Region.

This would require €35 million of capital investment and would create 70 new full time jobs and save 28,000 tonnes of CO2. As the potential total market is estimated to be 275MW, suggesting that 35MW of new capacity is a viable aspiration.

The WDC proposed 2018 – 2020 Action Programme, which is part of this report, considers how some of these barriers can be overcome and the growth of biomass could be achieved in the Western Region.


Helen McHenry


[1] There is a modest percentage of non-solid biomass used to generate renewable energy, and this has been commented upon in the report where appropriate.


[3] The others are the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

New WDC report on Travel to Work Patterns in the Western Region

The Western Development Commission (WDC) will shortly publish Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments (2018) which will be available for download here.

In this publication, the WDC draws on Census 2016 POWCAR data to examine the travel to work patterns in centres with a population greater than 1,000 across the Western Region. The analysis, undertaken by the All Island Research Observatory (AIRO), identifies 42 labour catchments ranging in size from the largest, Galway City, with over 70,000 resident workers, through to centres with fewer than 1,000 resident workers.

The report also contains a detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region, namely: Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon. Trends are also examined, drawing on the original travel to work analysis based on Census 2006 conducted by the WDC.

The report notes some key findings:

  • All seven town labour catchments have significantly more people at work than the resident population of workers in each town as identified in the Census. They therefore have access to a larger labour supply. For example, Galway city labour catchment has a population at work more than double the Census population of resident workers, while Carrick-on-Shannon labour catchment has a population at work approximately 4.6 times the population of resident workers.
  • Compared to a decade earlier the seven county town labour catchments account for an increase of only 0.5% in the to­tal share of the population at work and living in the Western Region. This shows the limited change that has occurred over a long period and the need for very strong policy intervention to effect change.
  • The analysis highlights the importance of rural areas (centres with less than 1,000 persons) as employment locations. Generally over one fifth (in excess of 22%) of those living in the town labour catchment are employed in rural areas. The highest level of rural employment is in the Ennis labour catchment with over one quarter (26.9%) employed in the Clare rural area.
  • North-east Donegal is strongly linked to Northern Ireland. The ‘Derry Rural’ labour catchment accounts for over 5,000 resident workers, an increase of approximately 10% since 2006. This region will be most impacted by BREXIT, therefore policy needs to be developed and implemented to mitigate the impacts.

There are two outputs;

(i)    the full report, provides an overview of the travel to work analysis, identifies the 42 labour catchments, and provides an overview of change between 2006 and 2016.  It contains the detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region (Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon).

(ii)   Individual bulletins containing only the labour market profile of the principal towns are also available.

These reports will provide information for prospective employers, develop­ment agencies and regional and local authorities. These data can also be used in determining catchments for various services which will be of interest to transport providers, planners and local authorities. The outputs of the report will also be a useful evidence base for researchers and planners en­gaged with the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES) for both the Northern and Western Region­al Assembly (NWRA) and the Southern Regional Assembly (SRA) and also for Project Ireland 2014, the National Planning Framework (NPF).

What’s happening in our regional economies? Growth and change in Regional GVA.

In the last blog post on this subject, Leprechauns in Invisible Regions, the very significant changes in GVA and GDP[1] at a regional level between 2014 and 2015 were discussed.  These largely applied in manufacturing, with a national growth in GVA that sector of 134%.  As mentioned in that post, some regional data for the NUTS3 regions of Dublin and the South West was suppressed by the CSO to preserve confidentiality.  The focus of this post, therefore, is on changes in other NUTS 3 regions.  Of course Dublin and the South West are the largest economic regions but it is useful to consider the changing situation in regions less affected by the level shift in GVA in 2015 (and not affected by the confidentiality issue), and to examine in more detail the other GVA data published by the CSO in its annual County Incomes and Regional GDP publication.

The change in GVA per person between 2014 and 2015 is shown in Figure 1.  Growth in the State as a whole (which includes the South West and Dublin regions) was most significant (37%), but there was a 30% increase in GVA per person in the Mid West region and a 30% increase in the South East region.  Growth in GVA in those years was more modest in the Midland region (17%) and the West region (9%), while it was only 5% in the Border region.

Figure 1: Regional GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2014 and 2015 

a Data for 2015 for Dublin and South West regions suppressed for reasons of confidentiality

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 9c GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016

Looking at changes over a longer period Figure 2 shows GVA per person in the NUTS 3 regions since 2007[2].  GVA per person was significantly higher in the Dublin and South West regions between 2007 and 2014.  There has been some change in relativities among regions since 2007 with the Midland region, which had lowest GVA per person in 2007, higher than the Border region in 2015 (22,320 in the Midland region compared to 19,060 per person in the Border region in 2015).  GVA in the West grew more rapidly than elsewhere in 2011 and 2012 but since that period GVA in the West has again fallen behind that in the Mid East[3] and the South East and the gap between them has widened.

Figure 2: Regional GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 and 2016 

a Data for 2015 and 2016 for Dublin and South West regions suppressed for reasons of confidentiality

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 9c GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016

As has been discussed, some of the regions showed very significant growth between 2014 and 2015 but, as can be seen in Figure 2, there was no significant increase in GVA between 2015 and 2016 in any region for which data is available.

Disparities within the State

An index of how GVA in the regions compared to that in the State between 2007 and 2016 (Figure 3) gives a useful picture of widening regional disparity.  None of the regions for which data is available were above the State average during that period.  The Border region had an index of only 36.3 in 2015.  In that year the Midland region was only 42.5% of the State while the West was 56.0.  In contrast in 2007 the Border index was 68.1, the Midland index was 65.5, and the West was 71.3.  The Mid West, which had consistently highest index of GVA for regions where data was available, was 72.6% of the State average in 2016.

Figure 3: Index of GVA for NUTS 3 Regions, 2007-2016, State=100

a Data for 2015 and 2016 for Dublin and South West regions suppressed for reasons of confidentiality

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 10 Indices of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016 (State = 100)

All of the regions for which data is available have lower indices of GVA relative to the State in 2016 compared to 2007.  For example, the West was 71.3 in 2007 and 56.0 in 2016, and the Border was 68.1 in 2007 and 37.1 in 2016.  This indicates the very significant widening of disparities in GVA between these regions and GVA in the State which is influenced by the more rapidly growing Dublin and South West regions.


EU comparison

It is also interesting to look at changes in GVA over time relative to an index of regional GVA in the EU.  This shows how Irish regions are faring compared to the rest of the EU.  It is also important as the relative size of regional GVA per person impacts on the level and type of EU structure funding available to a region.  Regions where GDP per capita is less than 75% of the EU average are designated ‘convergence regions’ (86 regions between 2014 and 2020) and those with GDP per capita above 75% of the EU average are seen as developed regions (186 NUTS 2 regions).

Looking at the NUTS 2 regions in Ireland the changes relative to the EU average are very stark, particularly since 2015 (Figure 4).  In 2007 the S&E region was 163.8% of the EU average and it declined to 144.2% in 2009, there followed by steady grown to 2014, when it reached 153.2%, still below that in 2007.  The level shift in GVA in 2015 meant the S&E region increased dramatically to 213% of the EU average in 2015.  In contrast in 2007 GVA in the BMW region was at the EU average (100.9) but it declined relative to the EU average until 2014 (77.1%) with only slow growth for 2015 and 2016 (it is estimated at 80.1% of the EU average in 2016), compared to 213% in the S&E region.

Figure 4: Index of GVA for BMW and S&E regions (NUTS 2), 2007-2016, EU28=100

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 11   Indices of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016 (EU28 = 100)

There is more fluctuation in GVA relative to the EU28 when we look at NUTS 3 regions (Figure 5).  Even without data for the regions with the highest GVA (Dublin and the South West) the other regions in the S&E NUTS 2 region have all had higher GVA than the EU average since 2014.  The Mid West region consistently had GVA higher than the EU average since 2007, despite some decline, while the South East and the Mid East were below the EU average between 2009 and 2014).

Figure 5: Index of GVA for NUTS 3 regions, 2007-2016, EU28=100

b Preliminary results for 2016

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 11   Indices of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2007 to 2016 (EU28 = 100)


In contrast, the three regions which make up the BMW were all at or below the EU average in 2015 and 2016, and the Border and Midland regions have never been above the EU 28 average.  The Border is currently only 65.7% of the EU average (2016) while the Midlands is 76.2%.  GVA in the West region has shown significant fluctuation, and was particularly strong in 2011 and 2012 (peaking at 108.8% of the EU average) but has since fallen back, though it is currently very close to the EU average (99.2%).



It is also interesting to look at changes in productivity in recent years (Figure 6).  There was a dramatic increase of 42% in productivity (GVA per person at work) in the State between 2014 and 2016 (this includes the figures for the South West and Dublin regions), and there were also significant increases in the Mid East (38%), Mid West (34%) and South East (40%) regions.  While increases in productivity were much smaller in the Border (9%), Midland (20%) and West (15%) all regions did show productivity growth.

Figure 6: GVA per person at work 2014-2016 (NUTS 3)

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015,Table 13  GVA at Basic Prices, population and persons at work for each region 2015


Regional Productivity is dependent on a number of factors, including the types of economic activities being undertaken in the regions so it is useful to look more closely at the data for this.

Economic Sectors

There is significant variation in the importance of different sectors in each region (Figure 7).  Looking at Industry, for example, the West region has the highest proportion of GVA from this sector (of the regions for which data is available) at 41.5% compared to 38.8% for the State as a whole.  There is substantial variation in the contribution of Professional, Scientific and Technical services to GVA (13.6% in the Mid East region and 13.4% in the South East compared to 5.3% in the Midland region and 6.2% in West region).  Public Administration and Defence makes a very significant contribution to GVA in the Border (27.9%) and Midland region (26.8%) but only accounts for 11.9% of GVA in the State as a whole.

Figure 7: Gross Value Added by Sector 2015

Source: Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015,Table 9d   Gross Value Added by Sector 2015


The relative importance of the three main branches of economic activity in the Border, Midland and West Regions is shown in Figure 8.  Manufacturing, Building and Construction accounts for almost half (46%) of GVA in the West region but only 24% in the Border and 32% in the Midland regions.  In contrast services account for 65% of the Midland GVA, and 73% of GVA in the Border region and 52% in the West region.  For the State as a whole Manufacturing, Building and Construction accounts for 41% of GVA and Services account for 58%.

Figure 8: GVA in Border Midland and West regions by branch, 2015

Source: Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 15   GVA at Basic Prices classified by region and branch, 2014 and 2015


Looking at changes in GVA between 2014 and 2015 for each branch of the economy and, as would have been expected, there were significant changes in GVA from Manufacturing, Building and Construction in most regions between 2014 and 2015, with a 105% increase in the State, a 76 % increase in the South East, and a 75 % increase in the Mid West.  In the West, however the increase in GVA in this branch was only 20% and again, very significantly (and giving rise to the low growth in GVA) in the Border it was only 3%.

Figure 9: Changes in regional GVA by branch between 2014 and 2015


Source: Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP, 2015, Table 15   GVA at Basic Prices classified by region and branch, 2014 and 2015


There were also changes of note in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector (which accounts for a relatively small amount of GVA).  There was a decrease in GVA from this sector of 7% in the State between 2014 and 2015 and a significant decrease of more than 20% in the South West and 14% in the Border region and the Mid West region.  GVA from services grew in all regions, but only by 1% in the West region (compared to 11% in the State).



While there are difficulties with using GVA and GDP as measures of regional development (see here and here) it is nonetheless a very important indicator of regional economic activity and essential to our understanding of the changes taking place in Irish regions.    However, in order to understand regional growth and change it is important to use GVA in combination with other data such as that on employment, enterprise activity, income, wealth and consumption.



Helen McHenry


[1] 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 .

[2] Data for the South West and Dublin Regions is not available for 2015 and 2016

[3] In previous posts on GVA the Mid East has been considered with Dublin (see this post for example) as much of the GVA in the Dublin region is produced by commuters from the Mid East (and other regions) and GVA per person for the Dublin region does not reflect this.  However, as data for the Dublin region is not available Mid East data is included here.

New research on Economic & Social Impact of the West of Ireland creative sector

National University of Ireland, Galway has recently published a series of reports ‘Economic & Social Impact Assessment’ of the creative sector in five different regions across Europe’s Northern Edge including the West of Ireland.  The five reports are available to download here:

Funded through the EU Northern Periphery & Arctic (NPA) Programme co-funded ‘a creative momentum project’, the research was conducted by Dr Patrick Collins, Dr Aisling Murtagh and Dr Ben Breen of NUIG’s Whitaker Institute and Discipline of Geography. The WDC is lead partner for this transnational project.

Silvia Guglielmini, WDC; Aisling Murtagh, NUIG; Pat Collins, NUIG; Pauline White, WDC; Leo Scarff; Leo Scarff Design at the launch of the assessment report. Photo Credit: Brad Anderson, Photo One Photography

As the report states, assessing the value of the creative sector (defined in the report as Advertising, Animation, Architecture, Craft, Cultural Facilities, Design, Film, Games, IT and Computer Services, Marketing, Music, Performing Arts, Photography, Publishing, Radio, Software, TV and Visual Arts) is a complex task.

Combining existing knowledge and official statistics, with survey data (152 respondents made some reply to the online survey) and in-depth interviews with nine creative sector entrepreneurs from the region, the impact assessment presents key economic estimates but also goes beyond traditional economic measures to encompass a wider socio-economic focus.

Economic Impacts


Total direct sales of the creative sector in the Western Region amounted to €486.2 million in 2016. Making use of a multiplier, the researchers derived a total value of the sector to the Western Region of €729.2 million.

Average company sales differ across sub-sectors. The sub-sector which the researchers designate as ‘creative industries’ (Media/Advertising, Architecture/Design, R&D, Professional Services, Software & App Development) reports average sales close to twice that of enterprises in the ‘craft industries’ (Traditional Craft, Print & Recorded Media Production, Electronic Manufacturing, Other Manufacturing) and ‘cultural industries’ (Performing Arts & Education, Publishing, Film & TV).


46% of survey respondents derived some portion of their sales from exports. Across the sector this accounted for 18% of direct sales or €87.4 million. Smaller and younger companies were least likely to export their produce.

Length of establishment

The sub-sector which the researchers designate as ‘creative industries’ is the youngest sub-sector with more than half of operations surveyed less than five years old and close to 10% had been in existence for less than one year.


The analysis found that the overall creative sector in the Western Region consists of a large number of small and micro enterprises with an average of 2.6 employees per firm.

Official statistics from the CSO indicate that a total of 12,871 people were employed in the sector in the Western Region in 2015. The largest sub-sector was ‘creative industries’ (57.3%, 7,380) followed by ‘cultural industries’ (30%, 3,847) and ‘craft industries’ (12.7%, 1,644). Geographically, employment was concentrated in counties Galway (22%), and Donegal (18%).

The results of the survey suggest that employment in the overall creative sector grew in recent years. Employment in ‘cultural industries’ increased by 2.3% (2012-2015) while in ‘creative industries’ there was stronger growth of 15.8%. ‘Craft industries’ however showed no significant change.

Infographic of Economic Impacts of Creative Sector in West of Ireland

Social Impacts

The report authors note that studies have found the creative sector has a range of wider benefits and spill-over impacts. Such benefits are difficult to measure precisely, but their assessment suggests the contribution is significant. A range of wider socio-economic contributions from the creative sector in the Western Region are examined in the report:

Place-based impacts

  • The creative sector is locally embedded, facilitating strong local economy value capture. But it is also internationally and globally focused, supporting economic growth. The creative sector can contribute to re-inventing perceptions of peripheral regions as attractive, creative places to live, work and visit.
  • The qualities of creative sector entrepreneurs are an asset that facilitate harnessing of local opportunities, such as from place-based resources including culture, traditions, landscape and heritage.

Human and social capital impacts

  • Inter-sectoral mobility of creative labour, as well as strong knowledge transfer to emerging talent and other entrepreneurs, strengthens the human resource capacity of the region.
  • The open and collaborative approach of creative sector entrepreneurs builds a supportive entrepreneurial environment aligned with the concept of ‘coopetition’.
  • Creative sector entrepreneurs also contribute to positive social and community impacts.

Infographic of Socio-economic impacts of creative sector

To support the consideration of the socio-economic impacts of the sector three case studies are included in the assessment:

  • Festival impacts: Willie Clancy Summer School
  • Arts impacts: Gaeltacht areas in the Western Region
  • Tourism Impacts: Creative and cultural assets


The analysis suggests the creative sector has significant economic and social value in the Western Region of Ireland. It highlights the important role of the creative sector in supporting more balanced, sustainable development in peripheral and rural regions. The sector’s structure, composed of small locally engaged businesses, is an important part of its value.

Placing the creative sector as part of a regional development strategy can support a move away from reliance on service and primary sectors and towards a more diversified economy focusing on new sources of economic competitiveness. Synergies between the creative sector and other indigenous industry sectors, such as agriculture, the marine and tourism, provide avenues for exploration to support future sustainable growth.

The researchers conclude by noting that this is a one off report based on limited evidence. Better evidence can help to identify benefits of particular creative sub-sectors so local agencies can focus on sectors which best address specific local development needs.  To more fully capture the value and needs of the creative sector regularly published official statistics measuring key socio-economic indicators by region and creative sector are needed.

Download the report here

Pauline White

Leprechauns in Invisible Regions: Regional GVA (GDP) in 2015

Regional GVA (GDP)[1] figures for 2015, and preliminary figures for 2016, were published recently by the CSO.  The 2015 figures are of particular interest as that year (the year of leprechaun economics), there was a level shift in the size of the economy.  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), all contributed to the very significant growth in GDP.

There has been much discussion of the issue (see here, here and here) and a review of the statistics used to produce the data.  In addition the CSO recently held a seminar on the impact of globalisation on Ireland’s accounts, with papers available here).  The significant change in GDP in 2015 (a 26% rise on 2014) is, of course, played out at a regional levels and is evident in the regional GVA data.  However, because of the significant impact of a few businesses in some figures, for reason of confidentiality the CSO has not published GVA data at regional level for Dublin or for the South West (the ‘invisible’ regions of the title).

This is, of course, very problematic for those seeking to understand the economies of these regions and for those of us interested in comparing regional economic activity.  For regions, measures of progress and disparity and measures of how well they are doing, whether they are catching up or falling behind are all key issues considered using GVA data.  Nationally, other indicators (including GNI*, Modified Domestic Demand and a Modified Current account (CA*)) have been developed to help improve our understanding of growth and change in the domestic economy.  It is to be hoped that consideration will be given to producing other regional economic indicators (such as a regional GNI*) which could add to our understanding of changing regional economies.

This post focuses on the level shift in GVA which occurred in 2015 and its impact in regional statistics, while my next post will examine other (more traditional) aspects of regional GVA in more detail.  In this post Dublin, and the South West are considered together.

The size of the Regional Economies

Much of the dramatic increase in GVA was concentrated in Dublin and the South West (although, as discussed below, it was not confined to these regions), so it is useful to look at how much these regions contributed to Irish GVA in 2015 (See Figure 1).  The two regions of Dublin and the South West together accounted for more than two thirds (67%) of Irish GVA, although, interestingly this was not a dramatic increase on 2014 when the two regions contributed 63% of GVA.  This is partly because most regions experienced level shifts in their GVA between the two years.

Figure 1:  Regional contribution to Ireland’s GVA in 2015

*Dublin and South West are not a ‘region’ but are shown together as data not available for these two regions (own calculation from data).

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9   GVA per Region at Current Market Prices (GDP), 2007 to 2016 

Output from these regions over time

It is also useful to look at the changing contribution of the two regions with the largest economies over a longer time period (Figure 2).  In 2000, Dublin and the South West contributed 57% of national GVA.  This has been rising, particularly since 2010, and it reached 67% in 2015 (and remains 67% in the 2016 estimate).  This indicates the very significant concentration of high value added activity in these two regions, a concentration which has been increasing over time.

Figure 2: Percentage of National GVA from Regions 2000-2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts table RAA01

Of course, before 2015, these two regions could be considered separately, and in 2014 Dublin contributed 45% of national GVA while the South West contributed 18%.  In 2002 the South West accounted for 20% of GVA and Dublin 37% (figures for the South West generally varied between 18 and 20% of national GVA over this period).

GVA per person in Regions

While the above discussion has focused on the amount of GVA contributed by the regions it is, in general, more useful to consider GVA per person as a means of comparing regions (because of different regional sizes).  Given the lack of data for two of the NUTS 3 regions, it is easiest to look at (Figure 3) NUTS 2 level regions i.e. the Border, Midland and West (BMW) region and the Southern and Eastern (S&E) region (which includes both Dublin and the South West).  GVA per person has always been significantly higher in the S&E region than in the BMW.  In 2000 it was €28,490 in the S&E and €19,148 in the BMW, a difference of €9,342 per person.  The figures followed a similar pattern (with some minor variation in the disparity) over the year to 2012 when the trends began to diverge, most dramatically in 2015.  In that year GVA per person in the S&E was €63,179 (up from €44,464 per person in 2014), and was only €23,606 in the BMW.  This is a very significant difference of €39,573 in GVA per person.

Figure 3: Gross Value Added (GVA) per person at Basic Prices (Euro) by NUTS2 Region and Year (2000 to 2015)

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts table RAA01


While the difference in GVA is dramatic, it should be remembered that, in relation to household income, which is what is relevant to most people, differences in income from economic activities are, to some extent, smoothed out by taxation and social transfers (see here for discussion of 2015 Household incomes at regional level).  However, the very different output levels among regions are significant and deserve attention.  If high value added activity remains concentrated in a few regions, disparities will continue to widen and there will be an ongoing perception that some regions are ‘dependent’ on others for transfers.  Indeed, without growth in higher value added activity and better quality employment this would become inevitable.  A focus on growing weaker regional economies and increasing higher value added activities (and not just from MNEs) is essential to growing our national economy.

Which regions are most affected by the 2015 level shift?

Although the data for Dublin and the South West has been supressed for reasons of confidentiality, it is clear that these regions experienced a level shift in their GVA between 2014 and 2015 (see Figure 4 below).  But most other regions also experienced a significant increase, or level shift.

It should be noted that, in this post, we are looking at GVA rather than GDP (see footnote 1)[2].  While there was a startling 26% increase in GDP in Ireland in 2015 (published in July 2016), the increase GVA for the State was even bigger in 2015 (37%).  See here for more information on this and on the MNE components of GVA.

As expected, the largest increase (46%) in GVA was in Dublin and the South West (again, these are combined as data for these regions was not published[3]).  But the other regions in the S&E also experienced a significant increase, with the Mid East, Mid West and South East all showing increases in GVA of more than 30%.

Figure 4: Increase in GVA in NUTS 3 regions between 2014 and 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9b   GVA per Region at Basic Prices


In contrast, the three regions which together make up the NUTS2 BMW region had much smaller increases in GVA.  Between 2014 and 2015 GVA in the Midland region increased by 17%, in the West by 10% and in the Border region by only 6%.  The impacts of globalisation on GVA statistics are significantly less in the BMW region, which is much less dependent on the globalised sectors (though consequently they also have much lower economic output).

Preliminary data for 2016 shows a return to more normal GVA growth rates between 4% (Mid East and West) and 7% in the Border region.  The ‘Dublin and South West group’ shows a modest 5% increase in GVA.

Manufacturing and other sectors affected

Manufacturing is key sector experiencing the level shift in GVA between 2014 and 2015.   Looking at the manufacturing sector in the NUTS 3 regions (Figure 5 below), it is clear that most regions experienced a level shift in GVA from Manufacturing.  Only the Border region showed no discernible change, with a growth of only 5% in Manufacturing GVA.  The West also had a more modest (though still significant) growth in GVA of 25% from Manufacturing in 2014-2015.  With two NUTS regions (Mid West and South East) showing growth in GVA from manufacturing of more than 100% and Dublin and the South West combined showing a 172% increase in GVA from Manufacturing, this is clearly the sector where most of the significant changes between 2014 and 2015 took place.

Figure 5: Increase in GVA in the Manufacturing Sector in NUTS 3 regions between 2014 and 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d and e GVA by sector


However, in a number of other sectors different regions showed quite significant changes.  As would be expected these are in the high value sectors with global value chains.  There were significant increases in ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities etc.’ in the Border (43%), the Mid East (50%) and South East (48%), while the Border also showed a 31% increase in GVA from Financial and Insurance Activities in 2014-2015.  Finally, the South East experienced a 39% increase in GVA from Information and Communication.  Not all of these increases are necessarily related to the relocation of IP assets, or to the other factors which underlie the level shift in GVA between 2014 and 2015 but these are all very significant growth figures (the detail of other sector changes in GVA will be discussed in a forthcoming post.)

Manufacturing is the sector where data is suppressed for reason of confidentiality in Dublin and the South West.   It is a key sector in these regions.  In 2014 (the first year for which such regional data was available) the South West accounted for 34% of Ireland’s Manufacturing GVA and Dublin accounted for 29% (63% in total). In 2015, as shown in Fig. 6, the two combined accounted for 73% of Ireland’s GVA from Manufacturing.

Figure 6: Regional contribution to Manufacturing GVA in 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d GVA by sector


The dominance of these two regions in the high value manufacturing sector is evident when the contribution of different sectors to regional GVA is considered at NUTS 2 level (Figures 7 and 8 below).  In the Southern and Eastern region manufacturing accounted for 38% of the Region’s GVA, and other high value areas (‘Information and Communications’ (10%), ‘Financial and Insurance Activities’ (7%) and ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities’ (11%) also relatively important (28% of GVA in the S&E came from these three sectors combined).

Figure 7: Gross Value Added by Sector in the Southern and Eastern Region

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d GVA by sector


In the Border, Midland and Western region the Manufacturing sector contributed 28% of GVA and the other high value sectors were much less significant in GVA terms.  ‘Information and Communications’ (2%), ‘Financial and Insurance Activities’ (5%) and ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities’ (6%) combined only accounted for 13% of GVA in the BMW region.  In contrast ‘Public Administration and Defence’ accounted for 24% of GVA in the BMW region and only 10% in the Southern and Eastern region.

Figure 8: Gross Value Added by Sector in the Border, Midland and Western Region

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d GVA by sector



GVA is essential regional data, despite its limitations.  It is one of the key variables for national and international regional comparisons and, given the paucity of other regional economic data, it is particularly important.  While understanding the necessity of ensuring data confidentiality, the lack of GVA data for two regions limits discussion of regional development significantly.

Given the focus on regional development in government policy (Project Ireland 2040) we need to be able to measure how regions are doing.  Income, Wealth and Consumption data would give a good picture of how households in regional economies are doing, but while we have regional income data, there is no longitudinal data on wealth and consumption for regions.  Similarly we have Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) data at regional level giving a broader picture of income and poverty, and Labour Force Survey data on employment and unemployment.  However, although these are important, each region also needs to have an indicator of economic activity and growth.

Potentially the issue of confidentiality will not affect data for every year, and 2015 (and 2016 preliminary data) might prove to be exceptions, with full regional GVA data available again in the future.  Nonetheless, the difficulties with regional GDP need to be addressed.  Should new NUTS2 regions be agreed with Eurostat (to align with the regional assemblies) GVA data will published for these.  Currently as both Dublin and the South West are in the NUTS2 Southern and Eastern Region, it is only necessary to withhold data for both of these NUTS3 regions and the NUTS 2 data can be published in full.  In future,  if Dublin and the South West will be in different NUTS 2 regions (Dublin in the Eastern and Midland Region, and the South West in the Southern Region, to ensure confidentiality in relation to these regions, it might become necessary to supress detailed NUTS 3 data for some of the other regions.

It is not clear what solutions might be possible in relation to regional GVA data, but good quality regional data is essential both to understand regional economies and to monito the impact of regional and national policy.  Development of the GNI* indicator at regional level could help to understand activities in domestic regional economies.

Improving our understanding of regional economic growth and change is essential if we are to develop policies and actions to ensure that all regions can grow their economies, employment and value add at more comparable rates into the future.



Helen McHenry


[1] 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 .

[2] For the purposes of regional accounts GVA is the most common measure of regional growth and regional economic activity. However data in Figure 1 (from Table 9) is GVA at market prices (GDP).

[3] The amount for this ‘combined region’ was calculated by subtracting the other regional data from the total.

Educational attainment in the Western Region

A recently published ESRI Research Bulletin, ‘The local factors that affect where new businesses are set up’ summarises their analysis of new firms setting up in Ireland. Data from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) on the number of start-up firms each year in 190 localities, all outside of the Greater Dublin Area, is linked to data on local characteristics thought to be important to business location. This data is used to develop models of how much each factor (or combination of factors) contributes to the number of business start-ups in a given place and time.

The authors state that the results of this analysis show that

‘Educational attainment of local residents is highly attractive to start-ups; we use the share of the population with a third-level qualification as an indicator for this, and it has the largest effect of the factors in our models.’

The analysis also shows that broadband access is a significant factor

‘However, a key finding is that broadband’s effect on start-ups depends on the education level of an area’s population. Only areas with enough highly qualified staff seem to enjoy a boost in start-ups when they have broadband network access.’

This analysis clearly points to the importance of human capital in the location decision of new business start-ups. Of course the direction of causality is a challenge, new businesses are attracted to areas with a highly skilled population, but highly skilled people will only remain/move to an area if suitable job opportunities exist.

The latest WDC Insights, published by the WDC last week (27 March), ‘Census 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region’ is therefore very timely, as it examines the level of educational attainment of the adult population of the Western Region and its seven counties.

Highest level of education completed

Overall, the Western Region displays a lower educational profile, with a smaller share of its adult population (aged 15+ years and who have ceased education) having third level qualifications and a greater share having low levels of education (Fig. 1) than the rest of the state. 13.4% of adults in the Western Region have only completed primary education compared with 11.1% in the rest of the state. The region’s older age profile contributes to this.

At the highest levels of education the difference between the Western Region and the rest of state is quite substantial e.g. 8.5% in the Western Region have a postgraduate degree/diploma compared with 11.7% in the rest of the state. Given the importance of third level education for business location and stimulating overall economic growth, this presents a challenge for the region.

Fig. 1: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) by the highest level of education completed in the Western Region and rest of state, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003

Highest level of education completed in western counties

There are significant differences across western counties in the share of the population with a third level qualification (Fig. 2).  At 55.2%, Galway City has the second highest share of residents with a third level qualification (Advanced Certificate/Completed Apprenticeship and higher) in Ireland. It is behind Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but ahead of Fingal, Dublin City and Kildare. Within the region, Galway County, Clare and Sligo have the next highest shares of third level graduates, illustrating a strong concentration around Galway / Limerick and also in Sligo, clearly showing the influence of larger urban centres.

Donegal has the highest share of its population with no formal education or primary only (21.9%) in the State, with Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon next highest in the region. This is partly due to greater reliance on sectors traditionally associated with lower qualifications.

In general, the counties offering fewer graduate employment opportunities tend to have weaker educational profiles, with many of those with higher qualifications having left these areas. This presents a double challenge for such areas – the weaker educational profile makes it more difficult to attract new business start-ups, while the lack of suitable job opportunities makes the area less attractive to those with higher qualifications. Often in such areas, it is the public sector (education, health, public administration) which presents the most significant graduate employment opportunities. Stimulating greater demand for highly qualified staff among private enterprise in these areas, as well as supporting opportunities for self-employment is required.

Fig. 2: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) in western counties by highest level of education completed, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003


Overall the Western Region continues to display a lower educational profile than the rest of the state. Given the key role of human capital in regional development, this is a significant challenge for the region and in particular more rural counties.  A number of factors including the region’s older age profile and its sectoral pattern of employment – smaller shares working in sectors which demand higher qualifications (e.g. professional services, ICT, finance) and more working in sectors traditionally characterised by lower qualifications (e.g. hospitality, agriculture) – strongly influence its educational profile.

Galway City shows a very different educational pattern however with the second highest share of third level graduates in Ireland. This is both cause and effect of its recent strong economic performance. The sectoral pattern of employment in Galway City differs from the rest of the Western Region with a high share working in ICT and medical devices manufacturing which demand higher qualifications, the presence of NUI Galway is another key contributor.

Download the latest WDC InsightsCensus 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region