Developing a Strategy for the Northern and Western Region

The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Region will implement the targets set out in the newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040.  The WDC recently made a submission on the Issues Paper for the Strategy for the Northern and Western region and it can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here).

The Northern and Western Region probably has the most challenging targets to meet in Ireland 2040 with a target of a population increase of 160,000-180,000 people and 115,000 jobs in the region.  However, when broken down into annual growth rates over the next 21 years (2019-2040) the targets appear more manageable,  For example the target that larger towns should grow by 40% to 2040 is an annualised growth rate of 1.62% p.a. for 21 years while rural population growth of 15% over the period amounts to less one percent (0.67%) annual growth.  Galway, which has the largest growth target of 50-60% to achieve a population of at least 120,000 can do this with an annual growth rate of 1.95%.  Nonetheless, these are ambitious targets and achieving them will need considerable resources and direction.

Ireland 2040 also places a significant responsibility on the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) in particular and the urban centres of Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny, as well as other large towns, as the key drivers in the region.  Some of these urban centres, which are targeted for 40% growth in the NWRA area, are not very well connected though they may be well located to serve as a driver for their region. These towns need their connectivity improvements prioritised so that they have some chance to achieve the planned targets.

Successful, sustainable regional growth will require a clear Strategy with strong goals and objectives, appropriate resources, a well-developed implementation process and an implementation body with the capacity, resources and powers to achieve co-ordinated action.

Population & Employment

As was noted throughout the WDC submission, the solution to maintaining and growing the regional population is the availability of employment, which in turn requires supporting policy for infrastructural development, a strategy for education and skills and stimulation of entrepreneurship and enterprise growth.  Infrastructure, the ‘3Es’ (Enterprise, Employment and Education) and Innovation are the key levers for regional development.  When they work together they drive regional growth.  Each has a distinctive role, and needs its own policy focus, but they are most effective when addressed through an integrated policy approach.

The RSES should be explicit on the targeted location of jobs within the Northern & Western Region and the balance between jobs growth in Galway city, large towns and the rest of the Region.  These targets should be supported by a clear statement on how employment growth at different spatial scales will be facilitated and supported through the RSES.  It is important that the Strategy is clearly focused on creating real opportunities to keep people living in the region and to attract more people, whether to cities, towns or rural areas.

It should be remembered that during the early part of this century (2000-2007), when there was rapid economic growth throughout Ireland, rural areas responded rapidly with significant increases in the numbers employed and in workforce participation and, in turn, in local populations.  The region is ready to respond and targeted policies to stimulate employment and entrepreneurship will help to achieve targets.

The urban hierarchy

Specific details of the role to be played by different areas in the Region’s settlement hierarchy and the investments needed for these areas to fulfil their roles must be included in the Strategy.

In order to ensure that Galway city, the strategically located regional centres of Sligo and Letterkenny, other towns and rural areas all fulfil their regional development potential, with service and infrastructure levels appropriate to each type of area, investment at the appropriate scale needs to happen in all these places.  Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment.

In the Northern and Western Region there are only 5 towns (and Galway city, as well as part of Athlone) which have a population of more than 10,000, yet it is a relatively large region in the Irish context.  Therefore the Strategy should focus on the function of towns and the role they pay in their hinterland, rather than being too concerned with population size as a criterion for investment.

The nature and role of the smaller towns including county towns must be considered in more detail in the RSES and in County Development Plans.  It is important to be aware, in the context of the Strategy that these towns, as well as being important drivers of their local economy, are also essential to those living in other even smaller less serviced towns, in villages or in the wider countryside.

Although smaller towns can face significant challenges they also have key assets such as cultural heritage, historic buildings, local businesses and high levels of social capital.  These all provide opportunities for diversification and adaptation of the town and its social network to embrace future opportunities, whether it is improved tourism product, attracting people to live there, or developing knowledge and sectoral clusters such as creative industries.  Many towns have strong indigenous industries which may be exporting and a substantial number have some small scale foreign direct investment.  There are other enterprises and employers too, and important local services sectors and small scale manufacturing serving a local market.  These are very significant parts of the local economy and important local employers.  All of these can be leveraged to support the development of local communities.


Brexit is a key strategic issue for the Northern and Western Region.  Cross-border linkages including cross-border commuting, access to services, retail and trade are areas which will undergo massive changes in the context of Brexit.  Planning for how to mitigate the impact of Brexit on border communities and the economy of the Border region in particular must be a core priority of the RSES.


Development of a strong regional spatial and economic strategy for the Northern and Western region will require coordination with central government, local authorities, enterprise agencies, and alignment with the Action Plan for Jobs and the Action Plan for Rural Development as they are developed over time.   The involvement of education providers, employers and people in the region will all be needed to ensure the targets are achieved.  The Strategy should be appropriately resourced (with money, expertise and time, as well as involvement of key stakeholders).  It would be better to have a more focused, limited strategy that can be implemented than a vision which is beyond the possibility of effective implementation.

Of course, the Issues Paper is just the first stage in the process of developing a Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western region.  There are many steps to be gone through, and further consultation, before the Northern and Western Regional Assembly publish a final Strategy, hopefully before the end of the year.

Detailed answers to the questions in the Issues Paper and consideration of specific needs are in the full WDC submission and an overview of key points in the summary.


One Region One Vision Conference Video Highlights

For 2018 the Western Region will be recognised as European Entrepreneurial Region. Recognising the success of our indigenous and small enterprises. Our commitment to innovation will see us become one of the most resilient places in Europe.

The One Region One Vision Conference took place in Galway on November 28th.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) was delighted to collaborate on this conference with the North Western Regional Assembly.

According to the CEO of the WDC , Ian Brannigan, “The Western region is entering a period of real growth and as such the bringing together of key regional stakeholders and businesses is essential to optimise this opportunity. The One region One vision provides a forum for change for the region “.

One Region One Vision celebrated achievement, whilst also promoting investment in our competitiveness through Structural Funds and launching our Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy. The Conference was concluded by the Chairperson of the WDC Dr Deirdre Garvey.

So get your 2018 moving by watching the One Region One Vision inspirational speakers including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Harry Hughes of PortWest, Mary Rodgers (Portershed), Adrian Weckler (INM) and many more.


What do people in the Western Region and its counties work at?

Recently the Western Development Commission (WDC) published two new WDC Insights publications examining the sectoral profile of employment in the Western Region of Ireland and its counties.

Both are based on an analysis of data from Census 2016 on employment by economic sector (industrial group).  The first looks at the sectoral pattern of employment in the Western Region as a whole compared with that elsewhere in the country, while the second focuses on the sectoral profile of employment in each of the seven individual counties in the Western Region.

What do people in the Western Region work at?

In 2016, 333,919 people living in the Western Region were in employment.  In comparison with the rest of the state, the Western Region relies more heavily on traditional sectors, public services and some local services while it has far lower shares working in knowledge intensive service (see Fig. 1).

Fig 1: Percentage of employment by each broad sector in Western Region and Rest of State, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 – Summary Results Part 2

The region’s largest sector is Industry (largely manufacturing) and it is considerably more important to the region’s labour market than in the rest of the state, a pattern that intensified between 2011 and 2016. Agriculture, Health, Education and Accommodation & Food service are other sectors that are more important in the region than elsewhere.

The knowledge intensive services sectors of Financial, Insurance & Real Estate, Information & Communications, and Professional, Scientific & Technical activities are all considerably larger employers elsewhere. Combined, they employ 9.7% of workers in the Western Region, but 16.2% in the rest of the state.

What do people in the seven western counties work at?

Public Services (Health, Education and Public Administration) is the largest source of employment in all western counties (see Fig. 2).  Counties Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal are the four counties in the State with the highest shares of their population employed in Public Services.

Fig 2: Percentage of employment by each high level sector in seven western counties, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 – Summary Results Part 2

The next largest employment sector in all western counties is Locally Traded Services. With the exception of Donegal, Industry (largely manufacturing) is the third largest employment sector.   For Donegal, Industry is smaller than Knowledge Intensive Services (Professional, Scientific & Technical, Information & Communications, and Financial, Insurance & Real Estate).

Roscommon has the highest share working in Agriculture in the region, it along with Leitrim and Mayo have among the highest shares nationally.

As well as outlining the current structure of employment in the region and its counties, the change in employment by sector between 2011 and 2016 is examined in the two publications which can be downloaded here

Work is currently underway on producing profiles of the labour market of each of the individual western counties and these will be published shortly.

Pauline White

Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development

The Irish branch of the Regional Studies Association held its annual conference on Friday 1st September at the DIT Grangegorman campus.
The conference, “Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development”, which was opened by John Paul Phelan T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, covered a wide range of topics relevant to regional studies and regional development.

At the RSA conference: Dr Chris van Egeraat, Maynooth University, RSA Irish Branch S0ectretary, Minister of State John Paul Phelan and Professor Brian Norton, President of DIT.

The first plenary session (chaired by Jim Walsh, MU, who also spoke about the National Planning Framework) considered governance trends in European metropolitan areas and how Dublin differs from some of the trends (Niamh Moore Cherry, UCD). Proinnsias Breathnach (MU) examined the implementation of the National Spatial Strategy, which was launched in 2002, and discussed how certain issues which arose then might recur with the National Planning Framework.

The morning parallel session on Brexit (Speakers: Michael Gallagher (Derry City & Strabane District Council) and Gerard Brady (IBEC)) provided very interesting perspectives on different aspects of Brexit covering both local and personal impacts as well as potential issues for businesses. The session prompted lively discussion with the audience.

The other parallel session on Regional Economic Development focused on the growth of firms (Olubunmi Ipinnaiye, UCC) and the role of knowledge in regional development (presentations from both Enrica Pinca (UCD) and Adam Whittle (UCD)

After lunch, in the international plenary session, invited speaker Prof. Mike Danson (Heriot Watt) spoke about community resilience and enterprise in the periphery and highlighted trends of interest for rural development in Ireland. The second invited speaker, Prof. Andy Pike (CURDS), considered the options for, and benefits of, demand side policies for city economies. Both provided interesting examples of economic and social development practices from outside Ireland.

Later in the afternoon, a parallel session provided perspectives from the Regional Assemblies with speakers from each of the assemblies (Denis Kelly (NWRA), Stephen Blair (SRA) and Jim Conway (EMRA) while the other session considered rural and urban policy in the regions. Pauline White (WDC) focused on regional growth in rural areas, towns and cities; Ruth Pritchard (NUIG) and David Meredith (Teagasc) considered rural policy in the form of the Action Plan for Rural Development; and Sean O Riordan (PPAN) and Chris Van Egeraat (MU) examined governance and implementation issues for the NPF.

St Laurence’s church on the Grangegorman campus provided a lovely venue for the conference.

Finally, to close the conference, the panel discussion took the form of a wide ranging conversation involving both speakers and audience members on regional development issues in Ireland.
The conference was timely with the draft of the National Planning Framework expected in October and its associated Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies to follow next year. There was much discussion of these and of the issue of regional balance in Ireland from both speakers and attendees.

See here (link for more information about the conference and the speakers.

Links to the presentations will be made available shortly.



Helen McHenry

Western Region’s Top 10 Employment sectors

Census 2016 Summary Results – Part 2, included data on the number of people working in different sectors.  We’ll be publishing our first analysis of this data for the Western Region shortly, but in the meantime here’s a taster.

Top 10 sectors

At a detailed sectoral level (NACE Rev 2, detailed industrial group), the top 10 employment sectors in the Western Region in 2016 are:

Table 1: 10 largest employment sectors in the Western Region in 2016, by detailed industrial group.

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

Farming and work in residential care and social work, which includes child and eldercare, both employ over 20,000 people.

Five of the Western Region’s top 10 sectors are largely public sector, though there is significant private sector involvement in some cases e.g. residential care, hospitals. Medical devices manufacturing, non-specialised retail (including supermarkets), hotels and restaurants are the largest private sector employers.

The performance of the region’s top employers varied considerably between 2011 and 2016. Farming, Secondary Education, Public Administration and Retail all had declining job numbers; while employment in Medical Devices, Restaurants and Residential Care grew substantially. A growing older population, strengthening tourism and an internationally competitive medical devices cluster have contributed to this growth.

Further analysis of employment patterns in the region is on the way.

Pauline White


How are we doing?  GDP of Irish Regions in 2014

The CSO has recently published Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for Irish regions (NUTS3) for 2014.  This publication updates the preliminary figures for 2014 which were published last year (and also makes some changes to the 2013 figures) but it does not, unfortunately, provide any 2015 estimates.

While a regional GDP[1] figure is provided (Table 9a) most of the information for regional accounts is for GVA at basic prices (Table 9c).  These are considered in this post which examines differences among regions and changes over time.

Discussions of GDP inevitably must also consider on the limitations of the statistic as a measure of economic development (see here ) but it is the key statistic used, despite shortcomings.  As Eurostat notes here GDP per capita 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, as commuter flows may result in employees contributing to the GDP of one region (where they work), and to household income in another region (where they live).

This drawback is particularly relevant when there are significant net commuter flows into or out of a region. Areas that are characterised by a considerable number of inflowing commuters often display regional GDP per capita that is extremely high (when compared with surrounding regions). This pattern is seen in many metropolitan regions of the EU, but principally in capital cities and is very clearly displayed in Ireland in particular between Dublin and the Mid East.

Indeed, the Solas Regional Labour Market Bulletin for 2016 has noted that the prevalence of inter-regional commuting was the highest in the Mid -East region, where 40% of workers who resided in the region were employed in other regions, the majority of whom were employed in Dublin. For this reason in most of the rest of the post Dublin and the Mid East regions are considered together.  It highlights that commuting to work was also sizeable in the Midland region, where a quarter of those in employment were commuting to other regions , while in the Border, South-East and West regions the corresponding figure was about one-in-ten.

Given these difficulties with the data, a  better picture of regional growth and development would be gained from a broader focus considering Income, Wealth and Consumption data but while Income figures are available at NUTS 3 level (see here) there is little regional data on Wealth and Consumption.

Despite issues with GDP and GVA they are important regional statistics and considering relative levels and changes over time can help us better understand economic development and growth in our regions.


How much of our GDP is produced in each Region?

The Dublin region contributed 45% of Ireland’s GDP and the South West contributed 17%.  In contrast the Midland region produced 3% (see Figure 1 below) and the rest of the regions were responsible for between 5 and 8% of national GDP in 2014.

The high level of commuting into the Dublin Region means much of that region’s GDP, more than any other, is produced by workers residing in other regions (mainly the Mid East but also Midland and Border regions).


Figure 1   GVA per Region at Current Market Prices  (GDP), 2014 

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9

It should also be remembered that the regions also vary considerably in size.  While Figure 1 shows the GDP produced in each region in 2014, Figure 2 shows the proportion of the population (as estimated by the CSO for 2014) in each region.  Some of the reasons for the  different distribution of population and economic activity are discussed later in this post.


Figure 2 Population Distribution by Region 2014

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 13

It is interesting to see how the proportion of GDP produced in each region in 2014 compares with that in 2004 (Figure 3).  In that year Dublin produced 39% of GDP (compared to 45% in 2014) and the Border produced 8% compared to 5%.  This, as will be seen again later in this post, shows the dominance of Dublin, in particular, but the South West is also increasing its relative contribution while the relative importance of GDP from other regions has reduced over time.


Figure 3   GVA per Region at Current Market Prices  (GDP), 2004 

Source: CSO, 2015, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2012, Table 9b


Regional GVA per person

Clearly Dublin produces much of Ireland’s economic output, but it is important to look at how much is produced per person in each region.  As noted by Eurostat here, in a majority of the multi-regional EU Member States, capital city regions were generally those with the highest average GDP per capita; the only exceptions to this rule were Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

Figure 4 shows the amount of GVA produced per person resident in each of the NUTS3 regions.  Dublin and the Mid East had the highest GVA per person in 2014 (€51,799), while the South West also had high output (€45,956).  In contrast the Border (€18,371) and Midland (€19,778) were much lower, the Border region only 35% of that in Dublin and the Mid East and the Midlands 38%.


Figure 4: GVA per person at basic prices 2014

Source:  CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9c


Regional recovery in GVA- or not…?

The different trends in GDP overtime can be seen in Figure 5 below which shows GDP per capita for 2006, 2010 and 2014.

The Border is the only region to still have a lower GVA per person in 2014 than it did in 2010.  All other regions are now above the 2010 level, (though only by small amounts in the Midland and West).  However, only Dublin plus Mid East and the South West had higher GVA per person in 2014 than in 2006.


Figure 5: GVA per person (basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions (2006,2010,2014)

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9c

Looking at the variation since 2006 (Figure 6 below) the strong recovery in Dublin and the Mid East since 2011 is evident.  The recovery in the South West was less consistent with a decline in 2013 but these two regions are significantly ahead of the other regions both in terms of the level of GVA per capita and the scale of recovery.  The West region which had begun to recover well had GVA growth between 2009 and 2012, it fell in 2013 but 2014 shows some recovery while recovery in the Midland and Border regions has been sluggish.


Figure 6: GVA per person 2006-2014 (Basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions.

Source:  CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 9c

These differing patterns of change can also be seen clearly when GVA per person is shown as an Index where the State =100 (Figure 7).  This allows us to consider the GVA per person in each region compares with that in the state over time (2006 to 2014).

The relative decline (compared to the State) in 2014 for all regions except the South West and Dublin plus the Mid East is worrying and the widening of disparities among the regions since 2006 is very clear.  In 2006 the gap between the lowest GVA per person (Midland 70.0 points) and the highest (Dublin plus Mid East 124.7 points) was 54.7 index points, but by 2014 the gap had increased very significantly to 87.8 index points (Border 48.2, Dublin plus Mid East 136.0).  In 2014 the Border (48.2) and Midland (51.9) were very low compared to the state, but even the South East (67.0), West (71.3) and the Mid West (75.9) have low GVA per person compared to the state average.


Figure 7: Indices of GVA per person 2006-2014 (Basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions (State=100)

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and regional GDP 2014, Table 10


How do Irish Regions compare to the EU average?

It is useful to look at how Irish regions (at NUTS 3 level) compare to the EU average.  This is shown in Figure 8 with Indices of Irish regions between 2006 and 2014 with the EU average equalling 100 in each of those years.  The disparities discussed above are also clear relative to the EU average GVA per person.

In 2014 two of the regions (Dublin plus Mid East (179.5) and South West(159.2)) were significantly above the EU average while the Mid West, which was consistently above the EU average from 2006 to 2013 was just barely above for 2014 (100.1).  The State itself was also above the EU average (132.0).

In contrast, the West, which was briefly above EU average in 2012 and 2013 has again fallen below the EU average (94.1), while the South East was 88.5 in 2014.  The other NUTS 3 regions (Midland (68.5) and Border (63.6)) were both considerably below the EU average and both less than 75% of the EU 28 average.


Figure 8: Indices of GVA per person 2006-2014 (Basic Prices) NUTS3 Regions (EU28=100)

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and regional GDP 2014, Table 11

Most EU structural funds  are directed to NUTS 2 level regions where GDP per capita is less than 75% of the EU28 average.  While both the Midlands and Border regions are well below this, when combined with the West the NUTS2 Border, Midland and West (BMW) region was just above the cut off for structural funds at 75.7% of the EU average in 2014[2].  By comparison, in 2006 the BMW region was 106.1% of the EU28 average.


Labour Productivity at Regional Level

Within regional accounts, labour productivity is defined as GVA at basic prices per person employed.  It should be remembered that in the regional GVA data for Ireland the ‘person at work’ statistic is related to the region of residence rather than of employment and so the gaps in GVA among regions can appear even wider.  This is shown in Figure 9.

GVA per person at work is, as expected, highest in Dublin at €116,112 per person at work while in the Midland region it is €49,863.  High levels of labour productivity are linked to the efficient use of labour (without using more inputs) and to the mix of activities in the regional  economy (some activities, such as financial services, have higher levels of labour productivity than others).  The South West also shows a very high level of labour productivity. At €111,600 per person at work the South West is only slightly below that of Dublin and the Mid East.  This is also likely to be due to the sectors in the region, especially pharmaceutical and other multinational manufacturers.


Figure 9: GVA per person and GVA per person at work (labour productivity) in 2014

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 13

Where a region has a higher proportion of older people, children, or people not in work for other reasons, the GVA  produced is being divided among relatively fewer people at work and so the figures for GVA per person at work appear better.  This is the case in the Border region most significantly, where only 36% of the population is classified as being at work, but also applies to those for the Midland region (39.7%) and the Mid West (39.4%) all of which have a lower proportion of people at work than the state average (41.7%).  In contrast Dublin (45.2%) and the Mid East (43.2%) have much higher proportions of people at work in their populations.

Figure 10 below shows the proportion of the population at work in each of the regions in 2014 as estimated by the CSO.


Figure 10: Proportion of the population in each region classified as persons at work, 2014

Source: CSO, 2017, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2014, Table 13



Dublin and the Mid East had the highest GVA per person in 2014 (€51,799), while the South West also had high output (€45,956).  In contrast the Border (€18,371) and Midland (€19,778) were much lower, the Border region only 35% of that in Dublin and the Mid East and the Midlands 38%.

The Border is the only region to still have a lower GVA per person in 2014 than it did in 2010.  All other regions are now above the 2010 level, (though only by small amounts in the Midland and West).  However, only Dublin plus Mid East and the South West had higher GVA per person in 2014 than in 2006 and other regions have not yet returned to the 2006 level.

The differences in GVA growth among regions are partially the result of increased productivity and concentration in high value sectors in the wealthier regions, and partly relate to different commuting patterns and the worker to population ratios.

The variations underline the importance of ensuring that there is a focus on regional development needs and a policy of investment and promotion of higher value sectors in all regions, so that the benefits of the recovery are felt more widely.


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] The allocation of cohesion funds is currently based on a decision referring to average GDP per capita during the three-year period from 2007 to 2009; a mid-term review of cohesion policy allocations is taking place during the course of 2016 and will likely result in some changes to the system — more information is provided in an article on regional policies and Europe 2020.  See here also .

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).


What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.


  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.


It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.


As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).



Helen McHenry


County Incomes in the Western Region, 2014

Data on County Incomes and Regional GDP for 2014 was released by the CSO this week.  While preliminary figures for 2014 were released last year  this release provides the official data for 2014[1].  Unlike last year, however, the preliminary figures for the following year (which would have been 2015 in this case) have not been released.  In this post County Incomes in the Western Region are discussed and Regional GDP will be considered next week.  The map (produced by the CSO) gives an overview of the levels of Disposable Income across the State.

Disposable Income per person

Disposable Income per person is the focus of this post, this is made up of Primary Income[2] plus Social Transfers less Taxes and Charges[3].  The changes in the components of Household Income will all affect income level but these will be considered in more detail in a future post.  Table 1 shows Disposable Income per person for the seven counties Western Region counties and for the State.

Table 1: Disposable Income per person by county, 2014 and 2013Source: Western Region data- own calculations[4]

While Disposable Income per person in 2014 was €19,178 in the State, it was €16,963 in the Western Region.  For both there was an increase on 2013, by 3.5% for the State Disposable Income per person and by 1.9% for the Western Region.

The highest Disposable Income per person in the Western Region was in Galway (€17,929), while the highest nationally was in Dublin (€21,963 per person), some €4, 034 higher than Galway.    Donegal (€15,061) had the lowest Disposable Income in both the Western Region and nationally.

All counties showed growth in Disposable Income between 2013 and 2014 (see Figure 1) with the highest growth in the Western Region in Roscommon (2.7%) although Roscommon has the second lowest Disposable Income in the Region and nationally after Donegal.  Leitrim had the lowest Disposable Income growth (0.8%) between 2013 and 2014

Figure 1: Disposable Income per person, 2013 and 2014

Source: Western Region data- own calculations[5]

In the Western Region the gap between the county with the highest Disposable Income per person (Galway) and the lowest (Donegal) was €2,751 in 2014.  This gap between the highest and lowest has narrowed slightly since 2013 when the gap between the Donegal and Sligo was €2,802.  Revision of the 2013 figures (which reduced the Disposable Income per person figure for all of the Western Region counties) meant that Sligo had a higher Disposable Income figure than Galway, for the first time in 2013.  By 2014 Galway was again ahead but only by €61 per person.


Trends over time

Looking over the longer term (since 2006) incomes in 2014 have still not regained the levels seen in 2006 (see Figure 2), and are still some distance from peak levels in 2008.  Some of this may be explained by higher taxes and charges and lower social transfers than in 2008 and this will be examined in more detail in a forthcoming post.

Figure 2: Disposable Income per person, 2006-2014


While Figure 2 shows the actual Disposable Incomes per person, when considering the trends among counties it is useful to use Indices so that county figures can be examined relative to the State (State=100).  This is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Index of County Incomes per person 2006-2014, State=100)


Disposable Income in Galway has been consistently the highest in the region (except for 2013) approaching the State average from 2006 onwards and in 2010 surpassing it with an index value of 100.9.  Since then, however, it has been relatively lower and in 2014 it was only 93.4% of the State figure.  In 2014 Sligo was also at 93.4% of the State Disposable Income per person, and over the longer term the income in Sligo has been improving relative to the State, rising fairly consistently from 92.2% in 2006.

In contrast both Clare and Roscommon have shown significant relative declines since 2006 when Clare was 94.2% of the State average and Roscommon was 93.6.  In 2014 Clare was 89.2% of the State average and Roscommon was only 85%.  Donegal has consistently had the lowest Disposable Income per person in the country at only 78.8% of the State in 2006 and 78.04% in 2014.  In 2010 it peaked at 84% but this was largely due to the lower State figure in that period.

This post has provided a brief overview of the key County Income figures released this week for the Western Region.  The components and trends will be analysed in more detail in the coming months.



Helen McHenry


[1] It should also be noted that the 2013 figures have also been revised.

[2] Disposable Household Income Is calculated in three steps; Primary Income Household Primary Income is defined for National Income purposes as follows: Compensation of employees (i.e. Wages and Salaries, Benefits in kind, Employers’ social insurance contributions) plus Income of self-employed plus Rent of dwellings (including imputed rent of owner-occupied dwellings) plus Net interest and dividends

[3] See for more information

[4] Western Region Household Disposable income per person is calculated by inferring population estimates for 2013 and 2014

[5] Western Region Household Disposable income per person is calculated by inferring population estimates for 2013 and 2014


All Island Dialogue on the Implications of Brexit on Culture, Heritage, Regional SMEs & the Impact on Border & other Rural Communities

Two weeks ago (6th February 2017) Minister Heather Humphreys hosted an All Island Dialogue on the implications of Brexit on Culture, Heritage, Regional SMEs & the Impact on Border & other Rural Communities in Cavan.   This was one of the fourteen All-Island sectoral dialogues which have taken place across the country over the recent weeks.

Over 100 stakeholders attended the event and there was engaged and active discussion of the issue throughout the day.  To begin with the Minister outlined the Government’s ongoing response to Brexit.  Then a panel of experts covering the broad range of sectors under the remit of the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs each gave a short overview of the implications of Brexit for their sector.

Roundtable discussions were then held to consider the immediate impact of Brexit, longer term impacts and how they might be mitigated. The focus was on arts, heritage, small businesses and rural communities.  The discussions fed back into a broader panel discussion.

Common Themes from the discussions

A number of common themes emerged from the discussion (as well as detailed sector specific issues which are not covered in this post). A summary of the more general points raised by stakeholders, applicable to all sectors considered on the day, is provided below.

  • Uncertainty over the form and impact of Brexit was key to all of the discussion. This was regarded as a particular problem as we are just emerging from recession. Uncertainty increases risks for businesses, communities, cultural organisations and people as they make decisions.  Plans are therefore being delayed until a clearer picture emerges.
  • This slowdown in individual and business decision making is affecting economic and social activities on both sides of the border, even before the full consequences of Brexit are known.
  • There is very significant variation in the levels of knowledge of the possible implications of Brexit among businesses, communities and people. Some are well informed about possible difficulties or opportunities, others have very poor understanding and will therefore face more difficulty in making plans and developing responses to Brexit.
  • Currency fluctuations and the loss of value of sterling have had the most immediate impact which has led to other direct impacts on tourism and retail businesses.
  • Maintenance of the Common Travel Area and free movement of people was important to all involved in the discussion. Organisations staff and experts in various sectors move across borders regularly and any restrictions would negatively affect the functioning of these organisations and businesses.
  • Ensuring the continued implementation of the Good Friday Agreement with associated institutions and commitments was regarded as essential.
  • In future, changes to the way cross border services are provided in areas such as health and education will affect people living in border communities.
  • Currently the UK and Ireland are in a common regulatory regime but this will change. Across all sectors there were concerns about the implications of divergence in regulation and implementation of different regulatory approaches.  This is an issue in a variety of areas including, for example, procurement and data protection.
  • The form of future taxation agreements, VAT rules and rates could be very significant and have important implications for businesses and arts and cultural enterprises.
  • There will be a significant change to the funding landscape in the border region and beyond. It is unclear what will happen with the EU Peace programme, Interreg and other funding.  It was agreed that the border counties will be most affected by Brexit, and of these counties some will be more severely affected (Donegal was mentioned as the example of this).  There are over 300 border crossings and it is not clear whether they will all remain open in the future.
  • There has been a significant increase in cross border activity since the Good Friday Agreement and there is concern that this will be diminished. This has business implications but also intangible effects on the mind-set of those living close to the border.
  • A better understanding of the current trade and activities that take place across borders (between ROI and NI and between ROI and GB) is needed. This includes trade of goods and services, but we also have weak understanding of the reasons people are travelling across the border for work, trade or social reasons.
  • Understanding of the cross border infrastructures which have been developing in recent decades is important. The implications of change for roads, energy infrastructure and broadband need to be considered. Changes in the way these are planned and managed will affect both Ireland as a whole and border communities in particular.
  • There should be a focus on the development of new markets outside the UK and support both businesses and cultural organisations in doing this.
  • There was a view that many of the benefits of Brexit will be felt in larger urban centres and that border and rural regions will be most negatively affected because of their proximity to the border, the nature of their enterprises and their smaller population base. There is concern that here could be further rural de-population if the opportunities that Brexit may bring are confined to the Dublin area.  This needs to be addressed in a coherent manner.
  • It was highlighted that if we want a sustainable, viable and vibrant Border region, we need to plan to achieve this
  • There was a suggestion that the concentration on Brexit will take the focus off other important issues already affecting the Border region, such as access to services, infrastructure and access to employment.
  • Finally, among many of the participants, in all areas, there was a positive, ‘can do’ attitude. It was felt that we have had problems and difficulties before and have dealt with them.  There was concern that there might be an overly negative portrayal of the implications of Brexit, and that this in turn was affecting the confidence of enterprise, communities and people and in turn affecting their decision making.

Actions Suggested by Stakeholders during the discussion

  • Clear information needs to be made available about the possible implications for Brexit for communities, cultural organisations and businesses, addressing their specific issues.
  • It is important that there is more analysis and understanding of the current situation in regard to cross border trade, cross border service provision, and the on-going community engagement across borders. This information needs to be used as a basis for considering Brexit implications and appropriate response.  With more detailed information we can have better policy responses.
  • Analysis should not just address issues of business or trade but also the hard to measure issues of social integration, identity and sense of place along the border.
  • It will be important that the implications of differing regulatory standards are well understood and that these are considered both in Brexit negotiations and in developing responses to this regulatory issue in future.
  • We should use expertise from other member states which have borders with non EU countries to get a better understanding of the potential issues and to understand their models and means of ensuring that borders and relationships between EU and Non EU countries are smooth and seamless as possible.
  • The potential for substitution of imports from the UK needs to be explored as it may provide opportunities across a range of sectors.
  • The government needs to continue to consult stakeholders as the impacts of Brexit become clearer so that responses and actions can be developed.
  • We should examine problems individually and develop responses to each. There cannot be one single policy response, each issue will need to be addressed.  Brexit  is complex and responses should be tailored to the individual issue.
  • Both ROI and NI need to work closely together to understand the possible implications for Brexit for both jurisdictions and to work to achieve the best possible agreement. In this it is important that there is a close working relationship and significant engagement with the NI Executive so that all island solutions can be implemented where appropriate
  • Future government policy, including the National Planning Framework, needs to take into account the potential implications of Brexit and the changing nature of the border and ensure that there is a plan for a positive, sustainable future for the border region.
  • Special supports for the border region should be considered, in terms of structural funds as well as enterprise and community support and funding.
  • A specific fund for EU regions with sharing a border with non EU countries should be developed to mitigate the difficulties faced by these regions.


The focus in this dialogue on rural communities and on the Border region was significant, as these are likely to be the most immediately and directly affected by Brexit.  Uncertainty was a key theme of the discussion, and it is to be hoped that once Article 50 has been declared by the UK government and negotiations begin, that the situation may become clearer. You can sign up for on-going updates on Brexit here.



Helen McHenry