Rural Dwellers and Climate Change Mitigation

With The Paris Agreement at COP21 marking a turning point in the response to climate change, it is time now to consider how we will meet those targets in Ireland.

In anticipation of the enactment of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill (which is expected shortly), the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG is currently preparing the National Mitigation Plan (NMP), a national plan setting out Ireland’s first statutory low carbon development strategy for the period to 2050. The plan will focus on reducing emissions nationally, but in order to ensure it is tailored to the needs of Ireland as a whole, it is important to highlight the issues from a rural perspective, in terms of current emissions and possible or likely mitigation measures as they affect rural dwellers.

The WDC remit covers a largely rural region which takes in some of the most remote parts of the state. Over 40%[1] of the population (68% in the WDC region) live in rural areas and smaller settlements. The top 5 most rural counties in Ireland are in the Western Region (Leitrim (89.6%), Galway county (77.4%), Roscommon (74%), Donegal (72.5%) and Mayo (71%)). The Western Region also has a higher share of the population living in smaller towns.

The focus of much WDC policy work is on rural areas and their needs when these may not have been considered in detail in policy making. There is no significant body of work (internationally as well as nationally) on climate change and emissions issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions.  While it is often acknowledged that rural dwellers have higher individual emissions the ways of addressing these are not usually explored, partly because emissions reductions may be more difficult to achieve in rural areas and partly because the focus is usually on larger populations and ways to reduce the emissions of individuals living in more densely populated areas.

It should be remembered that, as in other policy areas, urban/rural is a rather simplistic division, which ignores the ‘suburban’ and the differences between rural towns and the open countryside which all have distinctive emission patterns.

It is also important to be aware that people’s carbon footprints are closely linked to their incomes and consumption patterns and so do not necessarily relate directly to their location (urban or rural). In fact recent research in Finland[2] has highlighted higher emissions from urban dwellers based on their higher consumptions patterns.

Nonetheless, despite the difficulties with a simple urban/rural dichotomy, there are of course concerns specific to rural dwellers emissions that deserve consideration. In this post data from the Western Region, which is predominantly rural, is used to examine the issues.


Electricity, heat and transport are the three forms of energy use and therefore the source of emissions, for residential and commercial users and so different urban and rural use patterns are considered. Before discussing these individually, it should be remembered that the a first step in tackling climate change should be to increase energy efficiency and so reduce the amount of energy being used (in both transport and heating) bearing in mind that improved energy efficiency will contribute to improved comfort and health outcomes in many situations, as well as reducing energy use, and that the energy savings from improved efficiency measures may not be as large as expected.

There are not likely to be any significant differences among urban and rural dwellers in the type and way they use their electricity and in the associated emissions, but there are significant differences in heating and transport patterns. However, while patterns of electricity use may not differ significantly, developments in electricity generation and storage which reduce or eliminate carbon emissions from generation should, by 2050, have significant benefits for the heating sector and also, significantly, in personal transport with increased use of electric vehicles.


The differences in rural emissions from heating relate to type of housing, the age of housing and fuels used for heating,

Rural areas have a higher proportion of single dwellings rather than apartments, terraces or semi-detached housing and the lack of shared walls will tend to give rise to higher heating needs. Indeed, the CSO has noted in relation to the Buildings Energy Rating[3] data (BER) that areas with higher proportions of new dwellings and of apartments tend to have higher ratings. For example, 40% of all dwellings built during 2010-2015 with a BER rating were awarded an A.

They also show that mid-floor apartments are more energy efficient and 29% of all mid-floor apartments have an A or B BER rating. Single dwellings perform less well with only 11% of all BER rated detached houses receiving an A or B rating. Not all houses have been subject to rating and it should be noted that only 12% of all dwellings assessed so far have gained A or B ratings .[4]

It is often assumed that the housing stock in rural areas is older (and therefore less efficient and built to lower insulation standards, this can again be seen in the BER data), and indeed this was the pattern in the past, and is the case in many other countries. However, the building boom that occurred after the turn of the century has changed this.

In the Western Region, 29.9%[5] of all occupied homes have been built since 2001. This is greater than the proportion in the rest of the state and the share of newer homes in all western counties was higher than average. The total stock of housing in the Western Region increased by 14.9% since 2006, greater than the increase in the rest of the state (12.2%).

Figure 1: Share of occupied homes constructed before and since 2001 in western counties, Western Region, rest of state and state, 2011

blog age houses

Source: CSO, This is Ireland: Highlights from Census 2011, Part 1, Table 39.

Fuel Type

The pattern of fuel usage in central heating is very different in the Western Region and the rest of the state (Figure 2). This is primarily due to the lack of access to natural gas across most of the region. Less than 5% of households in the Western Region use natural gas to heat their home compared with 40% in the rest of the state.   It is likely that, low as this figure is, that it actually overestimates natural gas usage in the Western Region as a number of households in counties where no natural gas is available stated that they used natural gas. It is likely that these households actually use LPG (which also has lower emissions than oil).

Figure 2: Percentage of each type of fuel used in central heating by households in the Western Region and rest of state, 2011

blog fuel type

Source: CSO, This is Ireland: Highlights from Census 2011, Part 1, Table 40.

Lack of access to natural gas makes the Western Region far more reliant on other fuels, many which have higher carbon emissions. Oil is used by 63.1% of households, 13.2% use peat and 6.9% use coal – all far higher shares than in the rest of the state- and 1.4% of households in the region use wood (including pellets) in their central heating, marginally higher than in the rest of the state. The heavy reliance on peat in Roscommon and Galway County also stands out, indeed Roscommon has the second highest use of peat of all counties.[6]

While we have considered the fuel usage in the Western Region[7] as a whole there are also urban/rural differences in fuel usage. In the Western Region peat is used to power central heating in almost a fifth of all rural households, but only by 3% of urban households. Electricity meanwhile is far more common in urban areas. Given its availability natural gas is also far more common in urban areas, being used by 11.4% of urban households but only 1.2% of rural. Oil however is the dominant fuel source for both urban and rural households.

Alternatives to higher emitting fuels like oil, coal and peat are readily available to rural consumers. These include solid biomass (wood chips, pellets and logs). In many rural situations as users have more space and fuel can be sourced locally with less transport required, so these options may be more suitable than for urban dwellers. Uptake could be improved with appropriate, targeted incentives.

Additionally, as the electricity generation decarbonises then electricity for heat will be another important option. At the same time as electricity storage methods (like batteries) develop further the options for storing energy from variable sources like wind, both at micro and network level, and improve possibilities for carbon free heating.

There is significant future potential for low carbon and renewable heat in rural areas, and so for reducing emissions, but it should also remember than rural dwellers tend to have lower incomes than urban dwellers and already have higher levels of fuel poverty, so that despite the potential for change, many lack the financial resources to switch to low carbon or carbon free alternatives. This needs to be considered in formulation of policies addressing the issue.


Rural people are more reliant on car based transport, they have less available public transport and tend to travel greater distances and clearly rural dwellers’ transport demand patterns need to be central to planning for climate change mitigation. There must be detailed consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas which currently account for 48% of all trips (compared with 32% for the four main cities)[8]. The majority of the population will continue to live in the historical settlement pattern and spatial planning will not change that pattern significantly even in the long term (to 2050). Thus a National Mitigation Plan needs to focus on current spatial patterns as well as any future growth in demand.

In Ireland, a very high proportion of transport emissions are associated with rural and long-distance commuting. Analysis of travel and car ownership data conducted by NESC for “Towards a New National Climate Policy” [9] highlights that Dublin accounts for approximately 28 per cent of the population (in 2006) and 26 per cent of cars (2010). It notes that Dublin drivers make shorter journeys, on average just under 13,000km per year, while in other parts of the country drivers travel on average 18,000km per year and NESC calculated that emissions from Dublin drivers are 948,153 Mt CO2 eq and from drivers elsewhere are 3,719,868 Mt CO2 eq. These estimates are based on kilometres driven and so do not take account of fuel use per kilometre travelled. NESC suggests that it in order to address the challenge of reducing emissions in Ireland there should be a focus on solutions that can address the needs of rural drivers and those making longer commutes to urban areas.

In addressing this issue it is important to consider the underlying presumption that employment will be concentrated in cities. There are opportunities for employment to be more dispersed, in line with current population patterns. Towns, smaller centres and rural areas provide a variety of opportunities as locations for employment across many sectors (not just agri-food and tourism). Commuting travel demand, fuel use and time spent can also be reduced if employment is more dispersed, in line with current population patterns. In 2011 61% of rural dwellers (excluding farmers) worked in towns or rural areas illustrating the potential to stimulate employment closer to where people live (see note 8).

Alongside these more dispersed employment opportunities there is significant potential to make the most of the opportunities provided by trends in technology development, the growth of services employment, a move to more varied working hours , and greater remote and home working opportunities as well as incentives for enterprises to offer different work arrangements (timing of day, tele-working). These trends will change the way people work and how often they actually travel for work. The National Mitigation Plan should recognise that active policies to encourage and facilitate new work practices can help manage and reduce future travel demand in a sustainable and cost effective way that also has quality of life benefits.

But employment is only one factor generating trips. The 2009 National Travel Surveys showed that 70% of all trips are not related to employment. The importance of these non-work trips and the potential for change in this demand needs to be more central to climate change mitigation planning.

It can be argued that better spatial planning with more concentration in population centres will provide more concentrated transport demand which can be better served by public transport with lower per capita emissions. However, in addition to planning for future development, there is a need to manage current and historic settlement patterns. People will continue to follow historic patterns and it should not be assumed that land use planning can radically alter Ireland’s historically dispersed settlement pattern, especially in the Western Region and other rural regions.


When planning our national mitigation measures it will be important to consider both the impacts of proposed measures on rural dwellers and the rural economy. It is essential to ensure that there is a clear focus on rural dwellers in any plans so that our future climate change policy takes them into account, focuses on reducing their emissions and ensuring that the NMP and sectoral policies recognise the different emissions patterns of rural dwellers and provides for different mitigation responses.


Helen McHenry

[1] Total population living outside centres of 2,500 in the State 1,858,327 (40.5% of national population). Total population living outside centres of 2,500 in Western Region 558,093 (68% of population). CSO Census of Population, 2011

[2] Heinonen J and S Junnila, 2011 A Carbon Consumption Comparison of Rural and Urban Lifestyles Sustainability 2011, 3, 1234-1249;


[4] Total dwellings assessed 551,214, Detached houses assessed 140,048 Q2, 2015

[5] Source: CSO, This is Ireland: Highlights from Census 2011, Part 1, Table 39. Data available at

[6] Offaly is the highest.

[7] See for more detail

[8] For more information on rural travel patterns see above and and also and

[9] Towards a New National Climate Policy: Interim Report of the NESC Secretariat Report to the Department of Environment, Community and Loc


Public Policy Priorities in 2016 and Beyond

A seminar entitled Ireland’s Policy Priorities after the next General Election, on November 2nd provided a welcome break from the recent talk of Budget giveaways and election promises. Organised by the Policy Institute, Trinity College Dublin, in association with the Public Policy Advisors Network, the aim was to discuss what are and what should be the policy priorities of the next Government.

Some interesting contributions included that from Dan O’Brien, in which he examined medium term policy challenges, noting the ageing demographics generally as well as a sharp decline, over the last five years, in the number of those aged in their twenties. This is attributed to the birth rate as well as emigration and the ageing of that cohort of East European migrants that came here before the crash.

Another key policy theme which is likely to become a policy priority is Ireland’s response to the EU’s 2030 energy and climate change targets. The recent recession, which gave rise to a reduction in emissions (purely because of a contraction in economic activity), relegated the urgency of this policy priority. The return to economic growth will ensure that this is likely to become a more important policy priority. It was proposed that the next Government should appoint a senior Minister with responsibility for the low carbon agenda.

Considering the economics of the next programme for Government, Stephen Kinsella and Ronan Lyons examined the patterns of national economic growth since 2002 – characterised initially from 2002-2007 by a rapidly growing economy, followed by the economic crisis of 2007-2011 which in turn was followed by a period of readjusting public spending and restoring economic confidence in 2011-2016.

It is suggested that the period from 2016 could be that of ‘coming full circle’, with a rapidly growing economy and a need to manage expectations. In learning from our past mistakes, fiscal policy is key and the authors advocate the use of the concept of the Social Return on Investment (SROI). This differs from the current cost based accounting approach to public spending to a more holistic economic approach where the wider costs and benefits of a proposal would be measured. In doing, so the full implications of a cut are captured e.g. €100 cut to caregivers allowance, which then drives people into the public health system thereby negating any ‘savings’. This is arguably a more useful way of evaluating public policy instruments, allowing a more holistic measure of the effects of policies.

Examining Local Government and Spatial Planning, Seán Ó’Riordáin and John Martin point to the need for a new  long-term spatial plan for Ireland (the National Planning Framework) and the need to learn lessons from the National Spatial Strategy. The role of local government in supporting long term development of both rural and urban areas needs to be addressed.

Bringing the concept of Social Return on Investment to the debate on spatial planning, regional, rural and urban development might help advance this debate and the policy choices which arise. In considering investment decisions to support development of the regions, both urban and rural, measuring the Social Return on Investment might lead to different outcomes when considering cuts to or additional investment in various services in regional and rural locations.

For example, decisions on the closure of public services offices in regional and rural locations such as post offices, government outreach offices, garda stations etc. are usually based on cutting operational expenditure, including staff costs or economies of scale.  These cuts can deliver immediate financial savings for the organisation but this narrow view does not take account of the accumulated long term impact on the local economy, the overall needs of society and the disabling impact on local communities.

Taking account of the social rate of return allows for a more holistic economic and societal perspective, rather than solely on the efficiencies and financial savings generated for the individual organisation.  In doing so, the wider impacts beyond a particular locality can be captured, for example, unemployment and migration from rural areas and other regional centres can add to already significant pressures on housing and transport services in the capital. This in turn requires additional investment in infrastructure and services, which is often more expensive to deliver in congested urban areas. Examining all costs and benefits and the social rate of return could help us to make better, more informed choices.


The presentations are available at the PPAN website

Deirdre Frost

Realising the Hidden Potential of Ireland’s Towns

One third of Irish people live in towns. However, over many years towns have not received the level of attention and support necessary to ensure a sustainable future in the face of change.

In Kilkenny last week [1] the Heritage Council hosted an excellent conference on the potential of Ireland’s rural towns and villages.

Speakers discussed how the historic urban characters of many of our main streets are losing vitality and value through under-use or over-development. But the conference had a broader focus than heritage, examining the role of Irish towns and their activities in retail and as places for people to live, work and visit.

One of the refreshing aspects of the conference was that it considered towns and villages of all sizes and noted the role they have all played and continue to play in our society and economy. See here for more details of the conference.

This event was the culmination of two years’ work on the nature and role of Irish towns and what needs to be done to keep them vital and alive. As part of this the Heritage Council put forward six policy proposals for Ireland’s towns which are summarised here:

  1. An Irish Urban Policy should be developed which sets out to protect the strategic social, cultural, economic and environmental role of Irish towns of all sizes.
  1. Extend the Living City initiative to the historic core area of all Irish towns and develop fiscal measures specifically to encourage people to live and do business in towns.
  1. Reintroduce incentives for ‘Living over the Shop’ and work to ensure that regulatory burden that can deter such developments is eased.
  1. Ensure that the strategic economic role of towns in rural economic development is reflected in future funding programmes.
  1. There should be further research on the characteristics and role of towns and the barriers to their development.
  1. A Rural Towns and Villages network should be established to provide support and funding for community initiatives to revitalise towns.

Some of the background to the Heritage Council work in the area is here and the full details of their policy proposals will be available shortly.

And Finally…

Anne Phelan, T.D. and Minister of State[2] spoke at the conference and welcomed the Heritage Council work in the area. She also gave some insight into the ongoing rural policy process.

A Rural Charter is currently being drawn up, outlining the role for rural Ireland in the future, a new rural White Paper will be prepared in 2016 and a Rural Forum is also to be developed.

This focus on rural needs and rural policy is very welcome and we look forward to it coming together to provide stimulus and direction for future rural development.


Helen McHenry


[1] 5th November 2015

[2] Minister of State at the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Transport, Tourism and Sport with Special Responsibility for Rural Economic Development (implementation of the CEDRA Report) and Rural Transport

County Incomes and Regional GDP 2012- WDC Report published

The WDC has just published Regional Income and Output-An Analysis of County Incomes and Regional, 2012 which examines income data for the Western Region counties and GVA figures for the regions, looking at the most recent data from the CSO County Incomes and Regional GDP and trends over time.

The headline figures are:

  • The household disposable income per person in the Western Region was €17,735 in 2012, 91.1% of the State average, which was €19,468.
  • In 2012 the highest level of disposable income in the seven Western Region counties was in Galway at €18,890.  This is 97% of the State average.  The lowest was in Donegal at €15,921 (81.8% of the State average).
  • The gap between the average household disposable income in the Western Region and the State in 2012 was 91.1%. Over the long term there has been a narrowing of the gap in disposable income with the Western Region 89.1% of the State average in 2000 and 84.3% in 1995.
  • In 2012 the GVA per person in the West region was €28,256 and €19,016 in the Border region.  These compare with a State figure of €34,308.
  • GVA in 2012 was still below that of 2007 in all regions except the West, where recovery in GVA has been strong.  It was still very significantly below that of 2007 in the Border and Midland regions.
  • The index of GVA (2012, State=100), for the Border region was 55.4 and the West region 82.4.  There has been a widening of disparities among regions since the recovery began.

Two short WDC Insights papers (each 2 pages) have also been published, one highlighting key points in relation to County Incomes and the other examining Trends in Regional GDP.

Regional Income and Output- A WDC ReportRegl income Output report image

County level data on household and per capita disposable incomes is released every year by the CSO alongside data on Gross Value Added (GVA) at a regional level.  This report provides a summary of key figures and trends. County Income data allows us to compare incomes among counties in the Western Region and to examine trends over time. The GVA data at regional level is important for tracking regional output levels and trends as well as changes among regions.

Download the report Regional Income and Output-2012 (PDF 1.5MB)

WDC Insights Trends in County Incomes in the Western RegionInsights inocme pic

This short WDC Insights highlights some of the trends in County Income in the Western  Region which were examined in the report Regional Income and Output. The county income data allows useful comparison among counties and show trends over time.

Download WDC Insights-Trends in County Incomes-Oct 2015 (PDF 0.2MB)

WDC Insights Trends in Regional Output

This WDC Insights presents key data and analysis of trends in regional GVA. This provides a measure Insights GDP pictureof the output and economic activity of each region and allows comparison among regions in Ireland and internationally and shows the relative changes among regions over time.

Download WDC Insights- Trends in regional GDP_Oct 2015 (PDF 0.2MB)



Helen McHenry


An Abundance of Rural Policy?

It seems that rural policies are like buses, nothing comes for a long time and then three arrive almost together. The REDZ Pilot Scheme allocations were announced by Minister of State Ann Phelan, a Town and Village Renewal Scheme was announced by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the National Ploughing Championships last week as part of the new Capital Investment Programme and finally, not a new scheme, but a reminder from Minister Coveney of the allocations for the next seven years under the Rural Development Programme.

The REDZ Pilot Scheme

Minister of State for Rural Affairs, Ann Phelan has just announced the allocation of €3.7 under the REDZ Pilot scheme to 26 pilot projects (rather than the 18 envisaged in the call for applications).

A list of the 51 projects allocated funding is available but there is no detail of the projects themselves. They are listed by REDZ title and it must be assumed that some of these projects are across two or more REDZ combining to make the 26 projects noted by Minister Phelan. There are 2 projects worth more than €200,000 (Drogheda and the Shannon Blueway) and a further 11 worth more than €100,000. Another 21 projects were allocated between €50,000 and €100,000 and 17 projects were under €50,000.

The press statement notes the aims and objectives of the REDZ pilot are to complement the objectives of the Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 (RDP) as well as addressing the priorities identified for LEADER (poverty reduction, social inclusion and economic development of rural areas). Pending the success of the pilot initiative a call for proposals for a more extensive REDZ initiative under the LEADER elements of the RDP will take place during 2016 (see link above) and it seems €5m has been set aside for this (see below).

Rural Towns and Villages Renewal Scheme

How will the Rural Towns and Villages Renewal Scheme included in the new capital plan Building on Recovery Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 announced by the Taoiseach at the Ploughing last week complement the REDZ scheme?  Here are the details from Building on Recovery:

The Exchequer will provide €5 million in 2016 through the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government as part of a new €30 million investment in rural towns and villages. The new scheme will support the revitalisation of rural towns and villages with the aim of improving the living and working environment in rural communities and enhancing their potential to support increased economic activity into the future.[1]

This scheme will be administered by the DECLG and operated by the local authorities (some more detail here[2]in a joint press release by Ministers Kelly and Phelan). It seems there will also be a regional development element in this scheme:

Included within this allocation is €1 million each year in 2016 and 2017 to establish a Strategic Regional Development Office in the Western Region under the Western Development Commission (WDC). This will co-ordinate the implementation of recommendations of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) in the region. This will be a pilot initiative and, if successful, could be replicated in other regions. [1].

The Rural Development Programme (2014-2020)

Finally, the Rural Development Programme (co-funded by the EU’s European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the national exchequer) will have an average spend of €313 million of EU funding annually (an aggregate sum of €2.19 billion over the 7-year Programme lifespan). The allocation for each measure was provided in a written answer to a parliamentary question by Minister Coveney and a recently published summary booklet provides detail in a format more accessible than the full programme document.

While titled the Rural Development Programme, this is effectively an agriculture support programme with one measure, LEADER, a broader rural development scheme. (The measures in the RDP are listed in the footnote below [3]).

Measure 19 ‘Support for LEADER local development’ has been allocated €250m for the programming period. Of this allocation €10m will be spent on ‘Cooperation Projects[4], €15m on the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine Artisan Foods Initiative; a €5m reserve has been allocated to the REDZ Initiative and the final €220m will be divided between the 28 sub regional areas (see full details here). Local Development strategies are being prepared under the following themes:

  • Rural Economic Development / Enterprise Development and Job Creation (incorporating Rural Tourism, Enterprise Development, Broadband, Rural Towns).
  • Social inclusion (building community capacity, training, animation and Rural Youth initiatives).
  • Rural Environment.

A new National Rural network will be established and funded under this Programme.

So where are we with Rural Policy?

It’s great that investments are being made to stimulate rural renewal and rural development. There have been many calls for it and much analysis (see CEDRA for example). Let’s hope that these schemes will be good value for money, focused on current policy objectives and, importantly, that they will achieve the most worthwhile outcomes for the people who are living in rural areas.

To return to the bus simile, we’ll have to have faith that those buses are taking rural policy where we want it to go.



Helen McHenry


[1]  Building on Recovery Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 P 39


[3] 3.1 Measure 1 – Knowledge transfer and information actions

3.2 Measure 2 – Advisory services, farm management and farm relief services

3.3 Measure 4 – Investments in physical assets

3.4 Measure 7 – Basic services and village renewal in rural areas- Ireland 2014 – 2020. From the title this would seem to be focused on non agricultural rural development, but in actual fact it is “a complementary measure to GLAS, intended to encourage a holistic approach which increases understanding and management of both the natural and built/cultural heritage present on individual farms. Accordingly, participation in GLAS is the prime eligibility condition.”[4]

3.5 Measure 10 – Agri-environment-climate

3.6 Measure 11 – Organic farming

3.7 Measure 13 – Payments to areas facing natural or other specific constraints

3.8 Measure 16 – Co-operation

3.9 Measure 19 – Support for LEADER local development (CLLD – community-led local development)

[4] Projects where two or more LAGS work together, these projects can be national or international with the 2014-2020 programme placing a particular emphasis on Irish cross border cooperation

How’s life in our region?

How is life in the Border, Midland and West Region? How does it compare with that in other similar regions in Europe and elsewhere? A new tool can help answer these questions.

The OECD has been working on a tool for measuring regional well-being using indicators that take account of more than economics and material conditions and include indicators of quality of life. The OECD Regional Well-being web tool shows the factors contributing to well-being in different regions and allows us to compare our region – the Border, Midland and West [1]  with 361 other OECD regions based on nine topics central to the quality of our lives.

Other tools measuring quality of life (such as the CSO Regional Quality of life in Ireland and the Gateways Development Index) , are already available and are useful for comparing the situation within Ireland, but the OECD index is particularly useful for transnational comparisons.

What’s measured?

The tool uses nine different measures dimensions of well-being (Income, Jobs, Housing, Education, Health, Environment, Safety, Civic Engagement, and Accessibility of Services). This provides a new way to compare a range of factors across OECD regions[2]. The dimensions chosen are all important to quality of life in the OECD regions but because of the need to use comparable data some of the indicators are very limited. This can be seen in Figure 1 below.

The tool and set of indicators provide a common reference for regions to develop their own metrics of well-being and to consider the most appropriate areas of comparison for their own areas. While the indicators used are limited they can help to benchmark the relative position of a place and see how life in the region compares to that elsewhere, where a region has advantages and what aspects of material well-being and quality of life should be targeted for improvement. It also allows for comparison over time.

Figure 1: Topic Indicator Overview

OECD tool indicators


The regional well-being tool provides both a score for each topic and the percentile position of each region on that topic. Often what appears to be a high score may not translate into a high percentile rating because of the wide variation among regions. Similarly, as for Income (discussed below) a low score can still be associated with a good percentile rating.

The limitations of the indicators are, however, clear. For example, Housing is a broad concept but the indicator used is only based on the number of rooms available to occupants, while Access to Services is only measured by access to broadband, and safety relates only to violent death. Nonetheless, it is useful to see how we are doing and how we compare with other similar regions, and it is to be hoped that in the future more information will be added providing a broader base for comparison.


How is life in our region?

The tool does not provide an overall score for each region but it illustrates the different strengths and weaknesses of each region (See Figure 2)[3].

Material conditions

  • The BMW region scores highly (7.1) on Housing (which is measured by number of rooms per person) which puts it in the top 26% of OECD regions. Rural regions are more likely to score highly in this indicator, given the lower cost of space compared to city and suburban areas.
  • In contrast the region scores poorly on Jobs (3.0) and is in the bottom 12% of OECD regions for this indicator. The Jobs indicator is based on the employment rates (58.2%) in 2013 and the unemployment rate (15.5%) in 2013.
  • The Income score for the BMW region is also relatively low (4.3) but the region is in the top 51% of OECD regions with an income of $16,219[4] in 2011. This is because of considerable variation in Income levels among OECD regions[5] and so even though the BMW is in the top half of regions for income, the score is relatively low because of the significantly higher incomes in some regions.

Figure 2: Border, Midland and West Region Well Being Index

bmw hows life crop2



Quality of life:

  • The BMW performs very well on Environment (based on an air pollution indicator) with a score of 9.0 and puts the region in the top 12% of OECD regions.
  • One of the region’s highest scores is for Safety (8.7) where the BMW is in the top 49% of regions. Safety is based on the homicide rate per 100,000 people (1.4 for the region).
  • The BMW scores 7.4 for both Education and Health, and this score puts the region in the top 39% for Health (based on mortality (8.0 deaths per 1,000) and life expectancy (81.1 years)) and the bottom 44% for Education (based on the share of the labour force with at least secondary education (77.2%)).
  • The region is in the top 43% of OECD regions for Civic Engagement (based on voter turnout, 70.6%) with a score of 6.1.
  • Finally, for access to services, which is based only on households with Broadband access (58.7%) the region is in the bottom 27% of OECD regions.

How do we compare?

The main benefit of the tool is ease of comparison with other OECD regions. The tool itself provides an automatic comparison with regions suggested as having similar well-being. The regions suggested by the tool as scoring similar to the BMW are: North East England; Cantabria in Spain; Lisbon in Portugal; the North Island of New Zealand. These can be seen on the BMW page of the tool linked to above.

However it is more useful to compare our region well-being with that in other similar regions rather than based on well-being scores, so four European regions and four OECD regions are included for comparison here. The regions were selected as having similarities with our own BMW region, being maritime and agricultural regions, relatively remote from the main cities or centres of power, and located in temperate climates.

These characteristics mean the regions are often similar in terms of their high scores for Environment, Safety and Housing, given that they are rural regions with less pollution, less violent crime and larger houses. These similarities are interesting, but the differences in other factors (for example jobs and incomes, or access to services (broadband) or health vary significantly and are the result, at least in part, of policy decisions in and for that region. It would be useful, in future, to try to understand the policy decisions and regional characteristics which give rise to the differences in the scores and see what we can learn from them.

It is important to remember that the types and size of the regions selected can influence the areas they score highly, as can rurality or the inclusion of major urban centres.

Comparison with European Regions

Four European regions (NUTS 2) are shown below for comparison (North Jutland, Denmark; Brittany, France; Galicia, Spain; Northern Ireland, UK. See Figure 3). All score well on safety, and on environment, with more variability on the other topic areas. Access to services, which means access to broadband, is interesting given the rural nature of these regions. Both North Jutland and Northern Ireland score 10.0 with 86.7% access in North Jutland and 87% access in Northern Ireland. In contrast, only 59.3% had access to broadband in Galicia. This compares with 58.7% in the BMW.

Brittany and Northern Ireland score relatively well on both jobs and income, and Northern Jutland performs well on jobs but is weaker on income. The BMW was weaker on jobs than either Brittany or Northern Ireland but performed better than Northern Jutland and Galicia on income

Figure 3: Comparison of scores in four selected European regions

North Jutland hows life crop Brittany hows life crop
North Jutland, Denmark Brittany, France
galacia hows life crop NI hows life crop
Galicia, Spain Northern Ireland, UK

Comparison with selected OECD Regions

Looking further afield, four other OECD regions (New Brunswick, Canada; Tasmania, Australia; Hokkaido, Japan; South Island, New Zealand) with similar characteristics to the BMW are shown below (Figure 4). Again there are high scores for Safety and Environment (except for Hokkaido) and broadband is more variable here, though none of these regions are as good as the better European ones. Hokkaido has the same level of broadband (58.5% of households with access) as the BMW scoring 5.8. All of these regions perform better than the BMW on jobs, with Tasmania doing best, while South Island and Hokkaido both had high job scores with Hokkaido in the top 16 % of OECD regions and South Island in the top 7%. The regions performed similarly or better than the BMW on incomes (Hokkaido and South Island are slightly lower than the BMW). All regions except Hokkaido also achieve high housing scores.

Figure 4: Comparison of scores in four selected OECD regions

 new brunswick hows life crop  tasmania hows life crop
New Brunswick, Canada Tasmania, Australia
 Hokkaido hows life crop  south island hows life crop
Hokkaido, Japan South Island, New Zealand


While there is variation in the scores of all of these regions, and they all have characteristics which will make them perform differently, it would be useful to consider how regions with similar characteristics vary and whether there are policies or actions that have improved their scores, and whether there are policy learnings from such regions, or different uses of natural resources that could be adopted in the BMW.



Helen McHenry


[1] Border, Midland and West is a NUTS 2 region and while larger than the seven county Western Region covered by the WDC it is the relevant region at this level as it contains all but one of the WDC’s counties.

[2] The most recent available data is used and this varies by year for different categories. The Tool is updated as new data becomes available. See and click Download the data for full details.

[3] The same information is also available for the Southern and Eastern region ( ), but because of the simplicity of the data used the tool is best employed making international comparisons.

[4] Disposable household income per head, US$, current prices, current PPP

[5] It varies from $51,677 (Australian Capital Territory) to $6,478 (Tarapaça, Chile)

The Western Region’s Labour Market

The WDC has just published a new analysis of the Western Region’s Labour Market. This is based on a special run of data from the CSO’s QNHS for the period 2004-2014 for the seven-county Western Region. Understanding the region’s labour market is important for effective job creation, enterprise and skills policy.

In 2014 the Western Region’s adult population was just over 600,000 with 350,000 active in the labour force. Its labour force has contracted since 2012, largely because of outward migration, and is characterised by higher part-time, under- and self-employment, for both men and women. These are distinct differences in the nature of the region’s labour market that may point to certain weaknesses which need to be addressed by tailored job creation actions for the region.

Western Regions adult populatin diagram


Some of the key findings of the analysis are:

  1. Lower labour force participation in the Western Region: A smaller share of the Western Region’s adult population is engaged in the labour market and therefore economically active. The region’s participation rate in 2014 is 57.7% compared with 60.1% in the rest of the state. As human capital is among the most critical factors for regional economic development, this has negative implications for the region’s economic growth and viability. The higher level of economic dependency, resulting from the larger proportion of the population outside of the labour force, also has important social impacts and increases the need for state transfers.
  2. Higher share of self-employment: The region has a higher share of self-employment (without employees) than the rest of the state – 16.3% of all employment in the region compared with 11.4% in the rest of the state. This increases the importance of policy and supports to facilitate the self-employed to establish and sustain their businesses, such as soft business supports, quality broadband, networking, etc. Many may work from home or are mobile and are engaged in local services and therefore outside the remit of the enterprise agencies. They play a particularly significant role in sustaining rural communities and economies. This role, and their needs, requires further investigation and policy focus.
  3. Higher share of part-time working and recent jobs growth more likely to be part-time: There is a higher degree of part-time working in the region with 25.7% of all jobs in the region in 2014 part-time, compared with 23.5% in the rest of the state. Recent jobs growth has also been more likely to be part-time in the region than elsewhere. While part-time working can play an important role for those with caring and other commitments, the greater share of recent jobs growth in the region that is part-time raises some concerns over the nature of employment and the quality of recent jobs growth. A focus on stimulating more full-time jobs should be built into job creation policy for the region.
  4. Lower employment growth: Employment in the region grew over 2012-2014 by 1.4% but this was less than in the rest of the state (3.9%). The jobs recovery in the region is lagging that elsewhere. Initiatives to stimulate and facilitate job creation in regional locations are required to address the region’s weaker jobs performance.
  5. Declining unemployment influenced by out-migration: Unemployment has declined by 28.4% since 2012 but this has only partially been caused by jobs growth. The greater part is due to the loss of unemployed people from the region, either overseas or to other parts of Ireland. The decline in unemployment in the region has been stronger than elsewhere, leading to its unemployment rate dropping below that in the rest of the state (11.5% compared with 12.1% in 2014), reflecting the significant impact of out-migration on the region’s labour market.
  6. Higher youth unemployment rate: The Western Region has a higher youth (15-24 yrs) unemployment rate, 29.2% compared with 24.6% in the rest of the state. As the region has a lower total unemployment rate, this indicates that youth unemployment is a more serious challenge for the region. High youth unemployment can have very significant long-term impacts, as a period of unemployment at a young age can hinder the person’s career prospects and earnings potential. The needs of young jobseekers in the Western Region should be a key policy priority, nationally and for the region, both to prevent them from falling into long-term unemployment and also to reduce out-migration.

These aspects of the Western Region’s labour market should inform the development of the upcoming Action Plan for Jobs for the West, Border and Mid-West regions. The distinctive characteristics of the region’s labour market profile should influence which policies are prioritised for the region and the sectors of focus for job creation strategies. A new WDC Insights on the Western Region’s sectoral profile will be published in coming weeks.

Download two-page WDC Insights WDC Insights-The Western Region’s Labour Market-April 2015 (PDF 0.2MB)

Download full WDC report The Western Region’s Labour Market 2004-2014-WDC Report March 2015 (PDF 2.5MB)

Pauline White

Regions and Recovery?

Discussion of regional performance and the spread of growth are back on the agenda with the preparation of the Regional Action Plan for Jobs and the new National Planning Framework.   The recent CSO publication of the 2012 data on County Incomes and Regional GDP[1] provides some insight into regional performance.

On county incomes the CSO note that of the eight regional authority areas, the Dublin region had the highest average disposable income per person in 2012. At €22,011 it was 13% higher than the State figure of €19,468. Of the remaining seven regions, only the Mid West, at €19,701, had an average disposable income per person 1.2% higher than the State average. The Border region with €17,126 and Midland region with €17,288 fared worst among the eight regions at approximately 12% each below the State average.

The gap between the maximum and minimum value of disposable income per person per region increased from €4,325 in 2011 (revised) to €4,885 in 2012, with Dublin regional incomes increasing by €400 and those of the lowest region, the Midland region in 2011 and now the Border region in 2012, decreasing by €160.

Dublin remains the only region with higher per capita disposable income than the State average during the entire 2003-2012 period while the Midland, Border and West regions have consistently earned less than the State average. For the same period (2003-2012) the CSO note that divergence between the regional authority areas was at its lowest in 2010, with a difference between maximum and minimum disposable incomes of €3,467, but has widened in 2011 and 2012.

county incomes 2012

Source: CSO County incomes and regional GDP 2012

The CSO also published the Regional Gross Value Added (GVA) figures for 2012 and the chart below of GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2003 to 2012, shows the growth in all regions in the period up to 2007 and the effect of the financial crash on all regions. Since then (to 2012) there was continued decline or stagnation in regional output in the Border, Midland and Mid East regions, while GVA growth in the Dublin and the West resumed in 2010.

GVA per person at Basic Prices, 2003 to 2012

Regl GVA per person 03-12

Source: CSO County incomes and regional GDP 2012, Table 9

GVA per person showed considerable variation among the eight regions, with the highest in Dublin €51,839 (151% of the state average) and the lowest in the Midland region (€18,638, 54% of the state average). In the West, GVA per person was €28,256 (82% of the state average) and in the Border region it was €19,016 in 2012, 55% of the state average. Clearly the structure of regional economies is important here. The WDC will produce further more detailed analysis of this CSO data in the coming weeks.

Also last week, as part of its quarterly economic bulletin, the Nevin Institute for Economic Research noted that “concerns persist that the recovery has yet to spread across the country – a phenomenon typified by weak or limited employment growth in regions outside Dublin and its hinterland.[2]

They also considered the meaning of this trend:

“It is not yet clear whether the regional trend represents A) a structural shift in the Irish economy towards the Greater Dublin Area with stagnation or decline persisting into the future in the western half of the country, or, alternatively, B) represents a temporary phenomenon whereby the economy recovery currently taking hold in Dublin gradually extends out to other regions.”  NERI Quarterly Economic Observer (QEO) Spring 2015 Pg 9

While the recovery is underway, it is happening earliest and fastest in Dublin, and while economic growth is very welcome it needs to spread beyond Dublin and other big urban centres. As the WDC noted in its 2010 Policy Briefing “Why care about regions?” the impact of growth in all regions is significant for the national economy as a whole. Lagging regions generate an important part of national economic output and where there are underused resources in lagging regions mobilising them will add to overall national economic growth.

Bringing about convergence is less important than improving the performance of all regions. In order to promote regional growth, policymakers need to develop a comprehensive regional policy which not only links regions through infrastructural investments, but also fosters human capital, and facilitates innovation.  If regional strengths and areas of comparative advantage are taken into account in the implementation of national enterprise policy, it is likely to be far more effective. Hopefully this will be the case in the forthcoming Regional Action Plans for Jobs

 Truly national growth involves growth in all regions. If regional policy is effective it will result in a country with better options for all.


Helen McHenry


[1] CSO County incomes and regional GDP 2012

[2] NERI Quarterly Economic Observer (QEO) Spring 2015, Pg 1,

The Battle for Rural Ireland – RTE 1

RTE screened a documentary, The Battle for Rural Ireland, on 9th March 2015, to which Deirdre Frost contributed. Presented by Richard Curran, the programme highlights the challenges faced by rural communities and towns, both in the context of the recent recession and the outlook for further rural depopulation. Much of the projected population growth is to occur on the East coast.

You can watch the programme here (available until 30 March).

While urbanisation is not unique to Ireland, the programme shows the effects of population loss on rural areas, in terms of service provision and employment opportunities.

The Battle for Rural Ireland highlights some examples of innovative enterprise development and employment creation in rural areas but ultimately the need for stronger regional and rural policy is clear.

Deirdre Frost

Tourism growth…but not everywhere

Along with more positive signs of economic growth generally, statistics on the tourism sector indicate growth in overseas visitor numbers and revenues in the last few years.

The Department of Transport note that overall visits to Ireland in 2013 rose by 7.2% and spending by visitors to Ireland also increased in 2013, with total tourism and travel earnings from overseas visitors growing by 9.4%.

Examining the regional and county data suggests that these trends are not evident everywhere with different patterns even at a sub regional level such as within the Western Region.

For example between 2011 and 2013, the number of overseas visitors declined in four of the Western Region counties; Donegal had a decline of 2.9%, from 205,000 to 199,000, Mayo experienced a decline of -18.6%, from 268,000 to 218,000, Sligo recorded a decline of 20.3%, from 167,000 to 133,000 and Roscommon recorded a decline of 11,000 (23.9%), from 46,000 to 35,000 in 2013.

In contrast, counties Leitrim, Galway and Clare all experienced an increase in overseas tourist numbers over the period. Clare recorded an increase of 44,000, to 485,000 (+9.9%), Galway experienced an increase of 9.5% to 1,028,000, while Leitrim had an increase of 8,000 (25.8%) to 39,000.

The trend in overseas visitor revenue by county does not always correlate with the trend in numbers of overseas visitors. Between 2011 and 2013, there were declines in overseas visitor revenue in four of the Western Region counties, Galway (despite an increase in visitors over the period) as well as Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo. Overseas visitor revenue increased in three of the counties, Donegal (despite a decline in tourist numbers), Leitrim and Clare.

These data highlight important sub regional differences and trends, especially considering the emergence of the sector from recession in the last few years. It is important that all counties experience recovery in numbers and revenue given the importance of the sector to the economy of the Western Region.

The impact of product development such as the Wild Atlantic Way is likely to become clearer in data from 2014 and it will be interesting to note the effects on coastal counties in particular.

2013 Statistics 

2011 Statistics

Deirdre Frost