Transport 2016 – Issues and themes

Transport Ireland 2016, a conference organised by Eolas last week included a wide range of speakers on a range of transport issues, providing an update on public transport investment plans as well as technological developments, for example electric vehicles and alternative fuels.

The conference programme is available here.

A couple of the following presentations were of particular interest to the WDC and the Western Region.

Ethna Brogan from the Department of Transport outlined some of the transport commitments of the Capital Plan 2016-2021 Building on Recovery noting that unlike other elements of the Plan which cover a 6 year period, Transport covers a 7 year period to 2022.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport received an allocation of €9.6 billion for transport investments comprising €6 billion for roads and €3.6 billion for public transport. The stated objectives of the transport investments are two fold

  1. Develop and maintain transport networks to the required standard to ensure the safe and efficient movement of people and freight
  2. Encourage modal shift to ensure transport makes a contribution to Irelands’ climate mitigation targets.

The objective of greater modal shift is welcome given the significance transport has in Ireland’s energy emissions. As noted in a recent WDC Insights publication (245kB) though Agriculture is the single largest contributor of emissions in Ireland (33.3%), it is followed by Transport (19.5%) and more importantly, in the last fifteen years (1990-2014), Transport has shown the greatest overall increase in emissions – by 120.9% over the period.

Therefore, the Transport sector represents a major contributor to energy emissions which is forecast to increase further in line with economic growth, for example emissions from transport have increased by 2.5% from 2013 to 2014. With this in mind, and along with the urgency to tackle climate change, the questions arises as to whether we have we got the balance right between conventional and alternative and more sustainable modes of transport?

That being said, the WDC Western Region is a largely rural region, requiring significant investment in maintenance and improvements in the roads network, national, regional and local roads, which support bus transport as well as car travel. For example the continued funding for the Gort-Tuam motorway and other roads projects is very welcome.

Edgar Morgenroth from the ESRI gave a presentation on The Regional Development Impact of Transport Infrastructure noting that ‘significant accessibility differences remain across Ireland’ and he noted that much of the North West along with West Kerry are the only regions were accessibility to a motorway junction is 120 minutes drivetime or more. There was also reference to the positive effect of transport infrastructure in national and regional economic development, with roads having the largest productivity effect in contrast to other transport modes.

Martin Nolan, CEO of Bus Éireann noted that Bus Éireann services are particularly important to regional and rural Ireland. There are three aspects to their business; public service obligation (PSO) routes, Commercial and School Transport services, which all combined delivered 79 million customer journeys in 2015. He noted that while lower fuel costs benefit the company’s operating costs, they also impact on some of their customer base, making it more attractive to travel by car!

One of the most interesting presentations and the only one to exclusively examine rural transport was by Carmel Walsh of Kerry Community Transport Ltd, soon to be renamed Local Link Kerry. She outlined the Rural Transport Programme and its work since 2002, the various changes it has undergone and its current status, managed by the National Transport Authority and now delivered nationally by 17 Transport Coordination Units (TCUs).

In 2015 there were 1.76 million passenger journeys delivered by 400 private operators who are mainly local businesses, with a strong knowledge of their community and their needs. There is a focus on ensuring accessibility but the service is for and is used all the community, young and old. There is recognition that further integration with Bus Éireann services will improve services for Rural Transport users.

Technological developments will be important in reducing transport emissions and many of the speakers focused on the ways in which technology can reduce urban congestion.

One technological development which will impact on regional and rural areas is the electric vehicle. According to Declan Meally of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), while the technology is now available, the price is somewhat prohibitive. This looks set to change in the next few years.

Finally, a study entitled Greening Transport is actually looking at a fairly logical option – lowering transport emissions by reducing transport use, through behavioural changes such as more telecommuting. The WDC is also examining this in forthcoming research on tele-working/e-working.


Deirdre Frost



Transport Infrastructure Priorities

Following years of budgetary contraction and reduced capital investment in infrastructure, there is now a return to consideration of what capital investment is required and what should be prioritised. The last Government published its plan for capital investment Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 in September 2015. It seems possible that a new Government may revisit some priorities.

The Exchequer capital allocations for the period are €27 billion, of which Transport accounts for 29%. €6 billion is allocated for national, regional and local roads and €3.6 billion is for public transport. While the roads budget appears significant, most of this is for maintenance of the existing network, with just €1.6 billion allocated for new projects. The WDC has posted recently on the importance of maintaining local and regional roads especially in rural areas, see here.

Public Transport

The COP21 Agreement in Paris last December has renewed attention on the need to reduce greenhouse emissions and the development of sustainable transport projects. The recent European Commission country report for Ireland highlighted congestion in Dublin as an issue and this is suggested as an issue for consideration by the incoming government, for example see blog post . The WDC supports more sustainable transport and has highlighted potential for emissions reductions through use of more rail freight, read more here (245kb). However this should not mean that road priorities should be relegated, especially where the road network remains relatively weak.

At a recent Infrastructure Summit a presentation by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) highlighted some of these issues. The map below illustrates Ireland’s current road network, noting the motorway, primary and secondary routes.

TII road network prioirties

The map shows how the motorway network extends across the southern half of the country and the Dublin-Belfast corridor. The development of the motorway network is of great benefit to those regions and centres they serve. However by default those areas without such road improvements have reduced accessibility relative to other parts of the country.

The capital plan includes funding for one motorway project underway in the Western Region, from Gort to Tuam – part of the Atlantic Road Corridor. This is very welcome, however once complete in 2018, the relative weakness of the road network north of Tuam will be even more apparent.

This is not to argue that there is a need for motorway infrastructure to all parts of the country but there does need to be investment to improve journey times to relatively inaccessible urban centres for example to Ballina, Sligo and Letterkenny.  A 2012 study by the NRA on the impact of national road investment 2006-2010 on the effective density of urban areas including their accessibility to employment’ found that Sligo, Ballina/Castlebar and Letterkenny among others had no or very small improvement.

There are plans for improvements on the N4 (Collooney to Castlebaldwin) and the N5 Westport to Turlough as well as improvements to the N56 in Donegal all of which are welcome and will improve accessibility to Sligo and Castlebar respectively and should be progressed asap.

According to the TII other sections of the Atlantic Road Corridor, to the north of Tuam, (for example N17 Tubbercurry ByPass and Collooney to Tubbercurry) have been suspended and it is not clear if there are any timelines for reinstatement and funding of these projects.

Regional priorities not modal!

A by-product of the improved motorway network has been the relative dis-improvement in journey times on main-line rail services and reduced patronage on some services.  As investment in transport is often considered on a mode specific basis, the cumulative effect on specific geographic routes and regions is often not considered. So proposed investment in rail is now focused on those routes with better road access (motorways), in order to stay competitive. Therefore the cumulative effect of little funding for improvements in both road and rail on some routes, for example to the North West, is not considered from a broader, transport accessibility point of view.


Western Region Needs

In terms of transport most of the Western Region and rural Ireland travels by road. As the WDC noted in its submission (300 KB) to the Department of Transport, over 40% of the population (68% in the WDC region) live in rural areas and smaller settlements. There must be more 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). Even with plans for higher density living and the planned National Planning Framework,  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. Thus transport investment needs to focus on current spatial patterns as well as any future growth in demand.

From a rural perspective the recent Luas strike brought the options available to rural and Dublin commuters into sharp focus. As reported on RTE’s Morning Ireland, once alighting from a commuter train at Heuston, passengers had just four options: – the bus, bike rental, taxi or travel by foot. Most rural dwellers only have one option, travel by car! Of course roads can facilitate cycling, walking and bus services but in reality there are few footpaths, even fewer cycleways and not very frequent bus services (apart from on intercity routes).

Of course city dwellers will have more options, this is to be expected, but just because some of these are not working optimally is not a reason to forget what transport needs are required for rural and regional locations.

Now that the country has returned to economic growth and consideration of capital investment projects it will be important to ensure that there are improvements in accessibility to all regions especially to those centres which were relegated when funding was severely constrained.


Deirdre Frost


Developments in Rural Policy: Charter for Rural Ireland

In January, the Taoiseach launched the Rural Charter, A statement of Government Commitment to support Rural Ireland’s regeneration and to underpin the future sustainable development of Ireland’s rural communities.
Maybe the attention was already focussed on the upcoming election, but given the recent focus on rural Ireland and the perceived two speed recovery; where the recovery in urban areas and especially Dublin is not being felt in rural Ireland, the launch of the Rural Charter received remarkably little attention.

The Charter for Rural Ireland January 2016 (pdf, 1,261 kb) is a short document (13 pages) containing 10 commitments and aims ‘to support and accelerate rural Ireland’s regeneration’ (p.3).

The commitments include

  • the development by the end of 2016 of a Rural Development Policy Framework, the preparation of which will include ‘full and comprehensive public consultations’, as well as the involvement of Government Departments and State Agencies. This framework will also feed into the development of the forthcoming National Planning Framework.
  • the Rural Development Policy Framework will include ’a mandatory system of assessment to ensure that future Government policies are designed with full and stated consideration of their impact on Rural Ireland’– a type of rural proofing.
  • the introduction of a robust reporting mechanism requiring each Government Department to report on actions as they relate to rural Ireland.

At the local level

  • Guidelines will be introduced for local community development committees (LCDCs) to support participation by rural dwellers in local economic development.
  • All stakeholders will collaborate and seek to eliminate barriers to rural enterprise development.

The Rural Development Policy Framework aims to create systems which will provide a basis for all stakeholders to work together to support enterprise development, job creation and a high quality of life. Government Departments will be required to ensure that impacts on rural Ireland are fully considered and policies and strategies will be amended if they are seen to be impacting negatively on rural areas.

The commitments in the Rural Charter recognise the need for action at national and local levels, they seek to include all stakeholders and actions are required within a short timeframe, all of which are welcome.

In this election campaign rural issues are an important theme, with the need to spread the recovery to all regions a constant refrain. It will be important that rural policy, whoever is returned, builds on the extensive work that has been done to-date.
There has been much analysis and research of what the problems are and what can be done for Rural Ireland. Most recently, the Commission for Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), chaired by Pat Spillane and supported by the WDC and Teagasc, has done extensive research on what are the problems and what are the solutions during 2012-2014. The associated publications and research is available at

On various policy issues there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes. Where policy improvements have been instigated, these should be supported.

For example, the most significant infrastructure barrier facing rural Ireland is quality broadband. There is the National Broadband Plan, currently at procurement phase, with rollout to commence towards the end of this year. This aims to deliver future proofed broadband to all. The planned rollout is often compared to rural electrification in its significance and while the timescale is not fast enough for many, its objective is to solve the rural broadband problem for a generation or more. This compares with previous interventions which only ‘fixed’ the problem for a couple of years at most. It will be important that this policy is continued and fully supported by the new Government.

There are other policy areas where more needs to be achieved. The publication of the Rural Charter and the commitments it contains is very welcome. Its continued implementation needs to be supported following the election to ensure that Rural Ireland can contribute to and benefit from continued economic recovery.


Deirdre Frost

WDC Insights- Christmas Quiz!

We hope you have been following and reading the WDC Insights blog in the last year. Take our Christmas Quiz (9 questions) and see how well you score on regional development and Western Region issues. The answers are below with links to more information and the relevant posts.

Good Luck!

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1      The WDC published its report on ‘Trends in Agency Assisted Employment in the Western Region’ in January. This included an analysis of data for each of the seven western counties. In 2013 what proportion of the total jobs in Sligo were agency assisted?

  1. 63.2%
  2. 27.6%
  3. 15.3%

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2      Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy.

What is the average farm size in the Western Region?

  1. 43.7 ha
  2. 15.2 ha
  3. 26.3 ha

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3      In the latest CSO data on Income and Living Conditions (released 26th November) poverty and at risk of poverty rates are given. What is the difference between the at risk of poverty rates between the BMW and S&E regions?

  1. 5.7%
  2. 15.2%
  3. 1.3%

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4      In a recent a creative momentum project survey what proportion of creative entrepreneurs were exporting?

  1. 8%
  2. 48%
  3. 68%

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5      Examining regional indicators can help us to understand the growth and development taking place in our regions, to highlight changes and assess issues of efficiency and equity among regions.

Looking at the data since 2003 are regional disparities

  1. Widening?
  2. Narrowing?
  3. Staying the same?

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6      Understanding the sectoral pattern of jobs in the region and patterns of sectoral growth and decline is particularly important to the development of job creation, skills and enterprise policy for the region.

What is the largest employment sector in the Western region?

  1. Industry
  2. Wholesale and Retail
  3. Public Administration and Defence

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7      The WDC has been highlighting rural broadband needs for more than a decade. It recently submitted its views to the consultation on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan.

What is the minimum download speed set down under the National Broadband Plan (in Mega bits per second (Mbps))?

  1. 30 Mbps
  2. 100 Mbps
  3. 12 Mbps

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8      In February 2015 the IDA published a new 5-year strategy which put considerable focus on the regional balance of future FDI investments. The strategy includes a target to increase the number of investments in every region, outside of Dublin. By how much are the investments in the regions targeted to increase?

  1. By 10-20% over the 5 years of the strategy?
  2. By 30-40% over the 5 years of the strategy?
  3. By 80-90% over the 5 years of the strategy?.

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9      With The Paris Agreement at COP21 marking a turning point in the response to climate change, it is time to consider how we will meet those targets in Ireland so we examine some of the issues for climate change mitigation in the Western Region in this post.

What percentage of households in the Western Region use oil to heat their homes?

  1. 63.1%
  2. 84.2%
  3. 38.8%

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  1. Assisted jobs

Answer:3) 15.3%

The WDC published a report on ‘Trends in Agency Assisted Employment in the Western Region’ in January 2015.week. This included an analysis of data for each of the seven western counties. Taking Sligo as an example in 2013, there were 3,880 people working in agency assisted jobs there. 15.3% of total jobs in the county were agency assisted, which is below the state average (19.3%). Some 55.6% of assisted jobs in Sligo are in foreign owned companies; lower than a decade earlier. Irish owned assisted employment has grown steadily since 2011 and was up 4.8% in 2013. Sligo’s second largest assisted sector – Traditional Manufacturing – has had the strongest recent growth, up a fifth (21.5%) between 2010 and 2013.

For more about agency assisted jobs in the other Western Region counties see this post

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  1. Farm size

Answer: 3) 26.3 ha

Agriculture in the Western Region of Ireland is characterised by smaller farm size, poorer land quality and a higher dependence on off farm income than in many other parts of Ireland. Nonetheless agriculture remains a significant employer and makes an important contribution to the regional economy.

The average farm size in the Western Region (counties Clare, Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo) was 26.3 ha in 2010. Farm sizes are significantly smaller than in the rest of Ireland where the average farm in 2010 was 36.9 ha. Nonetheless farm size in the Western region has grown by a third since 1991 when the Western Region average was 19.8 ha with most of the growth occurring in the 1990s (almost 27% of the growth occurred between 1991 and 2000). For more information, read this post.

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  1. Poverty data

Answer: 1) 5.7%

The CSO released the latest data on Income and Living Conditions on 26th November 2015. The headline figures indicate a rise in incomes – increasing by 3.5% between 2013 and 2014, which in turn was higher than the figure in 2012. The release also provided data on poverty rates at a regional level.   Analysis of consistent poverty rates by region, which will be influenced by rural-urban patterns, shows that the rate for the Border, Midlands and Western region was 10.8% compared with 7.0% for the Southern and Eastern region in 2014. The at-risk of poverty-rate was also higher in the Border, Midlands and Western region compared to the Southern and Eastern region, 20.5% and 14.8% respectively. The difference was 5.7%.

For more on poverty and at-risk of poverty rates see this post.

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  1. a creative momentum project survey

Answer: 3) 68%.

In order to inform the development a creative momentum project activities, an online survey was circulated to creative entrepreneurs based in the participating regions. The survey ran from 28 September to 18 October and there were a total of 170 responses.

68% reported that they made some sales outside of their own country, which was higher than indicated in previous surveys. Cross-border business between Ireland and Northern Ireland seemed to be a strong element in these export sales. Of those businesses who did not export currently (44), 70% indicated a desire to export.

For more on the survey see this post

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  1. Regional Disparities

Answer: 1) Widening

There has been a significant widening of the gap between the BMW and the S&E regions since 2008, the difference in 2012 was 48.3 points and in 2008 was 40.6 points (in 2003 it was 42.6).

Disparities in regional GVA have been increasing in recent years and have been particularly significant since 2008 while, in contrast, disparities in disposable income reduced between 2003 and 2010, but have increased since then. For more see this post

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  1. Employment sectors

Answer: 2) Wholesale and Retail.

The largest employment sector is Wholesale and Retail and the two largest employment sectors in the Western Region are Wholesale and Retail, and Industry which together account for about 30% of jobs.  Of the region’s top seven sectors, all (except Health) account for a greater share of jobs in the region than the rest of the state.  Agriculture and Industry (manufacturing) are considerably more important in the region.  Among the region’s smaller sectors the share working in them in the region is considerably below that in the rest of the state.

In general the Western Region’s jobs profile relies more heavily than the rest of the state on the traditional sectors (Industry, Agriculture and Construction) and local services (Wholesale and Retail, and Accommodation and Food Service) which depend on domestic spending and tourism.  The region’s sectoral jobs pattern is influenced by its largely rural nature. For more information see this post

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  1. Broadband

Answer: 1) 30Mbps

The WDC in its submission to the consultation on the rollout of the National Broadband Plan suggests that one option would be to review the basic minimum standard, for both up and download speeds, every 5 years (or more frequently depending on technological change and demand requirements) and raise the minimum standard accordingly. For more from the WDC on broadband see here and here

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  1. IDA Strategy

Answer: 2) 30-40% over the 5 years of the strategy

The strategy includes a target to increase the number of investments in every region, outside of Dublin, by 30-40% over the lifetime years of the strategy. With Dublin maintaining a similar level to currently. For example for the West, which received 71 investments over the 2010-2014 period, the target is to achieve 92-99 investments over 2015-2019. For the Border region the target is 61-66 investments (it received 47 in the past five years). These targets do not just refer to new name investments, but include expansions by existing FDI companies and R&D investments.

Read more about it here.

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  1. Climate change

Answer: 1) 63.1% of homes use oil as their main heating fuel

The pattern of fuel usage in central heating is very different in the Western Region and the rest of the state. 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. 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 in the region compared to 38.8% in the rest of the state. Wood fuels and other biomass are slightly more important in the Western Region 1.4% compared to 1.3% in the rest of the state but there needs to be a significant policy focus using renewable energies for domestic heating. These include solid biomass (wood chips, pellets and logs). In many rural situations 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.

For more on rural urban differences, western region statistics and the need for climate change mitigation to focus on rural areas see this post.

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How well did you do?

You got 8 or 9 answers correct

CONGRATULATIONS! You really know a lot about regional development, the Western Region and the Western Development Commission’s work.


You got between 4 and 7 answers correct

WELL DONE, a good score but some deficiencies in your knowledge. Perhaps you should read the WDC Insights posts more carefully in 2016!


You got between 0 and 3 answers correct

OH DEAR! Time to pay more attention to regional development and Western Region Issues. You’ll have to do some extra study over the holiday! Reread the WDC Insights blog and check out the WDC publications page and re-take the quiz in the New Year!

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Helen McHenry

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

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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

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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


Rural poverty rates higher than urban rates

The CSO released the latest data on Income and Living Conditions on 26th November. The headline figures indicate a rise in incomes – increasing by 3.5% between 2013 and 2014, which in turn was higher than the figure in 2012. This is in line with other economic indicators such as continuing economic growth, employment growth and decreasing unemployment, all of which suggest that the turnaround in the economy is now well established.


However, within the same CSO release, the data show that the at-risk-of-poverty rate[1] increased from 15.2% to 16.3% in the same period. It may be that the benefits of the return to growth have yet to ‘trickle down’ and a reduction in poverty rates will be evident in later data. Nonetheless examining the poverty rates over a longer period shows how stubbornly high the poverty rates are.

The chart below shows the at-risk-of-poverty rate between 2004 and 2014, showing urban and rural rates separately. This period was economically very volatile with a ‘boom’ and ‘bust’, ‘full’ employment followed by rapidly rising unemployment.

at risk of poverty rates

Nationally the at-risk-of-poverty rate in 2004 was 19.4% or just under one-fifth of the population. This declined to 14.1% in 2009, before rising again to 16.3% in 2014.

Rural poverty, is often considered more hidden or less visible than urban poverty. Comparing urban[2] and rural areas[3], the at-risk-of-poverty rate has been consistently higher in rural areas over the last 10 years, though there is some evidence that the difference is narrowing. In 2004 the difference in the-at-risk-of-poverty rate between urban and rural rates was 7.5 percentage points, in 2014 it was 4.6 percentage points.

Consistent Poverty


The other commonly used measure of poverty, the consistent poverty rate[4] is depicted in the chart below. The trend here shows that nationally between 2005 and 2008, rates were declining from 7% to 4.2% and thereafter rising to 8.2% in 2013, and 8% in 2014, still higher than the rate in 2004.

While the at-risk-of poverty rate has been consistently higher in rural areas compared to urban areas, the rural urban pattern is more erratic when examining the consistent poverty rate. Between 2004 and 2007 there was a higher rate of consistent poverty in urban areas compared to rural. From 2007 to 2013 the rates in both rural and urban areas were rising and roughly comparable. Since 2012 a new trend seems to be emerging where rural rates are rising whereas urban rates are in decline. Since 2013 there may be convergence in rates emerging again, though the rural rate remains higher than the urban rate.

Consistent poverty

The urban-rural patterns poverty rates seem to provide further evidence that the recovery is stronger in urban areas, or at least the impact on poverty reduction is greater there.

The release also provides data on poverty rates at a regional level.  Analysis of consistent poverty rates by region, which will be influenced by rural-urban patterns, shows that the rate for the Border, Midlands and Western region was 10.8% compared with 7.0% for the Southern and Eastern region in 2014. The at-risk of poverty-rate was also higher in the Border, Midlands and Western region compared to the Southern and Eastern region, 20.5% and 14.8% respectively. A previous WDC Insights blog examining CSO Income data (September 25th) titled Regional Disparities are Widening examines regional differences further.

As economic growth continues, it will be important to ensure that the downward trend in poverty rates continues across both rural and urban areas, as well as across all regions. While rural poverty may be less visible, it is no less real and needs to be addressed. It will be important to monitor these trends to see the extent to which they change in 2015 and beyond and to ensure that policy responses are effective in addressing both urban and rural poverty.

Deirdre Frost

[1] The at-risk-of-poverty rate identifies the proportion of individuals who are considered to be in danger of poverty. It is calculated as the percentage of persons with an equivalised disposable income of less than 60% of the national median income.

[2] Urban is defined as centres with a population density greater than 1,000.

[3] Rural is defined as centres with a population density of 999 or less and rural areas in counties.

[4] Consistent poverty is defined as being at-risk-of poverty and living in a household deprived of two of eleven basic deprivation items.

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