The headline figures from the preliminary Census 2016 figures show a population that is growing, nationally by 3.7% over the last 5 years. However it is not evenly spread and it is clear that much of the growth is on the East coast and in urban centres.

Nationally the population is now 4.75 million, an increase of 3.7% on the 2011 figure of 4.58 million. The Western Region’s population grew at a much slower rate, by just 0.9% over the period, to 828,124 – amounting to 7,244 more persons than in 2001.

Where is this growth occurring?

The Map below highlights the spatial distribution of population growth.


While most counties experienced some level of population growth just three counties, all in the Western Region, witnessed population decline over the five years, namely Donegal (-1.5%), Mayo (-0.2%) and Sligo (-0.1%).

From a Western Region perspective, the other four counties of the Western Region all recorded population increases over the period; Clare (+1.2%), Leitrim (+0.5%), Roscommon (+0.6%), Galway county (+2.2%), Galway city (5.3%).

It is clear from the map that the particularly high growth rates, in excess of 4% are all, apart from Cork and Longford, occurring on the East coast.

Aspects of Population Change

Net migration and natural increases are the two components of population change.


Migration, especially in an Irish context can vary a lot and is heavily influenced by the rate of economic growth. Nationally net migration over the past 5 years is estimated at -28,558. This compares with net inward migration of 115,800 over the previous five years from 2006-2011.

The migration figures include international migration as well as migration within Ireland. It is clear that a key driver for migratory flows is employment opportunity. As the map below illustrates, most counties – coloured red and orange, experienced net outward migration. Dublin and Cork city along with Kilkenny, Laois and Longford experienced net inward migration. It is most significant in parts of Dublin. All other counties experienced net outward migration and this is particularly stark on the West coast, in Donegal (-6,731), Mayo (-3,246), Galway (-3,168) and Limerick.

Net migration by county 11-16

Natural Increase

The natural increase (births minus deaths) is the other component of population growth or decline. While natural increases are evident across the country, it ranges from an annual average rate of 3.3 per 1,000 in Cork city to a rate of 15 per 1,000 in Fingal. This range is evident in the chart below.

From a Western Region perspective, all counties except Galway city have an annual average rate less than the state average which is 8.5 (on the chart between Offaly and Westmeath).

natural increase by county

So what are the policy implications?

There are many implications across a whole range of policy areas. The greater detail which will be available from the detailed Census outputs later in the year will help inform specific policy areas.

It is clear that, so far, the preliminary results from Census 2016 highlight the need for a new spatial plan which can help direct where population and economic growth should occur. Economic and population growth need to be supported to ensure optimum growth across all regions.

Deirdre Frost