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What is Rural?

Many of us probably feel we know what rural means.  Perhaps when we hear the word we think of green fields, or wild mountains, or deserted beaches.  Or maybe we think of small villages, modern bungalows or just anywhere beyond ‘the big smoke’.  Arguably all of these are or can be considered rural and, indeed, in most situations it is not important how we define rural.  We know what it is, we use our mental definition, we even have casual conversations where everyone is talking about a different ‘rural’ and for the most part that doesn’t matter.

But is does matter when we come to make policy for rural places and when we think what should be included in ‘rural policy’, because the kind of policy we make and the kind of issues we address are strongly influenced by what we define as rural.  If we think of rural as fields and pastures then we may think of rural policy as agricultural policy, and if we think of it as market towns and pretty villages we may see it as a heritage or cultural issue and when we think of rural dwellers we have to think about how different policies affect people.

Defining Rural

The question of how we define rural for policy purposes and in relation to people rather than based on landscapes or places has not been resolved in Ireland.  While the OECD uses a definition relating to population density[1], the CSO defines the rural population as those living outside settlements of 1,500 people, while CEDRA (the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas) defined rural as those areas outside the administrative boundaries of the five main cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford).  That definition includes some large urban settlements like Ennis, Dundalk and Kilkenny.  Realising our Rural Potential- the Action Plan for Rural Development refers to the CEDRA definition and provides a map of population densities but does not specify a definition of rural.

Finally, and most recently, the new Draft National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040- Our Plan defines rural as all areas outside towns of 10,000, unless they are within the immediate or ‘metropolitan’ catchment of a city[2].

How we define rural impacts on how many people we are considering when we make rural policy.  Is it a minority, niche policy, or something relevant to a majority of the population?  With the different definitions we get a very different population groups.  Under the OECD definition (a variation of which is used by Eurostat) 70.5% of the state population is predominantly rural.  Ireland is the most rural of the EU27 countries for both population and land area (for more information see note 1 below).

Looking at the different definitions used in Irish policy making (by the CSO, CEDRA and the NPF), for both the state as a whole and the Western Region we can see significant differences in the proportion of the population which is rural.

Figure 1: Percentage of the population living in rural areas according to definition for Western Region and State

Source: CSO Census of Population 2016,  Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements / E2014 own calculations

The Western Region is a very rural region and, whichever definition is used, the majority of the Region’s population falls into that category.  The CSO has the narrowest definition, with fewest defined as rural people (65%, or 535,953 people in the Western Region) while the CEDRA definition is inevitably the broadest, including on two thirds of the population of thewhole state (90% of the people in the Western Region). Nationally the definition of rural can take in anything between 37% and 66% of the population (between 1.8 and 3.1m people).

Looking at what is defined as rural in the three Regional Assembly Areas, which are important policy regions in the NPF and forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (to be developed by the Regional Assemblies) there is a clear contrast among the regions.

Figure 2: Percentage of the population living in rural areas according to definition for three Regional Assembly Areas

Source: CSO Census of Population 2016,  Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements / E2014 own calculations

The NWRA is the most rural, with at least two thirds of its population classified as rural in the narrowest definition.  The EMRA, even using the broadest definition, has less than half its population defined as rural.

Rural Policy or Policy for Rural People?

Given the rural population numbers, whichever definition is used, most policy affecting the Western Region is  rural policy as it impacts on the majority of the population.  Even policy which focuses more on Galway and the larger towns has important effects on rural people as these are centres of employment, enterprise education and health services.

The question becomes whether policy for a rural region is rural policy or, given that more than half population is living in rural areas, are not the needs of a rural region integral to all policy, including that for enterprise, employment, healthcare or transport?  Does labelling large parts of the country as rural and expecting their needs to be covered by a ‘rural policy’ serve those dwelling in rural areas well?  Does it ensure infrastructure provision takes account of our settlement pattern as it is, rather than as we think it should be?  Or, if we treat rural as different and needing separate policy rather than as an integral part of our policy focus, can we ensure that businesses can operate efficiently throughout the country, or that people can find varied employment in different places?  These are not narrow issues of rural policy but involve addressing the needs of the wider population through all government policy

Clearly areas which are very peripheral and which have small populations have particular policy requirements but most people in rural areas, however they are defined, have the same needs for employment, healthcare, education and transport as the rest of the population.  It is therefore not only important to consider how we define rural but why we are doing so, and how these definitions can be used to ensure people throughout the Region and the country have their needs addressed equally.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The OECD methodology classifies local administrative units level 2 with a population density below 150 inhabitants per km² as rural.  For more information on the definition see http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Urban-rural_typology

[2] These catchments are not mapped in the draft NPF and it is not clear how much of the country is considered to be within the influence of a city.

Get Detailed Census Data for Settlements

On 20 July the CSO released the Small Area Population Statistics (SAPs) from Census 2016. This is Census data at its most detailed geographic level; data across all demographic and socio-economic themes is available at spatial scales down to Small Areas.  There are 18,641 Small Areas across the Republic of Ireland, each generally comprising between 80 and 120 dwellings.  The Small Area data is of huge value for mapping and detailed GIS analysis, such as that carried out by AIRO.

Settlements 

For many data users however, Small Area scale is too detailed.  Data at other spatial scales was also released with the SAPs, including Gaeltacht areas, Municipal Districts (95) and Settlements (846). Data for Settlements is a hugely useful resource and is also the spatial scale that many people feel most attached to, and indeed curious about.

It is an important resource for many stakeholders, including local authorities, community and voluntary groups, local development agencies, chambers, policy makers and others. But how to access the data may not be a very well-known, as it is separate to the Statbank system where all other Census data can be downloaded.

Downloading Census 2016 Settlement Reports 

Step 1: Go to SapMap

Step 2: Click ‘Find Your Area’ (icon that looks like a blue thumbtack)

Step 3: Choose ‘Settlements’ from dropdown and type in name of settlement e.g. Gort, Swords.

Step 4: Map will zoom to show outline of the ‘Settlement’ boundary and the key population data. Click ‘For more information on Small Area Population Statistics 2016 click here’.

Step 5: You will get a detailed data report for that Settlement that you can download as a PDF file or an Excel Spreadsheet. You can download a full report of all data or individual reports for each data theme. Data on the following themes is available.

  • Theme 1: Sex, Age and Marital Status
  • Theme 2: Migration, Ethnicity, Religion and Foreign Languages
  • Theme 3: Irish Language
  • Theme 4: Families
  • Theme 5: Private Households
  • Theme 6: Housing
  • Theme 7: Communal Establishments
  • Theme 8: Principal Status
  • Theme 9: Social Class and Socio-Economic Group
  • Theme 10: Education
  • Theme 11: Commuting
  • Theme 12: Disability, Carers and General Health
  • Theme 13: Occupations
  • Theme 14: Industries
  • Theme 15: Motor Car Availability, PC Ownership and Internet Access

The same process can be followed to download data for different spatial scales e.g. counties, constituencies, Municipal Districts. At Step 3, simply select the scale you want from the dropdown and type in name.

It should be noted that while this data is also available for 2011, as the settlement boundaries can change between censuses direct comparisons are not always possible.

This is a link to the CSO’s SAPMAP User Guide.

An Example: Mohill, Co Leitrim

Mohill is a village situated in north county Leitrim.  Fig. 1 shows the initial SAPMAP image for Mohill. The settlement has a total population of 855 with 521 housing units.

Fig.1: Image from SAPMAP of Mohill settlement. Source:

By clicking ‘For more information on Small Area Population Statistics 2016 click here’ you are directed to a more detailed report. Fig. 2 shows part of this. At the top you can choose to download the PDF or Excel.  Scrolling down the page shows all the data for each of the 15 themes, with the option to download each table in PDF or Excel.

Fig.2: Image of top of page for detailed Mohill Settlement report. Source: http://census.cso.ie/sapmap/

For example Theme 8: Principal Economic Status shows there were 282 people resident in Mohill who were employed at the time of the Census, 185 who were retired and 51 students.

Fig.3: Theme 8, Principal Economic Status for Mohill. Source: http://census.cso.ie/sapmap/

All data can be downloaded in Excel to allow analysis. For example, Fig. 4 shows the percentage of families in Mohill who are in each stage of the ‘Family Cycle’ with 20.3% of families consisting of adults only who do not fall into other categories, 15.6% being ‘empty nest’ and 14.6% being retired households.

Fig.4: Percentage of families in each stage of family cycle, Mohill, 2016. Source: http://census.cso.ie/sapmap/

The Settlements reports from the SAPMAP system are a very useful resource, particularly for local voluntary and community groups and others involved in planning and promoting development in town and village level.

 

Pauline White

 

 

 

Regional Towns: Growth or decline? Can we tell?

Population change is an important issue and one of the key reasons that we conduct a census in Ireland.  However, as well as being one of the most important indicators of change, it is also an emotive issue.  Population growth in most cases is considered a good thing, an indicator of a vibrant economy and society, while population decline is taken to indicate stagnation and under development.  This is particularly the case in relation to well known, well defined areas such as counties or, in the case of this post, of towns.

Important strategic policies such as the National Planning Framework (NPF)  and the (RSES)  are currently being prepared, and these (along with policies such as Realising our Rural Potential- An Action Plan for Rural Development   have long time horizons and rely on population data as an important benchmark of development.  Therefore robust intercensal comparisons are critical.

Population data from Census 2016 for towns was made available with the publication of Profile 2- Population Distribution and Movements on 11 May.  In its initial release on StatBank[1], tables of town populations for 2011 and 2016 were provided.  In the background notes (Appendix 2) to Profile 2 the CSO noted that there had been boundary changes to 80 towns for which populations were given.  However, the towns were not named, listed or highlighted in the original data available on StatBank and data on town population was provided for all towns for 2011 and 2016.

It has now become apparent that the 2011 data that was originally provided related to the old boundaries and so the 2011 population was not directly comparable to that in 2016. This has been amended (Tables E2014 and E2016 amended on 9.06.17) and different tables are now provided in StatBank.  The 2011 data is no longer provided for the towns which have had boundary changes.  This will prevent inaccurate comparisons and also means that they can now be identified by users.

The change means that people downloading the data now will not make a direct comparison with 2011 for those towns, but for many of us who looked at the data just after its release the comparisons had already been made, commented on or published.

The number of boundary changes was very significant. In the table of 200 towns with population of more than 1,500, 71 had boundary changes.  Of the 41 towns in the Western Region with population of more than 1,500, 15 towns had had boundary changes making comparison with 2011 population data invalid.  The most notable of these is Ballina for which original published data showed a decline of 915 people (-8.25%).  This led to discussion and investigation by regional newspapers[2].

All of the five towns[3] in the Western Region with a population of more than 10,000 have been affected by boundary changes (each of these showed falls in population ranging from  -8.25% to -0.33%).  The extent to which the boundary change is responsible for the population change is unclear.  The CSO does note that in many cases the physical area of the town was reduced:

Census towns which previously combined legal towns and their environs have been newly defined using the standard census town criteria (with the 100 metres proximity rule). For some towns the impact of this has been to lose area and population, compared with previous computations.[4]

Among the seven towns[5] in the Western Region with population between 5,000 and 10,000 six had had boundary changes (the exception being Roscommon).  The population change in these towns, compared to the 2011 figure based on the old boundaries, varied from -0.79% (Buncrana) to +9.76% (Loughrea).  It is hard to assess the extent to which the population change between 2016 and 2011 is reflective of boundary changes or other factors.

So we are now in the situation where we know which towns have had boundaries changes (unlike the situation when Profile 2 was initially released), but we don’t know the extent of the boundary changes and how much they influenced the towns’ Census populations.

It would be very useful if the CSO could provide revised 2011 figures for those towns with boundary changes.  This would allow for direct comparison with 2011 and show clearly whether a town’s population grew or declined.  It would also provide clarity about the effect of the boundary change on the town population.

When the Small Area Statistics (SAPS) are published (20 July 2017) there will be greater detail on local population changes and it may be possible to be clear about where towns have grown and declined and the magnitude of the actual population changes (as compared to those population changes resulting from boundary changes).

Conclusion

It is important that where there are significant alterations to boundaries used or where methods change between Censuses they are very clearly highlighted in any tables published, especially when they relate to headline figures such as population change or population density.  This would mean that a user would not be led to assume that, because the data has been published alongside older data by the Central Statistics Office, it is comparable.

This might seem to be an issue only of concern to those who enjoy analysing data.  It is not.  Changes to town populations can have very significant implications for resource allocations both at a Local Authority level, regionally and nationally.

Would the NPF be more likely to focus on the development of a town that appears to be thriving and showing population growth or one which seems to have stagnated or declined?

Similarly those looking to invest in services and infrastructure, either public (e.g. broadband, education or healthcare) or private (e.g. cinemas, leisure), may think twice if a town seems to be in decline.

Indicators other than population change are used in decision making, but population is still one of the most important.  It is therefore essential that we have good reliable data, for which any changes in methods or boundaries have been very clearly highlighted[6]….

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] StatBank is one of the CSO’s databases and its main data dissemination service.

[2] See Mayo News,  16 May 2017, http://www.mayonews.ie/news/30029-cso-confirm-ballina-s-population-and-increased-not-deceased and also Western People, 29 May 2016, ‘Misleading Census data’

[3] Ennis, Letterkenny, Sligo, Castlebar and Ballina.

[4] In addition 26 new census towns were created for the 2016 Census.

[5] Shannon, Tuam, Buncrana, Ballinasloe, Westport, Roscommon and Loughrea.

[6] …and not just in the small print or footnote which may fall off the bottom of a page…..

Census 2016: Rurality, Population Density and the Urban Population of the Western Region

Detailed population figures from the Census of Population were published last week in Profile 2 – Population Distribution and Movements  which looked at population density, rural and urban populations and the population in towns.

Rural and Urban Population

In Ireland as a whole just over a third (37%) of the population live in rural areas (that is outside towns of 1,500).  In contrast, in the Western Region shows the opposite pattern and 65% live in rural areas (Figure 1).  This is a marginal decline on 2011 (when it was 66%).

The rural population of the seven counties varies from almost 90% in Leitrim (where there is only one ‘urban centre- over 1,500) to 54% in Galway which of course includes the largest settlement.  After Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and Mayo are the most rural of the Western Region counties.  Sligo and Clare, along with Galway are slightly less rural.  It should be noted that Galway county (i.e. excluding the city) is one of the most rural with almost 78% of the population living in rural areas.

Figure 1: Percentage of Population living in rural areas in the Western Region and State.

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2008: Population Percentage in the Aggregate Town Areas and Aggregate Rural Areas

 

Each county, and the Western Region itself (64.7%), has a significantly higher proportion of people living in rural areas than for the State as a whole (37%).

Population Density

Density is another key indicator of rurality and it certainly is important in considering the provision of services.  In Ireland as a whole the population density is 70 people per square kilometre and in the more rural Western Region it is almost 32 people per km2 .  Again there is considerable variation by county and as can be seen in Figure 2 below, this largely mirrors the rurality of each of the seven counties.

Figure 2: Population Density in the Western Region and State (persons per sq km)

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2013: Population Density and Area Size 2011 to 2016

 

Galway has the highest population density (42 people per square km) and Leitrim has the lowest with just over 20 people per square kilometre.

Population in Towns

The population of towns across is also included in this Profile and looking at towns across the region the weak urban structure of the region is evident.

Galway is the significant city, with a population of 79,934 in 2016.  Only five towns have a population of more than 10,000 people (Table 1), and all of these had population declines between 2011 and 2016 though, with the exception of Ballina these were small.  Ennis, the largest settlement after Galway is less than a third of its size (25,276 people), and it had a slight population decline (-0.3%) while Letterkenny (19,274) and Sligo (19,199) also had population decreases (1.6% and 1.3%).  The population of Castlebar (12,068) fell by 2% but that in Ballina (10,171) fell by a more significant 8.3%.

Table 1: Population of Towns larger than 10,000 in the Western Region

2011 – Population (Number) 2016 – Population (Number) Actual change since previous census (Number) Percentage change since previous census (%)
Galway City and Suburbs, Galway 76,778 79,934 3,156 4.1
Ennis*, Clare 25,360 25,276 84 -0.3
Letterkenny*, Donegal 19,588 19,274 314 -1.6
Sligo*, Sligo 19,452 19,199 253 -1.3
Castlebar*, Mayo 12,318 12,068 250 -2
Ballina*, Mayo 11,086 10,171 915 -8.3
*Boundaries used for these Census towns have been changed since 2011 so the populations between 2011 and 2016 are not directly comparable.  See this post for more discussion.

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2016: Population and Actual and Percentage Change 2011 to 2016 by Alphabetical List of Towns

 

There are a further seven towns with a population of more than 5,000 (Table 2) giving a total of 13 towns including Galway in that size category (5,000-9,999) in the Western Region.  All of the towns in this category grew with the exception of Buncrana (-0.8%) and Ballinasloe which had no change.  The largest growth was in Loughrea (9.8%) which, along with Tuam, serves as a residential location for people working in Galway.

Table 2: Population of Towns 5,000-9,999 in the Western Region

2011 – Population (Number) 2016 – Population (Number) Actual change since previous census (Number) Percentage change since previous census (%)
Shannon*, Clare             9,673            9,729 56 0.6
Tuam*, Galway             8,242            8,767 525 6.4
Buncrana*, Donegal             6,839            6,785 – 54 -0.8
Ballinasloe*, Galway             6,659           6,662     3 0
Westport*, Mayo             6,063            6,198   135 2.2
Roscommon, Roscommon             5,693            5,876  183 3.2
Loughrea*, Galway             5,062            5,556 494 9.8
*Boundaries used for these Census towns have been changed since 2011 so the populations between 2011 and 2016 are not directly comparable.  See this post for more discussion.

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2016: Population and Actual and Percentage Change 2011 to 2016 by Alphabetical List of Towns

 

There are a further 27 towns in the Western Region with a population of more than 1,500 and which are therefore categorised as urban.  Athenry (12.5%), Gort (13.2%), Tubbercurry (13.7%) and Collooney (17.6%) showed the strongest growth, while Clifden showed a very significant population decline (-22.3%) partially associated with the closure of a Direct Provision Accommodation Centre in 2012.

Table 3 below shows the urban structure of the region.  165,922 people (58% of the region’s urban population of 283,873) live in towns of more than 10,000, and a further 49,573 people (17%) in towns of more than 5,000.  A significant population lives in the smallest towns 68,378 (24%)

Table 3: Urban Structure of the Western Region

2011 2016 Actual change (2011-2016) Percentage change (2011-2016)
Population of towns greater than 10,000 164,582 165,922 1,340 0.8%
Population of towns 5,000- 9,999 48,231 49,573 1,342 2.8%
Population of towns 1,500-4,999 66,647 68,378 1,731 2.6%
Total Population of towns greater than 1,500 279,460 283,873 4,413 1.6%

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2016: Population and Actual and Percentage Change 2011 to 2016 by Alphabetical List of Towns

 

While these urban populations are significant in the context of the region, it should be remembered that more than half a million people (535,953) are living in rural areas (in small settlements and open countryside) in the Region.  The CSO has provides population details of a further 201 settlements in the Region, the smallest of these is Malin (population 92) and 103,936 people live in these.  A total of 440,888 (53%) therefore live in more open countryside (and in even smaller settlements).

Conclusion

It is important to remember that the Western Region is a very rural region, and while higher level services (for example in health and education) should be provided in the larger urban settlements, the needs of those living in more rural, dispersed populations and the best means of providing services and access to services and employment in these areas must be considered.

For some more detail on town populations in each Western Region county see the WDC County Profiles.

Helen McHenry