North West suffering in "two-tier" Ireland

A new "Ireland 2040" report voices concerns about Dublin's dominance...

North West suffering in "two-tier" Ireland

Protestors outside Leinster House in Dublin against the perceived threat to rural Garda stations with closures by the Government as part of budgetery measures. Picture by Julien Behal PA Archive/PA Images

Housing Minister Simon Coveney has said that the Government is "determined to rebalance" a situation where half of all our economic activity is generated in Dublin, as he launches a new "Ireland 2040" report with Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Maynooth today.

This compares unfavourably to the situation across the Irish Sea, where London is responsible for just 32% of economic activity.

"We have seen a two-tier development in Ireland," said Coveney, "whereby population growth has been driven on the eastern side of the country because of the magnetism of Dublin as a capital city that's very dominant in the Irish economy".

Dublin's reach now extends to 12 counties, but the communities in these have been labelled as mere commuter towns with no sense of identity and a paucity of services in some cases.

The north-west of the country has been the most badly affected. The census for 2006-11 showed a population increase in all counties, bar Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim and Monaghan, highlighting how people are leaving these regions.

The report will give way to a "long consultation process with all of the different stakeholders", according to Coveney, as the Government tries to implement a plan for more balanced regional development with a focus on urban areas – essentially creating more cities.

He stressed that this was "very different" to former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy's ill-fated decentralisation plan, slamming it as a "disaster" and "essentially a political trick to try and be popular... try to drive public sector jobs into towns".

Instead, the new report "puts the facts down in a very stark way" to spark discussion and ultimately result in a long-term vision rather than five-year local plans. He has called it the most ambitious project he has been involved with during his career to date. 

Those facts?

If the current situation continues, three-quarters of population growth and new homes will be built in Dublin's hinterland by 2040.

  • By 2040, the Republic's population will have climbed to at least 5.6 million.
  • The "absolute minimum" number of houses that need to be built by then is 500,000.
  • With the workforce swelling 25% to 2.5m there will be many more commuters to deal with.
  • There will be also be strain on education, with 400,000 post-primary pupils, the highest in Irish history.

To assess what should be done, the report looked at settlement patterns in Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Scotland - countries with similar populations. 

While Ireland has five cities with populations above 50,000, and 25 towns with populations above 15,000, other nations are far better at clustering their people to maximise the efficiency of services.

As Irish Independent environment editor Paul Melia told The Pat Kenny Show:

"While it doesn't mean that people are left behind, it just basically means that you have these services scattered across the regions so that you can allow the country to grow on a balanced basis."

The report does not go into detail on the actions that should be taken, or where, though there are clues.

Aside from the much-discussed problems in the North West, it is suggested that a counterpoint to Dublin is needed.

This could be the Cork-Limerick-Galway corridor, which would require the proposed M20 motorway to connect Limerick to Cork. While authorities are relooking at it in terms of planning, it would take close to a decade before it was operational.

This Atlantic-facing conurbation could boast air, sea and motorway connectivity, as well as a large, well-educated population to attract businesses. 

The Government is now looking for the public to give their input. You can make your view known by March 16th, by mailing npf@housing.gov.ie or going to ireland2040.ie