Smart Economy Jobs in Irish Regions

Guest Post by Dr Chris van Egeraat of the Geography Department at NUI Maynooth and Chariman of the Regional Studies Association Irish Branch.

Enterprise Ireland announced that 445 jobs will be created in 24 new high potential start-up companies which have been supported by government through Enterprise Ireland in the second quarter of 2011. The announcement follows on the 310 new jobs announced earlier this year as part of the first quarter results of Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start Ups programme.

Many of the companies involved operate in the sectors that the Government has identified as part of the Smart Economy strategy, including biotechnology, life sciences, ICT and financial services. This is good news for Ireland but from a regional development perspective it is important to consider the extent to which different regions benefit from these developments.

Interestingly the press release includes a breakdown of number of projects and related jobs by location. Unfortunately, the information pertains to 16 of the 24 investments only, and the press office was not in a position to provide details of the other eight investments because of the commercially sensitive nature. The data allows us to between the Greater Dublin Area (including Kildare and Wicklow), the rest of the South and East (S&E) Region and the Border-Midlands-West (BMW) Region.

The results are striking. Three quarters of the new projects are located in the Greater Dublin Area and a further 12 per cent in the rest of the S&E region. Only 12% of the projects are located in the traditionally lagging BMW region. The results in terms of jobs are similar with merely 12% of the jobs located in the BMW region.

The data for the first quarter of 2011, suggests that this is not a once-off result. In the first quarter the GDA accounted for nearly 70 per cent of the new projects, while the rest of the S&E region accounted for a further 16%. With 15% of the new projects, the BMW region again performed poorly. The press release for the first quarter did not provide complete data for jobs.

To put these figures into perspective one can compare these with the geography of employment in all Irish-owned agency-assisted companies by regions in 2010 using figures from the Forfas annual employment survey. Currently the Dublin region only accounts for 31 per cent of jobs in indigenous assisted companies with the rest of the SE accounting for 41 per cent. The BMW region still accounted for 28% of the jobs in 2010.

Clearly, there are some limitations to the new data on the geography of recent project and job announcements, not at least the fact that we don’t have access to the complete dataset. However, if the results do represent a real trend, this will have important implications for the economic development potential of Irish regions and raises questions about the role that different regions can play in the Smart Economy as promoted by the Irish Government.

The regional trends outlined above highlight the timeliness and relevance of the upcoming Irish Regions in the Smart Economy Conference, organised by the Regional Studies Association at NUI Maynooth. For further details:


By Edgar Morgenroth

Professor of Economics at Dublin City University Business School

57 replies on “Smart Economy Jobs in Irish Regions”

The sad fact is that many of these “Smart Economy” companies are not flexible in terms of the areas they can work in. They’re dependent on infrastructure being already in place, rather than having infrastructure built around them.

I can’t see how you can marry continued development of these businesses with regional development in the BMW region. This isn’t going to be solved with the old strategy of building a business park and a dual-carriageway.

In light of this analysis it would seem the really smart thing would be to focus on those businesses who have created jobs in the BMW region in the past and help them grow be they smart economy companies or the average type. Despite all the issues surrounding his past actions the Govt decision through Anglo to remove Sean Quinn from his previous position and allow a lame duck management team in to continue to run his companies looks like another daft decision by a State entity.

One of the inevitable economic shifts we delayed during the housing boom was the growth of our rate of urbanisation, which remains relatively low. Recent rural growth probably has more to do with the housing boom than Govt policy, and that over the next number of years we will see a very sizable shift of people and businesses to our urban centres. This is not East vs West (the West has two of our three largest cities after all), but rather the midlands versus the coasts.

I don’t think this is a question of good or bad or can be influenced decisively by Government policy. I think its a compelling force of modern society which we have to face up to and manage. In particular, we only have a 60% urban population now, in line with other late developers such as Greece, Portugal or Italy. The profile of some of our Northern European neighbours gives a useful barometer of where we are heading: 90% of the UK population is urban, 84% in Sweden, while in the agricultural powerhouse of Denmark it is 85%. To reach this Danish level of urbanisation would see 1m Irish people moving out of rural areas and into urban centres.

The side of debate that is usually focussed on in the regional debate is the rural areas, and how to hold back the pace of urbanisation. This is ok (if you believe it can be done, and want it to be done), though there remains a huge problem with how we manage and govern our cities. Dublin’s failings are not because at 1.5m we have reached the limits of how many people cities can accommodate, but because policy and governance around our cities has been so poor. A directly elected Dublin mayor, with real powers, would offer at least some hope of this being changed.

@Ronnie – “I think its a compelling force of modern society which we have to face up to and manage.” +1 You are spot on and indeed that is a point I have made for some time. This is well supported by mabny pieces of analysis. The boom years masked this in Ireland but it was happening anyway. The employment that was created in more rural areas was of a certain type, partricularly non-internatinally traded activities e.g. public sector, construction etc. The higher value added sectors tended to concentrate in urban areas. Obviously there are exceptions but some analysis I did some years ago showed that an urban preference was statistically significant for many sectors see:

All of this has important policy implications, as Chris highlights, particularly in a context where lots of people moved to or stayed in more rural areas where future jobs growth is likely to be slower than in urban areas…..

Companies locate where they can find specialist staff. Specialist staff locate where they can find jobs. This means Dublin.

To achieve balanced regional development you would need to develop cities in the regions to rival Dublin. Instead government policy has been to promote rural isolated living and encourage long distance car commuting from rural homestead to city jobs.

What is the rural economy?

There are rural jobs in agriculture, food processing, forestry and tourism and of course government. Also you get the service and distribution jobs to support these workers. And that’s it really. The odd telecommuting financier, journalist or computer programmer in his converted barn, wife in a government job.

During the property bubble, there was a windfall of rural jobs constructing unwanted housing as part of real estate arbitrage ventures. This game is now up. People who chose the rural telecommuting lifestyle are facing huge energy costs that are structurally related to their distance from other humans and their oversized dwellings. Their property may never be worth even its build cost.

@ Dave, Dublin

“The sad fact is that many of these “Smart Economy” companies are not flexible…. dependent on infrastructure being in place rather than having infrastructure built around them.

I welcome Edgar initiating this discussion but you, Dave, are absolutely right that we are mixing Apples (sic) with turnips here if we set out to ( seriously, finally!) discuss enterprise strategy, jobs ( I suppose 755 new jobs is a start!) regional development, flight from the land and urbanisation all at the same time.

I would have thought/hoped that the “Smart Economy” sloganeering/quasi-strategy had been so hyped, hollowed out and associated with past political and business failure that it had been dropped definitively.

The old marketing concept that successful businesses ( and the jobs they “create”) are based and built on what the market(s) will bear rather than hoping that contrived “solutions” to demographic, production or infrastructural challenges will sell globally is surely accepted now, even in Ireland.

(To be fair, Edgar seems to accept this too).

It is valid, and hardly rocket science, that Ireland ( Enterprise Ireland!) might prioritise a few areas; biotech, life sciences, ICT, financial services( – not a mention of food, our global strategic USP? – or is food only turnips, not high tech, and not “Smart”?) but this is only a very first baby step in the development of a real enterprise strategy.

Linking it at the outset to jobs ( before we know if the “industrial” strategy has been validated or will “fly”) and certainly to regional development smacks of playing to the gallery and reeks of potential clientelism.

Still, it’s a start, I suppose.

I would add public services rationalisation to Leon Nova’s idenitification as energy costs as a long run penalty against rural living.

The provision of public services in dispersed rural areas is more expensive than in cities so it is unsurprising that it became a target (implicitly) for An Bord Snip nua. Small hospitals and small international airports are a high profile form of this, and the education system is another.

There are 660 schools in Ireland with fewer than 50 pupils, and 144 with less than 20 students. These 144 would not make viable class rooms where I live (Fingal), let alone viable schools. People talk about teacher size vs teacher pay being the only options open to the Government in making savings, hence larger class sizes. However the distribution of teachers is a third aspect which doubtless the Department of Education is also considering, which will impact on many small rural schools.

@Richard – you know my approach. I don’t like the label ‘smart economy’ or ‘smart job’ – are there any stupid jobs and should we eliminate these? Surely, given the large number of people looking for a job any new job is welcome. However, in so far as governments (not just the Irish one) persist with the label we are sort of stuck with it.

It is not the government’s job to create jobs (we know that governments are no terribly good at this and of course it typically costs a lot) but it is its job to ensure that the appropriate environment is available for businesses to create jobs. Part of this is to deal with market failures which in some (but by no means all) cases can only be dealt with by subsidies etc. Another function of government is to deal with distributional issues of which regional development is one. This needs to be reflected in the approach to industrial strategy. I do think that the key to getting it right, and this is something we did get right in the past with respect to FDI, is to listen to what businesses need and sift through this carefully to identify what government can realistically provide.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the degree to which there is redistribution – I have tried to address some of this in a paper I published last year, but there are aspects that I could not cover (e.g. energy, telecoms, and of course water where there is a resource transfer from rural areas to urban areas).

With regard to regional job creation my experience of going around the country is quite interesting. There are places (and people) that moan that the government is not bringing jobs to them and there are those wondering what they can do to get investment/jobs into their areas – the latter tend to be a lot more successful!

Smart economy ? – give me a break.
Its more then just the FDI industry.

For example the modern tourist industry will probably now orbit around high net worth individuals with relatively sophisticated tastes.
It is possible to imagine such groups would holiday in pre 1970s rural Ireland but it highly unlikely that the sub rural / urban landscape would be appealing.
Walking in Killarney national park this winter & noticed a once beautiful lowland nature trail covered in rock chip – destroying the entire visual experience – how the hell did this action make this a better nature trail ?

And for what ? – supposedly to improve access I guess , but maybe because there was some excess material lying around.
There is NO SOPHISTCATION in this country , there is NO CONCEPT OF LANDSCAPE both in a holistic visual / geo-economic & a general commonsense energy input / output perspective.
When even the tiny national parks here do not know what they are doing then what hope is there for the bulk of the landscape.
We have lost generations of high net worth tourists to Scotland & other destinations.
Many of these people come to Scotland when young and return to spend money when older……. generations generations of money have been lost.

Not all rich tourists want to waste a good walk playing a stupid game on the once beautiful & wild Old head of Kinsale.
Our prostitution to orcish elements of the fast money / dollar bubble rich set has destroyed our self respect & our landscape – I fear the phenomena is interlinked & terminal.
These dollar pigs are going down – we need to retain & improve our landscape for when the real money asserts itself again.

“BMW region”?

Dublin 4 had copyright on that a while ago. Have they moved on because BMWs are as common as muck in the country these days?

Didn’t Cowan’s constituence get an extra planning authority – that sort of thing was always the point of non- Dublin constituencies having ministers etc.

I appreciate economists don’t love tags such as ‘Smart Economy’. However read the biograph of many managers of very large private sector organisations (of 10,000+ employees) and you’ll find the importance of internal communications stressed over an over again, and that culture shifting terminology such as ‘Smart Economy’ are central to this communication. Jack Welch during his GE days would be a case in point.

Of course a lot of self serving waffle can be hidden by terms such as these, and their lack of precision can be infuriating for people trained as economists. However we shouldn’t write them off as ways of changing the way people think about the needs and challenges of modern industry.

from Wikipedia:

‘The 1968 Buchanan Report……..investigated and recommended on the social and economic sustainability of industry in the regions. The reports recommended a limited number of development centres throughout Ireland, which would have a minimum self-sustaining size. This became quite controversial as there were fewer than a dozen of such places recommended. In the end local politics and patronage won out and the report was largely dropped with industry being ineffectively dispersed as local need arose.’

Buchanan identified 9 centres (Dublin, Cork, Limerick/Shannon, Waterford, Galway, Sligo, Dundalk, Drogheda and Athlone). The IDA Regional Industrial Plans 1973-1977 followed soon after, and identified 177 towns by name (177: this is not a misprint) as targets for industrial development. Advance factories were constructed in, for example, Cahirciveen, and actual factories on the Aran Islands.

Not smart.

@The Dork of Cork – you touched on an interesting point i.e the peculiar attitude to our environment and the inconsistency of that with the aim of bringing in more tourists.

@grumpy – the Border, Midlands and Western (BMW) region was the governments attempt to keep getting EU Structural Funds and other ‘benefits’ into the last decade (originally Kerry was also to be part of this but the EU insisted on contiguous countries/regions instead of a mix and match approach). The other (NUTS II) region in Ireland is called the Southern and Eastern region. I tried to keep with the car theme and called it the Southern, Eastern And Dublin (SEAD) region but that never caught on (I know it should be SEAT).

Sorry, following on from my post above on ‘smart economy’ i remember that Jack Welch’s phrase was ‘Boundarylessness’ which he came up with while on holidays,lying in the sun. FranklyI’d prefer to have ‘Smart Economy’ tattooed on my arm than hear ‘Boundarylessness’ said more than a dozen time.

@Colm – “not smart” indeed. That is my point – businesses will chose where they are going to locate on the basis of what makes profits for them – for many industries and particularly those that are knowledge intensive the preference is for a large urban location. I doubt there were any market failures in building factories in Ireland in those days – so why should the government/IDA get involved in this? We know the answere to that question!

What the IDA did get right is to develop relationships with companies e.g. Intel, before they came here and responded to actual or perceived shortcomings in Ireland in so far as they could.

What’s smart about people commuting to offices in urban centres (whether they live in the urban centre or sub-urban)? It is not the long-distance commute that is wasteful, but the commute altogether – mass-transit systems, office space, parking, other facilities around the offices.

How would current urban centres cope with a mass influx? What do we define as urban centres in Ireland?

@hoganmahew -“How would current urban centres cope with a mass influx?” – will there be a mass influx if people are stuck with negative equity?

“What do we define as urban centres in Ireland?” – there is a legal definition of boundaries, and the CSO applies a spacific minimum size (population of 1500+). Of course many of what are referred to as ‘urban centres’ are by international standards just villages.

There seems to be strong benefits from physical proximity. There have been a number of studies that have shown that high density areas have higher productivity, that there are significant returns to diversity (i.e. the presence of many different businesses and sectors) and general scale economies.

The big issue is this, if firms want to locate in large urban centres (it is fair to assume they know what is best for them) then by not having only few large urban centres are we going to have less jobs growth? Put in another way the evidence suggest that there are significant costs to the kind of settlement patterns we have perpetuated (during the bubble).

@hoganmahew – One idea would be to plan for polycentric urban development at a regional level as promoted by the European Spatial Development Perspective. So, rather than allowing for the continuous and contiguous expansion of Dublin we could try and plan for a multi-nodal city. This would involve a number of smaller centres around Dublin, separated from Dublin by green zones, and providing all urban functions such as housing, recreation, shopping and jobs (including smart economy jobs). This goes beyond the Edge City concept of Garreau (1991). For starters, it would require a functioning strategic planning system, new regional governance structures and a redrawing of administrative boundaries.

@Chris van Egeraat
“it would require a functioning strategic planning system, new regional governance structures and a redrawing of administrative boundaries.”

“Of course many of what are referred to as ‘urban centres’ are by international standards just villages.”
It’s a serious problem, isn’t it? We are really not talking about rural dwellers (who are predominantly in rural occupations) as the problem. We are talking about small urban being redundant.


I’ll think you’ll find that in every large urban centre property prices tend to spike the closer one gets to the city centre and the closer one gets to train/tram/underground lines. This goes a long way to explain what hogan above is getting at – the time spent commuting is by and large a waste of time and people will pay to avoid it.

Commuting costs in terms of stress/health additional childcare etc needs to be factored into the overall urbanisation costs. Easier I would have thought to compel industry to locate in rural settings where these hidden costs can be avoided altogether as these are not necessarily costs on industry but on the individual.

I expect a JtO post on why Irish population growth rates are well ahead of European levels precisely because we have avoided the excessive urbanisation that has been witnessed elsewhere.

Urbanisation may be a compelling force in modern society but not one in which the Irish people necessarily want to experience, if it can be avoided. It’s not always about economic optimisation.

@hoganmahew – “We are really not talking about rural dwellers (who are predominantly in rural occupations) as the problem. We are talking about small urban being redundant.” – No, you will find that the majority of rural dwellers don’t work in rural occupations (by the way I am a rural dweller who used to work in a rural occupation). For 2006 just 107 of the 3440 electoral districts (I had to amalgamate a few) had a majority (more than 50%) of jobs in agricultrure, forestry and fishing. In other words the issue is more about rural, village and small town Ireland. Also I would not put it in those terms i.e. people being a problem. It is more that the choices we have made have consequences – are we happy with those?

There was a hope promoted from 1995 onwards that people could telecommute. Journalists wrote articles recounting their own successful experience. Some software workers who had gained the trust of their employers or who were operating as sole traders to trusted clients, coudl telecommute and promoted this vision online where of course they were disproportionately represented.

In fact telecommuting is not the norm in 2011 even for high tech and media companies and even where there is no technical impediment. It turns out that the highest bandwidth communication between workers takes place when they are in the same room sharing a whiteboard. Google places its employees in expensive city centre buildings together rather than allowing them to work from their attics.

There is only one city in Ireland and commuting into it is tolerable these days now that there is Luas, DART, bus and bike lanes. If additional housing is needed in future in Dublin, that can now be done without generating car traffic. There is plenty of land along both Luas lines. There is also plenty of room for housing along the kildare line and near Clongriffin.

Do people from Cork not resent the fact that their government has prevented them from becoming more than just a city in name through short sighted pork barrelling?

@Ronnie O’Toole
@Colm McCarthy

I take your point about “being stuck with “Smart Economy” and it’s not as bad as my gut ( negative ) reaction makes it out to be but, as borne out by Colm’s citation of “177 towns” under the 1973-77 IDA plans and actual factories on the Aran islands, my main issue is that our slogans since the early Whitaker successes ( remember “The Irish Mind”!) have tended to substitute for real stategies and have seldom meant anything coherent to the real markets they should have been addressed to.

In fact, they’ve more often been sound bites for Irish politicians and used mainly to channel patronage to the constituencies.

In any event, I’d contend that both the FDI and export landscapes have changed so much that the quasi-strategies behind these slogans are in need of tranformative re-invention.

Although I’ve seen attempts at listings of Ireland’s economic “attributes” over the years, I’ve not seen a real, hard-nosed, up-to- the-minute, market-validated listing that could be used as a starting point for a NON-POLITICAL strategic review/audit. On which a new strategy could be based.

This sort of rigorous, creative but grounded process IS possible and I know (international) unbiased people who could do it.

It’s painful, and requires real courage. Do we have the guts for it? I’d suggest we have no choice.

@Yields or Bust – rent gradients are a well studied phenomenon that reflect the underlying benefit of different locations i.e. they support entirely what I am talking about.

“Easier I would have thought to compel industry to locate in rural settings where these hidden costs can be avoided altogether as these are not necessarily costs on industry but on the individual.” – maybe I have not been very clear, but I doubt it. Industry (employers) will choose to locate on the basis of their needs that are ultimately summed up by profit and not by direction of the government. They are chosing urban setting and particularly large urban setting of which we have few. The analysis by Chris shows this and lots of other analysis including some by myself also shows this.

Now you want to compel firms to go to locations which they would not chose. What are they going to do? They will chose another country to locate in. One might think that indigenous firms might start and stay in rural locations because that is where their founder has roots. However, the evidence outlined by Chris above suggests that indigenous firm start ups also have a preference for urban locations.

And yet a apartment complex half way between UCC & CUH is empty……………….
The tax structure needs to change in Ireland – particullary on personel transport – car tax needs to rise dramatically.
Not on water -the RTE pravda piece in the early summer about a water shortage was surreal.

Its better you use goverment subsidies to rebuild a Peat station in Cahersiveen rather then give out the dole – the peat cutting culture is still present.
Also a state subsidised summer passenger ferry from Cahersiveen to Dingle could work.
This is not Calmac we are talking about – just the cost of keeping a few guys off the dole.
Nodal links need subsidies to overcome the linear developments that have become our ball & chain.

@Richard – I agree.
Step one – where do we want to go – “the best small country to do business in”;
Step two – where are we and what does it take to where we want to go;
Step three – what are we going to do to get there;
Step four – start doing it and stop just talking about it!
Step five – go back to step two……

@Leon Nova
People in Cork resent everything to do with the Pale.

We had the only double track narrow gauge railway in the country at one stage – much of this empty line is still intact and has a population density higher then the LUAS green line with a very significant port / industrial areas , satellite towns & coastal amenities.,_Blackrock_and_Passage_Railway

Yet we have been burdened with dollar centric economists with no concept of economic geography or even have a basic spatial awareness which is why we continue to bump into economic brick walls.
Some of whom even considered the DART line uneconomic !!
Yet remained very quiet as the greatest malinvestment bubble in the history of housing bubbles exploded.
The energy cost of these linear developments built along mini auto bans will be with us for centuries.

By rural I meant outside villages and small towns, i.e. not urban, by the CSO’s definition of urban. These are, to put it unkindly, sub-optimal urban spaces. In the past, they would have had a general store and a pub or few. In the bubble, they were in part transformed into city-centre villages, complete with apartments, bistros, megastores and other loss-making enterprises.

@hoganmahew – thanks for the clarification. Villages outside the catchments of the big urban centres grew slower than other rural areas (at least up to 2006 – we need to wait for the Census Area results before we can look at the 2006-2011 period but I am fairly confident that this trend has persisted).

This week is a very bad week to be trumpeting the advantages of large cities.

Few of the posters so far on this thread seem to have been watching the news in recent days. Maybe they are on holiday, and have no access to the tv or newspapers. So, let me be the first to inform them. Prepare for a shock.

London is in flames.

Birmingham is in flames.

Liverpool is in flames.

Manchester is in in flames.

According to The Independent (London) of 10 August: “Desmond Morris, the zoologist, blamed the riots on humans being forced to live in large cities, a cramping sort of inhuman pressure which we are not evolved to deal with. There are no riots in villages, he said.”

Who more appropriate than an expert in animal behaviour to comment on the animal-like behaviour of those who have been wrecking England’s cities this past week? It is true that Ireland is not as far down the road of family and social disintegration as England. However, many (including some now in government) are working hard to rectify this deficiency. If/when Ireland eventually brings its levels of family and social disintegration up to English levels, there are no prizes for guessing where the first riots will occur. They won’t be in Dungloe, Oughterard, Skibbereen, Clonmacnoise, Bohola, Leenane or Cahirciveen. Nope! I’m willing to bet my modest house that the first riots will be in Dublin.

That’s the rural v urban aspect of the issue. There is also the regional aspect, which, as Ronnie O’ Toole says, is not completely synonymous with the rural v urban aspect, as there are some smaller urban areas in the regions, but there is a great deal of overlap between the two aspects. One of the great successes of FF-led governments over the years has been the ending of the century-long depopulation of the rural regions of Ireland and, for the first time ever, seeing these regions achieve population growth as great as that of the Dublin region. This is true for all the rural regions, but I’ll give the figures for the one I know best, the so-called Border region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan, Louth). I have calculated the figures for the population of this region at every census since 1841 and the figures for its share of the total 26-County population.

1841 1,204,471 (18.449%)
1851 919,126 (17.981%)
1861 838,085 (19.038%)
1871 769,114 (18.976%)
1881 717,893 (18.550%)
1891 631,427 (18.204%)
1901 565,120 (17.540%)
1911 537,457 (17.118%)
1926 490,125 (16.070%)
1936 462,963 (15.596%)
1946 437,047 (14.790%)
1951 423,745 (14.313%)
1956 398,963 (13.766%)
1961 376,378 (13.355%)
1966 359,657 (12.471%)
1971 366,377 (12.302%)
1979 394,626 (11.716%)
1981 401,756 (11.667%)
1986 410,899 (11.605%)
1991 402,987 (11.430%)
1996 407,295 (11.232%)
2002 432,534 (11.042%)
2006 468,375 (11.047%)
2011 513,552 (11.210%)

As the figures show, the population of this region was decimated and fell by 70.1 per cent between 1841 and 1966. But, between 1966 and 2011 this depopulation was reversed and the population rose by 42.8 per cent. The repopulation of the region accelerated from 1996 on, with a 26.1 per cent increase between 1996 and 2011 alone, almost exactly the same as that for the total 26-County population. Despite its population growing from 1966 on, its share of the total 26-County population continued to fall until the 1990s, but in each of the last two census its share has risen, something that would have been considered a pipedream until recently. A similar pattern is exhibited in the other rural regions of Ireland; the West, Mid-West, South-West, South-East, Midlands. After a century or more of the worst depopulation in the developed world, all of these regions have seen tremendous population growth and development in recent decades, and since the 1990s all of them have more or less maintained their share of Ireland’s rapidly-growing population, and all of them have recorded population growth in that time that was more or less the same as that in the Dublin region, and much higher than that in the UK, in the sister-Celtic countries of Scotland and Wales, or indeed elsewhere in Europe. This is no mean feat, and certainly has not been replicated in the UK, where the population of the South-East region continues to grow much more rapidly than that of the northern regions. Nor has it been replicated in Scotland or Wales, where the populations of the larger urban areas continue to grow more rapidly, and the depopulation of the rural regions continues.

The only government party which showed any passion over the years about reversing the 125-long depopulation of the Border region and other rural regions was FF. Hence, the massive (and inexplicable to the Dublin 4 establishment) support which FF invariably attracted in these regions until the last election. FG were lukewarm, and Labour actively hostile. Over the years, virtually all initiatives that FF-led governments undertook to end the depopulation of the rural regions, particularily in the Border region and the West, was opposed by the Dublin 4 establishment, media and academic economists: initiatives such as Shannon airport, Knock airport, motorways beyond The Pale, rural housing, decentralisation. FF are to be congratulated in having persevered with all these initiatives, despite being vilified for doing so. The figures above prove the success of their policies in this regard.

However, now that FF are down and out, the outlook doesn’t look so bright for these regions, and we may well see a reversal to earlier trends. That is what this thread seems to be a harbinger of. Driven by the wretched Labour/Stickie party, which sees itself as being in a culture war with rural Ireland, the new regime will most likely end the emphasis that FF-led governments placed on ensuring that the rural regions of Ireland shared in the country’s economic and population growth. You only have to read the Dublin 4 media and commentators like Frank McDonald, or the outpourings of toff-organisations like An Taisce, to realise that there is a considerable body of Dublin 4 opinion that views with horror the sight of houses, roads, factories, offices, shopping-centres in rural Ireland, as they pass through it en route to their weekend coastal retreats, and which wants to end development in rural Ireland, and to force its population to migrate to tower blocks in Dublin, where they will be more efficient as production units, with the added bonus that, in the cramped urban conditions which Desmond Morris referred to, they will also be much more likely to become fodder for the various causes that the Dublin 4 establishment espouses.


Are you missing a few points, not necessarily the Points
Any of those riots were attended by local police, paramedics, fire brigades, presumably immediately on the scene.
They didnt take X extra time to arrive there?

We have dropped the ball on planning, especially in establishing decent family friendly high density urban living where they have real schools, hospitals, waste recycling, infrastructure, etc that reach real levels of competency due to the density.

Isnt this better than building one off houses on agricultural land, where for the most perverse reasons we have not exploited?

A short responce or none at all please!!

I think it doesn’t matter much whether parts of the public sector use content-free terms like smart economy, innovation corridors and the like. While it damages the signal-to-noise ratio of public discourse a bit, businesses will do what they see fit in Ireland.
The reason why EI HPSU’s are Dublin centric is partly because most of them are high-value services businesses:

1. where proximity to Irish and international services-consuming customers (DUB is the international airport with commuter services to London and beyond).
2. Key staff call the shots in the location of high value services companies. In most FDI manufacturing and commodity services companies there are no key staff so operations are located where appropriately-skilled people are cheapest. Hence the popularity of low cost provincial towns e.g. Swansea, Norwich, Swindon, Newcastle etc in locating similar business in the UK.
3. Govt in its various forms is located in Dublin and most significant spending decision-making occurs there. Given the need to prospect for work from the biggest client in the state, consultancies, legal firms, professional services firms etc would starve for work if located anywhere else.

It is good though to see the way Galway has grown to have a somewhat independent existence from Dublin related to its FDI medical device manufacturers – who operate in an evergreen sector and seem to be thriving in Galway. Hopefully the state will someday have the humility to decide to be relevant to this success story and find useful ways to build on what Irish engineers and technologists and their US corporate employers have achieved in medical devices rather than continuing to waste money and bandwidth trying to second-guess and influence the evolution of technology and business – an area in which it has little apparent competence.

“Villages outside the catchments of the big urban centres grew slower than other rural areas (at least up to 2006 – we need to wait for the Census Area results before we can look at the 2006-2011 period but I am fairly confident that this trend has persisted).”
I agree with you that the trend will have persisted, but those are villages that predominantly serve the rural economy, no? It is the unplanned (as in total planning as @Al says) in the catchment areas that are the problem. These are dependent on the urban centre, but are inefficient means of servicing it.

When I grew up in Swords in the 1970s, it started as an expanded village – first they built houses, then they built the church, then they built the school. There is still no hospital within an asses roar, AFAIK, for the sixth largest town in Ireland (according to Wikipedia from the last census). The same or similar arguments could be made about Tallaght, Chapelizod and any number of other former village exurbs.

In time, of course, all these places have reached critical mass where it makes sense to set up large businesses. Do we just wait for creeping urbanisation to do the job for us again?


1. where proximity to Irish and international services-consuming customers is greatest (DUB is the international airport with commuter services to London and beyond).

@ Hogan

To make a further point on this.
These powers of planning, concentrated in local authorities also reveal the impotence of local government. We are paying full price for work half planned out and half executed.
It might be easier to go to German examples of local planning and see what can be brought over in terms orf practise and in terms of government structure.

Many people believe that the days of large manufacturing-related FDI plants in the medical device sector being placed in Irish provincial towns are gone, due to high relative operating cost, scarcity of suitable skills and the fact that most of the big players are already here. Future FDI will be about larger US SME’s coming in instead.
Corp tax data down through the years (see here: ) strongly suggests that FDI growth was corp tax driven. If that is still the main factor in decisions by firms to move operations here and we wish to build indigenous RD&I and IP management capability to complement and hedge against our FIRE services sector, it makes sense to ensure we have the lowest cost of performing such work in the EU. Important factors might include:

1. maintaining low cost air links from DUB to EU cities
2. maintaining and enhancing the R&D tax credit scheme
3. ‘copperfastening’ our corp tax despite pressure from other jurisdictions to come into line with their rates
4. targeting UK-based technology consultancies to set up practices in Dublin
5. re-balancing the thrust of state science spending from pure science into technology and engineering (currently this represents only 8% of total state science spend according to ‘Engineering Research in Irish Economic Development’: )

Activity by EU firms in offshoring IP to Ireland where tax on royalties is low is already very significant. This can be legitimised and built on by adding outsourced RD&I services to complement IP management activity. If it took root the learning rate for Irish science and technology workers embedded in German, Belgian and French product development activity might rapidly rival the experience of Bangalore and become a successor to manufacturing and FIRE FDI investment.

Increased levels of ubanization requires increasing amounts of (relatively) inexpensive energy and food and water. And where please tell me, will we get all of these from? Oh, the Smart Economy will provide. Really?

Is someone tring to pull a really stupid joke or something? If we pesist with our current model of urbanization we will only create bigger urban areas with larger populations where only the privileged have paying jobs and the mass are poor and live in semi-attached tenements and rely on a meagre gov handout and extra food from an allotment – if they are lucky!

Please be real careful what you wish for with respect to increased levels of urbanization, you may get a pretty nasty suprise. Urbans are very costly (in energy terms) to operate effectively.

Jobless persons do not need to commute – except to the nearest Aldi or Lidl. Ever try getting you week’s shopping onto the the DART or LUAS. Good bloody luck with that one! A stout bicycle will support 60 times its own weight.

I just spent part of the day on the bog packing up the last sods. It has its charm – but … …

Brian Snr.

In 1841 the 1,204,471 people you talk about didn’t think of country life of living in a huge one off house with a massive garden with maybe 2 or 3 others and having at least 2 cars, in order to commute to your job somewhere.

If you want to populate that region back to that level I would guess you’d have to pour more concrete over more agricultural land.

What level of population would you like to see in that region? Why?

Also City living doesn’t have to mean living in a ‘tower block’. It is a fair point that apartment living isn’t popular (3% live in them I think) in Ireland and for good reason, Liam Carroll shoe boxes, no storage space, little/no facilities for children etc but it doesn’t mean it has to be/will be like this in the future.

In simple terms I don’t think energy prices in the future will be too forgiving to lifestyles that involve large commutes/energy-use or countries that destroy large lumps of agricultural land, just so everyone can have a personal garden to practice their golf swing in, instead of using a driving range or communal park/lawns.

Also, these lifestyles obviously have a higher cost to the state, more dispersion equals less consolidation. Which of course means a premium on everyone working in the country. Not to mention the hit on tax revenue from a poorer tourist industry and lower tax revenue from the lower productive work force living so far from each other.

@Brian Woods SNr
Unless we return to a agrarian living which I concede is possible essentially car less urban living is a much more efficient use of resourses and will cut our imports dramatically.
Anti public transport economists never seem to illustrate the most obvious flaw of private transport – this extremely expensive consumer capital good sleeps for most of the day & night – it just depreciates.

The Census figures for Cork city are predictable but still its a shocking decline – the greater Cork city area particullary down the harbour has experienced explosive growth with large satellite towns such as Douglas / Rochestown & Carrigaline in the 10 – 20 thousand category & Passage west /Monkstown both in the 5 thousand range with smaller villages such as Shanbally also
And all of this with a more or less intact old line over 2 thirds of the route !
The one disadvantage of the line is the coastal frontage on one side which limits the potential density of the population – but all that needs to be done is lay down the tracks – with most of the line not close to main roads.
Anyway the fact that the Line does not duplicate bus routes is a advantage.

I recommend people Google earth fly from Crosshaven to the city – the nodal density & distance justifies a Luas line.

@Tony Owens

You guys have ‘got it’ in one ( all right, two).

All CEOs in all co.s ( big and small), everywhere, in order to keep their jobs and assure their companys’ futures, know that they need to have the ANSWERS to the 5 questions you outlined in their HEADS, effectively communicated to their boards, teams, associates, shareholders and customers. Constantly, relentlessly, and up-dated regularly as reality changes around us.

This is so fundamental that truly “modern” companies would not even HIRE people who do not have a clear and well-argued set of answers to these questions.

Over more than 30 years of interviewing executives I ( and many, many leaders of companies) have judged the suitability of bright young people wanting to join their organisations on their answers to these questions. Which show whether they have prepared properly for interview and whether they would be valuable additions and potential contributors to and drivers of the organisation’s future.

In fact, the five questions can be reduced to three, non-jargon questions that would actually be a clear indicator of who should be the CEO/leader of the company/organisation:

1.) Where ( do you think) we are now? ( Answer in maximum five, clear, short, market-validated points.

2.) Where (do you think) we should be going? ( Answers ditto)

3.) HOW ( do you KNOW) we’ll get there? ( Answers ditto, but, most importantly: Why doe you believe that what you’re suggesting will WORK and what, market-validated evidence have you got to show me that will make me believe you?)

Tony’s points are elementary and fundamental, (but still brilliant) and actually contain HONEST statements of where FDI is “AT” now ( “large” FDI projects, particularly in Irish provinvial towns GONE), as well as containing the seeds of where we should be going AND how to get there – IP orientation, science, engineering and technology consultancy,- as well as embedding Irish talent in German, Belgian, French and UK product development activity and companies.)

I see NO thinking along these lines reflected in Irish “enterprise” strategy ( sic) and I believe this is because we have NOT invested enough committed, rigorous and politically-supported (but not interfered with) intellectual WORK into HONESTLY answering the FIRST question: “Where are we now?

We have been content with slogans, quasi-strategies and doling out patronage( for which we no longer have the economic, financial, or even “moral”/credibility resources.

Many months back I proposed a national task force, with significant qualified, experienced, objective international participation ( why not with a few”Irish” people from the “Diaspora”? – NOT another Farmleigh-) to fill this gaping hole.

We need to DO IT. NOW!

@ BW

Balls sir, pure balls.
How much extra in investment and maintenance is required in terms of power, comms, waste treatment to ‘go rural’?

It is probably too late in terms of planning, we made our choices and we will live with them.
It would be great to see a LA planning department advocate a “new” urbanity where real minimum sq m exists with services etc, etc. Imagine the councillors rushing in to put out that fire!

@Philip II
Chemist grads don’t really come any other way than PhD these days. Looks like a reasonable offer to me for a year or so until the basic training C****** are including has been integrated. Including rent allnce this is around 25-30k for someone who likely has no commercial work experience.

@Al: “Balls sir, pure balls.”

Indeed you may be correct. But a more thoughtful explanation of HOW (not why) I err would be appreciated. Anyway, my reference frame was for urbanization. Ruralization is a different situation entirely – though both do have commonalities.

“Can’t correct myself if I do not know how. Now can I”

I have formed the opinion that contemporary urban structures (vide Dublin) are unsustainable and radical restructurings are necessary. These restructurings would have to be accompanied by a significant economic Regression of about 30 years or so.

No restructuring is possible absent a sharp and irrevocable energy crisis, which would precipitate a political crisis and our Dear Leaders would be ‘forced’ to act – in the interest of the Irish people, you understand.

Don’t forget that explanation. Thanks.

Brian Snr.

@Brian Woods Snr.

We have a energy crisis because we have a banking crisis – we do not have a banking crisis because we have a energy crisis.

Much of the built environment will have to be written off – but that does not mean we should write off the entire urban environment.
If we somehow stop paying interest to the shadow banking sector and yet prevent another unsustainable consumption experiment we can direct the remaing surplus towards capital projects that can knit this crazy concrete legoland together.
I find it amazing really – here I was a Dork screaming about malinvestment for the last decade or more and yet now everyone wants to accept implosion now.
Things can be done – but the ultimate expression of the 100 year dollar bubble must be taxed out of existence.
If not a currency implosion will do it for us – but we will not have any capital to build for the future.

@John Foody

In 1841 the 1,204,471 people you talk about didn’t think of country life of living in a huge one off house with a massive garden with maybe 2 or 3 others and having at least 2 cars, in order to commute to your job somewhere.

If you want to populate that region back to that level I would guess you’d have to pour more concrete over more agricultural land.

What level of population would you like to see in that region? Why?

JTO again:

The Border region has 6 counties – population in 1841: 1,204,471

N. Ireland has 6 counties – population in 2011: 1,805,000 approx

If you ever venture across the border, you will see that there is plenty of room for all of them, despite north of the border having a population density about 2.5 times that of south of the border. If south of the border had the same population density as north of the border, it (the south alone) would have 10m population. Yet, north of the border, there are lots of large one-off houses, few appartment blocks, lots of small villages, and lots of wide open spaces. It is hardly what one would describe as congested. We should aim to get the population of the whole island up to 12m minimum, which equates to a population density roughly equal to what N. Ireland allready has now.

@ BW
Let me extract the balls and offer more definition.

You state increased urbanisation also increases costs of energy, food and water?
Increased in comparison to what? If there is a population growth one could accept that there is therefore an increase in costs.
But if you are saying that rural dispersion costs less in terms energy food and water than urban concentration I’d have to diagree.
All this assuming a fixed population for both examples.

I agree with you that the current mode of urbanisation is wrong, but that doesnt mean urbanisation is wrong. The current situation just shows the history of spineless government bowing to bulider, banker and bishop at both local and national levels.

Models could be developed to compare boths in terms of energy costs, waste costs, transpost costs in time/money to work, school, hospital, etc
Best practise codes could be developed in terms of dwelling size, distance to A,B,C.

Does this meet your request?

@Al: That will do nicely.

We got to where we are by some, not so mysterious processes, but getting beyond will require some fairly radical thinking, planning and action. This is where the problem lies: the existing political institutions and their modes of action. Changing these is a gargantuan task – we will need a really bad crisis. Trouble is, the change we get may prove quite unsuitable. But that’s politics for you.

I’m not a fan of ‘comparative studies’ – although they are quite popular, they tend to be somewhat contentions: “two legs bad, four legs good” sort of stuff. Pros and cons abound. Vincent Brown stuff!!!

The sort of thing that really bothers me is the hare-brained proposal to pump water from the Shannon basin to the Dublin area. There are many other examples of dopey contemporary thinking (Dork has a few gems).

I am all in favour of considering any idea, no matter how daft it may appear at first blush. Just ask the proposer to explain HOW they intend to proceed. It will be apparent in quick-time if the idea has merit or is silly. Hence any proposal which needs a lower energy input than an existing process should get careful scutiny. If there is any hint of – ‘gov needs to support this proposal’ – then you may well have a non-runner. This does not rule out any gov intervention. But filtering out the ‘pork’ is not an easy task.

The biggest political and social challenge in this decade will be to come up with practical processes to de-urbanize Dublin. Its urban footprint is too extensive to sustain. It has to shrink back to late 1950s area, but with a population of approx 1mil. The parallel ruralization process will have to concentrate on ‘viable clusters’. Think such thinking is possible? We have to have these twin processes moving before 2020 or so.

Brian Snr.

The ‘smart economy’ was a rebranding post Lehman and the end of the construction boom of a policy announced in 2006 to provide a budget of
over €8bn to achieve a goal that Ireland would be recognised as a ‘world class knowledge economy’ by 2013.

It isn’t going to happen and it was a joke at the outset, which I said at the time, against a then backdrop of shambolic broadband implementation.

The issues of location and regionalism would be relevant if this ‘strategy’ had a chance of success.

We ignored the experince of indigenous high tech companies which provided hope in the 1999s but by last year, Trintech, was almost the last of them to survive as an independent entity and it was acquired by a US private equity.

With the exception of Israel, no country has replicated the Silicon Valley model.

A commentator in The Irish Times last month wrote: “This ecosystem is being supported by significant Government commitment to venture capital through the €500 million Innovation Fund Ireland and a comprehensive national innovation strategy.”

Ecosystem indeed – – a popular piece of jargon in the official Irish spin lexicon.

Brian Cowen announced this fund in July 2010 but it appears to be in a place called Limbo; in Dec 2010, Cowen announced that a US VC would open a Dogspatch Lab in Dublin. He termed it a ‘coup.’ however the depleted national pensions fund was providing $50m of the cash.

The coup de théâtre in this story is that the default option for young Irish tech companies with potential, is to be acquired by a bigger US firm.

A taskforce is currently sitting to come up with suggestions on research priorities. Three previous such bodies since 2008, were buried in unmarked graves.


Well the public sector in Northern Ireland employs: 219,987 people (Dec 08)[1]
and here 369,100 (Sep O8)[2]

With a population of 1,805,000 to 4,500,000. One could argue that her way of life isn’t competing on a fair footing with the rest of the island, or indeed the world.

I agree with you that there’s benefits to population growth. I just think there’s more benfits to concentrated population growth i.e. in the cities. For every doubling of population in a city you get 15% increase in everything per capita. Wages, productivity, restaurnts, gas stations, crime, disease etc [3]

By the by I’ve been to the North plenty of times. I’m from the west of Ireland and if further population growth requires more of the same rubbish generic house builds, dodgy planning decisions and general scenic distruction I’ve witnessed around here over the past decade then I don’t want any of it.




@Brian Woods Snr.
Its not contemporary thinking Brian.
Why did they revive the Dublin & Kingstown railway ? , Harcourt street railway etc.
During the 19th century they were operating with lower energy densities – the railways created the historic nodal towns of today.
Now much of the houses built post 1950 became car dependent – towns without heavy trams or light rail stations lack a focus – they drift into a sub urban mess.
Cork once had a extensive light railway system – towns such as Passage west grew under this lower energy density transport system.
The Edwardian collapse , followed by the dollar / oils rise eliminated this form of transport.
It was not because it was a less effecient transport technology , it was the dollar / oil bubble which made this transport technology unviable against the higher productivity of oil.
If when the dollar wealth reserve collapses the true cost of car transport will become apparent.
You see people have become so immune to the waste in transport energy over the past 100 years that they cannot see the reality of the situation.
Their present envoirment forms their opinions.
We need to redirect our remaining resources to reconnecting these old town embryos with each other – using these new efficient mechanisms the wider hinterland of our cities can become net productive again rather then net negative.
I predict the roads built with EU money will become the Edwardian railways of the 21rst century Ireland – they will slowly empty & atrophy – the equivalent of using 100s of fossil fuel slaves in each engine block to transport 1,2 3 people will become unsustainable.

@ Michal Hennigan

“The issues of location and regionalism would be relevant if this ‘strategy’ had a chance of success

I fully support this statement. While their earlier or later iterations may have been elegant or inelegant, for home or “export” cosdumption they are slogans, NOT strategies.

I dont understand the dublin scenario you outline….
Smaller but taller would the way to go..
But is the infrastructure there for this?

‘Let me extract the balls and offer more definition’

On the subject of ‘balls’, empty slogans and what is now called ‘La Com. in France (as in “communication”, meaningless spin, style without substance, balderdash-speak) on a sunny Sunday morning here in the (just!) pre-apéritifs Southwest, here’s a quote from the CEO of Veolia, the very big “French” utility ( ‘world’s largest water company’) in an announcement accelerating a restructuring plan to restore profit by ending its operations in ‘at least 37 countries’ ( not a mis-print):

“We are a global company but we don’t need to be everywhere”.

So, Edgar, you now have a new definition of a ‘global company’!

By comparison, I suppose “Smart Economy” is a lame duck!

You are right – slogans are only as good as the substance behind them. This thread exposes some of the reasons why we might not have the substance we need.
1. In order to properly identify what we need to do, we need to be honest about the shortcomings – some people are not willing to admit that there are any shortcomings;
2. The debate (and policy) is often dominated by vested interests and analysis is not brought into the debate. Parochial interests and parish pump politics dominate;
3. Sometimes hunches are stated as fact even though the evidence quite clearly contradicts it (there is at least one of those to be found above).
4. Sometimes the limitations of what a government can achieve are not understood;
5. There is a tendency among some to be very backward looking rather than forward looking – move on!

The result is a morass out of which clear, concise and appropriate actions are unlikely to emerge.

As was pointed out recently in another thread by Philip Lane ‘However, Ireland has a new Government with a large majority. It should be well placed to take on this new challenge.’

Is Veolia going to pull out of France or indeed Ireland??

Is Veolia going to pull out of France or indeed Ireland?

I doubt it ( I think its Dalkia utilities and energy subsidiary in Ireland does well) but I don’t know.

However, in the context of slogans, VEOLIA, which I think is the modern manifestation of Compagnie Générale des Eaux, set up by (Emperor) Napoléon III in the late 19th century and still has cross ownership and shareholding and management with EDF, another ‘global’ utility with significant state shareholding) is an interesting case study.

At various recent time its slogans have included “The Environment is an Industrial Challenge”, “The Industry of the Environment” and now the slightly! more coherent “Creative Solutions for our Environment”.

Coming back to this thread, ending shortly, I’d say!, and bearing in mind Michael Hennigan’s eminently sensible truism:

‘The issues of location and regionalism would be relevant if this strategy had a chance of success’, it seems that we’re all agreed ( including Philip Lane, it appears) that this ‘new government’ with a large majority’ should be well placed to take on this new challenge.

So, who is doing it? To be precise, who is in charge of answering, in short, sharp non-jargon bullets ( with more detailed appendices as necessary):

1.) Where are we now? (realistic, market-validated economic attributes)

2.) Where are we going? ( realistic, market-validated scenarios free of “next Silicon Valley” pipe dreams)
3.) How are we going to get there? ( realistic, market-validated targets sectors, mthodolgies, companies, costs, time scales, metrics, accountability).

Please tell me there’s ONE senior, empowered, individual who either knows the answer to these simple questions or is in charge of getting the answers, when?

Who do we turn to?

Comments are closed.