Diversity in the Western Region – Census 2016 results

In the last few decades Ireland has become a much more multicultural society. To what extent is this also evident in and across the Western Region and what are the most recent trends?

Census 2017 Profile 7 Migration and Diversity provides details and a snapshot is posted here.

Non-Irish nationals

In the Western Region in 2016, there were 80,005 non-Irish nationals living in the Western Region, a decrease of over 5,000 (-5,296) or a decline of 6.2% on the 2011 figure. This is similar to the trend nationally though the decrease was much less (- 1.6%).

Country of Origin

Of the non-Irish nationals living in the Western Region in 2016, the largest group was UK nationals accounting for 29.1% or 26,288).

This was followed by Polish nationals comprising 23.6% (18,879).This contrasts with the picture across the State where Polish nationals were the largest group followed by UK nationals.

Within the Western Region, Lithuanians (3,819) comprise the third largest group, followed by Africans (2,434), Latvians (2,362) and Germans (2,281).

Where do non-Irish nationals reside?

Non-Irish nationals are resident across the country and Fig 1.1 shows the distribution by county and the change since 2011.

Within the Western Region non-nationals are widely distributed across the counties as Chart 1 below shows.

Chart 1. Non-Irish nationals Usually Resident and Present 2016, by Western Region county of residence

Galway city is the most multicultural city across the country, with 18.6% of its resident population recorded as non-Irish, this compares to just over 17% of Dublin City residents which were non-Irish nationals.

Considering diversity within towns, Ballyhaunis in Co.Mayo had the highest proportion of non-Irish nationals with 941 persons representing 39.5% of its population.  Within this the largest non-Irish group was Polish (159).

Gort in Co. Galway was also in the top ten towns with highest percentage of non-Irish nationals, 2016, with a total number of residents of 2,951, and 26.6% of non-Irish nationals of which the largest group is Brazilian (397).

Dual Irish nationality

As noted earlier, there has been a decline in the number of non-nationals between 2011 and 2016 both nationally and in the Western Region. The trend in the decline in non-Irish nationals is partly explained by the increase in the number of people holding dual Irish nationality (this coincides with changes to the citizenship application process introduced in 2011).

The numbers living in the Western Region and holding dual citizenship has increased by 5,757 (or 52.7%).

This compares to the trend across the state where the numbers of people holding dual citizenship (Irish-other country) increased by 87.4% over the period (104,784 persons)

The numbers living in the Western Region and holding dual citizenship in 2016 was 16,669 and represent a wide range of nationalities.

The largest group within the Western Region are Irish-Americans comprising 26.5% (4,419), followed by Irish-UK nationals (3,785) and Irish-Polish, 7.1% (1,201).

It is clear therefore that the Western Region is home to a wide range of nationalities both non-Irish and those with dual citizenship. Further detail is available on www.cso.ie.

Deirdre Frost


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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.

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What do people in the Western Region and its counties work at?

Recently the Western Development Commission (WDC) published two new WDC Insights publications examining the sectoral profile of employment in the Western Region of Ireland and its counties.

Both are based on an analysis of data from Census 2016 on employment by economic sector (industrial group).  The first looks at the sectoral pattern of employment in the Western Region as a whole compared with that elsewhere in the country, while the second focuses on the sectoral profile of employment in each of the seven individual counties in the Western Region.

What do people in the Western Region work at?

In 2016, 333,919 people living in the Western Region were in employment.  In comparison with the rest of the state, the Western Region relies more heavily on traditional sectors, public services and some local services while it has far lower shares working in knowledge intensive service (see Fig. 1).

Fig 1: Percentage of employment by each broad sector in Western Region and Rest of State, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 – Summary Results Part 2 http://www.cso.ie/en/csolatestnews/presspages/2017/census2016summaryresults-part2/

The region’s largest sector is Industry (largely manufacturing) and it is considerably more important to the region’s labour market than in the rest of the state, a pattern that intensified between 2011 and 2016. Agriculture, Health, Education and Accommodation & Food service are other sectors that are more important in the region than elsewhere.

The knowledge intensive services sectors of Financial, Insurance & Real Estate, Information & Communications, and Professional, Scientific & Technical activities are all considerably larger employers elsewhere. Combined, they employ 9.7% of workers in the Western Region, but 16.2% in the rest of the state.

What do people in the seven western counties work at?

Public Services (Health, Education and Public Administration) is the largest source of employment in all western counties (see Fig. 2).  Counties Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Donegal are the four counties in the State with the highest shares of their population employed in Public Services.

Fig 2: Percentage of employment by each high level sector in seven western counties, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 – Summary Results Part 2 http://www.cso.ie/en/csolatestnews/presspages/2017/census2016summaryresults-part2/

The next largest employment sector in all western counties is Locally Traded Services. With the exception of Donegal, Industry (largely manufacturing) is the third largest employment sector.   For Donegal, Industry is smaller than Knowledge Intensive Services (Professional, Scientific & Technical, Information & Communications, and Financial, Insurance & Real Estate).

Roscommon has the highest share working in Agriculture in the region, it along with Leitrim and Mayo have among the highest shares nationally.

As well as outlining the current structure of employment in the region and its counties, the change in employment by sector between 2011 and 2016 is examined in the two publications which can be downloaded here

Work is currently underway on producing profiles of the labour market of each of the individual western counties and these will be published shortly.

Pauline White

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Commuting in the Western Region

Census 2016 results, Profile 6 has highlighted some key trends in relation to commuting patterns across the country. What are the trends in the Western Region and how do they compare with the national picture?

More commuting to work

The number of people living in the Western Region and commuting to work in 2016 was 306,359, an increase of 7.4% (21,136) since 2011, somewhat less than the national increase of 10.7% over the five year period.

Within the Western Region all counties experienced an increase in workers commuting though only Galway city experienced a rate of increase that exceeded the national average (11.7%). This was followed by County Galway (9.5%), Donegal (8.8%), Clare (7.4%) and Leitrim (6.3%). Counties Roscommon (6%), Mayo (4.4%) and Sligo (1.2%), all had increases, though well below the national average.

Travel to work in the Western Region

Commuting by car

  • Most commuters in the Western Region travel to work by car (72.4%[1]), either as a driver or passenger – less than 7% of car commuters are passengers. Nationally 65.6% of workers commute to work by car to work, a decrease from 66.3% in 2011. As the numbers at work has increased over the period, this indicates an even greater change than the percentage share might suggest.
  • In the Western Region the share travelling by car stayed the same – 72.4% since 2011, but as the numbers employed have increased (excluding not stated, by 21,478 or 7.4%)  it indicates a greater number of people in the Western Region are travelling by car than in 2011,(+15,816 or 7.5%) the opposite trend to that occurring nationally.
  • Within the Western Region, all counties had a minimum of 71% of commuters travelling by car, ranging from a high of 75% in Clare to 71.8% in Mayo. Only Galway city had a lower share of car commuters – 61.9% – reflecting the greater public transport availability and more walking and cycling options there.

Public Transport

  • In the Western Region the share of commuters using public transport increased from 1.8% in 2011 to 2.1% in 2016, while nationally, the share of commuters using public transport increased from 8.4% to 9.3%. All counties showed a percentage increase apart from counties Donegal and Mayo, though most change was marginal apart from Galway city.
  • All western counties had increases in the numbers both travelling by bus and train which given the extent of the train network in the region suggests many of those travelling by train are commuting to destinations outside the Region.


  • In the Western Region, the share of those cycling to work increased from 1.1 to 1.3% between 2011 and 2016, while nationally the rate has increased from 2.3% to 3%. Within the Western Region all counties except Roscommon and Leitrim showed an increase in the numbers and percentage share of commuting by cycling to work.


  • Within the Western Region, there was a slight decline in the share of commuters walking to work, from 7.8% to 7.4%, though there was an actual increase of 440, obviously less than the rate of employment growth in the Region.
  • Nationally there was a decline in the share of commuters walking to work, from 9.9% to 9.3%, though this masks an actual increase of over 4,500 persons walking to work. Within the Region, Galway city has the highest rate of walking to work, 17.2% in 2016 up from 17% in 2011.

Longer journey times to work – more congested routes or longer distances travelled?

  • Of the over 300,000 people in the Western Region travelling to work, nearly 30% (29.9%) had a journey time of less than ¼ hour while a further 29.7% have a journey time of between ¼ and ½ hour, see Figure 1 below.
  • This indicates a majority of workers living in the Western Region (59.6%) have a journey time of less than ½ hour, less than in 2011 (61.9%) indicating people’s journey times have become longer.

Figure 1. Percentage Share of Working Population and Time Travelled to Work, 2016

Source: CSO statbank. Profile 6, Commuting Table E6023.

Nationally 52.2% of workers have a journey time of between ¼ and ½ hour in 2016, a decline in the share in 2011 of 55.9%. The extent to which people are travelling longer distances or travel times are longer, (because of congestion due to the greater numbers travelling), is less clear.

Within the Western Region, workers living in Galway city and Sligo have the shortest journey times, with 67.4% and 66.6% respectively with a travel time of less than ½ hour. Close to two-thirds of workers in Donegal (64.7%) and Mayo (63.8%) have journey times to work of less than ½ hour.

The share of commuters with journey times of less than ½ hour is less in the counties of Roscommon (59.7%), Clare (59.1%), Leitrim (55%) and County Galway (47.6%), indicating generally longer commutes for people living in these counties.

In the case of workers living in County Galway, 34.1% have a journey time of between ½ and 1 hour, while a further 8% have a journey time of between 1 hour and 90 minutes suggesting many are travelling some distance and/or travelling on congested routes into Galway city.

Further analysis, examining where people work and the extent to which they travel for work will be examined in forthcoming WDC policy analysis.


Deirdre Frost


[1] This excludes the ‘not stated’ category.

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Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development

The Irish branch of the Regional Studies Association held its annual conference on Friday 1st September at the DIT Grangegorman campus.
The conference, “Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development”, which was opened by John Paul Phelan T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government, covered a wide range of topics relevant to regional studies and regional development.

At the RSA conference: Dr Chris van Egeraat, Maynooth University, RSA Irish Branch S0ectretary, Minister of State John Paul Phelan and Professor Brian Norton, President of DIT.

The first plenary session (chaired by Jim Walsh, MU, who also spoke about the National Planning Framework) considered governance trends in European metropolitan areas and how Dublin differs from some of the trends (Niamh Moore Cherry, UCD).  Proinnsias Breathnach (MU) examined the implementation of the National Spatial Strategy, which was launched in 2002, and discussed how certain issues which arose then might recur with the National Planning Framework.

The morning parallel session on Brexit (Speakers: Michael Gallagher (Derry City & Strabane District Council) and Gerard Brady (IBEC)) provided very interesting perspectives on different aspects of Brexit covering both local and personal impacts as well as potential issues for businesses.  The session prompted lively discussion with the audience.

The other parallel session on Regional Economic Development focused on the growth of firms (Olubunmi Ipinnaiye, UCC) and the role of knowledge in regional development (presentations from both Enrica Pinca (UCD) and Adam Whittle (UCD)

After lunch, in the international plenary session, invited speaker Prof. Mike Danson (Heriot Watt) spoke about community resilience and enterprise in the periphery and highlighted trends of interest for rural development in Ireland.  The second invited speaker, Prof. Andy Pike (CURDS), considered the options for, and benefits of, demand side policies for city economies.  Both provided interesting examples of economic and social development practices from outside Ireland.

Later in the afternoon, a parallel session provided perspectives from the Regional Assemblies with speakers from each of the assemblies (Denis Kelly (NWRA), Stephen Blair (SRA) and Jim Conway (EMRA) while the other session considered rural and urban policy in the regions.  Pauline White (WDC) focused on regional growth in rural areas, towns and cities; Ruth Pritchard (NUIG) and David Meredith (Teagasc) considered rural policy in the form of the Action Plan for Rural Development; and Sean O Riordan (PPAN) and Chris Van Egeraat (MU) examined governance and implementation issues for the NPF.

St Laurence’s church on the Grangegorman campus provided a lovely venue for the conference.

Finally, to close the conference, the panel discussion took the form of a wide ranging conversation involving both speakers and audience members on regional development issues in Ireland.

The conference was timely with the draft of the National Planning Framework expected in October and its associated Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies to follow next year. There was much discussion of these and of the issue of regional balance in Ireland from both speakers and attendees.

See here (link http://rsa-ireland.weebly.com/register.html) for more information about the conference and the speakers.  Links to the presentations will be made available shortly.


Helen McHenry

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RSA Annual Conference ‘Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development’

The Annual Conference of the Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch is taking place this Friday, 1st September at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Grangegorman. This year’s theme is ‘Urban Centres and Regional Economic Development’ and the conference will be opened by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD.


Urban areas are major contributors to national economies and play a key role in balanced regional development. Key issues facing urban centres include managing urban expansion and congestion as well as promoting competitiveness, innovation, and environmental sustainability. There are increasing calls for support of regional economic development through diverse infrastructure investments determined by regional and national priorities to foster linkages between urban centres in Ireland. These are among the issues that will be discussed at this one-day conference.

Sessions on the day will include

• National Planning Framework and Governance
• Brexit and Housing
• Regional Economic Development
• International Perspectives
• Perspectives of the Regional Assemblies
• Rural and Urban areas in Regions


Speakers include Andy Pike from the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies (CURDS), Newcastle University and Mike Danson from Heriot-Watt University. Among the other speakers are Jim Walsh (MU), Niamh Moore-Cherry (UCD), Gerard Brady (IBEC), Ronan Lyons (TCD), Justin Doran (UCC) and the directors of the three Regional Assemblies. Pauline White, Policy Analyst with the Western Development Commission (WDC) will present on ‘Regional Growth – Rural areas, towns and cities’


Register online at http://rsa-ireland.weebly.com/register.html

The €70 conference fee includes lunch.

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Capital Infrastructure priorities – Broadband remains top of the list!

Engineers Ireland recently published The State of Ireland 2017, which focuses on the state of Ireland’s infrastructure and the extent to which it is fit for purpose. This is timely as the Government are in the process of considering the capital infrastructure priorities to be funded over the next few years.

This State of Ireland 2017 report, download here (3.4MB), is the seventh in a series of annual independent reports, on the state of the country’s infrastructure, informed by panel discussions and expert advisory groups.

This year’s report focuses on two key sectors, transport and communications though the report also makes separate recommendations on the infrastructure areas of energy, water supply and wastewater; flood management, water quality and waste infrastructure.



Ireland’s transport system was awarded a ‘C’ grade – meaning it is of mediocre standard: It is inadequately maintained, and / or unable to meet peak demand, and requiring significant investment. The report notes that investment in Ireland’s transport infrastructure is simply too low to support economic growth and jobs and more investment is needed to reduce congestion and increase sustainability.


The WDC was a member of the Communications Advisory Group which considered the coverage and connectivity of Ireland’s communications network and how Ireland’s communications network rates with the country’s needs.

As is evident from the report, unlike any other infrastructure considered, the quality of the broadband and communications network was graded spatially. A different grade was awarded depending on whether the infrastructure was located in urban, intermediate urban or remote rural areas which highlights the different quality of the infrastructure depending on location.

The urban areas are classed as the five major cities of Cork, Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. Intermediate urban areas are those other urban areas and surrounding townlands. The third category, rural including remote rural are the hinterlands of towns and remote locations.

Considering the question How would you rate Ireland’s communications network with the country’s needs, urban and intermediate urban were awarded a ‘B’ grade, whereas rural areas were awarded  ‘D’, conveying a poor, below standard poorly maintained, frequent inability to meet capacity and requiring immediate investment to avoid adverse impact on the national economy. The report notes that in rural and remote rural areas, State intervention is needed and the Government’s NBP programme must intervene for 542,000 premises representing 21% or one million of the national population.

For those of us who have long advocated that intervention is needed and that the National Broadband Plan needs to be implemented speedily and comprehensively, none of the report’s finding are a surprise. However the fact that the Communications Advisory Group, composed of companies such as the main telecoms providers, the telecoms regulator and Google among others, highlights the universal agreement that investment is needed as a matter of urgency.

Census 2016

Elsewhere, publication of Census 2016 data provides county data on broadband use in households.

Census 2016 Summary Results Part 1 Section 9, download here (1.1MB) shows the increasing take-up of broadband nationally, from 20% in 2006 to 70.7% in 2016.

The report also highlights the rural – urban divide where 61.1% of households in rural areas have a broadband connection compared to 76.2% of urban households. Looking at counties in the Western Region, all have a broadband rate lower than the state average of 70.7%, apart from Galway city, see Fig 1 below. Leitrim and Roscommon have the lowest broadband rates across the Region with 58% and 59.8% respectively.

Fig 1. Percentage of households with broadband internet access, Western counties 2006-2016

The National Broadband Plan

These same counties are relatively poorly served with broadband infrastructure. As the State of Ireland 2017 report shows the more rural areas are often the least well served. Under the National Broadband Plan the Western Region counties are among those requiring the most state intervention in rolling out high speed broadband networks. While 23% of premises nationally will be included in the National Broadband Plan ‘Intervention Area’, the rate is much higher across the Western Region with an average of 36.5% of all premises. Counties such as Roscommon and Leitrim are particularly dependent on the National Broadband Plan with 48% and 51% of premises respectively in the NBP Intervention area. The state intervention area in the other counties of the Western Region extends to 44% of premises in Mayo, 36% in Sligo, 34% in Donegal, 34% in Clare and 29% in Galway.

How Ireland Compares Internationally

Data recently released from the OECD highlights the need for urgent investment in Ireland’s fibre based broadband infrastructure. As Figure 2 below shows, Ireland is nearly at the bottom of the pile for the percentage of fibre connections as a share of total broadband subscriptions.

Fig 2. Percentage of fibre connections in total broadband subscriptions, December 2016

Located 4th from the bottom of OECD countries, this data published in July 2017 relates to December 2016 and there is likely to be an improvement since then, however the relative position of Ireland in the OECD group shows how far we are from being in the top tier. Without a doubt, investment in fibre connectivity throughout the country is needed. These data and additional comparative data across the OECD are available for download here.


Deirdre Frost

Posted in Broadband, Energy, Infrastructure, Regional Development, Roads, Rural Development, Transport, Uncategorized | Leave a comment