Leprechauns in Invisible Regions: Regional GVA (GDP) in 2015

Regional GVA (GDP)[1] figures for 2015, and preliminary figures for 2016, were published recently by the CSO.  The 2015 figures are of particular interest as that year (the year of leprechaun economics), there was a level shift in the size of the economy.  The relocation to Ireland by significant Multi National Enterprises (MNEs) of some or all of their business activities and assets (in particular valuable Intellectual Property) alongside increased contract manufacturing conducted abroad (which is included in Irish accounts), all contributed to the very significant growth in GDP.

There has been much discussion of the issue (see here, here and here) and a review of the statistics used to produce the data.  In addition the CSO recently held a seminar on the impact of globalisation on Ireland’s accounts, with papers available here).  The significant change in GDP in 2015 (a 26% rise on 2014) is, of course, played out at a regional levels and is evident in the regional GDP and GVA data.  However, because of the significant impact of a few businesses in some figures, for reason of confidentiality the CSO has not published GVA data at regional level for Dublin or for the South West (the ‘invisible’ regions of the title).

This is, of course, very problematic for those seeking to understand the economies of these regions and for those of us interested in comparing regional economic activity.  For regions, measures of progress and disparity and measures of how well they are doing, whether they are catching up or falling behind are all key issues considered using GVA data.  Nationally, other indicators (including GNI*, Modified Domestic Demand and a Modified Current account (CA*)) have been developed to help improve our understanding of growth and change in the domestic economy.  It is to be hoped that consideration will be given to producing other regional economic indicators (such as a regional GNI*) which could add to our understanding of changing regional economies.

This post focuses on the level shift in GVA which occurred in 2015 and its impact in regional statistics, while my next post will examine other (more traditional) aspects of regional GVA in more detail.  In this post Dublin, and the South West are considered together.

The size of the Regional Economies

Much of the dramatic increase in GVA was concentrated in Dublin and the South West (although, as discussed below, it was not confined to these regions), so it is useful to look at how much these regions contributed to Irish GDP in 2015 (See Figure 1).  The two regions of Dublin and the South West together accounted for more than two thirds (67%) of Irish GVA, although, interestingly this was not a dramatic increase on 2014 when the two regions contributed 63% of GVA.  This is partly because most regions experienced level shifts in their GVA between the two years.

Figure 1:  Regional contribution to Ireland’s GVA in 2015

*Dublin and South West are not a ‘region’ but are shown together as data not available for these two regions (own calculation from data).

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9   GVA per Region at Current Market Prices (GDP), 2007 to 2016 

Output from these regions over time

It is also useful to look at the changing contribution of the two regions with the largest economies over a longer time period (Figure 2).  In 2000, Dublin and the South West contributed 57% of national GVA.  This has been rising, particularly since 2010, and it reached 67% in 2015 (and remains 67% in the 2016 estimate).  This indicates the very significant concentration of high value added activity in these two regions, a concentration which has been increasing over time.

Figure 2: Percentage of National GVA from Regions 2000-2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts table RAA01

Of course, before 2015, these two regions could be considered separately, and in 2014 Dublin contributed 45% of national GVA while the South West contributed 18%.  In 2002 the South West accounted for 20% of GVA and Dublin 37% (figures for the South West generally varied between 18 and 20% of national GVA over this period).

GVA per person in Regions

While the above discussion has focused on the amount of GVA contributed by the regions it is, in general, more useful to consider GVA per person as a means of comparing regions (because of different regional sizes).  Given the lack of data for two of the NUTS 3 regions, it is easiest to look at (Figure 3) NUTS 2 level regions i.e. the Border, Midland and West (BMW) region and the Southern and Eastern (S&E) region (which includes both Dublin and the South West).  GVA per person has always been significantly higher in the S&E region than in the BMW.  In 2000 it was €28,490 in the S&E and €19,148 in the BMW, a difference of €9,342 per person.  The figures followed a similar pattern (with some minor variation in the disparity) over the year to 2012 when the trends began to diverge, most dramatically in 2015.  In that year GVA per person in the S&E was €63,179 (up from €44,464 per person in 2014), and was only €23,606 in the BMW.  This is a very significant difference of €39,573 in GVA per person.

Figure 3: Gross Value Added (GVA) per person at Basic Prices (Euro) by NUTS2 Region and Year (2000 to 2015)

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts table RAA01


While the difference in GVA is dramatic, it should be remembered that, in relation to household income, which is what is relevant to most people, differences in income from economic activities are, to some extent, smoothed out by taxation and social transfers (see here for discussion of 2015 Household incomes at regional level).  However, the very different output levels among regions are significant and deserve attention.  If high value added activity remains concentrated in a few regions, disparities will continue to widen and there will be an ongoing perception that some regions are ‘dependent’ on others for transfers.  Indeed, without growth in higher value added activity and better quality employment this would become inevitable.  A focus on growing weaker regional economies and increasing higher value added activities (and not just from MNEs) is essential to growing our national economy.

Which regions are most affected by the 2015 level shift?

Although the data for Dublin and the South West has been supressed for reasons of confidentiality, it is clear that these regions experienced a level shift in their GVA between 2014 and 2015 (see Figure 4 below).  But most other regions also experienced a significant increase, or level shift.

It should be noted that, in this post, we are looking at GVA rather than GDP (see footnote 1)[2].  While there was a startling 26% increase in GDP in Ireland in 2015 (published in July 2016), the increase GVA for the State was even bigger in 2015 (37%).  See here for more information on this and on the MNE components of GVA.

As expected, the largest increase (46%) in GVA was in Dublin and the South West (again, these are combined as data for these regions was not published[3]).  But the other regions in the S&E also experienced a significant increase, with the Mid East, Mid West and South East all showing increases in GVA of more than 30%.

Figure 4: Increase in GVA in NUTS 3 regions between 2014 and 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9b   GVA per Region at Basic Prices


In contrast, the three regions which together make up the NUTS2 BMW region had much smaller increases in GVA.  Between 2014 and 2015 GVA in the Midland region increased by 17%, in the West by 10% and in the Border region by only 6%.  The impacts of globalisation on GVA statistics are significantly less in the BMW region, which is much less dependent on the globalised sectors (though consequently they also have much lower economic output).

Preliminary data for 2016 shows a return to more normal GVA growth rates between 4% (Mid East and West) and 7% in the Border region.  The ‘Dublin and South West group’ shows a modest 5% increase in GVA.

Manufacturing and other sectors affected

Manufacturing is key sector experiencing the level shift in GVA between 2014 and 2015.   Looking at the manufacturing sector in the NUTS 3 regions (Figure 5 below), it is clear that most regions experienced a level shift in GVA from Manufacturing.  Only the Border region showed no discernible change, with a growth of only 5% in Manufacturing GVA.  The West also had a more modest (though still significant) growth in GVA of 25% from Manufacturing in 2014-2015.  With two NUTS regions (Mid West and South East) showing growth in GVA from manufacturing of more than 100% and Dublin and the South West combined showing a 172% increase in GVA from Manufacturing, this is clearly the sector where most of the significant changes between 2014 and 2015 took place.

Figure 5: Increase in GVA in the Manufacturing Sector in NUTS 3 regions between 2014 and 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d and e GVA by sector


However, in a number of other sectors different regions showed quite significant changes.  As would be expected these are in the high value sectors with global value chains.  There were significant increases in ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities etc.’ in the Border (43%), the Mid East (50%) and South East (48%), while the Border also showed a 31% increase in GVA from Financial and Insurance Activities in 2014-2015.  Finally, the South East experienced a 39% increase in GVA from Information and Communication.  Not all of these increases are necessarily related to the relocation of IP assets, or to the other factors which underlie the level shift in GVA between 2014 and 2015 but these are all very significant growth figures (the detail of other sector changes in GVA will be discussed in a forthcoming post.)

Manufacturing is the sector where data is suppressed for reason of confidentiality in Dublin and the South West.   It is a key sector in these regions.  In 2014 (the first year for which such regional data was available) the South West accounted for 34% of Ireland’s Manufacturing GVA and Dublin accounted for 29% (63% in total). In 2015, as shown in Fig. 6, the two combined accounted for 73% of Ireland’s GVA from Manufacturing.

Figure 6: Regional contribution to Manufacturing GVA in 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d GVA by sector


The dominance of these two regions in the high value manufacturing sector is evident when the contribution of different sectors to regional GVA is considered at NUTS 2 level (Figures 7 and 8 below).  In the Southern and Eastern region manufacturing accounted for 38% of the Region’s GVA, and other high value areas (‘Information and Communications’ (10%), ‘Financial and Insurance Activities’ (7%) and ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities’ (11%) also relatively important (28% of GVA in the S&E came from these three sectors combined).

Figure 7: Gross Value Added by Sector in the Southern and Eastern Region

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d GVA by sector


In the Border, Midland and Western region the Manufacturing sector contributed 28% of GVA and the other high value sectors were much less significant in GVA terms.  ‘Information and Communications’ (2%), ‘Financial and Insurance Activities’ (5%) and ‘Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities’ (6%) combined only accounted for 13% of GVA in the BMW region.  In contrast ‘Public Administration and Defence’ accounted for 24% of GVA in the BMW region and only 10% in the Southern and Eastern region.

Figure 8: Gross Value Added by Sector in the Border, Midland and Western Region

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional Accounts Table 9d GVA by sector



GVA is essential regional data, despite its limitations.  It is one of the key variables for national and international regional comparisons and, given the paucity of other regional economic data, it is particularly important.  While understanding the necessity of ensuring data confidentiality, the lack of GVA data for two regions limits discussion of regional development significantly.

Given the focus on regional development in government policy (Project Ireland 2040) we need to be able to measure how regions are doing.  Income, Wealth and Consumption data would give a good picture of how households in regional economies are doing, but while we have regional income data, there is no longitudinal data on wealth and consumption for regions.  Similarly we have Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) data at regional level giving a broader picture of income and poverty, and Labour Force Survey data on employment and unemployment.  However, although these are important, each region also needs to have an indicator of economic activity and growth.

Potentially the issue of confidentiality will not affect data for every year, and 2015 (and 2016 preliminary data) might prove to be exceptions, with full regional GVA data available again in the future.  Nonetheless, the difficulties with regional GDP need to be addressed.  Should new NUTS2 regions be agreed with Eurostat (to align with the regional assemblies) GVA data will published for these.  Currently as both Dublin and the South West are in the NUTS2 Southern and Eastern Region, it is only necessary to withhold data for both of these NUTS3 regions and the NUTS 2 data can be published in full.  In future,  if Dublin and the South West will be in different NUTS 2 regions (Dublin in the Eastern and Midland Region, and the South West in the Southern Region, to ensure confidentiality in relation to these regions, it might become necessary to supress detailed NUTS 3 data for some of the other regions.

It is not clear what solutions might be possible in relation to regional GVA data, but good quality regional data is essential both to understand regional economies and to monito the impact of regional and national policy.  Development of the GNI* indicator at regional level could help to understand activities in domestic regional economies.

Improving our understanding of regional economic growth and change is essential if we are to develop policies and actions to ensure that all regions can grow their economies, employment and value add at more comparable rates into the future.



Helen McHenry


[1] GDP is Gross Domestic Product, GDP and GVA are the same concept i.e. they measure the value of the goods and services (or part thereof) which are produced within a region or country. GDP is valued at market prices and hence includes taxes charged and excludes the value of subsidies provided. GVA at basic prices on the other hand excludes product taxes and includes product subsidies. See background notes .

[2] For the purposes of regional accounts GVA is the most common measure of regional growth and regional economic activity.  However data in Figure 1 (from Table 9) is GVA at  market prices (GDP).

[3] The amount for this ‘combined region’ was calculated by subtracting the other regional data from the total.

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Educational attainment in the Western Region

A recently published ESRI Research Bulletin, ‘The local factors that affect where new businesses are set up’ summarises their analysis of new firms setting up in Ireland.  Data from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) on the number of start-up firms each year in 190 localities, all outside of the Greater Dublin Area, is linked to data on local characteristics thought to be important to business location. This data is used to develop models of how much each factor (or combination of factors) contributes to the number of business start-ups in a given place and time.

The authors state that the results of this analysis show that

‘Educational attainment of local residents is highly attractive to start-ups; we use the share of the population with a third-level qualification as an indicator for this, and it has the largest effect of the factors in our models.’ 

The analysis also shows that broadband access is a significant factor

However, a key finding is that broadband’s effect on start-ups depends on the education level of an area’s population. Only areas with enough highly qualified staff seem to enjoy a boost in start-ups when they have broadband network access.’

This analysis clearly points to the importance of human capital in the location decision of new business start-ups. Of course the direction of causality is a challenge, new businesses are attracted to areas with a highly skilled population, but highly skilled people will only remain/move to an area if suitable job opportunities exist.

The latest WDC Insights, published by the WDC last week (27 March), ‘Census 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region’ is therefore very timely, as it examines the level of educational attainment of the adult population of the Western Region and its seven counties.

Highest level of education completed

Overall, the Western Region displays a lower educational profile, with a smaller share of its adult population (aged 15+ years and who have ceased education) having third level qualifications and a greater share having low levels of education (Fig. 1) than the rest of the state.  13.4% of adults in the Western Region have only completed primary education compared with 11.1% in the rest of the state.  The region’s older age profile contributes to this.

At the highest levels of education the difference between the Western Region and the rest of state is quite substantial e.g. 8.5% in the Western Region have a postgraduate degree/diploma compared with 11.7% in the rest of the state. Given the importance of third level education for business location and stimulating overall economic growth, this presents a challenge for the region.

Fig. 1: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) by the highest level of education completed in the Western Region and rest of state, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003

Highest level of education completed in western counties

There are significant differences across western counties in the share of the population with a third level qualification (Fig. 2).  At 55.2%, Galway City has the second highest share of residents with a third level qualification (Advanced Certificate/Completed Apprenticeship and higher) in Ireland. It is behind Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but ahead of Fingal, Dublin City and Kildare. Within the region, Galway County, Clare and Sligo have the next highest shares of third level graduates, illustrating a strong concentration around Galway / Limerick and also in Sligo, clearly showing the influence of larger urban centres.

Donegal has the highest share of its population with no formal education or primary only (21.9%) in the State, with Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon next highest in the region. This is partly due to greater reliance on sectors traditionally associated with lower qualifications.

In general, the counties offering fewer graduate employment opportunities tend to have weaker educational profiles, with many of those with higher qualifications having left these areas. This presents a double challenge for such areas – the weaker educational profile makes it more difficult to attract new business start-ups, while the lack of suitable job opportunities makes the area less attractive to those with higher qualifications. Often in such areas, it is the public sector (education, health, public administration) which presents the most significant graduate employment opportunities. Stimulating greater demand for highly qualified staff among private enterprise in these areas, as well as supporting opportunities for self-employment is required.

Fig. 2: Percentage of population (aged 15+ years and whose full-time education has ceased) in western counties by highest level of education completed, 2016. Source: CSO, Census 2016 Profile 10 – Education, Skills and the Irish Language, Table EA003


Overall the Western Region continues to display a lower educational profile than the rest of the state. Given the key role of human capital in regional development, this is a significant challenge for the region and in particular more rural counties.  A number of factors including the region’s older age profile and its sectoral pattern of employment – smaller shares working in sectors which demand higher qualifications (e.g. professional services, ICT, finance) and more working in sectors traditionally characterised by lower qualifications (e.g. hospitality, agriculture) – strongly influence its educational profile.

Galway City shows a very different educational pattern however with the second highest share of third level graduates in Ireland. This is both cause and effect of its recent strong economic performance. The sectoral pattern of employment in Galway City differs from the rest of the Western Region with a high share working in ICT and medical devices manufacturing which demand higher qualifications, the presence of NUI Galway is another key contributor.

Download the latest WDC InsightsCensus 2016: Education Levels in the Western Region


Pauline White

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Regional Difference, Regional Strategies and a Ratio- employment and residence in towns in Ireland.

The National Planning Framework has a chapter on ‘Making Urban Places Stronger’ which covers settlements from cities to small towns.  In discussing Ireland’s urban structure (p58-59) it looks at population and employment and highlights a ratio of “jobs to resident workforce” as a key indicator of sustainability for a town.  Data is provided (in the NPF Appendix 2) on town population, resident workers and jobs in the town for 200 settlements with a population of over 1,500 people in 2016.  This is the only detailed data provided in the National Planning Framework.  It is useful to look at differences in the ratio across the regions to see if this indicator can help us better understand residence and employment as town functions.

The NPF suggests in the footnote to the discussion of this ratio that:

A ratio of 1.0 means that there is one job for every resident worker in a settlement and indicates a balance, although not a match, as some resident workers will be employed elsewhere and vice-versa. Ratios of more than 1.0 indicate a net in-flow of workers and of less than 1.0, a net out-flow. The extent to which the ratio is greater or less than 1.0, is also generally indicative of the extent to which a town has a wider area service and employment role, rather than as a commuter settlement. (Footnote 22 pg 176).

It suggests that those settlements with a high ratio of jobs to resident workforce are, by reason of accessibility, employment and local services, fulfilling important roles for a wider area.  This, as will be discussed later in this post, is particularly strongly indicated for towns in the North West.  Firstly, however, a scatter diagram (Figure 1) showing town size and the ratio of jobs to resident workers provides a good overview of the data.  For reasons of scale the five cities (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford) are not on this diagram but are discussed in more detail below.

Figure 1: Town Size and Jobs to Resident Workers by Regional Assembly Area.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2

The very different patterns among towns in the three regional assembly areas is clear in the diagram.  Towns in the Eastern and Midland Region tend to have lower ratios (most less than 1.0) with more workers leaving the town for jobs elsewhere than are travelling to the town.  In contrast towns in the Northern and Western Region, though generally smaller, are more often serving as centres of employment for their wider area.

As the NPF notes in relation to the North West, towns there tend to have ‘more significant employment and service functions relative to their regional and local catchment’ (p 59).  Table 1 below shows the ratio of jobs to resident workers for towns in the three Regional Assembly areas and the Western Region; the differences in the ratios again emphasise the different functions of towns in the Regions.

Table 1: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in towns over 1,500 in three Regional Assembly areas and Western Region.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (Western Region own calculations)

The low ratio for towns in the Eastern and Midland indicates the importance of commuting for many towns and the dominance of the large Dublin City region.  Indeed only 2 towns in EMRA have ratios higher than 1.5.  These are Longford (1.596) and Athlone (1.591) both of which are on the periphery of the EMRA, less under the influence of Dublin, and both have important employment and wider service functions for their hinterlands.  In contrast, 40 towns in the EMRA (just over half) have a ratio of less than 0.5.  In the NWRA area, where there are 44 settlements with a population of more than 1,500,  7 towns have a ratio of more than 1.5 while 4 have a ratio of less than 0,5.  In the Southern Region, with three key cities, a quarter of towns (19) have a ratio of less than 0.5, while 7 towns (9%) have a ratio of greater than 1.5.

Looking at the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit), the overall ratio is very high (1.26) and of the 39 listed 7 have a ratio of more than 1.5 while four have a ratio of less than 0.5.

Cities and Key Regional Centres

Given the focus on the development of cities and a few key regional centres in the National Planning Framework, it is useful to examine the ratios for the five cities and these regional growth centres (Table 2).  Somewhat surprisingly, Dublin City and its suburbs has a ratio of only 0.978 despite being the major centre for the Region.  This is likely to be related to the location of the boundaries of the suburbs and the fact that there is a larger Dublin Region agglomeration which has a spread of job locations and worker flows to towns that are essentially part of a greater Dublin.

As expected, the other four cities have ratios greater than 1.0, with Galway the highest of these (1.302).  Looking at the proposed regional growth centres, Athlone, Letterkenny and Sligo all have high ratios indicating their importance as employment and service centres in their wider hinterlands.  In contrast Drogheda and Dundalk (which are mentioned in the NPF as part of a “Drogheda-Dundalk-Newry” cross border network) both have lower ratios. Drogheda, in particular, has many people travelling to work elsewhere.

Table 2: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in Cities and Regional Growth Centres.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2, (EMRA towns in purple, NRWA in green and SRA in blue).


Patterns of employment and residence in the Western Region

Looking briefly at towns in the Western Region, Table 3 shows the settlements with the highest jobs to resident workers ratios in the Region.  There is no particular pattern relating to town size, but the top five are all ‘county towns’ and have particular local employment and service functions.  Other towns in the top ten often have key employers indicating the importance of employment spread.

Table 3: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in ten Western Region settlements with highest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)

In contrast to the towns in the table above, Table 4 below shows the Western Region towns with the lowest job to resident worker ratios.  These are all ‘dormitory’ towns serving Galway, Sligo and Limerick.  These are the only towns in the Western Region which have a ratio of less than 0.5 indicating perhaps, aside from these, a more sustainable region in terms of commuting patterns.

Table 4: Population, Resident Workers, Jobs and ratio of Jobs to Resident Workers in five Western Region settlements with lowest jobs to resident worker ratios.

Source: Project Ireland 2040 National Planning Framework, Appendix 2 (NRWA in green and SRA in blue)


Understanding where people work and where people are most likely to travel to work is essential to our understanding of employment and economic activity in our Region.  The WDC will publish a detailed analysis of travel to work patterns and labour market catchments in the Western Region next month. It is based on data from Census 2016 will also provide a comparison the 2009 WDC study Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region which used Census 2006 data.

The use of the jobs to resident workforce ratio in the NPF is interesting.  It is quite a restricted indicator but the variation in the ratio among towns of all sizes and across the different regions serves to emphasise that the individual employment and other characteristics of each town are the key to the town’s pattern of, and opportunities for, development.  Therefore a clear understanding of the functions and areas which each town can develop is important.

For the Western Region, the ratio has served to highlight the importance of towns of all sizes as centres of employment in the region, while in contrast it shows the importance of commuting to many towns in the East.  Thus, there is a need for very different regional strategies in relation to towns in the North West and in areas of other regions where the influence of the cities is not significant.

A strong argument is made throughout the NPF that concentration in larger cities and towns is essential, but this data indicates that, in the Western Region at least, smaller towns often have high jobs to resident workers ratios and they are attracting workers, probably from their rural catchments.  It is therefore important that we consider the case for ensuring a wider spread of employment across towns of different sizes and develop better policies to do so.  If there is too much focus on the largest cities we risk replicating the problems in the East, where many towns have little function other than as dormitories for the cities.

Locating jobs where workers reside, and supporting those urban centres which have important local and regional functions could be a more sustainable approach and perhaps would be easier to achieve than concentrating residence in the largest urban centres.


Helen McHenry


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How are we doing? County Incomes in the Western Region

The CSO released data on County Incomes and Regional GDP in 2015 last month (and also published preliminary figures for 2016).  In this post changes in county incomes in the Western Region are examined with a particular focus on the difference among counties and the changes over time.  Regional GDP will be considered in a forthcoming post.

The map (produced by the CSO) gives an indication of the differences in Household Disposable Income per Person across the State.

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Clearly Dublin has a significantly higher Household Disposable Income per Person than elsewhere, with Kildare and Limerick also above the state average, while many counties in the West and North West have Disposable Incomes well below the state average.

A quick overview of the recent trends in Household Disposable Incomes per Person is given in Figure 1, showing changes in the Western Region counties over the last decade. The 2008 peak and following rapid income decline is very clear but the recovery of income levels from 2014 onwards is also evident.

Figure 1: Household Disposable Income per Person 2006-2016 for Western Region counties


Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


No county in Ireland has returned to the income levels of 2008, and indeed in the Western Region only Sligo was estimated to have very slightly higher (€14) Household Disposable Income per Person in 2016 than it did in 2007 (along with only 4 other counties: Dublin, Wicklow, Limerick and Kerry).

Looking at the most recent figures, Galway (€18,991) and Sligo (€19,001) had the highest Disposable Incomes per Person in the Western Region in 2015 with Sligo higher than Galway for the first time, although the gap between them has been narrowing in recent years. In the preliminary 2016 figures Galway had a very slightly higher disposable income per person (Table 1).

Table 1: Household Disposable Income per Person in 2015 and 2016 for the counties of the Western Region


**Western Region figures based on own calculations using inferred population estimates.

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Donegal continues to have a significantly lower Disposable Income per Person than any other county Ireland (€15,705 in 2015).  This was just over 77% of the state average that year. Disposable Income in Roscommon is also significantly lower than the state average (81.5%) at €16,582 in 2015.  This was the second lowest of any county in Ireland, while Mayo was the 4th lowest (see Figure 2 below).  Sligo and Galway were in 13th and 14th places, but no Western Region county had more than 95% of the State average Disposable Income.

Figure 2: Household Disposable Income per Person in 2015 for all counties

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Preliminary figures for 2016 (Figure 3) show that all counties had small increases in Household Disposable Income per person on 2015, the largest increase in that period (2015-2016) was in Galway (2.9%) while the smallest was in Donegal (2.5%).

Figure 3: Household Disposable Income per Person in 2015 and 2016* for Western Region counties


**Western Region figures based on own calculations using inferred population estimates.

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


Increases were larger between 2014 and 2015 (see Table 1) with Sligo showing an increase of 5.7%, the lowest Western Region county increase was in Roscommon at 2.0%.  The state average increase for that period was 5.6% and Household Disposable Income per Person in Dublin grew by 6.3%.  These differing growth rates among counties are giving rise to increasing regional imbalance as is shown in Figure 4 which charts the income in Western Region counties as compared to the state average (State =100).

The gap between most counties in the Western Region and the state was at its widest in 2001 and narrowed (i.e. they got closer to the state average) during the boom period and into the slowdown.  In fact regional divergence was least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession.  Since then, as discussed, incomes in some counties began to grow faster and divergence has again increased, particularly since 2012.

Figure 4: Index of Household Disposable Incomes per person in Western Region counties 2000-2016


Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP


The pattern has not been straightforward, however, some counties were closer to the State average in 2000.  For example Clare was 96.4% of the state average in 2000 and Roscommon was 91.1% but by 2016 Clare was 88.8% and Roscommon was 81.3%, showing that they have been doing relatively less well.  Others, like Sligo where Household Disposable Income per Person was 88.1% of the State average in 2000 and 93.3% in 2016, and Leitrim which was 86.5% in 2000 and 89.6% in 2016, have narrowed the gap to the state average and are improving relatively.

The divergence in Income levels among counties would be much greater without the redistribution effects of social transfers and taxes.  Counties with the highest Primary Incomes[1] tend to have relatively lower social transfer figures (having fewer people in older and younger age categories or otherwise not working) and  higher tax (with more people earning and often higher incomes). See this post for more discussion of the components of change.  Figure 5 shows the percentage difference between Household Disposable Income and Primary Income for each county in 2015.  Counties which are doing well (e.g. Dublin, Kildare) tend to have a higher Primary Income level than Household Disposable Income level, while less well-off counties tend to have a higher Household Disposable Income than Primary Income (the difference being, as noted above, the effect of Social Transfers and Taxes).  The relationship is not simple however, counties which rank lowest for disposable income will not necessarily have a similar rank for Primary Income.  For more discussion of Primary Income see this post.

Figure 5: Percentage Difference between Household Disposable Income and Primary income for each county in 2015

Source: CSO, 2018, County Incomes and Regional GDP



This post has provided a brief overview of the key County Income figures for the Western Region based on the recent CSO release.  Regional GDP will be examined in a future post with the components and trends will be analysed in more detail in the coming months.



Helen McHenry


[1] Primary Income is defined for National Income purposes as follows: Compensation of employees (i.e. Wages and Salaries, Benefits in kind, Employers’ social insurance contributions) plus Income of self-employed plus Rent of dwellings (including imputed rent of owner-occupied dwellings) plus Net interest and dividends.

Total income is defined as: Primary income plus Social benefits plus Other current transfers.

Disposable income is defined as follows: Total income minus Current taxes on income (e.g. Income taxes, other current taxes) minus Social insurance contributions (e.g. Employers’, employees’, self-employed, etc.)

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Caring for the West

The recent severe weather brought a lot of issues to national attention, not least of which was the extent to which people across the country are providing care and help to family, friends and neighbours, including older persons. As today is also International Women’s Day, this seemed like a good time to examine the extent of unpaid care being provided in the Western Region on a regular basis.

Census 2016 included the following question:

‘Do you provide regular unpaid personal help for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability? Include problems which are due to old age. Personal help includes help with basic tasks such as feeding or dressing.’

Those who answered Yes were asked how many hours of care they provided per week. The results of this question were published in Census 2016 Profile 9: Health, Disability and Carers. It should be noted that this data likely underestimates the full extent of unpaid caring activity as some people who are providing care may have underestimated this or not considered themselves as providing care e.g. an older person may not have counted that they are providing care for their spouse.

In total 37,075 people in the Western Region recorded themselves as providing unpaid care. This equates to 4.5% of the entire population of the region, higher than the 4.0% share in the rest of the state.

The Western Region is home to 19% of all carers in the State, higher than its 17.4% share of the national population, showing the greater need for, and provision of, unpaid care in the region. This is closely linked to the region’s older age profile. Of the people providing care in the region, 60% are women and 40% are men.

Percentage of population who are carers

The map below shows the percentage of the population of each administrative county who are providing unpaid care for a friend or family member. There is a very striking East/West pattern with the highest shares along the western seaboard and western Midlands, with the Greater Dublin Area showing the lowest shares.  Of the counties of the Western Region, 4.7% of the population of Mayo and Sligo are providing regular care and 4.6% in Clare.  Within the region the lowest share is in Galway city at 3.7%.

Age of carers

The region has a higher share of carers across almost all age groups (see Fig. 1). The higher share of carers in the region is particularly evident in the age groups between 40 and 54.  In the region and elsewhere, people in the 50-54 age group are most likely to be providing care at 10.5% in the Western Region (9.4% in rest of state).  Generally, caring activity is most likely to occur when people are aged 40-60, strongly influenced by providing care for ageing parents.

In total 54.2% of all carers in the Western Region are aged 40-60. As the majority of people in this age group are working, this raises the issue of flexible working hours and leave for those providing such care.  While there are a number of initiatives to improve flexibility for those caring for young children (e.g. parental leave, term time), fewer options are available for those providing elder care or caring for persons with a disability. Given the older age profile of the population in the Western Region and increasing life expectancy, the issue of flexibility for employees providing elder care will become even more pressing in future.

Of all people aged over 65 years in the Western Region, 4.4% of them are providing care, somewhat lower than the share in the rest of the state (4.7%). However this group (65+) account for 15% of all carers in the Western Region and also the rest of state.  Just under 1 in 6 of all carers are aged over 65 years.

Hours of care

In total 1,254,778 hours of unpaid care were provided per week in the Western Region. This was 19% of the total hours of unpaid care provided in the State. The average number of hours of care provided in the Western Region ranged from a high of 42.6 hours per week in Donegal to 34.1 hours per week in Galway City.

There were substantial gender variations in this however (Fig. 2).  The average number of hours of care provided by women was higher than the average for men in each county. In Roscommon female carers provided an average of 44.8 hours of care per week compared with 35.8 hours for male carers.  This was the largest gender difference in the region with the smallest gender difference in Donegal.


In the Western Region, 28.3% of over 65s live alone and there are 30,330 people aged over 80 years. The Western Region’s older age profile and increasing life expectancy means the demand for care, especially for older persons, will increase.  Increasing female labour force participation means that a growing share of those who are providing this care are also in employment.  As over half of all those providing care are aged 40-60 years, the need to balance caring for ageing parents and other relatives with work commitments is a critical and growing issue that needs to be more effectively addressed by policy.  While a lot of focus has been on trying to facilitate the childcare needs of employees (where more still needs to be done …) the issue of elder care commitments now needs to receive far greater attention.  This is compounded by the limitations of the Home Care Package as demand increases but resources and staffing are limited.


Pauline White

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The Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy – Beyond Cities

The newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040 sets out regional targets for each of the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies to deliver within their respective regions. The WDC recently made a submission on the Strategy for both the Northern and Western and the Southern Region, as the WDC region extends across parts of both.

A recent blogpost highlighted some of the issues the WDC considers relevant to the Northern and Western Region Strategy and the full submission can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here). Here we examine some of the issues we highlight in our Submission to the Strategy for the Southern Region, available here and the summary is available here.


While most of the WDC region is in the Northern and Western Region, the WDC region extends into County Clare within the Southern Assembly region. The Southern Region includes three of the five cities (Limerick, Cork and Waterford), while each of the other regions has one city – Dublin in the Eastern & Midlands region), Galway in the Northern and Western Region. As such it would be important that the Southern Region strategy does not become overly city focused. Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment. This is a particular concern for the Southern Region Strategy.

While the cities within the Southern Assembly region are outside the remit of the WDC region the influence of cities extends across County Clare.  Galway to the north and Limerick to the South both impact on the residents of County Clare. The WDC has conducted analyses of Labour Catchments and Travel to work areas[1] which provide insights into the travel to work patterns of residents of County Clare and also the labour catchment of Limerick city.

This analysis shows the influence of Limerick city as a place of work for many residents of southern and eastern Clare and this has shown an increase since a similar analysis was done based on Census 2006. Just under 10,000 (9,647) workers live in that part of the Limerick city labour catchment which extends into Co. Clare, illustrating the importance of Limerick city as a place of work for residents of South-East Clare.

Labour catchments and their geographic reach provide important insights into the roles of urban centres and their hinterlands and consideration of these should inform the RSES. This will inform consideration of their strategies and defining the boundaries of the Metropolitan Area Strategic Plans as they exist and extend beyond local authority boundaries.

Lack of employment opportunities in towns as well as cities will be the key barrier to achieving the Draft NPF targeted levels of 20-25% growth. The employment centres of Ennis and Shannon in particular are key and ensuring that these centres attract and retain employment opportunities will be a key determinant in the achievement of the targets.


After Kilkenny, Ennis is the largest urban centre outside of the cities and is the fifth largest urban centre in the Southern Assembly region. While the Southern Assembly region contains thirteen towns with a population greater than 10,000, just one of these – Ennis is located in Co. Clare.

Larger regional towns such as Ennis which are quite close to cities (Limerick and Galway) can benefit from good connectivity and economic spill overs. In the case of Ennis, proximity to Shannon as an employment centre is also a driver.

Forthcoming analysis by the WDC identifies the Ennis labour catchment in which the influence of Ennis extends over a large area but is predominately contained within county Clare. While the labour catchment extends to large parts of the county it excludes south western areas which are more influenced by the Kilrush labour catchment to the West and the Galway City labour catchment to the north ( which extends into north-west Clare in areas close to Fanore and Ballyvaughan). Ennis is still the dominant labour catchment for parts of east Clare (Tulla and Feakle) but east of this area is mainly under the influence of Limerick City which acts as a major destination for residents of south-east Clare.


The WDC considers that Shannon should also be considered in the category of larger centre with population in excess of 10,000 – as its resident population of 9,729 is just below the threshold used and it is a more significant employment destination than its resident population would suggest. The CSO identifies the ‘daytime population‘[2] which includes those travelling into work and study as well as those that are normally resident there and who do not travel to work or study. It is clear from the significantly larger ‘daytime population’ that Shannon attracts a large influx of people to work there, both at the airport and among the 100+ international firms located there.

Rural Areas

Realising Clare’s Rural Potential, Clare Rural Development Strategy 2026, was published in 2016. Focussing on community development and community run social enterprises, development will take a partnership approach with communities and agencies working together. It details a range of actions designed to target a reversal of population decline across parts of Rural Clare. The strategy aims to deliver 4,000 jobs in rural areas over 10 years and challenges the presumption that urban living is the only model for growth. There are useful insights into innovative approaches to rural development which could benefit other rural communities across the Southern region.

It is essential that the NPF, the Regional Strategy and the Action Plan for Rural Areas work in a coherent manner to provide a strong policy and strategic basis for regional and rural action which are focussed on improving economic opportunities for people living in rural communities. Furthermore national goals must align with regional strategies and county and local plans and across all sectors.

The Southern Region is different to the others in that it has three cities within its remit, with one city each in the other regions. It will be important that the Southern Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy does not become overly city focused and that it considers the needs and opportunities in all those places between cities – such as County Clare as well as the rural areas within its Region.

The WDC Submission to the Strategy for the Southern Region is available here with the summary available here.

[1] Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region (forthcoming) analysis by AIRO for WDC based on POWSCAR Census of Population 2016.

[2] http://census.cso.ie/p11map41/

Deirdre Frost

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Developing a Strategy for the Northern and Western Region

The Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western Region will implement the targets set out in the newly published National Planning Framework (NPF) Ireland 2040.  The WDC recently made a submission on the Issues Paper for the Strategy for the Northern and Western region and it can be downloaded here (or you can read the summary here).

The Northern and Western Region probably has the most challenging targets to meet in Ireland 2040 with a target of a population increase of 160,000-180,000 people and 115,000 jobs in the region.  However, when broken down into annual growth rates over the next 21 years (2019-2040) the targets appear more manageable,  For example the target that larger towns should grow by 40% to 2040 is an annualised growth rate of 1.62% p.a. for 21 years while rural population growth of 15% over the period amounts to less one percent (0.67%) annual growth.  Galway, which has the largest growth target of 50-60% to achieve a population of at least 120,000 can do this with an annual growth rate of 1.95%.  Nonetheless, these are ambitious targets and achieving them will need considerable resources and direction.

Ireland 2040 also places a significant responsibility on the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) in particular and the urban centres of Galway, Sligo and Letterkenny, as well as other large towns, as the key drivers in the region.  Some of these urban centres, which are targeted for 40% growth in the NWRA area, are not very well connected though they may be well located to serve as a driver for their region. These towns need their connectivity improvements prioritised so that they have some chance to achieve the planned targets.

Successful, sustainable regional growth will require a clear Strategy with strong goals and objectives, appropriate resources, a well-developed implementation process and an implementation body with the capacity, resources and powers to achieve co-ordinated action.

Population & Employment

As was noted throughout the WDC submission, the solution to maintaining and growing the regional population is the availability of employment, which in turn requires supporting policy for infrastructural development, a strategy for education and skills and stimulation of entrepreneurship and enterprise growth.  Infrastructure, the ‘3Es’ (Enterprise, Employment and Education) and Innovation are the key levers for regional development.  When they work together they drive regional growth.  Each has a distinctive role, and needs its own policy focus, but they are most effective when addressed through an integrated policy approach.

The RSES should be explicit on the targeted location of jobs within the Northern & Western Region and the balance between jobs growth in Galway city, large towns and the rest of the Region.  These targets should be supported by a clear statement on how employment growth at different spatial scales will be facilitated and supported through the RSES.  It is important that the Strategy is clearly focused on creating real opportunities to keep people living in the region and to attract more people, whether to cities, towns or rural areas.

It should be remembered that during the early part of this century (2000-2007), when there was rapid economic growth throughout Ireland, rural areas responded rapidly with significant increases in the numbers employed and in workforce participation and, in turn, in local populations.  The region is ready to respond and targeted policies to stimulate employment and entrepreneurship will help to achieve targets.

The urban hierarchy

Specific details of the role to be played by different areas in the Region’s settlement hierarchy and the investments needed for these areas to fulfil their roles must be included in the Strategy.

In order to ensure that Galway city, the strategically located regional centres of Sligo and Letterkenny, other towns and rural areas all fulfil their regional development potential, with service and infrastructure levels appropriate to each type of area, investment at the appropriate scale needs to happen in all these places.  Too often a strategy is made which is supposed to be for all people and areas, but the focus becomes that of cities and other areas are left without appropriate investment.

In the Northern and Western Region there are only 5 towns (and Galway city, as well as part of Athlone) which have a population of more than 10,000, yet it is a relatively large region in the Irish context.  Therefore the Strategy should focus on the function of towns and the role they pay in their hinterland, rather than being too concerned with population size as a criterion for investment.

The nature and role of the smaller towns including county towns must be considered in more detail in the RSES and in County Development Plans.  It is important to be aware, in the context of the Strategy that these towns, as well as being important drivers of their local economy, are also essential to those living in other even smaller less serviced towns, in villages or in the wider countryside.

Although smaller towns can face significant challenges they also have key assets such as cultural heritage, historic buildings, local businesses and high levels of social capital.  These all provide opportunities for diversification and adaptation of the town and its social network to embrace future opportunities, whether it is improved tourism product, attracting people to live there, or developing knowledge and sectoral clusters such as creative industries.  Many towns have strong indigenous industries which may be exporting and a substantial number have some small scale foreign direct investment.  There are other enterprises and employers too, and important local services sectors and small scale manufacturing serving a local market.  These are very significant parts of the local economy and important local employers.  All of these can be leveraged to support the development of local communities.


Brexit is a key strategic issue for the Northern and Western Region.  Cross-border linkages including cross-border commuting, access to services, retail and trade are areas which will undergo massive changes in the context of Brexit.  Planning for how to mitigate the impact of Brexit on border communities and the economy of the Border region in particular must be a core priority of the RSES.


Development of a strong regional spatial and economic strategy for the Northern and Western region will require coordination with central government, local authorities, enterprise agencies, and alignment with the Action Plan for Jobs and the Action Plan for Rural Development as they are developed over time.   The involvement of education providers, employers and people in the region will all be needed to ensure the targets are achieved.  The Strategy should be appropriately resourced (with money, expertise and time, as well as involvement of key stakeholders).  It would be better to have a more focused, limited strategy that can be implemented than a vision which is beyond the possibility of effective implementation.

Of course, the Issues Paper is just the first stage in the process of developing a Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy for the Northern and Western region.  There are many steps to be gone through, and further consultation, before the Northern and Western Regional Assembly publish a final Strategy, hopefully before the end of the year.


Detailed answers to the questions in the Issues Paper and consideration of specific needs are in the full WDC submission and an overview of key points in the summary.

Helen McHenry

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