Who cares enough about Regional Development... to make a difference? 

Ireland doesn't take Regional Development seriously. This is best evidenced by the population share shift and drift to the wider Dublin Region, without interruption, for over 120 years.

The consequences are that we have an imbalanced economy with Dublin becoming increasingly congested - and we are spending billions to alleviate the associated problems - while on the other hand we are not fully utilising the resources of the Regions of Ireland.

Change is needed.

Here's the Issue....

Every single Irish census since 1881 has seen a population share shift away from the Regions of Ireland, to the greater Dublin/Leinster zone. And, this shift has brought about an economic growth spiral increasingly favouring the Greater Dublin Region - an increasing SHARE of population, a greater share of locating businesses, of workforce; of infrastructural investment; of international access and of visitor numbers, etc.

In the case of the rest of Ireland, and the West in particular – the reverse holds true; the population share continues to decline, as Ireland's lack of any serious Regional Development policy increasingly ‘pulls’ development toward the Greater Dublin Region. No individual examples of modest Regional success will counter the fact that there has been a continuous population share shift toward Dublin for over 120 years.

The accelerating level of imbalance in not in the interest of Ireland, and certainly not in the interest of the Region’s of Ireland. On the one hand, we are seeing the Greater Dublin Area advance economically, but becoming increasingly congested - with Ireland having to spend billions to try and cope to alleviate this congestion. Traffic levels in the greater Dublin area are increasing; roads are more congested; there are housing shortages and soaring house prices; there are hotel accommodation occupancy pressures and hotel prices are increasing; people working in Dublin have to live further and further from the City, impacting the environment, impacting house prices in a necklace of towns surrounding Dublin and negatively affecting the quality of life and the nature of communities in these areas. There are also water shortages at certain times and there are forecasts of chronic water shortages which, ironically, will require Dublin to look West for a water supply to guarantee its future needs.

On the other hand, in the rest of Ireland and the West in particular, you have under-utilised assets and resources and the unrealised potential of our cities, towns, coast and country.

 

Ireland's Future Growth Choice

Ireland's Choice is to reap the rewards of growth by empowering Regions and fully utilising Regional assets, or else allow the clear over-concentration to continue and then pay the huge bill to alleviate the resultant congestion and the deterioration in our quality of life.

 

Here are some Big Ideas to make a Difference

IDEA #1: Create an Atlantic Way Economic Corridor

Develop the Atlantic Way as an economic zone

The concept of the ‘Atlantic Way’ as an economic zone pre-dates the concept of the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ as a tourism route. Although it is still in its very early stages, the Wild Atlantic Way as a tourism initiative shows what is possible with imagination, determination and when resources are applied.

The designation of the ‘Atlantic Way’ as an economic zone, covering a different and wider geographic area to bring the key urban centres into play, would have a powerful impact.

The spine of the Region would be the Cork-Limerick-Shannon-Galway axis, but radiating outward to optimise the use of resources of all areas and to accrue the benefits to those areas. It would require a strategic long-term vision, some quick steps toward that vision; a major promotional focus; Empowerment of the Region and major support initiatives to deliver on economic and social targets.

 

IDEA #2: Creating Business Clusters & Centres of Excellence

Driving the development of sectoral clusters

An Atlantic Way Economic Corridor, centred on the Cork-Limerick-Shannon-Galway axis, and radiating out to a wider regional zone, should be designated and developed to facilitate the strategic clustering of industry in key sectors, together with closely located supporting centres of R&D excellence.

Driving the development of sectoral clusters would make an enormous difference in attracting new investment and creating centres and zones of excellence along the Atlantic Way economic corridor. This in turn would create both a competitive and collaborative environment which would help support and drive further innovation and growth. The globally strong clusters at Galway for manufacturing and research in the medical and biomedical sectors, and at Shannon for Aviation Services show the way.

Sectors with growth potential include ICT, finance, life sciences, bio-medical, logistics, aviation/aerospace, engineering, energy, green technologies, agri-foods and international services.

In addition to driving to encourage greater foreign direct investment, there should be an increased emphasis on growing indigenous SME business and particularly High Potential Start-Ups in this zone – with the ambition of identifying more ways to support and build Irish-owned businesses with great potential, including some to generate, in time, over one-billion euro in annual revenue.

Ireland should also have a target of delivering at least 40% of foreign direct investment into this designated corridor.

 

IDEA #3: Growing Tourism in the West

Accelerating Tourism Growth into the Regions

After a number of years of decline, tourism growth into Ireland has resumed. The published statistics make any detailed regional analysis difficult, however it is clear that Dublin is the primary beneficiary, perhaps best evidenced by the acute shortage of hotel rooms there. It's noticable too that access is becoming even more concentrated via Dublin, and this is negatively impacting Regional dispersal and seasonality.

Tourism is hugely important to the West and The Wild Atlantic Way is a powerful platform o build upon. It’s a visionary project which the industry welcomes, but it has yet to ‘cut through’ and achieve widespread international consumer recognition. It therefore needs to be driven harder in the marketing communications; and the promise it makes to visitors needs to be delivered on the ground – in terms of the experience. Greater investment should be made and encouraged to bring about significant destination-influencing tourism projects, activities and imaginative festivals and events of scale along its route.

Not all of what the Western Regions have to offer is coast-based and our Town & Cities, Events, Attractions and Activities should be supported and encouraged to play a greater role in attracting visitors - particularly overseas visitors.

Outside of peak season, unlike in Dublin, relatively few overseas visitors visit the Regions. Domestic Tourism is what sustains most businesses. Extending the tourism season for overseas business and year-round Domestic Tourism initiatives are essential to support Regional businesses to enable them to thrive and to reinvest in upgrading their facilities and services.

Ireland sets its targets nationally. Specific and ambitious targets should be set for tourism to the Regions and the progress should be measured and reported upon.

Our tourism statistics are extremely poor. They need to be more timely and have greater depth to give us all an understanding of tourism movements and more detailed national and regional tourism trends. Topline figures can hide a multitude and currently don’t serve us well. 

 

IDEA #4: The River Shannon as a Flagship Project

Developing the world’s greatest River Tourism, Lifestyle and Environmental Project

The River Shannon should be shaped as an imaginative Ireland Flagship Project; a project that would aim to manage and control the River, to make it an even more valuable resource – and also one that is less disruptive. We should...

  • View it for what it is - a life-sustaining artery, that dominates the centre of Ireland, and that now needs intensive care.
  • Create a vision for the River and deliver on it as a Flagship Project for Ireland. The visionary project should include addressing all the issues that have caused it to be disruptive, but we should also shape it to be one of the world’s greatest River Tourism, Lifestyle and Environmental Projects.
  • With this overall vision as the context, set up a single authority, with international expertise on-board, to be responsible for delivering on the vision into the future.
  • We should bring on-board the best expertise, wherever in the world it resides, to help advise, shape and deliver on all the actions required.
  • The River Shannon route should be developed, in a sustainable way, not just for visitors – but as a lifestyle location. A wonderful place to live life and to work – with greater work opportunities, because of the proximity to the River.

 

Ireland Needs A Growth Absorption Policy

It is time Ireland began to take Regional Development seriously; to stop paying lip service to it and to also stop using micro examples of progress, when the macro-evidence is clearly highlighting not just imbalance, but an increasing economic imbalance within Ireland.

The growth absorption policy should set targets that see Dublin continue to prosper, but the rest of Ireland becoming increasingly important in terms of economic and social development, bringing about an overall healthier national growth balance.

Support

If you would like to support us and join in the conversation on advancing the Atlantic Way as an Economic Corridor, follow us on Twitter.