MabosPeople interested in urban studies will have no doubt come across the term ‘the financialization of the city’, or similar terms such as ‘the financialization of real estate’ or the ‘financialization of urban space’. This post gives a sense of what this means, but also theorizes how financialization relates to urban space with regard to the ‘accumulation’ of wealth.

At its most basic, financialization describes the growing power of finance capital over economic, social and political processes. From an urban point of view financialization can also be understood as a form of accumulation characterized by the capturing of value and wealth through the provision of credit, insurance and forms of financial intermediation.

Debt extracts huge volumes of wealth from across the economy and society, leading Costas Lavapistas to conceptualize it as a parasitic form of ‘profiting without producing’. Much of the expansion of finance in this regard has occurred in the spaces left open by welfare retrenchment. The privatization of social housing, pensions, transport, education and healthcare have all been fundamental to the emergence of new financial markets. This draws attention to shift from ‘welfare to debtfare’ and thus to the ways in which finance serves to sink its teeth into the social reproduction previously sustained by public services. Here the literature on financialization shares much with concepts like ‘enclosure’ and ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (although these have taken aim at neoliberalism and privatization more so than at financialization).

While financialization refers to a vast and varied set of processes, urban space is especially important. There has historically been a strong link between finance and the built environment due to the large upfront capital costs of development and the need to manage risks across long time spans. However, the highly place-based nature of real estate has also traditionally posed obstacles for finance. Every property is unique and hard to measure against other properties and this has made property markets more local and idiosyncratic than, say, the market for cars, washing machines or pizzas. High transaction costs and the large amount of time required for property development, relative to other commodities, add to this.

Financial innovation and deregulation has, however, made property increasingly liquid. This works by disembedding property assets from local contexts as well as more complex mechanisms for managing risk. Real estate as an investment asset can now be easily traded on global markets (e.g. securities, mortgage bonds, large scale commercial real estate, loan portfolios) and investors have come to view property as a ‘tradable income yielding asset’. As one private sector informant told me, property sits ‘nicely’ between equities and bonds in that it produces a fixed income stream (like a bond) while at the same time offering possibilities for capital appreciation (like shares). At the same time, the wider financial system itself has grown rapidly because of deregulation, the liberalization of capital markets and currency exchange, and a prolonged period of historically low interest rates in key economies.

There is a large and growing literature on all of the above, but what has received less attention is what this relationship between finance and urban space means in terms of accumulation (i.e. the accumulation of capital). The fact that real estate allows the owner to capture socially produced wealth has long been recognized, for example in the pioneering work of Henry George. The late 19th century political economists wrote that if you speculate on land “You may sit down and smoke your pipe…and without doing a stroke of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community, in ten years you will be rich.” What makes this possible is that increasing property prices and rent reflect value added by environmental improvements, public infrastructure and services, and social relations. Property values represent, as George put it, “a value created by the whole community”.

Because of the monopolistic nature of space, land and property values capture wealth creation happening in and around them. This ‘parasitic’ quality of real estate has featured prominently in debates about gentrification, where property speculation both feeds on and undermines unique locational qualities and forms of social and cultural wealth.

The financialization of urban space essentially involves the power of finance capital (especially credit and products linked to credit) to embed itself within space’s monopolistic appropriation of value, and thereby to extract and trade claims over income streams arising from property assets. What is financialized is not simply urban space, but more concretely space as an apparatus for capturing collectively produced wealth. And this process is not neutral, there are winners and losers here. The wealth appropriated by finance capital, whether in the form of job creation, environmental improvements, public infrastructure/services, or social relations, is central to social reproduction. It also has important spatial implications for the political economy of space. In particular, when the income streams captured by property become tradable on international markets they go global, integrating the places we make our lives in with transnational circuits of capital.
Finally, the state is anything but a hapless bystander in all of this. Scholars and social movements in cities across the world have highlighted the role of the state in the financialization of urban space and fomenting property bubbles. This research has primarily focused on how housing and urban development/planning policy serve to drive financialization. A smaller body of work has examined some forms of state intervention relating more specifically to financial assets, identifying how such interventions may lead to the creation of new products and markets (witness our own NAMA at the moment).

So, what can we do about all this? There has been lots of discussion about the ‘right to the city’ in recent years. This term is associated with Henri Lefebvre, but I think Henry George put it best when he said:

“The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air – it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have right to be in this world and others no right.”

Property values, rent and financialization are all the flipside of the exclusion of all of us from housing and from free and equal access to and enjoyment of our cities. We can’t take on financialization, without taking back urban space.

Mick Byrne

Mick Byrne is an IRC postdoctoral researcher in NIRSA NUI Maynooth. He is also an activist involved in various housing issues, including the Dublin Tennants Association.

Housing LandOne of the great innovations of the past few years has been the increasing availability of spatial data. User-friendly and freely accessible online interactive tools such as Myplan and AIRO provide easy access to a wide-range of mapped datasets and other resources to help inform policymaking, research and those commenting on matters of public interest. However, despite this, the problem of what Carol Weiss refers to as the ‘problem of little effect’ remains i.e. that a great deal of this evidence tends to sit on the shelf (or on the web) completely unnoticed and has, in fact, very limited impact on policy debates.

This is certainly true of Colm McCarthy’s most recent commentary on housing supply in Dublin. McCarthy’s long-standing thesis has been that the planning system (zoning) caused an artificial scarcity in the supply of development land for housing in and around Dublin throughout the Celtic Tiger, inflating a massive property bubble and simultaneously scattering new residential development to the four winds and far-flung corners of the Midlands and beyond. He further maintains that it is these same restrictive practices, with local authority planners and politicians unwilling to confront vested interests and local communities to zone more land, which is the root cause of the current lack of housing supply in Dublin. Instead, McCarthy argues, that the power to zone underutilised land should be removed from local authorities and centralised. (On this last point, he overlooks that zoning powers were de facto centralised with the introduction of the 2010 Planning Act.)

While this simple supply/demand thesis may, at first glance, appear convincing, it is undermined by one basic flaw. Throughout the Celtic Tiger period there was in fact an enormous surfeit of zoned residential land within Dublin and its environs. An audit carried out by the DoECLG in 2010 found that a total of 3,302 hectares of undeveloped residential zoned land existed within the four Dublin local authorities. Even with conservative residential densities of 35 units per hectare, this was sufficient for at least 115,000 new homes. Within the adjoining Greater Dublin Area (GDA) counties of Kildare, Meath and Wicklow there was a further 4,120 hectares. Most, if not all, of this land was initially zoned in the late 1990s and early 2000s and remained undeveloped throughout the Celtic Tiger period. For example, the 220 hectare Adamstown site in South Dublin was originally zoned in 2001 and was intended to provide 9,950 homes via a ‘fast-track’ planning scheme approved in 2003. Similarly, large greenfield tracts of land at Carrickmines, Clongriffin, Pelletstown, Phoenix Park Racecourse and Hansfield were all zoned well over a decade ago and remain undeveloped or only partially complete. The figures above are exclusive of the abundant supply of brownfield development land, infill sites and mixed-use zonings readily available throughout Dublin and which could potentially have provided for tens of thousands of additional new homes.

It is evident, therefore, that a deficiency in the availability of zoned land was not the cause of the extreme property price inflation in Dublin throughout the Celtic Tiger. Nor is it the cause of new housing undersupply today. The most recent 2014 residential land availability survey by the DoECLG shows that there are currently 2,654 hectares of ‘Stage 2’ zoned land available in Dublin i.e. lands which have been prioritised as potentially available for immediate development, much of it already benefiting from significant public investment in capital infrastructure and services. This is reported to be sufficient to provide approximately 117,000 new dwellings at modest densities i.e. an increase in the total number of dwellings in Dublin by one-quarter. In addition to being zoned and serviced, many of these sites currently also have extant planning permissions. In the remainder of the GDA there is enough land zoned for a further 95,000 dwellings, while zoned residential land nationally could currently accommodate approximately 415,000 units (The DoECLG have even gone to the trouble of mapping the precise location of each of these zoned land parcels). Despite the vast array of evidence to the contrary, it is therefore remarkable how the notion persists, particularly amongst leading economists, that an obstructive planning system is hindering the operation of the housing market and was, and remains, a chief cause of the undersupply of new dwellings to meet demand. For example, earlier this week in his evidence to the Banking Inquiry the former chief economist of the Central Bank, Tom O’Connell, submitted that: “the demand mania for property took off against the background of restrictive zoning which limited the supply of housing, the inevitable result was huge property price inflation”.

Zoned Land

The extent of zoned land currently available in the Dublin metropolitan area for new housing

What this analysis also plainly overlooks is that the simple act of zoning land (colouring in a map) does not ipso facto result in an increased housing supply. Urban development is a complex and heavily capital intensive enterprise on both the supply-side (buildings, roads, sewers, schools etc) and on the demand-side (mortgages) and requires a functioning credit system, state intervention through public planning and a means to bring zoned land into production (i.e. to prevent speculative hoarding). While it may seem counter-intuitive to economists , it was in fact a massive oversupply of zoned land (Ireland had c.44,000 hectares of undeveloped zoned residential land at the end of the Celtic Tiger) that caused the rapid price inflation and poor spatial outcomes of the property bubble. Within Dublin, planning typically operated with a certain modicum of probity (albeit not without serious deficiencies), requiring that development on zoned land took place somewhat in tandem with physical and social infrastructure delivery. Outside Dublin local authorities generally had no such compunction, zoning land and permitting massive developments willy-nilly, including regularly on land with no zoning whatsoever. Facilitated by the shiny new radial motorway network and cheap credit, developers simply leapfrogged the suburbs and extensive hinterlands were turned into fields of gold leaving a disastrous economic, social, environmental and spatial legacy. Amongst the Dublin developer cartel, there were few complaints at the slow pace of real development as paper asset prices continued to soar. Ironically, had restrictive zoning measures actually been put in place and enforced in accordance with the National Spatial Strategy, it would have precipitated the early confrontation of the supply/demand/location problem – and history would have perhaps taken a different trajectory. Such problems  were of course foreseen by the Kenny Report as far back as 1974.

Rail Focussed

Strategic rail focussed housing land-banks available in Dublin  

The solutions to today’s housing supply issues are not to be found in simplistic calls for more zoning.  One of the curious outcomes of the relatively slower pace of development in Dublin during the Celtic Tiger is that we now have more than sufficient suitably zoned and serviced land available to meet current demand. The National Transport Authority, for example, has identified strategic locations where thousands of new homes could be sustainably delivered focussed along rail and light-rail corridors. In a number of cases rail stations have already been constructed in anticipation of future development. What is needed is a means of prioritisation and to bring this land into production. Earlier this year, the Department of Finance launched a public consultation on precisely this question. The current Housing and Urban Regeneration Bill 2015 proposes the introduction of a vacant site levy to disincentivise the underutilisation of brownfield land. What is now also urgently required is the introduction of a similar Site Value Tax (SVT) as a recurring annual charge on all undeveloped zoned land as recommended by the Commission of Taxation in 2009 and by the ‘Thornhill Report’ in 2012. The numerous compelling arguments commending the merits of a progressive SVT have been well rehearsed elsewhere and McCarthy, of-course, will be well familiar with same, having previously written the preface for a notable book on the subject. We need smart future-orientated solutions to make best-use of available resources to solve Dublin’s housing supply issues and not a return to failed past thinking and the exclusively supply-side logic of the Celtic Tiger.

Gavin Daly


Call for Presentations: Regional Studies Association Irish Branch Annual Conference in conjunction with The Southern Regional Assembly


Friday 4 September 2015, University College Cork


The amount of attention given to regional development policy in Ireland tends to decrease during economic downturns. Developments during the last economic crisis have appeared to be no exception. In 2008 the allocations for the Gateway Innovation Fund were withdrawn. In 2012, the Action Programme for Effective Local Government included the consolidation of eight Regional Authorities and two Regional Assemblies into three new Regional Assemblies. In 2013, the National Spatial Strategy 2002-2020 was effectively abandoned, without a clear timeline for developing a successor.
However, the spatially selective nature of the incipient economic recovery has moved regional development in Ireland very much to the forefront of attention again. Regional development policy and governance is in a state of flux with different Ministries and their agencies establishing a new direction of action. The three new Regional Assemblies were established in January 2015 with newly minted powers to devise Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies. The Department of the Environment has installed a National Spatial Strategy scoping group to prepare a report on the development of a new National Planning Framework which, in turn, is expected to be finalised by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, under pressure from increasing public attention, the Department of Enterprise Jobs and Innovation and its agencies are developing their own regional policies. In January 2015, as part of its Action Plan for Jobs 2015, the Department announced a 25 million Euro fund to support regional initiatives. One month laater it launched the Framework for the Development of Regional Enterprise Strategies. A pilot has been applied in the Midlands region, after which it will be rolled out to other regions. The same month IDA Ireland launched its new five-year plan Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019 in which the IDA has committed itself to increasing the level of investment into each region of Ireland by between 30% and 40%. The main aim of this annual conference is to understand the direction of the current policies and actions, and/or provide direction where required.

Submission themes

We call for presentations from policy makers, academia and practitioners active in the field of regional studies. Post-graduate students are encouraged to submit. We call for presentations dealing with, amongst others, the following themes:

Developing Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies – process and content

  • National Oversight and Audit Commission
  • Regional Enterprise Strategies and Action Plan for Jobs – progress and analysis
  • The Midlands pilot
  • IDA and Enterprise Ireland regional strategies
  • Property-based regional development policies
  • A new National Planning Framework
  • Local and regional economic forums
  • Entrepreneurship and firm formation
  • Social Economy and regional development
  • The Greater Dublin Area


Please submit proposals for presentation in the form of a 250 word abstract through the Regional Studies Association – Irish Branch online portal byy 31st July 2015.

Submission of abstracts can be made online at

It is possible to register for the conference online at

Please note that there is a 70 Euro fee for attending the conference and thiss includes lunch.  Payments are processed via PayPal.

Conference updates
Updates on the conference will be available on the RSA-Irish Branch website at

It is encouraged to subscribe to the RSA-Irish Branch’s newsletter to have updates delivered to your e-mail as they become available as well as news of other RSA events.  It is possible to subscribe to the newsletter at

Further information
Please contact


The venue for the conference will be the Brookfield Health Science Building, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.

Originally posted on WDC Insights:

It is clear that some regions in Ireland are growing much more than others (see Regions and Recovery post), with some even showing ‘growth strains’ (Dublin Economic Monitor, Issue 1, Spring 2015, p.4 ). It is also evident that while national economic growth is the main policy objective, policy on where this growth should occur is less clear. This lack of direction is compounded by the hiatus waiting for the development of a successor to the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) (2002), which is not likely to emerge until late 2016 at the earliest.

In the meantime, work to promote ‘balanced regional development’ continues with policy initiatives and actions being developed to spread growth and development more widely across the country, including the recently announced IDA Strategy 2015-2019  to boost regional FDI employment, along with the formulation of Regional Action Plans for Jobs, and the implementation of recommendations from the Commission for the Economic Development…

View original 975 more words

It is always useful to get a response to ideas and theories, and Prionnsias Breathnach’s reponse to our recent publications on rural Ireland will assist in furthering the debate on Ireland’s replacement spatial strategy.

Our fundamental point is that any Irish Planning Region without a city is going to struggle, as exemplified with the two-tier performance of the recent severe economic downturn, 2008-to-date. With the State’s fragile spatial mass and absence of significant population centres, a future strategy for balance must recognise the need for ‘lumpiness’: not to control or stultify the GDA but in having the imperative and urgent need to grow the provincial cities to a size that substantially reduces the 2011 71% deficiency in its Zipf Rank Order Gini-coefficient deficit, wherein if Dublin = 100, Cork = just 17.5, Limerick’s 8, etc. As I have shown, this aggregate city population-shortfall is over one million.

Successful implementation of EU Balanced Regional Development (BRD) is based on the underlying, necessary, assumption that there already exists a second tier of cities. Unfortunately, in Ireland’s (Republic) case and using George Zipf’s Rank Size Order Rule as the test, there is a conspicuous absence – a set of missing teeth – in not having in 2015, a range of 200,000 to 600,000 populated cities. Had Buchanan been implemented in 1969, by now both Cork and Limerick would have achieved these parameters.

Bluntly, the absence of intermediate-sized cities makes the task of implementing BRD outside of the GDA as being unattainable; at least until such time as this pre-requisite exists.

Accordingly, Lorcan Sirr and I are advocating that there is a pressing need for the replacement (new) spatial strategy to focus on developing at least one city or large urban centre in every Planning Region, which is capable of urban agglomerating. Alonso’s paper of 1970, (vide Balchin, 1995: 49) at Fig. 2.12, suggested an X-axis minimum city size of 100,000, with subsequent growth to its inflection points ‘C’, ‘D’ and with in-migration, to ‘E’. How much more so does the minimum threshold population of a modern Irish city need to be in this post-industrial ‘knowledge’ era, so as to reach a size, where it can capture the benefits of urban agglomeration growth, with its attendant clustering effects? It is encouraging to see the benefits of perhaps three specific ‘types’ of clustering in Galway City but this is altogether too few – Dublin has twenty-five or so types. Hence, Galway’s population can still be comfortably accommodated in the 82,500 capacity of Croke Park!

As a country with limited capital resources, there is little prospect of Ireland attaining such results unless our spatial and economic strategies are to be aligned and focused towards that end. In practice, this means a severe spatial planning implementation approach to:

  • controlling one-off housing,
  • reversing the proliferation trend of over 200 hundreds new villages and small towns since 1996,
  • providing affordable housing in our cities in locations close to employment,
  • reducing the traffic congestion of long-distant commuting resulting from enforced population deflection,
  • the re-use of hundreds of hectares of languishing brown-field sites and thereby utilising existing infrastructure and schools, of improved urban design with double-duplex family housing units which have ground-level and roof-level gardens, and
  • anticipating in advance the emergence and recognition of new cities…e.g. the emergence of a sixth city with the impending agglomeration of Drogheda and Laytown-Bettystown-Mornington with a current, closing, gap of just 800 metres (Colp West to Donacarney): not 59 km, the distance between Athlone and Mullingar, a la the NSS ‘linkage’.

The extended economic downturn for nearly the last decade has shown rural Ireland’s severe unemployment and enforced emigration vulnerability and the resultant two-speed economic penalty for regions without cities. Unfortunately, this is likely to be repeated during future cyclical downturns. Thus an all-island approach is needed to ‘lever’ the north-west to the City of Derry, to maximising the potential of the Dublin-Belfast Economic Corridor; to focusing growth on proven centres such as Portlaoise, where the land-use/ transportation interface is evident. Its 2006-2011, its population growth was equivalent to the aggregate of the NSS Midland Gateway of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar. Why select Monaghan, Tuam, Mallow, etc. ahead of Portlaoise?

The ‘test’ for city-size thresholds would include locations that would be deemed suitable for ‘institutional-grade’ property investment locations acceptable to financial instruments such as Pension Funds, REITS, etc. Cities are a pre-requisite to economic ‘spillovers’.

Recent Regional Studies literature has focused on the prospects for New Economic Geography and New Urban Economic research combining to provide urban modelling. Our wish is for their scientific advancement, to include evidence-based empirical modelling. With empirical tools which could incorporate demographics, thereby advancing the earlier ’industrial era’ approach to city threshold size. Such modelling would be of particular value to smaller countries including Ireland – states that exhibit strong major city ‘primacy’.

One would wish for the new spatial and economic plan which is free of the harmful political ‘paw marks’ that bedevilled the 2002-2020 NSS, having perhaps fifteen or so nominated growth centres, limited to centres of 20,000 or more, with strong Daytime Working Population counts. Attempts to ‘twin’ or ‘treble’ linkages should be limited to locations that are already demonstrating urban agglomeration.

The World Bank (2008) correctly advocated ‘lumpiness’ and centripetal agglomeration as the way forward, for developing countries, to build their cities, nurture the nature and change of ‘work’ and thereby benefit from the ‘knowledge’ economy world that now is. Spatial planning-wise, Ireland is a ‘developing, country, so get cracking!

Dr Brian Hughes, urban and regional economist

Dr Lorcan Sirr, lecturer in DIT and visiting professor or housing at the Universitat Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona, Spain

Proinnsias Breathnach, Department of Geography, Maynooth University

The term “Balanced Regional Development” has come under attack in a recent post on this forum (“Recent Demographic Growth in Ireland: Implications for future Spatial Planning and Housing Provision” by Brian Hughes, March 10) and in an opinion piece by Brian Hughes and Lorcan Sirr in The Irish Examiner (“Rural Ireland not served well by unfounded claims on ‘balanced regional development’”, March 18). While I am agreement with the general thrust of the argument advanced in these pieces, I take issue with what I believe is the erroneous interpretation of the term “balanced regional development” (BRD) presented therein.

Hughes and Sirr equate BRD with the highly-dispersed pattern of investment and job creation pursued by successive Irish governments going back to the late 1950s, when the policy of attracting inward investment was first introduced. This reached its zenith with the Regional Industrial Plans of the 1970s which sought to locate foreign branch plants in every town of any significant size in the country, mainly through a massive programme of advance factory construction throughout the country. This policy was unsustainable, and very few of the mainly low-skill assembly and packaging plants, with minimal local linkages, which it generated are still in operation today. However, the policy did meet with a high level of initial success, and the subsequent perception that the government and/or the IDA were capable of parachuting factories into selected communities almost at will was to create future hostages to fortune for subsequent governments.

The much higher quality of jobs – frequently in large projects, and increasingly in export services – which became a feature of the surge of inward investment associated with the Celtic Tiger largely ruled out smaller centres as locational options for such investment. Nevertheless, the dispersalist ambitions of politicians, with their short-term and highly-localised focus, retained their hold and were given one more flourish in the form of the absurd and opportunistic programme, launched by then Minister for Finance Charlie McCreevy, for relocating 11,000 civil service jobs to 59 different locations spread over all 25 non-Dublin counties.

It is unfortunate that Hughes and Sirr have used the term “balanced regional development” to describe this policy approach, as the same term underpins the approach to spatial development currently being pursued by the European Union (EU) – an approach which differs quite profoundly from that decried (quite properly, in my view) by Hughes and Sirr. I am referring to the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), adopted by all EU member states in 1999 as their agreed framework for approaching regional development within the Community.
The basic aim of the ESDP document (Committee on Spatial Development, 1999) is encapsulated in the document’s subtitle (“Towards balanced and sustainable development of the territory of the European Union”) and is set out as follows:

““It is therefore important gradually to aim at a spatial balance designed to provide a more even geographical distribution of growth across the territory of the EU” (p.7).

The objective of balanced regional/spatial development in the ESDP is to counter the prevailing tendency for development to become increasingly concentrated in the EU’s main metropolitan regions. It aims to do this by replacing the typically subordinate position of non-central regions vis-à-vis the dominant regions with an alternative stand-alone capacity whereby peripheral (i.e. non-metropolitan) regions are capable of competing effectively in EU and global markets on their own merits. To achieve this, these regions are to be encouraged to build their own distinctive and specialised export bases, to replace the failed policies of an earlier era focused on branch-plant industrialisation where there was intense (and ultimately wasteful) competition to attract much the same type of firms and industrial structures to the regions concerned.

The key mechanism for achieving balanced regional development proposed in the ESDP is to use the main urban centres in the target regions as the linchpins around which coherent regional export bases can be built. However, it is an important concern of the ESDP that development would not be concentrated in these regional centres; rather, they should serve as drivers of development throughout their respective regions. In particular, the ESDP envisages the development of new forms of symbiotic urban/rural interaction which would replace traditional perspectives which regard urban and rural as separate, and sometimes mutually-hostile, entities.  Under the ESDP, therefore, peripheral regions would take the form of internally-coherent city regions focused on the main regional centres which would act as “gateways” (another frequently misunderstood term) facilitating interaction (e.g. exports & imports, communication flows) between their respective regions and the outside world.

The ultimate effect of this policy, then, is to replace a monocentric national space economy, dominated by a single metropolitan region (as in Ireland, Britain, France, Denmark) with a “polycentric” (yet another widely misinterpreted term) system of substantially self-reliant city-regions:

“The concept of polycentric development has to be pursued, to ensure regionally balanced development… Pursuit of this concept will help to avoid further excessive economic and demographic concentration in the core area of the EU. The economic potential of all regions of the EU can only be utilised through the further development of a more polycentric European settlement structure” (p.20).

While the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) is a dog’s dinner of a document, poorly structured, deficient in many respects and very obviously adulterated by short-term political considerations, its essential approach to spatial development is clearly derived from the ESDP, published three years before the NSS’s own publication in 2002 (National Spatial Strategy for Ireland, 2002). This is evident from the following passages from the document:

“To achieve balanced regional development…requires the targeted assembly at strategic locations, at the required scale, of the factors critical for success” (p.19).

“Balanced regional development also…depends on building up a strong urban structure” (p.26).

“Achieving competitiveness at national, regional and local levels…is central to balanced regional development…The availability of a critical mass of labour and skills, underpinned by high quality business infrastructure is central to achieving competitiveness…attempts to create the requisite competitiveness on a widely dispersed basis would undermine Ireland’s capacity to exploit the potential of centres where critical mass exists or can be promoted. Without having this at the heart of the NSS balanced regional development will not succeed” (pp.34-5).

“…the NSS emphasises the importance of capitalising upon the strengths of and investment in Ireland’s existing major urban areas” (p.36).

“Strengthening the critical mass of the existing gateways of Cork, Limerick/Shannon, Galway and Waterford…offers the most immediate prospects of establishing more balanced patterns of development over the next few years” (p.38).

“..strategically placed, national scale urban areas, acting as gateways…will be key elements for delivering a more spatially balanced Ireland and driving development in their own region” (p.39).

“Balanced national growth and development are secured with the support of a small number of nationally significant centres, whose location and scale support the achievement of the type of critical mass necessary to sustain strong levels of job growth in the regions” (p.39).

My essential argument, therefore, is that balanced regional development does not mean the kind of scattergun approach to the dispersal of investment pursued by Irish governments in the past, but the kind of polycentric city-region development favoured by both the ESDP and, I think, Brian Hughes and Lorcan Sirr themselves. Further, the latter approach was also the basic approach proposed by the NSS, despite the overlay of politically-motived “something-for-everyone-in-the-audience” nonsense with which the final NSS document was saddled.

The problem with the NSS is not that it failed, but that it was never implemented. The government has said that it is preparing a new spatial strategy, but we are unlikely to see it before the next election. Even then, it is virtually certain that a strategy in line with the ESDP will never materialise here, given the existing degree of governance centralisation, and the short-termism, localism and lack of intellectual calibre among politicians. The functionally meaningless regional assemblies created by the 2014 Local Government Act and the complete failure of that Act to deliver any kind of functional devolution (despite what was promised by the governing parties before and after the last general election, and despite the powerful arguments for devolution presented in the discussion paper Putting People First which preceded the Act) reflect the poverty of thinking and incapacity for effective action relating to regional development which envelops Ireland’s state apparatus (bureaucracy and legislature).

Committee on Spatial Development (1999) European Spatial Development Perspective: Towards Balanced and Sustainable Development of the Territory of the European Union. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

National Spatial Strategy for Ireland 2002-2020: People, Places and Potential (2002) Dublin: The Stationery Office.


New research conducted by Dr Rory Hearne, Department of Geography, Maynooth University, has found that the recent water protests (the largest protest social movement in Ireland since Independence) was motivated by a range of factors and not just water charges.  People are protesting at the impacts of austerity (which was the most cited reason for protesting), a desire for complete abolition (and not just reduction) of water charges and against the privatisation of water. They are also motivated by the belief that the current (and previous) government have, through austerity and the bailout, put the interests of the banks, Europe, and the bondholders before the needs of the Irish people, and that the working, poor and middle income people have paid an unfair burden of austerity. Respondents identified ‘corruption’, ‘cronyism’ and a belief that the ‘establishment parties look after a golden circle of wealthy business people and corporate elite’ as reasons for public anger.

The research is contained in a report being launched today which is written and analysed by Dr Hearne.  The Report is entitled, The Irish water war, austerity and the ‘Risen people’: An analysis of participant opinions, social and political impacts and transformative potential of the Irish anti water-charges movement. The Report details the findings of a survey of 2,556 water protestors undertaken between  December 7th and 14th 2014. It was a survey of those who are opposed to, and protesting against, the water charges, and not of the general population.

This is the largest survey of a protest movement undertaken to date in Ireland. It is unique, ground breaking, and innovative research, as it used on-line and social media to engage participants from the protest movement while it was on-going. This is the largest survey of a protest movement undertaken to date in Ireland. The survey respondents were from diverse geographical and occupational backgrounds.   It is an independent research study, led by Dr Rory Hearne, with the involvement of students in the MA in Human Geography, and no funding was received to undertake the survey or the report.

Report findings:

A majority believe that the campaign will be successful and do not intend to pay the water charges

92% stated that they do not intend paying for water charges and 90% felt the tactics of the Right2Water movement have been effective. This indicates a high level of confidence among protestors that the water charges and Irish Water will be abolished. It is also very supportive of the Right2Water trade unions, political parties and grassroots ‘Says No’ groups. Survey respondents believe the protests brought the water charges to the top of the political agenda and made the government “take stock and realise that the people of Ireland have had enough” and that “they are not taking this one lying down”. Protestors intend to extend the campaign to boycotting the water charge.

New form of citizen’s action and empowerment

A majority of respondents (54.4%) stated that they had not participated  in any previous protest. Respondents felt the water protests have been successful because it “is a genuinely grassroots and local movement and has mobilised every village, town and city of this country” and “rallied Irish people from all walks of life”.  The respondents explained that, in their view, they have the power to stop the implementation of the water charges through large scale protest, non-payment and protest at water meter installations. This is different from other austerity measures such as the household charge where people did not have the same power to protest as it was enforced by revenue or cuts were made directly to wages and public services.

Media portrayal

When asked, a majority of respondents described the media portrayal of the anti-water movement as either ‘undermining the campaign’ (46%) or  ‘unfair’ (41%). 82.6% were most informed about the campaign from social media while only 6.4% of respondents relied on traditional media outlets.

Desire for new political party and dramatic political change in Ireland

Very significantly, 45% said they voted for the main large parties (FF/FG/Labour) in 2011 but indicated that they are changing their vote to the opposition Left parties and independents in the forthcoming election. 31.7% said they will vote for PBP/AAA, 27.5% said for Left Independents, 23.9% for Sinn Fein and only 5.6% for ‘Right’ Independents. 77% of respondents said that they believed the most effective way of getting change was through protesting while only 28% saw contacting a political representative as effective.

Despite the strong support for ‘Left’ parties, a large proportion (79%) want to see a new political party formed. They identified that the issues such a new party should stand on include anti-austerity; anti-corruption, anti-cronyism; radical political reform and democracy. They want it to stand for fairness, equality, social justice, and the right to housing, health, water, education and protection of the poor and vulnerable. It should also stand up to Europe (particularly on the debt), and ‘take back’ Irish natural resources (gas, fisheries etc) ‘for the people of Ireland’.

Dr Rory Hearne, explained the significance of these findings:  “The outcomes of the survey raise a number of interesting findings and reflections for understanding the Irish anti-water charges movement and its impact on the changing nature of Irish politics and democracy. It suggests that the water movement represents a new form of ‘people-empowered’ politics. Interestingly, respondents also made reference to the failure of the main political parties to live up to the ‘ideals of the Republic’. What is clear from this ground-breaking study is that the water protests have catalysed a process of empowering significant numbers of Irish people who had not been involved in protest or anti-establishment politics before which is likely to have a big impact on Irish politics in coming years.”

The report is available here


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