Our analysis of the annual Forfás survey of agency-assisted firms suggests that the objectives of the National Spatial Strategy (NSS), launched ten years ago, are not being met.

The NSS sought to restrict the concentration of growth in the Greater Dublin region by diverting investment to the main regional centres – termed “gateways” in the NSS – and a number of smaller centres called “hubs”.  However, Dublin alone, with 35% of all foreign employment in 2001, has attracted 53% of jobs in new foreign firms since then.

Almost 80 per cent of jobs created by new foreign firms in the last decade were located in Dublin, Cork and Galway. With these three cities also accounting for 62 per cent of job gains in existing foreign firms and less than half of job losses, their share of all foreign employment rose markedly, from 49% to 58%, over the period. This process of concentration has accelerated since the onset of the economic crisis in 2007. This level of concentration in just three cities shows that the objectives of the NSS are not being met.

New foreign firms have a key role to play in meeting regional policy objectives, as they are more flexible in choosing locations for new investment compared with existing foreign firms while Irish firms tend to expand in existing locations.  Galway’s established reputation as a centre for the medical devices industry has made it increasingly attractive for new investments in that industry, while Cork has a strong profile for both the pharmaceuticals and electronics sectors.  Meanwhile, Dublin has been absorbing the bulk of investments in the rapidly-growing computer software and financial services areas.

The NSS aimed to build up the attractions of the other gateways for incoming investors, but clearly this has not happened. Dublin, Cork and Galway were the only NSS gateways to experience net employment growth between 2001-2011, when jobs in Irish state-assisted firms are factored in.  Letterkenny remained stable, while the other five gateways (Dundalk, Midlands, Limerick, Sligo, Waterford) experienced a combined job loss of 20% – three times the national average. 

The performance of the eleven hubs was mixed, with Cavan, Tuam, Ennis and Kilkenny all gaining employment, while the others (Ballina, Castlebar, Monaghan, Killarney, Tralee, Mallow and Wexford) experienced a very high combined employment loss of 35% – further evidence that the NSS has been ineffectual.

More detailed findings will be presented at a conference at the Economic and Social Research Institute (5 June 2012) entitled “Ten years on: revisiting the National Spatial Strategy”. The conference is organised by the Regional Studies Association Irish Branch in collaboration with the ESRI. For Further details see:

 http://www.regional-studies-assoc.ac.uk/international-networks/rsair.asp

Proinnsias Breathnach and Chris van Egeraat

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