August 2012

Since the launch of our National Census Mapping Viewer we’ve have been doing some additional work on the Small Area (SA) datasets and are now in a position to add the new maps to the viewer. The availability of SA level data is a major step forward for socio-demographic mapping and evidence informed planning in Ireland and provides a completely new insight to the trends and patterns that are in place across the country.

If we take Maynooth as an example we can see that up to this point the best level of data we had was for the Maynooth ED as a whole. The introduction of the new SA geography now means that Maynooth can be broken down into 49 individual pieces of information for each census variable. As you can imagine this allows for a much greater level of analysis and understanding of what’s happening in the town when looking at variables such as unemployment, population cohorts (0-14, 65plus etc), health, disability, housing type etc.

This morning we’ve added SA maps to the ‘Population’, ‘Religion’ and ‘Nationality’ themes. Users now have a choice of viewing each variable at either the ED or SA spatial scale. Rather than keeping the legends the same for each variable (at ED and SA level) we have opted to let the data distribution define the legends by using ‘natural breaks’ for each variable. For example, this means that a yellow colour on the ED map may not be the exact same range as on the SA map. This is just something to be aware of. Some examples of the maps are below:

Population 65 plus in DLR at SA level

Polish population in Cork City at SA level

Religion (No Religion/Not Stated) mapping in Sligo at SA level

Over the next week we are going to add to the other themes and have organised a release schedule as follows:

  • Population, Religion and Nationality: Friday, 31th August
  • Education and Social Class: Monday, 3rd Sept
  • Principal Economic Status, Industry of Employment and Occupation: Wednesday, 5th Sept
  • Housing, Transport and Communication: Friday, 7th Sept
  • Health and Disability: Monday, 10th September

You can access the National Census Mapping Viewer here:

To view all our other census mapping tools click here: AIRO Census home page

AIRO team


The latest installment of the CSO Residential Property Price Index was released this morning.  AIRO has updated its interactive graphing tool of the house prices to include the new data (see below).  The tool allows you to explore the performance of the housing market from 2006 to July 2012 including index scores, annual change and overall change from the market peak. Properties can be viewed by type (house/apartment) and by crude geography (nationally, Dublin and nationally excluding Dublin).  As we detailed a month ago, care needs to be taken in interpreting the data for a number of reasons.  Nonetheless, the headline figures are that house prices fell nationally by 13.6% in the year to July compared to a decline of 14.4% in the year to June. In the month of July prices increased by 0.2% nationally representing a very slight improvement in comparison to June 2012 which reported a 1.1% decrease in the month.  In Dublin property prices fell by 0.3% in the month and 16.6% in the year to July, while apartments were the worst performing and were 19.6% lower than July 2011.  Prices outside Dublin rose by 0.3% in the month and were 12.1% lower than the same period in 2011.

Eoghan McCarthy and Rob Kitchin

Launched last month, ‘Rap Nuacht na hEireann’ (RNE) is a project by Darragh Kenny which aims to release a series of videos on youtube that combine a television news format with music and a rapping anchor in order to explore “news and views that shape Ireland but are often on the peripheral of the mainstream”. Episode 1 seeks to ask broad questions concerning “who controls the scope of the media debate”. In an effort to extend the level of debate generated, the author of the video has asked a number of people (including myself) to write pieces that comment on issues raised in different episodes. With that in mind, the intentions of this post is to function as a ‘critical plug’ for the project and to provide a space for discussion of both the video itself and the issues it raises.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about how political discussion in Ireland, as filtered through the mainstream media, can be limited in scope. While minor policy issues can be covered in great detail, more structural factors, such as the legitimacy of the form of capitalism currently practiced in Ireland, can be completely excluded from the debate. This continues to be the case even when those minor policy issues are effectively locked in place by the constraints of this overarching system.
The explosion of forms of new social media has significantly altered the media landscape by incorporating a range of new voices and modes of communication. In different ways this has changed how most of us receive and consume news. However, the presence of new voices in the media landscape does not preclude that we are now exposed to more diverse opinions or that our critical capacities have been sharpened. In one sense all the competing voices may cancel each other out. In a different sense, because we are inundated with so much content through new social media channels, we tend to be selective about which sources (websites, blogs, twitter feeds) we get our information from. Hence, the internet has a tendency to turn into an ‘echo chamber’ where likeminded individuals come together in particular corners of cyberspace. Thus, mainstream media remains an important conduit for public discussion, in contrast to the sometimes diverse publics catered to by new social media.
As a media commentary and media product, RNE fits right into the ambiguities of this space. The project aims for a populist appeal by presenting what is perhaps challenging content in an accessible and fun manner. It mirrors the format of a televised news programme, wherein news anchor Seamus O’Dea mediates between a number of other guests (an Occupy protester, an economic correspondent, and an investor) who offer a range of different viewpoints on events. O’Dea is intended to represent an impartial perspective. He is, according to Kenny, meant to be ‘one step ahead of the public’, and hence guides them through a series of issues that are articulated by the other guests. As such, a debate unfolds between the guests and O’Dea that is intended to open up spaces not normally covered by mainstream news.
While RNE draws on mainstream media tropes, it is very clearly a product of the new social media terrain. The project is hosted on youtube and disseminated through twitter and facebook. It also aims to take advantage of the blurring of identities offered through these mechanisms: Seamus O’Dea has his own facebook page for instance.
Whilst O’Dea and co don’t have Mos Def’s flow, the project should be commended for presenting a lot of complex information in a concise and easily digested manner (and in verse!). The news programme format functions as a way of distilling several voices and demonstrating their points of friction. The video isn’t always entirely successful in this regard. At times, O’Dea oversteps the boundaries of his supposed impartiality, and investor Vlad Doich Cuaill comes across a bit of a cartoonish villain.
Nevertheless, the project raises a number of pertinent questions about the shape of the current media landscape. In satirising the television news format, RNE calls attention to the proclivity of the mainstream media to uphold the status quo. When peripheral perspectives are drafted in they are often discursively marginalised as ‘extreme’ points of view and used to play against more minor differences between ‘moderate’ (Centre Right) responses. However, for these very reasons RNE is also perhaps in danger of falling into the chasm of an ‘echo chamber’, preaching only to a left-leaning choir while missing the ‘popular’ audience that it sets out to address.
These opinions are not intended to be a definitive pronouncement on RNE’s successes and failures. Rather they are open questions that need to be addressed through more general discussion. As a socially engaged internet public, the readers of this blog are in a good position to conduct such a debate, to ask questions like: How effective are projects like RNE? How can new social media extend the public debate? How can fragmented ‘online publics’ be reconciled with a ‘general public’? To address these and other issues, please send your comments to Seamus O’Dea below.
Cian O’Callaghan

Irish merchandise exports are dominated by the pharmaceutical sector. This sector has been performing strongly in recent years despite the persistent economic turmoil, both domestic and international. Pharmaceutical exports, grew from €24.6 billion in 2000 to €51.8 billion in 2011 and accounted for 56% of Irish merchandise exports in 2011.

For some time industry observers have been warning of an impending ‘patent cliff’. Many drugs enjoy a period of patent protection, during which the originator company can charge a high price for its product. When the patent eventually lapses, the market is opened to generic competition which seriously reduces the value of the product. As it happens, many blockbuster drugs are coming off patent in a concentrated period between 2011 and 2013. Six of the ten main blockbuster drugs coming of patent in this period are at least partially produced in Ireland. The patent cliff is therefore expected to have a strong impact on Irish exports.

The most recent CSO release of merchandise export figures, on first inspection, does not appear to indicate a substantial ‘patent cliff’ impact. Irish exports of chemicals (dominated by pharmaceuticals) in the period January-June 2012 were a mere 4.1% down from the same period in 2012. But it is important to appreciate the geography of trade. Chemicals exports to the US in the first half of 2012 were down 2.6bn Euro, or 30%, from the same period in 2011. Exports to Britain increased, while exports to the ‘other EU’, the most important market, were stable. I believe that this cannot be explained by the habitual strongly fluctuating nature of chemicals exports and that the figures represent the first concrete evidence of the impact of the patent cliff on Irish exports.

To understand this we need to realise that patents do not expire in all geographies at the same time. Patents for new drugs tend to be initially filed in the home country of a given multinational corporation. As a result they will first expire in these markets also.  Last November, Lipitor, the number one global blockbuster drug of Pfizer (a US company) came off patent in the US. In the first half of this year Irish exports to the US dropped by 30%. Figure 1 below shows that this is an unusually large drop and that it diverges from recent trends. Since 2009 we had experienced growing exports (in value terms). What is more, in volume terms, exports marginally increased. That, to me, points to a strong fall in the price of chemical products being exported to the US and I believe that this reflects the impact of the patent cliff.

The 30% drop in half-yearly exports to the US translates into an annual drop of 5.2bn Euro – already 10% of total Irish total pharmaceutical exports in 2011. Pharmaceutical exports to the US are likely to fall further in the coming years, as other blockbusters come off patent. In addition, the patent cliff has still to reach the UK and the rest of the EU, which are far more important markets for Irish pharmaceutical exports (together accounting for 60 per cent of Ireland’s chemicals exports). After a delay, exports to these markets will be affected as well. It is difficult to even estimate the precise effect. The overall impact depends on the make-up of pharmaceutical exports to the EU market and the strategic response of the originator drug companies when their patents expire. But  the impact of these developments on Irish exports will be in the order of billions.

The following event will take place at University College Cork, September 6th 201, 2-6pm.  All welcome and no fee.  Venue: CACCSS Seminar Room, O’Rahilly Building. For more information and to register contact: Dr. Linda Connolly, Director, ISS21,

Transforming the Crisis: Engaging Social Science

An Irish Social Sciences Platform symposium hosted by the Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century at UCC.

The fallout of recent events in Ireland (such as the Ryan Report and the Mahon Tribunal) and the legacy of the Celtic Tiger has led to a search for new understandings of both the economic and socio-cultural roots of the current ‘crisis’ or ‘crises’ in Ireland and for innovative solutions and creative thinking among public intellectuals.

This symposium aims to highlight the particular role social science/social scientists can play in transforming the crisis. Recent critical research on some of the most pressing and challenging problems in contemporary Ireland in relation to the economy, housing, media, governance, emigration, sustainability, gender and politics will be presented and explored.

2.00-3.00pm: Opening session

Engaging with the distinctiveness of Ireland’s development trajectory: Still a challenge for the social sciences
Professor Peadar Kirby (UL)

3.00-4.30pm: Unravelling ‘the Crisis’: Critical Issues

Crisis, Which Crisis? Reframing Growth in a Post-Carbon World
Dr Gerard Mullally (Department of Sociology, UCC)

Emigration Once Again? Emerging Trends in Current Irish Emigration in a Globalised Age
Dr Piaras MacEinrí (Department of Geography and ISS21, UCC)

(En)Gendering Governance: How a Gendered Analysis can contribute to Improved Decision-making in Politics
Fiona Buckley (Department of Government and ISS21, UCC)

4.45-6.00pm: Social Science, ‘the crisis’ and the public sphere

Creative Constructions – Media and Political Discourse amidst deep economic crisis in Ireland
Professor Paschal Preston (School of Communications, DCU)

Engaging Publics: Writing the Crisis
Professor Rob Kitchin (Director of NIRSA, NUIM)

Entrepreneurial Universities, Research Commercialisation and Publicly Funded Principal Investigators – Policy Rhetoric and Lived Realities
Dr. James Cunningham (Director of CISC, NUIG)


MIDSS – the NUIG based social sciences instruments databank funded as part of the ISSP research programme funded by the PRTLI4 – will be showcased at the end of the event

The Irish Times are reporting a story concerning the level of vacant commercial buildings across the country for end of June 2012 based on figures published today by Geodirectory (the address database company owned by An Post and Ordnance Survey).  The figures give the first insight into the distribution of vacant commercial units across the country outside of Dublin (a couple of the large property companies provide information on Dublin vacancy).  As such, the figures are to be welcomed, although care is needed in interpreting them.

Geodirectory report that the number of vacant commercial buildings is 11 percent: 23,834 commercial units were recorded as vacant at the end of June out of a total stock of 226,622.  The highest number of vacant units was recorded in Dublin where 5,851 of 48,760 premises are empty (some 12 percent).  Carlow, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon and Sligo have vacancy rates above 11 per cent, with Leitrim and Sligo both having 14 percent.

Two things to note.  11 percent is still a high rate.  It should be 5-6%.  We can try and put a positive spin on this and say 9 out of every 10 commercial units is occupied, but 11 percent is nevertheless an oversupply.

Second, a very large proportion of the vacant commercial space was built in the last years of the boom and it consists of large-scale retail and office units.  There is a substantial difference between the number of units vacant and the size of space that is vacant.  For example, although 11 percent of units in Dublin are vacant, over 20% of office space is vacant (some 700,000+ sqm) (see our posts here and here for more info).  In some parts of Dublin the vacancy by space is well over 40%.  One way to look at this – imagine that there are ten units on a high street.  Nine of them are 1000 sqm in size and one is 5000 sqm.  If the larger unit is vacant then the vacancy rate per unit is 10 percent, the vacancy rate by unit size is 35 percent.  In other words, one cannot simply look at the absolute number of vacant units, rather we also need to consider the type and size of the units that are vacant.

Either way, whilst some analysts will interpret this data positively, and there will be some who will use it as an argument to start building commercial property again, I would be a lot more circumspect.  The data highlights that we have an oversupply of commercial units and whilst it is useful to know the number of units vacant, we need to contextualize this information in relation to size of those units and how much vacant space there actually is.  It would also be useful to get a break down by type of commercial property (office, retail, industrial, etc) by area and its status/quality (e.g. new, vacated, in need of refurb, derelict, etc) to provide a fuller picture.

Rob Kitchin

Having generated interactive mapping tools at Electoral Division level on the 31st of July, AIRO has expanded the CSO Census 2011 mapping toolkit to include data using the latest Small Areas boundary set.  In total 130 maps and 975 variables are available across 15 themes.

Small Area boundaries (created by the National Centre of Geocomputation at NUI Maynooth for Ordnance Survey Ireland) are considerably smaller than Electoral Divisions and offer a significantly better level of detail in terms of analysing data spatially. There are approximately 18,488 Small Area units in comparison to 3,409 Electoral Divisions. A Small Area boundary is usually comprised of approximately 80-100 households per unit and have an average size of 3.5km2. In comparison, an Electoral Division can has an average size of over 20km2. When analysing data spatially at Electoral Division level much of the detail is lost across the larger boundary area. With the Small Areas data, the user is now in a position to analyse data that in certain areas can be viewed at housing estate level.

Compare the two maps in the image below. They both contain the same data (% Population Unemployed 2011) but one is mapped at Electoral Division level and the other at Small Area. Note the increase level of detail and the differing distributions across the Dublin area. The increased level of detail allows users to identify trends and patterns in local areas that previously would have been overlooked.


How to explore Census 2011 data at Small Areas Level:

On the AIRO site go to the Census mapping module section and select the “Local Authority Module”. Choose which local authority you wish to analyse and within the map window use the “Data” button to select what Census data you wish to view and the “Change Geography” button to select Electoral Division or Small Area level geography.

Aoife Dowling and Eoghan McCarthy


This morning the ‘National Housing Construction Index’ was published and posted on the website. The report created some excellent publicity for the link2plans website (including on Morning Ireland) which is primarily a commercial endeavour targeted at selling a monitoring service to the construction sector.

So what does this latest report tell us? Predictably over the period 2011 – 2102 there has been a sharp drop in planning applications nationally with the largest falls in Kildare (-41%), Kerry (-39%), Clare (-35%) , Mayo and Louth (-31%). Dublin and Sligo recorded the lowest drop – down just 2%.

However, from a planning and development perspective these figures tell us very little. The index measures planning applications and commencement notices but does not measure the number of dwelling units, commercial floorspace, retail units etc in each, i.e the quantum and type of development. In the case of planning applications, the report also does not tell us whether these were granted or refused planning permission.

A quick look at the link2plans home page points to the real story behind the figures – the majority of new planning permissions/commencement notices are for ‘self-build’ projects, i.e. one-off dwellings. Given the overhang in vacant properties and the insolvent state of the property development sector, financing multi-unit residential development is currently impossible (and foolhardy). Similar to the 1980’s, the only projects which are likely to proceed are those which are easier to finance and with a specified end-user. In fact, the more useful CSO figures last month show one-off houses accounted for 64.1% of all new dwelling units granted planning permission in Quarter 1 2012. In this quarter there was a corresponding decrease of 58.9% and 84.5% in planning permissions granted for multi-unit housing and apartment developments respectively.

The CSO data shows that planning permissions for new dwellings in rural counties are significantly ahead of urban areas and this is also evident in the ‘National Housing Construction Index’. This trend towards counter-urbanisation and housing leakage is storing up serious policy difficulties in terms of implementing the National Spatial Strategy, reducing car dependency, protecting NAMA assets and maximising efficient public investment in infrastructure together with creating sufficient agglomerations of scale to stimulate new employment creation. The average size of a one-off house granted planning permission in Q1 2012 was 2,660 square feet (larger than 2006/2007) which further points to some significant social equity issues.

Economic recovery requires proactive spatial planning. Without reference to the type of development and where it is occurring, a crude measurement of planning permissions and commencement notices tells us very little. While, on paper, planning reforms in recent years have been very significant, there is little evidence that these reforms are being translated on the ground.

Gavin Daly