Today’s announcement of local government reform included substantial changes to the organisation of regional government and governance in Ireland. The current eight regional authorities and two regional assemblies will disappear and be replaced by three regional assemblies. No doubt, the current system is non-functional but we would argue that the new situation is a retrograde step for bottom-up regional development.

To support this argument, let us first take a look at the evolution of the current system. Regional governance has never been high on the agenda of the Irish state. But during the 1980s and 1990s, the European Union placed growing emphasis on developing a regional input into the spending of structural funds within member states. It was only under this pressure by the EU that the Irish government establishing the eight regional authorities in 1994. It was a token gesture to secure structural funds. The boundaries were established in an ad-hoc manner and the authorities were given a very limited remit. Their remit was to monitor the spending of EU structural funds at regional level within Ireland. But they were given no resources, they had no authority and received no technical assistance to conduct their task. These were relatively small authorities, in some cases staffed by less than a hand-full of people.

The establishment of the two Regional Assemblies was driven by maximising Objective 1 funding. Until 1999 the EU had treated Ireland as a single unit for determining eligibility for Objective 1 funding. But the Celtic Tiger and the strong growth of the Irish Economy started to create problems. As a whole, Ireland started to converge to the EU average which would mean that Ireland as a whole would no longer qualify for Objective 1 status. This would mean a serious loss of funds. In reaction, the country was split into two NUTS II regions (BMW and the Southern & Eastern regions). The BMW region was still within Objective 1 criteria. The process of establishing the boundaries of the regions had little to do with determining functional or nodal regions. It was a ploy to maximise structural funds.

Administratively the two new regions are currently lead by Regional Assemblies. They are comprised of elected representatives nominated by the local authorities from the membership of the Regional Authorities within each region. The Operational Committee is composed of the CEOs of the public authorities and the Directors of the Regional Authorities in the region. The Assemblies contribute little to a process of bottom-up regional development. One of the main tasks of the Assembly is to monitor the implementation of the Regional Operational Programmes.

The remit of the Regional Authorities was expanded with the launch of the National Spatial Strategy in 2002. The NSS included a role for the Regional Authorities, notably developing Regional Planning Guidelines. However, the Regional authorities were in no position to monitor the spending of the structural funds. They did not have the resources and did not receive the co-operation of the centralised institutions to fulfil this role. Nor did they have any power of enforcement over the local authorities. The stipulation that local authorities had to “pay regard” to the RPGs proved rather meaningless in this regard.

So, in its current form, our system of regional government and governance is ill-equipped to make a meaningful contribution to self-sustaining, bottom-up, regional development and a change should be welcomed (and has been called for by several contributors to recent Regional Studies Association Irish Branch conferences – see http://www.regional-studies-assoc.ac.uk/international-networks/pdfs/poster-nss.pdf And http://seanoriordain.ie/local-government-reform-in-ireland-myth-or-reality/). But is the content of the current announcement a step forward? Let us take a look at the boundaries of the three proposed Regional Assemblies and the associated system of governance.

In relation to the boundaries, the current set of Regional Authorities and Assemblies will be replaced by three Regional Assemblies. The Eastern and Midlands Region will cover Leinster excluding Counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford. The extensive Southern Region will include Munster (including Carlow Kilkenny and Wexford) and the remainder of the country will make up the third region (see Figure 1). Unfortunately, the document makes no reference to the logic behind this new division. Would it be too cynical to suggest that the main driver is to cut numbers rather than stimulating effective regional development? It looks very much like an ad hoc, back-of-the-envelop, exercise mainly inspired by a desire to cut government expenditure. Regional boundaries can be determined on the basis multiple grounds and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But they should be established on an evidence-based logic.

On the positive side, the creation of a Eastern and Midlands region which includes Metropolitan Dublin and its commuting belt makes a lot of sense. The inclusion of County Louth in this region makes sense as well and will support spatial planning in the wider  Dublin-Belfast Corridor. However, we would argue that the other two regions are too large to make a meaningful contribution to bottom-up regional development processes. Here, the existing regional authority boundaries make more sense, with the exception of the Border region (working on the basis of the safe assumption that we will have to work with Counties as constituent elements of regions). We would argue for a regional division based on gateways and their hinterlands. Thus, in relation to the boundaries of the new Regional units, the new system is a step backwards for regional development.

In relation to the governance structure, the announcement includes positive signals in respect of a more meaningful governance role for the regions. The new Regional Assemblies are accorded key responsibility in developing regional economic strategies which will have to be adhered to by the local and national agencies. This will be underpinned by incorporation of the regional strategies into a new national regional policy. This is great news. Local authorities and national agencies can no longer simply ignore regional strategies. However, the fulfilment of the promise will crucially depend on the adoption of the compliance obligation and the provision of adequate resources to the new Regional Assemblies.

Today’s announcement also raises questions as to the status of the current regional planning guidelines, regional economic strategies, regional economic action plans and-so-forth. The idea is that the current regional guidelines will run their natural deadlines. However, the current regional planning guidelines were developed for the period 2010-2022. In the next 10 years, who will be responsible for enforcing these guidelines in the situation where the RPG area straddles two (new) Regional Assembly boundaries (as in the case of the Border RPG)?

In any case, a new system of regional government and governance will crucially depend on selective regional data relating to the new boundaries. Table 1 includes a first contribution, based on the recent CSO census 2011 data.

Chris.VanEgeraat@nuim.ie – Chairman of the Regional Studies Association Irish Branch

and Ronan Foley

Eastern &   Midlands Southern North & West
Total Number   of Males in 2011 1086224 767388 419087
Total Number   of Females in 2011 1123239 774051 418263
Total Number   of People in 2011 2209463 1541439 837350
Total Number   of Households in 2011 900589 691845 402411
Number of Vacant Properties in 2011 84503 115040 89908
Percentage of   Vacant Properties in 2011 11 16 22
AGE
Age 0 to 4   Total 175357 117288 63684
Age 5 to 9   Total 153415 107797 59558
Age 10 to 14   Total 140701 104294 57496
Age 15 to 19   Total 133390 96512 53117
Age 20 -24   Total 153184 93835 50212
Age 25 -29   Total 193447 109565 58110
Age 30 -34   Total 206084 123323 64538
Age 35 -39   Total 183015 118620 62626
Age 40 -44   Total 160114 111275 59423
Age 45 -49   Total 144084 105412 55689
Age 50 -54   Total 126648 95641 52097
Age 55 -59   Total 110482 86147 47893
Age 60 -64   Total 97122 78287 43377
Age 65 -69   Total 76022 63079 34537
Age 70 -74   Total 57623 47681 25886
Age 75 -79   Total 44190 36994 20852
Age 80 -84   Total 30154 25114 14845
Age 85+ Total 24431 20575 13410
Total 2209463 1541439 837350
MARITAL STATUS
Single Total 1227425 815088 442112
Maried Total 797293 588832 322479
Separated   Total 58311 38813 19070
Divorced Total 42991 29668 15111
Widowed Total 83443 69038 38578
Total 2209463 1541439 837350
NATIONALITY
Irish by   Nationality 1850958 1347628 728557
UK by   Nationality 40370 42819 29070
Polish by   Nationality 59730 43625 19230
Lithuanian by   Nationality 21383 8209 7091
Other EU 27 by   Nationality 71370 30063 13804
Rest of World   by Nationality 104170 34113 19310
Not Stated by   Nationality 29148 16793 7840
Total by   Nationality 2177129 1523250 824902
ETHNICITY
White Irish 1784191 1322746 715058
White Irish   Traveller 12413 9052 8030
Other White 212624 130467 69884
Black or Black   Irish 44793 13108 7177
Asian or Asian   Irish 58826 17113 8751
Other 24222 10756 5746
Not Stated 40060 20008 10256
Total 2177129 1523250 824902
RELIGION
Catholic 1787640 1346760 726935
Other Religion 221924 98479 63789
No Religion 156922 76130 36759
Not Stated 42977 20070 9867
Total 2209463 1541439 837350
IRISH LANGUAGE
Yes (Speak   Irish) 781307 647091 346039
No (Speak   Irish) 1271558 796390 439364
Not Stated   (Speak Irish) 48578 26823 13481
Total 2101443 1470304 798884
FAMILY   CLASSIFICATION
Pre-family (No   of families) 73449 38699 19729
Empty Nest (No   of families) 51968 43649 23322
Retired (No of   families) 42518 33877 17733
Pre-School (No   of families) 72035 45729 23556
Early School   (No of families) 64995 44663 23345
Pre-Adolescent   (No of families) 62583 44891 23789
Adolescent (No   of families) 62316 47508 25394
Adult (No of   families) 138209 101125 54128
Total (No of   families) 568073 400141 210996
HOUSEHOLD   FORMAT
One Person Households (No of households) 179268 135589 77143
Husband and   Wife Households (No of households) 109318 85068 45760
Cohabiting Couple Households (No of households) 40816 21832 10463
Husband, Wife   and Children Households (No of households) 242418 181029 99512
Cohabiting   Couple and Children Households (No of households) 27484 18885 8542
Father and   Children Households (No of households) 11164 8830 4503
Mother and   Children Households (No of households) 77496 51340 26428
Couple and   Others Households (No of households) 11952 6476 3269
Couple,   Children and Others Households (No of households) 15242 10114 5103
Father,   Children and Others Households (No of households) 1584 943 459
Mother,   Children and Others Households (No of households) 8291 4776 2123
Two or more   Family Units Households (No of households) 10998 5376 2395
Non-family   Households and Relations Households (No of households) 19489 12664 7458
Two or more   Non-related Persons Households (No of households) 36168 17299 9141
Total   Households (No of households) 791688 560221 302299
HOUSING TYPE 642109 515981 280255
House/Bungalow   (Households) 128321 33091 16175
Flat/Apartment   (Households) 4373 933 389
Bed-Sit   (Households) 1832 1816 1152
Caravan/Mobile   home (Households) 15053 8400 4328
Not Stated   (Households) 791688 560221 302299
Total   (Households)
HOUSING AGE 61457 62712 25770
Pre 1919   (Households) 54641 39012 21164
1919-1945   (Households) 69799 38956 18936
1946-1960   (Households) 62670 36139 15701
1961-1970   (Households) 108879 69692 35626
1971-1980   (Households) 79217 57950 35246
1981-1990   (Households) 112089 81080 45555
1991-2000   (Households) 121370 88941 55799
2001-2005   (Households) 76036 58787 36574
2006 or Later   (Households) 43698 25136 10776
Not Stated   (Households) 789856 558405 301147
Total   (Households)
HOUSING TENURE 296290 188457 98401
Owner Occupier   with Mortgage (Households) 232018 212487 122271
Owner Occupier   No Mortgage (Households) 166375 90590 48412
Rented from   Private Landlord (Households) 65402 44063 19568
Rented from   Local Authority (Households) 7540 5090 2312
Rented from   Voluntary Body (Households) 9644 9751 6041
Rented Free of   Rent (Households) 12587 7967 4142
Not Stated   (Households) 789856 558405 301147
Total   (Households)
HOUSING   HEATING
No Central   Heating 10140 12394 4418
Oil (Central   Heating) 216694 298539 196097
Natural Gas   (Central Heating) 413298 124360 12557
Electricity   (Central Heating) 83734 38432 18253
Coal (Central   Heating) 15002 43814 20329
Peat (Central   Heating) 26630 14805 37203
Liquid   Petroleum Gas (Central Heating) 2951 4900 2601
Wood (Central   Heating) 5795 11199 4401
Other 3230 3233 2061
Not Stated 12382 6729 3227
Total 789856 558405 301147
EMPLOYMENT   STATUS
Looking For   First Job (Total) 17338 10602 6226
Unemployed   having Lost or Given Up Previous Job (Total) 185280 130503 74894
Student   (Total) 200516 134888 73434
Looking After   Home/Family (Total) 157335 120096 62487
Retired   (Total) 202754 163547 91093
Unable To Work   due to Sickness or Disability (Total) 68706 57691 30596
Other (Total) 6201 4460 2655
Total (Total) 1739990 1212060 656612
SOCIAL CLASS
Professional   Workers (Total) 177600 106734 52286
Managerial and   Technical (Total) 641204 398252 212215
Non-Manual   (Total) 388175 267758 145371
Skilled Manual   (Total) 320151 247971 139247
Semi-Skilled   (Total) 211762 177926 97761
Unskilled   (Total) 76592 60879 32543
All Others   Gainfully occupied and Unknown (Total) 393979 281919 157927
Total (Total) 2209463 1541439 837350
HOUSEHOLD SEG
A Employers   and managers (Households) 131053 70717 35254
B Higher   professional (Households) 57644 30019 15148
C Lower   professional (Households) 93613 56546 32209
D Non-manual   (Households) 152984 91322 46727
E Manual   skilled (Households) 70614 57609 29139
F Semi-skilled   (Households) 61186 51872 26220
G Unskilled   (Households) 27820 22193 12143
H Own account   workers (Households) 39086 30148 17603
I Farmers   (Households) 15682 40872 29177
J Agricultural   workers 3405 4417 2239
Z All others   gainfully occupied and unknown (Households) 138601 104506 56440
Total   (Households) 791688 560221 302299
TRAVEL TO WORK   MODE
On foot 239359 123222 52357
Bicycle 45764 10031 5382
Bus, minibus   or coach 166004 69778 52780
Train, DART or   LUAS 66150 3515 1311
Motorcycle or   scooter 6601 2061 650
Car driver 515322 401907 210167
Car passenger 208808 196109 103421
Van 44301 44886 29804
Other 36971 44407 23475
Not stated 42682 29134 17774
Total 1371962 925050 497121
TRAVEL TO WORK   TIME
Under 15 mins 382906 346801 192017
1/4 hour –   under 1/2 hour 402218 273344 137211
1/2 hour –   under 3/4 hour 260271 133429 69482
3/4 hour –   under 1 hour 96157 36207 20530
1 hour – under   1 1/2 hours 92081 30376 18088
1 1/2 hours   and over 28144 13932 8962
Not stated 78341 52618 31289
Total 1340118 886707 477579
INFORMAL   CARERS
Age 0-14 years 25466 18637 8955
Age 15-24   years 21921 15271 7321
Age 25-44   years 60881 39699 19846
Age 45-64   years 80879 61365 31025
Age 65+ years 89955 72536 41578
Carer Total 279102 207508 108725
CARING HOURS
1-14 Hours   (Total) 36716 28704 15471
15-28 Hours   (Total) 12575 10475 6205
29-42 Hours   (Total) 5846 5136 3157
43+ Hours   (Total) 16765 14532 8685
Not Stated   (Total) 10638 7934 4273
Total (Total) 82540 66781 37791
HEALTH STATUS
Very Good   (Total) 1352558 925217 489906
Good (Total) 603438 436802 242716
Fair (Total) 165247 126464 76420
Bad (Total) 27174 19044 11025
Very Bad   (Total) 6109 3996 2313
Not Stated   (Total) 54937 29916 14970
Total (Total) 2209463 1541439 837350
CAR OWNERSHIP
No motor car 158108 86596 45018
One motor car 322294 221602 124870
Two motor cars 252309 197825 105902
Three motor   cars 43700 38615 18949
Three motor   cars 13445 13767 6408
ICT   AVAILABILITY
Yes 602995 391732 204571
No 168223 155427 90947
Not Stated 18638 11246 5629
Total 789856 558405 301147
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