Unfinished Estates per 1000 Households

Number of inspected unfinished estates per county



According to the latest Quarterly National Household Survey (Q2 2010, QNHS) from the CSO the national unemployment rate currently stands at 13.6%. The current rate has increased from 12.9% in the previous quarter and increased from a rate of 12% a year ago.

The QNHS has been in operation since September 1997 (replacing the old Labour Force Survey) and therefore provides a useful means of illustrating and monitoring labour market trends over time. The bulk of the data available through the survey is only available at a national level, however the survey does provide a breakdown of ILO Economic Status (In employment, Unemployed, In Labour Force, Unemployment Rate and Participation Rate) at a NUTS3 regional level. The unemployment rate here is calculated using the number of unemployed as a percentage of the total labour force and is based on the ILO (International Labour Office) labour force classification. This means that it’s also possible to put the Irish unemployment figures (national and regional) in context with international figures.


From the beginning of the survey up to the end of 2007 the unemployment rate In Ireland initially dropped from 10.4% in Q4 1997 to a low of 3.5% in Q3 2000. From this point up until the end of 2007 the rate remained relatively stable with an average rate of 4.3%. In early 2008 we started to feel the full effects of the downturn with large numbers signing on the live register (see here) and witnessed the subsequent unrelenting climb of the unemployment rate to today’s lofty heights of 13.6% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: ILO Unemployment Rate 2007 to 2010

Much of this increase has been attributed to the collapse of the construction industry and housing boom in Ireland. This has had a major effect on the unemployment rate due to the strong over-dependence of the workforce on construction related employment. A significant number of redundancies in industry related employment have also significantly contributed towards this increasing rate. Figure 2 details the strong dependence of the workforce on construction – at the end of 2006 almost 12.5%(268,400) of the labour force (employed and unemployed) were employed in construction related employment. This figure is now at 5.8% (125,300).

Figure 2: Sectoral Employment as a proportion of Labour Force

Another worrying aspect of the current unemployment trend is the increased number who are now classed as being ‘long-term unemployed’. According to the CSO this relates to those unemployed for one year or more expressed as a percentage of the total labour force. Since the beginning of 2008 the number of people now classed as ‘Long-term Unemployed’ has increased by 97,000. The Q1 2010 figure now represents 5.9% of the total labour force (Figure 3).

Figure 3: % of Labour Force classed as Long-Term Unemployed

European context

As per Q1 2010 the unemployment rate (12.9%) for Ireland was the 6th highest in the EU27 with only the Slovak Republic (15.1%), Lithuania (18.1%), Estonia (19.8%), Spain (20%) and Latvia (20.4%) with higher rates. Our current standing is in stark contrast to the situation 4 years ago when the unemployment rate in Ireland was the lowest in the EU27 at 4.2% (Figure 4). Over this 4 year period Ireland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Spain have witnessed the greatest increases in unemployment rates. On the other hand countries such as Poland, Germany, Auatria and Malta have improved and unemployment rates have decreased (Figure 5).

Figure 4: ILO Unemployment Rate - Q1 2010

Figure 5: ILO Unemployment Rate - Q1 2006


There is considerable variance in unemployment rates across the country with the highest rate of unemployment currently in the South-East (18.1%) and the lowest in Dublin (11.5%). Dublin currently accounts for 23% of all those classed as unemployed in the country with a total of 69,500. This number has increased by 3.8% since Q1 2010 and by 7.5% in the last year. The rate of increase outside Dublin has been much higher and since Q2 2007 the regions that have been hit the hardest are the South-East, South-West and the West (Figure 6).

Figure 6: % of Labour Forced classed as Unemployed, Q2 2007 and Q2 2010

Justin Gleeson

As has been reported in the media over the past couple of years, unemployment and Live Register recipients have been increasing rapidly as the recession deepens.  To date though we have little detailed knowledge of their geography which prompted us to try and map Live Register data at the Social Welfare Office scale.

Unemployment is measured by the Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) which provides details on both the number of unemployed people and the unemployment rate at national and regional levels. According to the QNHS the number of unemployed people in Q3 ’09 was at a staggering 279,800, up from 102,600 in Q3 2006 (an increase of 173%). According to the CSO the QNHS classifies unemployed people as “those who, in the week before the survey, were without work or were available for work within the next two weeks, and had taken specific steps, in the preceeding four weeks, to find work”. Based on this classification the overall national unemployment rate has increased from 4.7% in Q3 ’06 to 12.7% in Q3 ’09. The QNHS also provides details at the NUTS 111 regional level. This gives a useful insight into the broad spatial trends across the country but the survey is not designed to allow an analysis at a sub-regional spatial scale (see Figure 1a and 1b).

Figure 1A and B: QNHS Unemployment Numbers and Percentage Change

Figure 1A and B: QNHS Unemployment numbers and percentage growth

An alternative method of analysing the spatial patterns of unemployment is to use the unadjusted Live Register at Social Welfare Office level. The Live Register is compiled from returns made by each local welfare office to the Department of Social and Family Affairs and passed onto the Central Statistics Office. It comprises of persons under-65 years of age in the following classes:

  • All Claimants for Jobseekers Benefit (JB) excluding systematic short-time workers
  • Applicants for Jobseekers Allowance (JA) excluding smallholders/farm assists and other self-employed persons
  • Other registrants including applicants for credited Social Welfare contributions but excluding those directly involved in an industrial dispute.

The Live Register is not specifically designed to measure unemployment as it includes part-time (those who work up to three days a week), seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseekers Allowance or Jobseekers Benefit.  It does, however, allow an analysis of employment trends at both a county level and also at social welfare office level.  142 Social Welfare Offices are listed on the CSO website, data is however not available for all offices on a continuous time series basis as some have been closed for a number of years while others have been replaced by new offices. From September 2006 the number of offices has remained relatively stable with the exception for the Carrigaline Office which opened in Nov ’06 and the North Cumberland Street Office which was replaced by the Swords Office and King’s Inn Street in August ’09 – this data is not included in our analysis.  For the purposes of this analysis we will use 122 Social Welfare Offices open since September 2006.

In September 2006 there were 151,440 signing on the Live Register, this figure increased to a total of 436,936 in January 2010 (latest data available) representing a percentage increase of +188%.  The Live Register figures fluctuated marginally between our starting point (M09, 2006) and the end of 2007 with the percentage increase at 6.7% in November 2007. Figures steadily began to increase at this point and hit a peak of +187% in August 2009. Figures reduced slightly during the last months of 2009 but increased to hit a new high in January 2010 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Unadjusted Live Register Growth: 09 '06 to 01 '10

The scale of this increasing trend varied across the country with some areas experiencing much higher percentage increases in job losses than others. Figure 3a below details the number of recipients per Social Welfare Office in September 2006 and Figure 3b highlights the percentage increase in each office to January 2010. The vast majority of offices witnessed an increase of greater than 100% with many in excess of 300% (these patterns are clearly shown in the animation below).

Figure 3A: Live Register recipients at Social Welfare Office 09 '06 (Offices are sorted from left to right by NUTS 111 Region (Border, Midlands, West, Dublin, Mid-East, Mid-West, South-East and South-West) and by number of recipients per office in 09 ‘2006. The animation below will provide more detail on the changing patterns.)

Figure 3B. Live Register Recipients by Social Welfare Office: % Change 09 '06 to 01 '10

In order to visualise the trends from our base date we have mapped Live Register growth at approximate Social Welfare Office catchments (see animation). At present the areas served by Social Welfare Offices do not correspond to specific geographic boundaries and registrants at a given local office do not necessarily reside within a precisely delineated area (e.g those signing at the Ballyfermot office do not necessarily have to live within the Ballyfermot area but may be from surrounding areas such as Palmerstown and Ronanstown that might be nearer to another office).  We have therefore created catchments for each office based on the assumption that a recipient will register at the nearest office to their residence.  The areas then are approximate catchments, wherein the vast majority of people live within the designated area, but a relatively small number of claimants might live beyond its bounds.

For a higher resolution animation please visit the NIRSA site (click here).

(a very pale area represents a decrease in Live Register claimants below the Q3 2006 rate, yellow 0-10% increase, pale brown 10-25% increase, light brown 25-50%, mid-brown 50-100% increase, dark brown 100-150% increase, red 150-200% increase, purple 200-250% increase and turquoise 250%+ increase).

What the animated map shows is that Live Register recipients fluctuated up and down for most of 2006, but from the start of 2007 started to increase rapidly, first in the south west before spreading nationally.  From the beginning of 2008 the first areas reached a 150% increase from the Q3 2006 figures, quickly followed by increases of 250% above the Q3 2006 figures in the south west, and increases of 200 to 250% in the commuter belts around the cities. By the end of 2009, most of the country was above the +150% rate with only a few peripheral areas such as parts of Waterford and the Atlantic fringe under that rate. As the Live Register figures continue to increase, those areas in red are likely to shift to purple and turquoise.  For our post on the microgeographies of the Live Register click here.

Justin Gleeson, Rob Kitchin, Matthias Borscheid

*Update*   For details on the county breakdown of estates and units as documented in the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s ‘unfinished estates’ survey, published 19th Oct 2010, see here and here.  For an overview of key statistics on housing vacancy, oversupply, unfinished and ghost estates see here.

** To view an interactive map of all 2846 estates in the DEHLG survey and their characteristics see our mapping module.


On Monday we posted an analysis that revealed that there are 621 ghost estates across the country (where a ghost estate consisted of an estate of ten houses or more house built post-2005 where more than 50 percent of units are either vacant or under-construction). What the analysis reveals is that the phenomenon of ghost estates is endemic to every county in Ireland. Simply detailing the number of estates per county, however, can give a false impression of the issue because it takes no account of the size of the overall population. Whilst Cork County (not including the Cork City area) has 90 ghost estates, it had a population of 361,788 in 2006. Leitrim has 21 estates but a population of 28,950. We have therefore standardised the number of estates by per 1000 head of population.

The data reveals is that counties Leitrim (21 estates), Longford (19) and Roscommon (35) have a particularly high ratio of estates per head of population, suggesting that these estates constitute an oversupply in the market. These are followed by Sligo (24), Cavan (21), Monaghan (18), Carlow (15), Cork County (90), Tipperary North (16), Kilkenny (21), Westmeath (18), and Laois (15) (full list below). Whilst some of these estates are vacant holiday home developments, they nevertheless are presently surplus to demand and are unlikely to be purchased in the short term whilst the market is still trying to find its bottom.

Ghost estates for each county per 1000 population

The presence of these estates in the Irish landscape raises some difficult questions concerning what to do about them. Whilst demand might return relatively quickly in urban areas when the economy picks up, and such estates might be used to deal with the social housing waiting list, it is likely that demand driven by demographic change will be weak in rural counties given that recessions generally lead to rural out-migration. It therefore seems likely that many properties in rural areas will remain empty for quite some time before the market picks back up again. Demographic forecasts would suggest population growth will occur over the long term in Ireland, and one would anticipate population levels to rise in the future in both rural and urban areas. There are questions as to whether the houses built in rural areas, in particular, will be fit for purpose by the time the market returns. Unless a strategy is put in place to maintain them, they will be left to the elements and quickly deteriorate.

For those living on such estates there are clearly social concerns about living with few neighbours and/or on estates that are abandoned construction sites with no street-lighting, pavements, or finished green areas, and in locations that lack amenities, services and public transport. Again, a strategy needs to be put in place for dealing with such estates with respect to making them fit to live in and turning them into thriving communities.

Ghost estates are clearly one of the markers of the present recession and it is now time to start to put in place policies that will start to deal with the phenomena, not least for those people who live on them.

The number of post-2005 ghost estates of 10 or more houses with a vacancy/under-construction rate of 50% or more for each county is as follows: Carlow (15), Cavan (21), Clare (9), Cork City (6), County Cork (90), Donegal (22), Dublin City (24), Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (10), Fingal (17), Galway City (6), Galway County (20), Kerry (21), Kildare (25), Kilkenny (21), Laoighis (15), Leitrim (21), Limerick City (0), Limerick County (11), Longford (19), Louth (17), Mayo (21), Meath (19), Monaghan (18), Offaly (6), Roscommon (35), Sligo (24), South Dublin (7), Tipperary North (16), Tipperary South (17), Waterford City (6), Waterford County (9), Westmeath (18), Wexford (24), Wicklow (11).

Justin Gleeson and Rob Kitchin

We’ve been working to try and identify the location of ghost estate developments around the country. To do this we have been using a script to mine an address database that records details on 1.98m residential units in the state to identify all properties built post-2005 where 10 or more units share the same estate/street address and more than 50 percent are coded as either vacant or under-construction. We have then been through the resulting data to clean it with respect to multiple entries relating to the same estate and undertaken some preliminary cross-checking with house sale websites. (more…)

We’ve had a number of queries concerning the rates of vacancy per county.  This is not straightforward to calculate for 2009.  The vacancy rate for 2006 is reported in the Census, and we know the total number of houses build per county between 2006 and 2009 from DoEHLG.  What we don’t know is the vacancy rate for 2006-09 in different counties.  Whilst we estimate the rate at 50% at the national scale, we also know that it varies across counties due to demand.  It is likely, for example, that the vacancy rate is lower in the cities and surrounding hinterland due to greater demand than in rural counties.  What the table below shows then is the total stock in 2006, along with the number of non-principal units, the vacancy rate in 2006, and the number of new builds between 2006-09.  So, if we take County Carlow, in 2006 there was a stock 20,135 units of which 2,475 were non-principal residences (vacant or vacant for the majority of the year – 12.3%).  Then between 2006-09 an additional 3522 units were built.

County vacancy rates

Justin Gleeson and Rob Kitchin

We’ve been asked a few questions with regards to our estimates for vacant property (see post here).

1) What do we mean by vacant houses?

The 302,625 housing units we identified as vacant are properties that do not have anybody living in them as their principal residence for the majority of the year.  They are principally vacant, but not necessarily available for the market and include vacant houses available for sale, vacant houses available for rent, vacant houses that are not on the market, under-counted second and holiday homes, and abandoned properties

2) How did you determine that 50 percent of the 215,451 houses built between April 2006 and end of 2009 are vacant? (more…)

Since posting on the number of under-construction ghost estates in Ireland last week, we’ve been asked how many vacant houses there are in Ireland.  There is no exact figure released by any state agency, but by using Census 2006 and Dept of Environment, Local Government and Heritage, and making a couple of assumptions based on our analysis of these data, we can come up with an estimate – 302,625.  This figure includes vacant houses available for sale, vacant houses available for rent, vacant houses that are not on the market, under-counted second and holiday homes, and abandoned properties, but does not include 49,798 holiday homes recorded in 2006 census.  This is not a measure of availability but vacancy (some of which is available to the market now, and some of which will become available when prices rise/demand returns, some of which will not become available).

This is how we’ve calculated it. (more…)

There has been a lot of media coverage concerning cross-border traffic flows over the past year or so, mostly focused on cross-border shopping (IAN post here). We have been trying to source some data that would reveal the numbers of cars crossing the border on a daily basis. In our naivety, we thought it might be a relatively straightforward task given the number of traffic cameras and traffic management induction loops on the principal roads, but such data has proven quite tricky to come by. Recently though we have received some data generated by the Department of Regional Development in the North. They monitor traffic flows at 12 traffic census points along the full length of the border. The data is a little out of date at this stage and relates to 2007 flows, and it is a little limited in nature, but it does give us some picture of cross-border movements.

The first map shows average cross-border daily flows for Monday to Friday, although it does not breakdown the hour or direction of the flow (although a sizable proportion of the vehicles are moving across the border and then back later in the day). The roads with the greatest flow of traffic run between Donegal and Derry (A2, Letterkenny/Derry (18,290) and A38, Lifford/Strabane (19,290)). Next, and a little way behind, comes the M1, Newry/Dundalk route (14,140). In total, on an average work day in 2007, 97,190 vehicles crossed the border. Assuming that the vast majority of journeys are bi-direction and have 1 to 2 people in the car, the data would indicate about 1-2 percent of the population of the North and South (c.50,000-100,000 people), cross the border daily.

Average daily cross-border traffic flows, 2007

The second map details the hour of peak AM flow in each direction. Interestingly, the peak hour of traffic flow on the three routes with the highest traffic is 11am in both directions with the exception of the M1 southbound which is 8am. This suggests that a large proportion of the cross-border journeys, in both directions, are not related to either work or schooling (although such flows undoubtedly occur, but as a smaller proportion of all trips). Along the south-west part of the border, between Leitrim/Sligo and Fermanagh, however, it appears that there is relatively substantial work related morning trips in both directions, but especially from the South to the North.

Peak hour of cross-border traffic flow in each direction, 2007

Clearly we’re only provided a limited snapshot here of cross-border traffic flows, but it’s a start. Hopefully we can source some more timely data that has hourly breakdowns that detail how many vehicles are travelling in each direction.

Justin Gleeson and Rob Kitchin

There has been a lot of discussion about the ghost estates that haunt many towns and villages across the length and breadth of Ireland. We’ve been trying to find a way to identify them without having to perform an extensive survey. (more…)