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  • The population of the Western Region was estimated at 882,323 in 2022, up 6.5% from 2016. 
  • For two Western Region counties, the population growth estimates were above the 7.6% national average (Leitrim 9.5% and Roscommon 8.4%). 
  • The housing stock in all Western Region counties grew and combined reached 399,785 in 2022 up 4.2% since 2016. 
  • Vacancy rates across the Western Region were higher than the national average in 2022, in line with historical trends.  

The Western Development Commission (WDC) Policy Analysis Team examines the long-term trends, challenges and solutions that can affect or improve the quality of life in the Western Region. 

Economist, Dr. Luke McGrath has released a new report and concise policy briefing which analyse the preliminary estimates from Census 2022. The report outlines the policy implications of some key trends since the previous Census (2016) including region-wide population growth, housing stock growth and vacancy rates. 

The preliminary results show an estimated national population of 5,123,536 on Census night. This is the highest population recorded since the 1841 Census and represents a 7.6% increase since 2016. 

The seven-county Western Region’s population was estimated at 882,323, a 6.5% increase from 2016. The Western Region’s share of the total national population fell slightly from 17.4% in 2016 to 17.2% in 2022. All counties recorded growth and this contrasts with 2016 when two Western Region counties recorded population declines (Mayo and Donegal). The lowest population growth in the country was also recorded in the Western Region (Donegal 4.5%). 

Further analysis of the CSO data shows a reversal of the 2011-16 trend of negative net migration across the Western Region. Net inward migration was not only positive but outweighed the natural increase in Clare, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo. Of the Western Region counties, only Galway had an annual rate of natural increase above the national average. 

The housing stock in all Western Region counties grew and combined reached 399,785 in 2022 up 4.2% from 2016-22. Population growth from 2016-22 was relatively concentrated in Leinster and these trends were largely mirrored in the growth of the housing stock. Western Region counties recorded the lowest housing stock increases in the state and all seven counties recorded growth below the national average. 

Vacancy rates across the Western Region were higher than the national average in 2022, in line with historical patterns. The region recorded the largest declines in vacancy rates from 2016-22. 

 An analysis over the longer term reveals that the relatively low increase in the Western Region’s housing stock from 2016-22 may be viewed, at least somewhat, as a correction from strong comparative regional housing stock growth. Large declines in vacancy combined with the historically strong housing stock growth suggest there may have been greater capacity in the Western Region to accommodate population growth. These factors may help to explain the low regional housing stock growth from 2016-22. In recent years, there has been a sharp shortage of regional housing as the comparative capacity has been absorbed, with regional housing demand rising. These factors may help to explain the sharp increase in regional house prices over the pandemic period and highlight the need to increase the regional housing supply.   

Author of the report, Dr. Luke McGrath said

to reach the targets outlined in the National Planning Framework future policy must reduce regional infrastructure deficits to enhance regional connectivity and accessibility and provide broader supports for regional innovation and the ‘3Es’ of enterprise, employment, and education to promote regional development. Connectivity and accessibility can have a large influence on the choice of location for both indigenous and foreign investors

The WDC leads the national hubs network targeting remote workers, Irish-owned scaling companies and those working for FDI across the country. The project which started as a pilot initiative along the west is now helping to build an ecosystem of innovation in rural towns and villages. With 300 hubs now on board, the project offers employees the opportunity to work from a third space outside of their home or main office.  

The international literature suggests that regional productivity gaps can be closed by shifting policy interventions towards strengthening the inherent capacity of rural areas across economic sectors. Regions must be able to mobilise their assets to take full advantage of their growth potential. Research conducted by the WDC has identified several areas where the region can develop a global competitive advantage. The areas include renewable energy, life sciences (which includes medtech), artificial intelligence, data and analytics, and the creative economy. The WDC is actively working to develop these sectors through the sustainable enterprise pillar of its 2019-2024 strategy and will announce three new senior positions in early 2023 to drive these targets through the Region of Innovation. The climate transition also offers opportunities for regional development. Research by the WDC Policy Analysis team and Sustainable Enterprise team outlines the regional opportunities and challenges in this regard with new research due in early 2023.  

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