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The Western Development Commission was set up in response to public pressure to help tackle the massive population decline the Western Region.

Set up in the late 1990s, the Western Development Commission (WDC) was a government response to intense public pressure to help tackle the massive population decline the Western Region of Ireland had endured over many years.

The scale of this decline, coupled with the region’s peripheral location and weak infrastructure, resulted in little investment being attracted to the West. The resulting lack of job opportunities and widespread emigration led to the setting up of the Western Development Commission in 1997 on a non-statutory basis.

The Western Development Commission has been hugely successful in responding to the challenge:

  • It has been the only agency with the remit to develop and facilitate regional strategies.
  • It has been the only agency with the remit to advise national government on policy changes vital for the West.
  • It has been able to support local businesses with expertise and with investment from the unique Western Investment Fund (WIF).

The Commission was established following a sustained campaign about the serious challenges facing the western region. The public campaign was supported by the Council for the West, a voluntary organisation that came about following a conference held in 1991 by catholic bishops in the western region to highlight what was viewed as the inadequate action by successive governments to address underlying regional deficits. The public pressure led to political action, and in 1998, the Western Development Commission Act came into law.

The Western Development Commission informs, through evidence-based research and consultation, the government and national policy on issues that impact on the Western Region and improving social and economic standards in the region. It has led the establishment and development of the AEC Hubs network and manages the WDC Investment Fund, which provides loans and equity to businesses and local communities in the region. 

The Commission has twelve members appointed by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphries, TD. The Commission has three offices, in Sligo, Galway and the head office, in Ballaghaderreen Co. Roscommon. The Commission employs 28 staff which are based across the region.

The seven-county Western Region covers 37% of the State’s landmass and is home to 17.4% of the country’s population.  It is characterised by a dispersed settlement pattern; 80% of the population live outside of large urban centres (10,000 or more) with two-thirds living outside of centres of 1,500 or more. Forty urban centres are located across our predominantly rural region.  The six largest – Galway, Ennis, Letterkenny, Sligo, Castlebar and Ballina – play a central role in their wider catchment areas.  Other towns, including county towns, drive local development and are important economic centres in areas distant from larger urban areas.

Five of the western counties had a disposable income per person below 90% of the State average in 2015.  In terms of regional Gross Value Added (GVA), compared to a State index of 100, the Border region had an index of only 36.3 in 2015 with the West at 56.6 and the Mid-West at 72.6.  The regional GVA indices, compared with the state, have declined in all three regions since 2007 indicating a significant widening of regional disparities.