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Economic Analysis of Rural Towns presented to Galway County Council by Teagasc Head of Rural Economy and Development

Teagasc Head of Rural Economy and Development, Prof Cathal O’Donoghue was invited today, Monday, 24 February, to present research undertaken as part of Teagasc’s research support of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA) to a meeting of Galway County Council.

At this meeting Prof O’Donoghue said that “small and medium sized towns have been affected to a greater extent by the economic downturn, with unemployment increasing by 193% in towns under 10,000 inhabitants compared with 115% in cities and 150% nationally”.

He noted in his address that:

  • Education levels are lower than the national average in small and medium sized towns and the open countryside.
  • Small and medium sized towns and the open countryside are disproportionally reliant on declining industrial sectors (construction, manufacturing industry).
  • Poverty rates are higher in small and medium sized towns.
  • The share of working age households with no one in work (jobless households) is 20% higher than the national average at 31%.

In his presentation he commented specifically in relation to Galway towns. As part of a Teagasc study, where towns were ranked in relation to unemployment and emigration, a number of facts emerged:

  • Galway has some of the top towns nationally under this measure with Clarinbridge, Barna, Carnmore, Clifden, Craughwell and Oranmore all in the top 10 per cent of towns. Most of these towns are commuter towns and reflect Galway’s economic strength.
  • GBallinasloe and Rossaveal are in the bottom 20 per cent.
  • GGort, however, having been just outside the top 10% in 2006 and 2002 are now in the bottom 10% in the country having lost 350 jobs and lost 15% of its working population during the crisis.

He noted particularly the significant impact of the downturn in Gort which has fallen in these rankings more than any other town in the country. Gort’s decline mirrors, but magnifies the decline seen nationally due to:

  • An over reliance on construction prior to the crash.
  • An unsustainable increase in economic activity over a short period.
  • An unsustainably fast population and housing rise prior to 2006.

However, he highlighted that Gort’s historical ranking reflects an underlying historical strength in terms of its economic potential and so has the attributes to grow again if the right decisions are made.

It is at the centre point of a high education axis that follows the road between Limerick and Galway, and is thus a rural area with relatively high human capital. This geographic position is also reflected in excellent, road, rail and airport links as well as close proximity to major tourism assets such as the Burren, Coole Park, Galway Bay and Lough Derg. Indeed geologically, Gort forms part of the Burren lowlands. Gort also has a significant cultural heritage as a central location within the Celtic revival movement at the turn of the last century.

Teagasc are working with community leaders in Gort and the surrounding Burren lowlands of South Galway and North Clare as part of its CEDRA plus project to revitalise the area economically.

He highlighted the need for dedicated policies and specific actions targeted at the economic development of small and medium sized towns and welcomed the new role that local authorities will play in relation to rural economic development and looks forward to publication of the report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA).