Budget call for a stimulus package has been made to save northern and western counties from economic stagnation.
The Government is being urged to provide the republic’s Northern and Western region with a stimulus package worth at least €570m to kickstart development across the ailing area.
The call has been made by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) in a submission to the Department of Finance ahead of Budget 2024 next month.
“A legacy of underinvestment continues to inhibit the growth ambitions of the Northern and Western Region of Ireland”
The NWRA, which represents the counties of Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, Cavan, and Monaghan, is one of three Regional Assemblies tasked with helping strengthen the development of Ireland’s regions in a strategic manner.
Balanced regional development
It says a multi-million-euro stimulus package is necessary to stem growing regional inequality and to deliver balanced regional development in Ireland.
To address these challenges in the long-term, the NWRA is also calling on the Government to adopt a policy of “positive discrimination” for the Northern and Western Region in its rollout of infrastructure projects in the National Development Plan (NDP).
According to the NWRA, a policy of “positive discrimination” would result in rebalancing legacy underinvestment of new infrastructure projects for the region, increased capital expenditure to bring more infrastructure projects of scale to the Northern and Western Region, and reforms to the public spending code to ensure population size and rural structure of the Northern and Western Region are accounted for in the planning of regional development projects.
Furthermore, the NWRA is calling for a Citizens Assembly to be set up to examine how greater levels of regional autonomy can be delivered in Ireland, with Ireland’s centralised government system credited for high levels of regional inequality and disengagement in rural regions.
The NWRA is calling for the delivery of these priorities due to the fact the Northern and Western Region of Ireland is officially classified as a ‘Transition Region’, which is given to regions in which the GDP per capita is between 75% and 100% of the EU27 average, the only region in Ireland to hold such a status.
Likewise, the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development also categorised the Northern and Western Region as a ‘Lagging Region’, which is defined as a region that faces specific development challenges, such as low productivity and educational attainment, a weaker skills base and business environment.
Stark economic challenges
The NWRA has outlined the stark economic challenges facing the region in its pre-budget submission to Government. These include:
- Regional inequality is growing with disposable income per head of population in the Northern and Western Region now 84% of the State average, and 76% of the EU27 average.
- Notably, the gap in disposable income per head of population between the Northern and Western Region and the Eastern and Midlands Region of Ireland – as a percentage of the State average – was 25 percentage points in 2021, which was much wider than the corresponding gap in 2010 – which was 10 percentage points.
- The Northern and Western Region is the 114th most competitive regional economy of the EU27’s 234 regions. In contrast, the neighbouring Eastern and Midland Region is 24th.
- The Northern and Western Region is trailing Irish and European counterparts in infrastructure investment. The region ranks 218th out of 234 regions in the EU27 in terms of infrastructure.
- Third-level institutions in the Northern and Western Region receive general capital funding of just €238 per undergraduate student. The national figure is €331 per undergraduate student.
“A legacy of underinvestment continues to inhibit the growth ambitions of the Northern and Western Region of Ireland,” warned John Daly, Economist with the Northern and Western Regional Assembly.
Daly believes the adoption of a positive discrimination policy for the region by Government is necessary to alleviate infrastructure deficits and avoid exacerbating Ireland’s eastern-focused regional imbalance.
“Without access to modern road, public transport, health and port services, our region will never be able to provide a meaningful counterbalance to the rapid expansion of the Greater Dublin Area and avoid the overconcentration of population in the east of Ireland. That’s why we are calling on the Government to provide the Northern and Western Region with a €570m stimulus package to kickstart high valued development and save the region from its economic stagnation.
“Our proposal for a multi-million-euro stimulus package would support projects and initiatives designed to stimulate high-value economic activity in the Northern and Western Region of Ireland, helping to ensure our region becomes smarter in how we educate and train people, more specialised in the types of enterprise we attract and more urban in how we grow our housing stock.”
Main image at top: At the launch of the NWRA’s 2023 pre-Budget submission yesterday are: L to R: NWRA Director Denis Kelly; John Daly, Economist with the Northern and Western Regional Assembly and Councillor John Naughten, Cathaoirleach of the NWRA. Picture: James Connolly