The latest issue of Social Justice Ireland's Employment Monitor examines regional employment trends. Figures released in August by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show a wide divergence in the experiences of Ireland’s different regions as regards unemployment and job creation trends.
For example, in the nine years to the end of June, employment in the Border region fell by more than 11 per cent, compared to approximately 3.6 per cent in Dublin. Employment in the Munster area has fallen by close to 10 per cent. The drop in employment experienced in these regions has been about a third greater than the national average.
Meanwhile, more than 62 per cent of the rise in employment over the past 12 months is accounted for by just four counties; Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. These, and other trends, point to a failure of successive governments to recognise the need for a nuanced approach to employment creation; one that accounts for the differing needs of each part of the country.
Another good example is in the West, where per capita jobs growth since the end of 2012 has been less than a quarter that of Dublin, while year-on-year jobs numbers have actually fallen at several points in the last two years. Trends such as these have resulted in significant differences between certain regions.
And it is not just the Border and western areas of the country than are falling behind. Despite employment gains nationally over the past two years or so, both the South-East and Midland regions are suffering from unemployment rates above 10 per cent.
This all points to a job creation strategy that did not take balanced regional development into account, and focused instead on economic growth without taking into account the nuances required to ensure all areas of the country benefit from the recovery.
When in doubt, invest
The Irish Government has set a target of 2018 to achieve what it terms “full employment”. But to meet any kind of ambitious employment goal, an increase in Ireland’s level of public investment is required.
Our current level of public investment as a percentage of GDP is the second lowest in the European Union and has been at historically low levels for several years.
This has exacerbated the already significant infrastructure deficit in Ireland compared with the most developed Western European economies; i.e. the countries that Ireland should be striving to emulate.
A sustained investment programme would achieve a number of things, including creating an environment more conducive to economic development throughout rural and regional Ireland through investment in things like rural broadband, integrated public transport and other necessary capital infrastructure.
A new focus
If the events of the last two decades have taught us nothing else, it is that concentrating on the economy alone, with everything else to follow, will not produce a society is fair and just.
Labour market policy must focus on creating employment in all regions and not allow the emergence of a two-tier economy where those living away from the major population centres do not have sufficient employment prospects.
Social Justice Ireland believes that this interpretation was endorsed by the people of Ireland in February’s general election. Many people outside the Dublin commuter-belt region expressed a feeling at the time that they were not experiencing any recovery, and the statistics released by the CSO confirm that not all parts of the country are benefiting equally.
Such disparities are unsustainable and harmful to Ireland’s long-term economic prospects, and future government policy should make a concerted effort to ensure that as Ireland’s recovery develops, the benefits accrue to all corners of the country as much as is reasonably possible and that rural Ireland does not get left further behind.