The IDA has insisted regional job growth is a main priority but conceded it is "extraordinarily difficult" to persuade foreign firms to choose smaller towns as a base. The agency tasked with attracting foreign direct investment into Ireland said it had a "very strong" first half of the year, with 13,500 jobs secured or an increase of 19% on the same period last year.
At a press briefing, Business Minister Heather Humphreys and IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan were at pains to emphasise the efforts made to attract foreign firms to the regions. They said there had been more than 450 investments for the regions across the country by the end of June, a 32% increase.
Ms Humphreys and Mr Shanahan pointed to job announcements in Castlebar, Tuam, Gorey, Tralee, Westport and Limerick to emphasise the focus on regional investment.
Both the Government and the IDA have faced criticism in recent years for a perceived lack of investment in the regions, with accusations that major urban centres like Dublin and Cork take the lion's share of foreign direct investment in comparison to smaller county towns.
Mr Shanahan said:
"We have worked extraordinarily hard over the past five years in order to increase the amount of investments. It is clear the amount of investments has increased. It is clear the impact of that in employment terms on the ground. The spread is widening, whether it is Castlebar or Tralee or Tuam.
"But it is extraordinarily difficult to convince international investors that smaller towns can support these types of investments. But we are getting good traction. When I see vacant sites in our possession, I see them as an opportunity, because we can market them. For all the sites that are vacant, we have filled an extraordinary amount of them."
Ms Humphreys said under the regional enterprise development plans, of which there are nine, agencies and local education providers and businesses were working together to strengthen the regions.
"If you look at Limerick, there has been a lot of clustering there, and that means it is particularly attractive as a region now, because of the links they have with universities and the way they are churning out the skilled people that these companies need. Edward Life Sciences, which created 600 new jobs, said the one big attraction was the pool of talent and collaboration of universities."
Mr Shanahan said it was imperative that Ireland maintain competitiveness in order to keep foreign direct investment coming into the country. Over 80 projects and 5,300 jobs have been secured since June 2016, when Britain voted to leave the EU.
Overall, technology, financial services and life sciences performed particularly strongly in the first half of the year, the IDA said. Mr Shanahan warned the IDA would have to "work harder" just to maintain current levels of investment.
"IDA Ireland has consistently said that unless Ireland stays competitive, we will not continue to see these investment numbers, it’s as simple as that. Ireland cannot be complacent about its competitiveness. There needs to be a continued relentless focus on competitiveness," he said.