In theory, at least, Irish policymakers are committed to ensuring that Irish economic growth and development becomes more regionally balanced.
From a social and economic perspective, this is positive and is working to some extent. While the Greater Dublin area has been the key driver of Ireland’s economic recovery over the past five years, it is clear that all of the regions have improved, but the potential for much greater improvement is very significant.
The reality is that Dublin is becoming increasingly congested, as demonstrated by extreme traffic congestion, long commute times, high property costs for both residential and commercial purposes, environmental damage and a general deterioration in the quality of life.
It is important that policymakers push ahead aggressively with creating counter-weights to Dublin. This is not, for one moment, to diminish the importance of the capital city as a driver of economic activity, but more balance is called for.
The south-east region is a case in point. It consists of Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford and has a combined population of 422,032 people, equivalent to 8.9% of Ireland’s population.
In economic terms, it is not faring particularly well. In the first quarter of this year it had the highest unemployment rate of any region - at 6.7% of the labour force - disposable incomes per person are over 6% lower than the national average; economic activity per person is 32% lower than the national average; and the region accounts for just 6.8% of jobs supported by the IDA.
Clearly, the region needs to make progress, but with proper promotion and effort from local and national stakeholders, the potential for the region to become a strong and viable counter-weight to Dublin is very significant.
Connectivity is very strong with the M9 and the M11 offering top-class road linkage to Dublin; it has two ports of national significance – Rosslare Ferryport and the Port of Waterford, both of which could assume much greater significance post-Brexit; it offers relatively easy access to Dublin and Cork airports, and the runway at Waterford Airport is set to be extended; it has a relatively strong third level education offering in Waterford and Carlow; and the tourism offering is very strong.
The Viking Triangle and the Waterford Greenway are two examples of top-class tourism product, but there is much more across the region.
The south-east needs to be packaged and sold as a region to which people would want to come and live in, and in which businesses invest and create employment. It does surprise me that this is not happening to a greater extent. The physical environment in much of the south-east is stunning, and I will show my bias by alluding to the Comeragh Mountains and the Copper Coast, but Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford also have a lot to offer.
For anybody contemplating moving to the south-east, it is worth considering property costs.
Data on house prices from the CSO show that the mean house prices - based on properties sold - in the region are considerably lower than Dublin. Dublin prices are 164% higher than Carlow; 122% higher than Kilkenny; 149% higher than Wexford; and 156% higher than Waterford.
Rental data from the Residential Tenancies Board show that average monthly rents in Dublin are almost 103% higher than Carlow; 89% higher than Kilkenny; 128% higher than Wexford; and 93% higher than Waterford.
First-class IT connectivity and strong public services, such as health, are arguably the weakest part of the offering in the region, but proper policy should be able to address these deficiencies and others.
People moving to the south-east can save considerably on commuting time and housing costs, and can attain a much better quality of life. Employers should be able to recruit and retain employees more easily. It is a win-win situation.
The region, undoubtedly, has a lot to offer, but it is essential that the four local authorities work together in a very united way to promote the region, rather than just the individual counties.