Tuesday 16 January 2018

The changes and challenges faced by rural Ireland

Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

A NEW study lays bare the transformation in the rural economy over the last quarter century, with the numbers working in the professional and commerce sectors growing while the forestry and agricultural sectors fall.

The research by Teagasc, for the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA), also charts the increase in the number of women in the overall workforce, and the spike and subsequent decimation in the construction industry.

As the first map above shows, 155,000 people were working in agriculture, forestry and fishing and living in rural areas in 1986. By 2011, that figure had plummeted to about 90,000.

Rural employment figures from the manufacturing sectors also showed a drop from 20pc to 13pc.

By contrast, those living in rural areas and working in professional services, which includes much of the public service including health and education, increased from 54,000 in 1986 to 165,000 by 2011.

Dr David Meredith, Teagasc senior research officer, said the research would be sent to central Government in September and would feed into the policy debate on the economic development of rural areas.

"This research provides us with a baseline against which to begin to try and understand some of the changes that we're seeing," Mr Meredith said.

Growth

"Some of the changes relate to the relative decline or growth in different industries, it relates to the types of employment opportunities that are there and also relates to the location of employment opportunities."

Mr Meredith said the research was conducted with census data and calculated using electoral divisions to give a broad-brush picture.

If 60pc of people in one electoral division worked in the agriculture and fisheries sector, then that division was classified as being in that sector for the purpose of the study.

What stands out from looking at the above maps is the extent of the decline in employment in agriculture, forestry and fishing between 1986 and 2011, and the growth in professional services and commerce.

Mr Meredith also pointed to the increase in women in the workforce across both urban and rural economies.

Between 1986 and 1996, the number of women in the workforce increased by 44pc, he said.

Between 1996 and 2006, that figure jumped again by 63pc, and by a further 3pc between 2006 and 2011.

Although starting at a higher base, the number of men in employment increased by just 8pc between 1986 and 1996, 38pc between 1996 and 2006, but declined by 3pc between 1996 and 2011.

"These developments relate to very substantial changes to the structure of the rural economy since 1986," Mr Meredith said.

"The restructuring of the rural economy has not been evenly spread across the country, meaning that some rural areas have benefited to a greater extent than others.

"These areas tend to be close to large cities or provide very attractive places to live, work or visit."

CEDRA was established by the Department of Environment last October to conduct a comprehensive research exercise and produce a detailed report to Government.

The findings will be used to inform the medium-term economic development of rural areas in the years up to 2025.

Irish Independent

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