31 July 2007


Census figures show lessons to be learned says Council for the West


While the population on the west of Ireland is growing at an impressive rate the rising tide is not lifting all population boats, however.


Seamus Caulfield, a member of the campaigning Western Bishops' Crusade in the 1990s which pinpointed alarming population decline in the region and called for urgent remedial action, has hailed the demographic turnaround but says lessons can still be learned and need to be applied to declining parishes in the western half of the Diocese of Killala which continue to decline.


Commenting on the most recent Census, Professor Caulfield, a founder member of the Council for the West, says:


"The Census of 1991 was one of the factors which started the alarm bells ringing re population decline in the whole western region of Connacht/Donegal with the later addition of Clare. The Census merely validated at a regional level the local anxieties of the six farmers who approached Bishop Kirby and set in train the events which led to the setting up of the Western Development Commission and of the voluntary Council for the West. Fifteen years on, how has the region changed and what lessons can be learned from those changes?


"In 1991 the region was declining in population by over 2,000 per annum. In the four year period 2002 to 2006 the population of the region increased by a massive 57,000 or over 14,000 per annum. As I have pointed out on other occasions, the background economic and social reasons for population change may be very varied: there are only four ways in which population change can take place, a population can only increase through in-migration or births within the region and it can only decrease through out-migration or deaths of residents within the region. It is the combination of these four factors which decide the success or failure of a region. The four factors fall into two groups, I, the natural increase (or decrease) which is the difference between the number of births and the number of deaths in a given area over a period and 2, the difference between the number in-migrating into the area and the number out-migrating from the area.


"In 1991 there was still a significant 'natural increase' of population in the Council for the West region where births exceeded deaths by approximately 3,000 per annum. This gain was more than wiped out by 5,000 more leaving the region per annum than were coming into the region resulting in the net annual decline of 2,000 at that time. The dramatic change in fortune for the region has not come about as a result of any major change in the 'natural increase.' The natural increase of the region is now just over 4,000 per annum, but unlike 1991, this increase is now being added to by in-migration of almost 10,000 per annum.


"In-migration is now running at a higher rate into this region than into the rest of the country though within the region there are great disparities. The rate of in-migration into Leitrim, per head of population is more than four times that into Sligo. Leitrim has the second highest rate of in-migration after Meath while Sligo has the second lowest rate after Dublin (city and county).


"The turnaround in the demographic fortunes of the region is due to many factors including the achievements of our politicians, both local and national, government agencies, and individual private sector people competing successfully on the world stage. To these should be added bodies such as the Council for the West who highlighted the crisis of the region fifteen years ago which led to initiatives which have played a significant role in this success.


"But while the demographic problems of fifteen years ago have been resolved at regional and at county level, they still persist within counties, in particular within Mayo. Eleven parishes forming the western half of Killala diocese and covering an area larger than County Leitrim are still in overall decline. There is an urgent need to transfer our focus from regional and county level to parish area level, to identify the main components of population change at that level and to seek to achieve at such local level what has been so spectacularly achieved at regional level," he said.


Council for the West Chairman Sean Hannick said the level of in-migration to the seven county region served by the Council for West was most impressive and said the Leitrim figures were gratifying.

"Leitrim had a tax designation pilot programme for the last five years and that has proved most significant in addressing the population decline there. Similar progressive thinking might now be applied to other regions still in decline," he said.




Note to Editors:

Professor Caulfield has pointed out that while Mayo as a whole shows a population increase of 6202, with the county south and east of the Killala/Newport line up by over 6,000, the north west of the county has again recorded a decline. Belmullet Rural Area which covers all of Erris except Ballycroy, is now unique among the 160 Rural Areas in the State in that it has recorded continuous decline at every Census since 1951. Significantly, the percentage decline for this area since 1986 has been 14.6%.

And the five North Mayo parishes not in Erris have shown a significantly worse level of decline over the last 20 years despite close proximity to Ballina.  The decline between 1986 and 2006 is 21.1%.


The Council for the West is a voluntary, independent, non-political body which monitors and reports on the socio-economic state of the West and acts as a lobby group promoting the development of the West. The Council for the West was set up by the Western Bishops and has successfully campaigned for retention of Objective 1 Status for the region.

It continues to campaign for balanced regional development and highlights issues of major concern for the region.


Contact Points:

Public Relations Officer:   Terry Reilly 086 8109518 / 096 21603 / email: terryreilly@eircom.net

Co-ordinator:                       Caroline Wilson, Tel: 096 32975 / email: cftwest@iol.ie


Seamus Caulfield:           Tel: 01 298 5452 / 086 3440494