Does the West, particularly Connaught, have a viable future?
A number of planning advocates on p.ie have defined “balanced regional development” as requiring that, ultimately, each distinct region will be financially self-sufficient.
Consequently, any exercise to define such a “region” should first require a feasibility study to establish that it is indeed capable of achieving self-sustainability in the medium/longer term.
Connaught: The 5 counties of Connaught have a combined population of 503k and cover an area of 6,763 sq miles. That’s a population density of just 74 persons per sq mile.
There are only 4 population centres with 10k or more inhabitants - Galway City (72k) , Sligo (18k), Castle bar (11k) and Ballina (10k). When these population centres are stripped out, the population density drops to c. 60 per sq mile.
This suggests that there are c. 400k inhabitants spread over a wide geographical area in relatively small towns, villages and individual rural homesteads. Counties Galway and Mayo are, after Co Cork, respectively the 2nd and 3rd largest counties by area in the Republic.
This raises the question about the long-term economic viability of a region such as Connaught funding its own infrastructural maintenance & developments, public transport, health & education facilities, policing etc. without significant changes to the current scattered nature of the distribution of its population, or measures to substantially increase that population.
For the purposes of comparison:
Other West Coast Counties (Donegal, Clare, Limerick & Kerry) have a combined population of 581k and cover 5,954 sq miles. That’s a population density of 98 per sq mile.
Dublin & its satellite counties (Wicklow, Kildare, Meath & Louth) have a combined population of 1.761k and cover 3,012 sq miles. That’s a population density of 585 inhabitants per sq mile.
Clearly, any infrastructural investment proposal, measured on a “per capita” cost/benefit basis is unlikely to produce a winning business case in Connaught, or the rest of the Western seaboard, when forced to compete for national funding with projects in the more densely populated parts of the country. Likewise, with such low population density, the cost per head of a region such as Connaught funding major developments itself would probably be prohibitive.
Given that you cannot force business to set-up in the West, or force people to migrate there, what is the likelihood that the region can achieve economic self-sufficiency in the medium/long-term?
If that is not a viable proposition, should we begin a long-term process to actively depopulate the West, perhaps with the exception of a small number of existing centres e.g. Galway & Sligo? Would such a proposal ever gain political support in Ireland?
NB: This isn’t intended to be either anti-West or anti-Dublin in sentiment. Rather it is intended to challenge both the pro-West (sometimes anti-Dublin/East) advocates and the anti-West “let them fund it themselves” brigade to contemplate some of the financial, social and political considerations.