Deprived Donegal presents inconvenient truth: two Irelands exist in one Republic
County has the highest privation rate of any rural area in the State
If you want to see the effect of emigration from Donegal you need only go to church at Christmastime, says Caoimhín MacAoidh, chief executive of the Donegal Local Development Company.
“If you go in February or November you’re going to find a sparsely populated chapel and . . . everybody’s head is grey. If you go to midnight Mass the place is jammed and it’s people in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s. These are people coming home. They are coming home to see their families . . . because they’ve had to leave.”
Most Donegal people will recognise the corollary between the anecdote and statistics contained in the 2011 Pobal HP Deprivation Index which uses census data to map deprivation.
The index, which maps affluence and deprivation was developed by Trutz Haase and Jonathan Pratschke. It uses a series of 10 indicators to measure affluence or deprivation. These include population growth, education levels, housing, employment and social status.
The index shows that Co Donegal has the highest rural deprivation rate in the State and is otherwise surpassed only by Limerick city. Affluent areas across the county are restricted to a few pockets, mainly suburbs around the county’s largest town, Letterkenny.
Analysing the data for Donegal, Haase says that “clear levels of deprivation” are evident.
The index takes into account the effect of outward migration, using an age-dependency ratio, in other words the proportion of people aged over 64 and under 15 in the overall population. It also looks at the percentage of the population who have attained only a primary school education.
High percentages of either of these two measures indicate that younger, better educated and higher skilled individuals have left to avail of job opportunities elsewhere, leaving in their wake a higher proportion of elderly people.
Both factors are reflected strongly in Donegal: in 2011 26 per cent of the resident population had a primary school education only, way above the national average of 16 per cent, and the highest in the country.
Donegal also has the second highest age-dependency ratio in the country (just marginally behind Leitrim) at 36.3 per cent, another measure which Haase says is a clear indicator of “brain drain”.
“This is the disastrous effect of the selectivity of emigration. It’s both a reflection of the age composition and the fact that the active working age cohort and better educated have left.”
Among those who remain, unemployment is also extremely high, with a 31.4 per cent male unemployment rate (the second highest rate in the country after Limerick city) at the time of the 2011 census.
The only silver lining is that because the county’s fortunes did not expand to the same extent as in the rest of the country during the Celtic Tiger boom, the subsequent economic contraction was not as severe in the past five years.