Midlands sets out case for continued EU funding


Those opposed to the idea of the midlands being allowed to retain Objective 1 status so the area qualifies for continuing EU structural funding into the next century would be advised to read the submission from the region arguing its case.

The midlands of Ireland, comprising Counties Longford, Westmeath, Offaly and Laois, is, surprisingly, the second-poorest of all the regions. The latest figures show the midlands GDP at 66 per cent of the EU average.

It has the smallest population of all the regions and in terms of urban infrastructure has no single dominant centre in its four counties.

Only 34.5 per cent of the region's population resides in urban areas, defined as places with a population of at least 1,500, and after the west it is the second most rural region in the State.

Figures show it has a population of only 31 persons per sq km, and Laois and Longford particularly have a low level of urban development.

Altogether, it covers an area of 6,524 sq km and accounts for 9.5 per cent of the land area of the State. A breakdown of the population figures shows a high ratio of young and old dependants to working-age population. That figure is 0.60, slightly lower than the western region.

In 1995 the average regional output per head in the State was £9,917.

The average output per head of population in this region was £7,141, 28 per cent below the State average.

The figures in the report showed that 9.7 per cent of the midlands workforce in 1997 was unemployed, and unemployment remains concentrated in the areas affected by the rundown of Bord na Mona operations in the region.

The region was also found to have a higher proportion of its workforce employed in agriculture than any other region except the west. That figure was 14 per cent, and this has fallen from 22 per cent in 1991.

In the two years since those figures, the number of people involved in agriculture has continued to decline and will, no doubt, with the recent down turn in the farming sector fall even further.

The report argued that natural resources, though limited, have potential for development.

They include the bogs, areas suitable for afforestation and landscape assets suitable for tourism, including mountains and waterways.

It is clear that with the reduction in direct supports for agriculture the area, which is so dependent on that industry, will need additional funding to survive CAP reform and a new World Trade Agreement.

The midlands also has the least developed tourism industry, and local people argue that it is only through the continued application of structural funding that tourism development will continue.

They also argue that with the east midlands becoming increasingly popular as a place to live and commute to work in the eastern region, inward industrial development and indigenous commercial activity is vital to achieve balanced growth.

"Development of the midlands, as part of the balanced development of the State, cannot be achieved without positive intervention in favour of the region until such time as it is able to compete effectively as a result of the structural adjustment which has now commenced, but which is much retarded in comparison with other areas," the submission to the Government concluded.