New research finds small rural towns bearing brunt of economic crisis

Index of the economic strength of rural towns in Ireland launched yesterday

Poverty rates in small towns were twice that of cities

Poverty rates in small towns were twice that of cities


One third of working-age households in small and medium sized towns have nobody in employment, according to new research by agriculture and food authority Teagasc.

The research includes an index of the economic strength of rural towns in Ireland. The index is restricted to towns and surrounding districts with populations of 1,500 or more in 2011. The lower the unemployment rate, the stronger the town was ranked.

Poverty rates in small towns were twice that of cities, at 10 per cent compared to 5 per cent. Spending also fell faster in smaller towns than in urban areas due to the economic crisis. This has created a “vicious cycle” of higher unemployment and more vacant properties.

Teagasc head of rural economy and development Prof Cathal O’Donoghue said there was “huge variation” between the strongest and weakest towns. “Rural towns and their immediate hinterlands have been affected to a greater extent by the economic crisis in terms of unemployment,” he said.

“There is a 50 percentage point difference between the unemployment rate in the strongest 20 per cent and the weakest 10 per cent. There is a large 40 percentage point difference in the levels of tertiary education in the strongest and weakest towns.

Unoccupied housing
“The weakest towns also have a larger proportion of unoccupied housing than average. Additionally, stronger towns have positive net migration rates while weaker towns suffer negative ones.”

The highest concentration of weakest towns was in the midlands, southeast and west. The southwest, east and west had the highest concentration of the strongest towns. Offaly and Carlow were the counties with lowest average index, while Sligo and Cork had the highest.

Teagasc senior research officer Dr David Meredith said the presence of commuter belts tended to have a negative effect on towns. “Many of the weaker towns, such as Oldcastle, Co Meath; Gort, Co Galway; Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, are located on the edges of the commuter belts associated with the cities or are in places that are experiencing economic restructuring, such as Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, and New Ross, Co Wexford,” he said.

“Commuter towns located close to the cities performed relatively strongly, like Clarinbridge, Co Galway, and Straffan, Co Kildare, as did some strong rural towns, such as Clifden, Co Galway, and Bantry, Co Cork.”