Eurostat figures show Ireland must plan for very different future

The Republic had the highest birth rate amongst EU countries last year

Forward planning is vital if the housing needs of an aging population are to be met close to amenities and transport services. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Forward planning is vital if the housing needs of an aging population are to be met close to amenities and transport services. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

 

Eurostat figures show that Ireland had the highest birth rate amongst European Union countries last year, with the overall population growing by one per cent. Those figures do not come as a surprise because of the census returns published by the Central Statistics Office. However, they confirm the need for aggressive planning by Government in order to meet the housing, educational and public services needs of a growing population.

Taking the long view did not concern old-style politicians, who viewed time in election cycles and planning in the context of votes gained. That is changing because of past administrative failures, encouragement from Brussels and the introduction of multi-annual budgets. But, as the current housing crisis demonstrates, planners, officials and politicians must do better if we are to have a cohesive and better-balanced society.

Census returns, showing that birth rates peaked in 1980 and again in 2009, should not lead to complacency. The reality is that pre-school children currently outnumber those in all other five-year demographic bands up to the age of 24. That points to the need for additional places and, in a changing society where 17 per cent of the population was born outside of the State, a reduction in church control of primary schools. Demand will also increase for second and third level places, putting pressure on Exchequer funding.

Planning for the future should not be limited to schooling, although an educated workforce provides the sinews for social and economic progress. It will require the careful selection of large infrastructural projects that meet stringent cost/benefit analyses and deliver the maximum benefit to communities. Restructuring and investment in healthcare services that cater for all age groups remain a priority. Unlike some other developed countries, Ireland is not at early risk from a demographic time bomb, where a reducing workforce supports a growing, aging population. It has the time and opportunity to learn from the mistakes of othersand to prepare for what is likely to be a very different future.

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