Social deprivation: A tale of two countries

Providing the facilities and services for a rapidly growing population will present political challenges and unprecedented opportunities

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Details of contrasting levels of deprivation and affluence in our towns, cities and rural areas, published last week by the independent agency Pobal, provide an important reality check. Based on census returns, the study finds that – in spite of recent economic growth – the incidence of disadvantage in Ireland is greater now than it was in 2006. At a time when the National Planning Framework and the National Investment Plan are being prepared for the next decade, it raises important and timely questions about the kind of society we want to live in.

Dublin fared relatively well following the recession of 2008. But the financial collapse had a devastating impact on dormitory communities in Kildare, Meath, Laois and Offaly when jobs were lost and negative equity became a reality. Economic recovery eased the pain in those areas but the effects of recession are still deeply felt in small towns and rural areas. The extremes of disadvantage, however, are to be found in the cities of Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford and Wexford. Tackling these blackspots is a major challenge.

The recession brought confirmation that long distance commuting is unsustainable and that people should live close to where they work

Disadvantage is an entrenched phenomenon in city communities with high unemployment, low education levels and large numbers of lone parents. Early mortality, poor health, addiction and elevated crime rates go with the territory. Attempts to break this cycle through multi-disciplinary pilot projects involving early family interventions in relation to health, welfare and education needs ended with the recession. Those enlightened projects should be reinstated, along with local job-creating measures. Rural areas and small towns are hurting badly because of high unemployment, low educational outcomes, poor infrastructure and emigration. Counties with poor quality land, such as Donegal, Mayo and Leitrim, are particularly affected.

The recession brought confirmation that long distance commuting is unsustainable and that people should live close to where they work. The National Planning Framework will look at this issue, but previous attempts at devising an effective national spatial strategy foundered because of political and local jealousies. This time, planning and investment projects will have to take account of a population increase of up to one million by 2040. One-quarter of that increase is expected to take place in Dublin, with a similar number being divided between Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. Reducing urban sprawl will become a prime consideration.

Providing the facilities and services for a rapidly growing population will present political challenges and unprecedented opportunities. Efforts to reduce levels of disadvantage through balanced regional development should rank in importance with inner city social projects. The Pobal report and its detailed analyses could not have come at a better time.

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