South East’s “Missing Generation”

Eoghan Dalton Reports
AN INDEPENDENT report examining the economic performance of the South-East claims there is a “missing generation” from the region, with the recovery in its economy now “running out of steam”.
The South East Economic Monitor, prepared by academics from Waterford Institute of Technology, makes the case that the counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Wexford and Carlow are all lagging behind their counterparts elsewhere. It focuses on a weakening labour market and a lack of third level provision, while also noting that the region is playing catch-up in attracting foreign direct investment.
Among its findings are that the region’s workforce is contracting while its Institute of Technologies are set to receive just two percent of the government’s capital spending through the Ireland 2040 plan.

According to one of the report’s authors, Dr Ray Griffin, “a weak labour market, combined with lower levels of support from state agencies and the lack of a university in the region, all point to the end of the Waterford’s recovery”.The monitor describes a generation gap in the 20-45 age bracket due to it being roughly five percent behind the national figure.
This is balanced by there being relatively more teenagers as well as more over 45s.
However, the monitor states that with less people in the 20-45 bracket, the effect is that there are less people spending their wages and starting families in the region, instead moving to elsewhere in Ireland as well as abroad. The monitor goes on to say it is “unlikely that the ambitious regional population growth projections in the Ireland 2040 plans will come to pass” on the figures shown.
Dr Ray Griffin: "A university was promised in 2008 and again before the 2011 election, what happened to that promise?
Dr Griffin expressed concern about how many of those currently under 19-years-old can be retained by the region. “Half of the students who sat the Leaving Cert in June will be gone from the region by October. We have no idea how many will come back to make a life in the region, but in Census 2016 we start to see much lower numbers of people in the 20-45 age bracket. The gap between people staying and people going rises year by year and has increased by three percent this year,” he said. The economic monitor also states that while the government is investing €2.2 billion under the Ireland 2040 plan, just 2.4 percent (€51.8 million) of that is going towards the south east.

WIT President Willie Donnelly has said WIT and Carlow IT will be making the joint bid for university designation at the end of September. Dr Griffin said there will have to be more backing if the merger between the two ITs is to go ahead: “When the Taoiseach was down for the 2040 launch earlier in the year and was asked about the merger for a south east technological university, he said to get on it. But we’re not getting any additional resources, so how can we?”He insists a campus with a capacity and range of courses similar to University College Cork and University of Limerick is what is needed to ensure the next generation isn’t lost to other regions.

“When the New Ross bypass opens in 2019 the region will have high quality commuting routes to and from Waterford within 45 minutes, that makes a single commuter university possible and if they had access to a full spectrum university locally, we could tackle the brain drain,” he said. The Economic Monitor goes on to draw attention to the region’s labour market, which has contracted. Where the national figure increased by 62,000, the south east’s fell by 2,400. It further notes that of the seven regions, the south east is one of just two that have failed to meet the target set down in the government’s Action Plan for Jobs, where regions are to bring their unemployment numbers to within one percent of the State average.

The unemployment rate has fallen alongside the labour market figure, from 7.9 percent to 7.2 percent over the last quarter. The report then notes that the drop in both unemployment and the labour market is likely down to people having to commute for work in another region. It continues: “We can find no evidence of actions taken to support Government’s commitments in the ‘Action Plan for Jobs’ to bring unemployment in the south east to within one percentage point of the national average. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the south east will meet
the target of having 25,000 net new jobs before 2020. There does not appear to be any measures in the recently announced ‘Ireland 2040’ stimulus plans that will address the structural issues in the south east labour market.”

When it comes to income tax, the region pays barely over half the national average, something the report puts down to its low wages and higher rates of unemployment. It cites data from April 2017 showing that the entirety of the south east has the second highest amount of employees on the national minimum wage (€9.55) or less. On this point, the report adds:
“The unemployment rate in the south east seems to have plateaued and any modest short-term decreases over the last 12 months are largely attributable to a shrinking labour force,” said Dr Griffin.
On Fine Gael’s promises, he said: “A university was promised in 2008 and again before the 2011 election, what happened to that promise? Why did Fine Gael come to a conclusion that a university was needed in the South East, and then why did they decide that it was no longer needed.”

On how to stop losing future generations to other cities, he said: “Until there is a higher education facility that is credible – and I’m not talking about a Mickey Mouse micro campus dotted around south-east – young people will continue to bleed into your Dublins and your Corks. What is needed is a well-planned whopper of a campus in Carriganore, like Grangegorman, which will take ten years to build, but the sooner they start on that, the sooner it gets fixed.”

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