Record employment and an increase in the number of people living in the state this year show the strength of the post-Covid rebound which is increasingly threatened by the fallout from the war in Ukraine.
As the Irish Cities 2070 group notes, these figures reflect underlying trends which show that Ireland’s population is growing at a much faster rate than projected in the National Plan 2040. This voluntary circle of architects, planners and d engineers argue that the 2040 plan must therefore be radically revised. With cost assumptions in the €116 billion project already out of place due to soaring inflation, the intervention deserves serious consideration.
New data from the CSO shows more people than ever — 2.55 million — are at work in the state. This figure, almost 200,000 higher than before the coronavirus, far exceeds the employment levels forecast for this period when the national plan was established a few years ago. Irish towns demographer Brian Hughes says employment is already on a scale equivalent to the projection for the end of the plan, still 18 years from now.
Similar demographic trends are at work. The recent census showed the number of people living in the state topped 5 million, the first time in the 26-county area in more than 170 years. New data show that population growth is accelerating. The population grew by 88,800 in the year to April, the largest annual increase since 2008. Rapid job creation and Ukrainians fleeing Russian invaders have fueled internal migration, with the arrival of 120,700 immigrants, a 15-year high, offset by the departure of 59,600 emigrants, more than in recent years.
The 2040 plan was based on a population increase of 1 million. A quarter of the way there, however, the Irish Cities group says a 1.5million rise is more likely. This has implications for housing, already the government’s biggest challenge. The group says the annual target for building new homes is expected to rise from 33,000 to 48,000 or 50,000, more than double the construction achieved during pandemic years. He also questions the possibility of reducing Dublin’s growth in favor of Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, saying the idea is unwise given the state’s economic dependence on the capital.
The employment and demographics data underscore how rapidly the situation has changed since the national plan was established – and may change again as the uncertainties of war follow the recovery from the pandemic turmoil. Threats from inflation, energy instability, rising interest rates, housing shortages, and recession in trading partners are well known, but long-term planning is always necessary. That these plans are grounded in reality is imperative.
The 2040 master plan underpins a multitude of projects but Ireland is moving at a faster pace towards a higher demographic plain. It’s time to rethink.