Donegal and North West described as ‘lagging’

Donegal is among several counties that have been ‘demoted’ by the EU.

The EU Commission decision to downgrade the north west to a ‘lagging region’ has been described as “disappointing” by the head of Letterkenny’s university.

The reclassification is due to the west and north west becoming significantly less well-off, relative to the European average, over recent years.


The region, which includes Donegal, Leitrim, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo, Monaghan and Mayo was demoted from ‘more developed’ to a ‘region in transition’ in 2019.

It has now been relegated further, the only region in the State to be classified as ‘lagging’.

In a stark assessment the European Commission said the west and north west was facing a number of challenges including lower productivity and educational attainment, as well as a weaker skills base and business environment.

The region’s GDP per head of population has fallen from 82 per cent of the EU average between 2015 and 2017 to an estimated 71 per-cent now.
Enterprise Minister Leo Varadkar last Thursday lauded the economic performance of border counties, including Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim, which he told an IBEC event had recorded the biggest employment growth over the past two years along with Monaghan and Cavan.

But in its assessment, the Commission repeated its previous concerns that regional disparities in Ireland were among the highest in the EU.

Left unchecked, the trend of growing inequalities between regions would have a “damaging impact on the economic and social wellbeing” of all regions in Ireland.

The Commission said the region continued to show “notable weaknesses” relative to the EU average in areas such as research and development expenditure, the number of employed information and communications technology specialists and the level of patent applications filed.


Paul Hannigan is Head of College at Atlantic Techonological University (ATU) in Letterkenny.

He said the downgrading, while disappointing, was reversible.

This is the first full year students have had the opportunity to study at a university in Donegal, following its elevation from a technology institute.

Mr Hannigan said it was up to the education sector to use the enhanced status and the talent and business links it will be produce as a “driver for change”.

“We are going from a region in transition to a region lagging. In our submission for university status to the Higher Education Authority we made specific reference to the contribution the university could make to addressing this issue.

“One thing that has always been a bone of contention for me personally is that when looking at the educational attainment of the county, it does not reflect on the educational attainment of the people from the county who live elsewhere.

“There are 6,500 students in higher education across the State, over 50 per-cent of them in ATU locations. So you can bring people to a certain level and then they go and find employment elsewhere. If you go back 25 years we were exporting talent to other counties in Ireland and other parts of the world. But what we have been trying to do is develop links with employers locally so we can retain graduates locally and build on their intellectual capital.”

ATU is running a conference next week looking at the European Commisson’s findings and how the higher and further education sector, on a cross-border basis, working with industry can deliver for the city region.

“It is disappointing that we have been labelled as lagging but it is up to us to use the educational capacity of the region as a driver for change and we will pursue the resources to enable us to do that,”he added.
Sinn Féin’s rural development spokesperson, Claire Kerrane TD, said the downgrading was “seriously concerning” but not surprising given the decades of under investment.

“That the region has been downgraded twice and is the only area in the State to be classified in this way is unacceptable,” Deputy Kerrane said.

“The Commission also found that if left unaddressed, the trend of growing inequalities between regions would have a damaging impact on the economic and social well-being.

“The findings underline the urgent need for investment in the region, to ensure people living in the west and north west can access a good quality of living and the same opportunities as other parts of the State.”

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