In order to develop a policy framework and guidelines for improving a national approach to the management of Irish coastal regions and associated resources one first needs to be able to define what is meant by 'a coastal region' in an Irish context and secondly to know how the socio-economic characteristics of Irish coastal populations differ from the national perspective. This paper is therefore concerned with the coastal economy and the socio-economic characteristics of Ireland's coastal regions. These coastal regions are defined at a number of alternative levels of spatial aggregation. The compilation of coastal economic data is important when one considers the recommendations of the European Council and Parliament concerning the implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management and the requirements of policies such as Integrated Maritime Policy for the European Union and the EU Marine Framework Strategy Directive. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.