This session explores the importance of the region in Ireland as a construct with which to examine the phenomenon of uneven development and the production of socio-economic inequalities that emerge from it.
The concept of the region in the Irish development context draws predominant defining ideas from EU discourses of territorial cohesion. Broadly speak territorial cohesion means the reduction of social and economic disparities between regions and the achievement of sustainable forms of development. The strongest manifestation of associated development strategies has been the various Community Support Framework (CSF) investment plans that commenced in 1988 to draw down EU Structural and Cohesion Fund support, justified through qualifying criteria such as GDP or unemployment rates, and designed to meet a range of regional economic and social cohesion goals. Between 1989 and the present, Ireland has evolved from Objective 1 status and 1 (NUTS 2) region to Objective 1 in Transition and 2 regions to a ‘Regional Competitiveness and Employment’ objective, and, from 2014, 3 regions - Northern and Western, Eastern and Midlands, and Southern. These 3 regions currently form the administrative structure for Ireland’s recently-launched National Planning Framework – ‘Ireland 2040’.
Whilst progress has been made in many regions, the evidence to date suggests that inequalities between and within EU regions have also increased, particularly since the 2008 economic crisis and the adoption of austerity policies, impacting on individuals’ quality of life, development and other socio-economic opportunities. It indicates the need to rethink current public policy approaches to understanding and responding to the persistent unevenness in regional development to lessen the impact of such inequalities. Concerns about how we formulate and respond to the evidence for regional disparities have been emerging from a number of commentators who cite the failure to achieve spatially and socially just outcomes to current cohesion policies. In the Irish context these include: commentary by Kearns et al. (2014) on the denial of socially and spatially just outcomes of the post-crash austerity crisis; Ó’Riordáin and van Egeraat (2016) and Meredith and Van Egeraat’s (2013) observations on the fraught path of regional spatial planning to rise above politically-motivated priorities; Adhead’s (2014) remarks on ‘superficial’ forms of regionalization in governance terms; Morgenroth’s (2018) concerns about the paucity of appropriate data sources to comprehensively plot the future development paths of regional economies, to ensure the efficient and timely delivery of infrastructure and other public services, as well as to anticipate and react to private and market-led financial needs (e.g. housing or enterprise development finance).
This session welcomes papers that address any of the above issues, including: those that propose alternative conceptualisations of the region that better illustrate the phenomenon and experience of regional social and spatial injustice; that reveal patterns of socio-economic inequalities between or within rural and urban regions in the experience of accessing public and private services and infrastructure; that are experienced differently by different groups within regions; that are related to patterns of migration; that critique territorial development policies and programmes; that consider the political significance of populist or territorial autonomy movements as alternatives to the state.