Gateways were established to provide a strategically placed centre of economic growth and to facilitate these areas to grow to their full potential.
The Dundalk Gateway region which covers Dundalk Town and north Louth faces a number of unique challenges including the fact that is exists along a border area. This has played a key role in how Dundalk has evolved and has heavily influenced the local economy. It is especially important in the time ahead that there is greater co-operation across the border and that initiatives like the Memorandum of Understanding between Louth County Council and Newry and Mourne District Council are expanded.
The fact that Dundalk is located almost mid-way between the two largest urban centres and economic zones on the island – Dublin and Belfast – is an advantage that must be exploited more..
The Dundalk Gateway which includes a substantial part of north Louth is one of the primary urban centres in the state and is the seventh largest population centre.
The presence of the Dundalk Institute of Technology is a significant influence within the region and has helped increase the number of citizens with third level education – an important factor in assisting economic growth. However at 25.97% of the labour force it is substantially less than the 31.07% average of other Gateways. Dundalk has the third lowest third level attainment of all the Gateways.
Latterly Dundalk has successfully attracted significant foreign direct investment, including eBay and PayPal and Prometric.
However, the Dundalk Gateway Report raises a number of issues of concern.
The deferral of the Gateway Innovation Fund five years ago removed an important funding mechanism for infrastructure. The report states that: ‘The decline in development and infrastructure funding has impacted upon the realisation of a number of the goals of the Dundalk Gateway. There has been a notable decline in the overall amount of economic activity taking place within the Gateway. This has directly impacted upon the financial resources of the Local Authorities as the rates base within the county has contracted significantly. The amount of development which is taking place within the Gateway has declined substantially and this has further eroded the potential income streams which could have been used to fund Gateway objectives.’
At the same time as there has been a decline in economic activity there has been an increase in population, mainly in the urban area around Dundalk town. More people, especially young people needing jobs.
The Dundalk Gateway report also records that the region has been less successful than other Gateways ‘in attracting or retaining people from the core working age cohorts’ necessary for economic expansion.
The number of new firms created in 2011 within the Gateway is slightly less than the average for Gateways across the state and shows a decline when compared with the report in 2006.
The Gateway report shows a substantial increase in unemployment in the region between 2006 and 2011. The rate for Dundalk was 24.19% almost five points more than the Gateway average. It is the second highest of any of the designated Gateway regions.
In addition there is also a concern at the failure to provide broadband across the Gateway. Broadband is essential for economic growth and to encourage investment. Currently the percentage of households with private broadband stands at 61.9%. This is below the 63.52% Gateway average and the EU average which is 67%. As the Gateway report concludes on this issue; ‘Poor broadband access is a restrictive factor in attracting new business to the region.’
On health and wellness the Gateway report concludes that access to primary health care is below the average of all Gateways and it warns that the rise in the number of dependents living within the Gateway has ‘important implications for health care services and could place additional pressure on health services.’
The report also reveals that the Dundalk Gateway region suffers from the highest levels of deprivation across all of the nine Gateway areas.
The Gateways structure is a useful device for channelling investment and infrastructure to specific regions but it is only as good as the investment government puts into it. This report clearly identifies failures in government policy and gaps in investment that must be closed. The onus is on the government to do this.