The Irish Times view on planning for population growth: more to do

The extent to which plans in areas such as health, education and transport have been future-proofed against the growth in population is unknown

The size of the Irish population and its annual rate of growth would appear to be a matter of some confusion. The European Commission economic affairs directorate (Ameco) puts the number living here at the end of last year at 5.35 million, an increase of 3.5 per cent. The commission’s statistical service (Eurostat) has it at 5.27 million, an increase of 4.2 per cent. Our own Central Statistics Office has landed on 5.28 million as of April this year. An increase of 1.9 per cent.

All the estimates – and they are just estimates – have different parameters, but they reflect the arrival of around 100,000 Ukrainians since the invasion of their country by Russia in February 2022.

There is little to be gained from parsing the difference between the three estimates. What is important is the direction of travel and its consequence for public policy. The Government has already been caught out badly in terms of housing policy by setting targets that didn’t reflect the rate of population growth. Housing for All, the multi-annual, multi-billion-euro plan unveiled in September 2021 is being overhauled on foot of the Housing Commission report which identified a much larger than expected housing deficit of 256,000 homes based on the 2022 census.

The previous target of 33,000 new homes a year has had to be pushed out to between 42,000 and 62,000, depending on population growth, with the larger figure now looking plausible.

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Housing is just one area in which population growth must be considered. The extent to which plans in areas such as health, education and transport have been future-proofed against the growth in population is unknown. It would not be prudent to assume that the current projections for demand for hospital beds, train carriages, school desks and the like reflect the scale of the population increase indicated by the data.

It is not all bad news. As a rule of thumb population growth leads to economic growth via increased demand for goods and services. In theory it should not be beyond the capacity of the State to meet the additional costs of population growth.