Belfast needs to double its population if it is to become an economic force to be reckoned with, a conference has heard.
David Gavaghan, chief executive of Titanic Quarter Limited, told the Northern Ireland Economic Conference that the future of Northern Ireland lay in technology, energy, tourism, sport and leisure.
But Belfast needed more people to take full advantage of such opportunities, according to Mr Gavaghan, a former head of the Strategic Investment Board.
“We need to double the population, certainly of this city. If we don’t, this city does not work. We need to be really ambitious and we need to open our doors,” he told the conference at Titanic Belfast.
According to the 2011 census, Belfast has 280,892 residents, and afterwards, Mr Gavaghan said the first “milestone” could be increasing the population to 300,000.
He said Belfast and the island of Ireland had not seen the same population explosion as other cities.
“This island is one of the few that has a much lower population now than it had 170 years ago. That is deeply troubling because the rest of the world has seen exponential growth,” he added.
Mr Gavaghan said Northern Ireland had not “urbanised” at the same rate as other countries and could not ignore the global trend of urbanisation.
He claimed it needed to move population from rural areas into urban areas to attract people home who were living abroad and keep talent in the province.
“We should be attracting more people from abroad but also keeping some from leaving and ensuring that those who are away can come back,” he said.
Mr Gavaghan cited the opening of the Irish Financial Services Centre in Dublin in the late 1980s as an example of a government policy which had successfully attracted emigrants back home.
During a panel discussion Esmond Birnie, chief economist at PwC, said it took the Republic around 30 years to create the right conditions for its once-booming economy and high concentration of foreign direct investment (FDI) companies.
Guest speaker Dinny McGinley TD, minister for the Republic’s Department of Arts, Heritage |and the Gaeltacht, told the |conference that corporation tax was “a key pillar” of Ireland’s industrial policy over the last 40 years.
At the end of 2011, there were 130,000 people employed in the Republic in FDI companies. One in seven jobs could be accounted for by FDI.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions held a protest at the event because no trade union speaker had been invited.
A spokesman called on those taking part to make the case for “an alternative economic strategy” including decent wages for the employed and adequate benefits for those out of work.
By Chris Kilpatrick
More and more people in Northern Ireland are opting to live in rural areas, new figures reveal.
According to latest census figures, an increasing number of people here are choosing to live away from bigger towns and cities, with Dungannon, Banbridge and Ballymoney experiencing large hikes in their population.
Over the same 10-year period from 2001, Belfast and Londonderry’s populations remained stagnant.
Dungannon has bolstered its number of residents by roughly a fifth from 47,700 to 57,900 and its number of households is also up by a quarter to 20,300.
Banbridge’s population has increased by 17% to 48,300 while Ballymoney now has 31,200 residents — an increase of 16%.
Craigavon (15%), Cookstown and Newry and Mourne (14%) have the next three highest levels of growth.
The figures are in stark contrast to the trends in our two biggest cities with Belfast recording just a 1% increase and Londonderry only 3%.
We are living longer too, with the number of those aged 85 and older increasing across Northern Ireland and by over 50% in a quarter of council districts.
The figures also show Northern Ireland’s population increased by 7% in the past decade to 1.81m.
The statistics from the 2011 census were released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) outlining demographic changes in age, sex and information on the number of households from 2001 until 2011.
They show the council areas with the lowest population share of children are situated on or near the east coast of the province.
At a time when youth unemployment continues to soar in Northern Ireland, there has been an increase in those between the ages of 16 and 39 — rising 2% since 2001.
Only seven out of the 26 council areas here show a reduction in the number of children aged from birth to three-years-old, most noticeably in Strabane (down (9%).
While the youngest members of society have increased in number, those aged 0-15 have fallen by 5% over the past 10 years to 379,300.
At the other end of the spectrum, the number of those over the age of 85 has increased across the country. In Belfast, the figure was 17%, with the largest hike in Ballymoney (57%).
The number of people aged 85 or over has increased by 50% or more in seven areas. Anne O’Reilly (below), Age NI chief executive, welcomed the news.
She said: “A 50% increase in the number of people aged 85 years and over, since the 2001 census, is a cause for celebration and highlights the fact that Northern Ireland has an ageing population where older people should be recognised for their positive contribution as grandparents, carers and volunteers.
“However, longevity alone is no measure of success and living longer doesn’t necessarily mean living better.
“Northern Ireland has the highest number of people living with disability and ill health and higher pensioner poverty rates. Therefore the Executive must put ageing at its heart and the new Ageing Strategy must ensure that ageing is a key driver for public policy.”