Ireland in the Metropolitan Century

Project Title

Ireland in the Metropolitan Century

Lead Researcher

Niamh Moore-Cherry


John Tomaney, University College London
Carla Kayanan, Post-doctoral researcher
Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly
Southern Regional Assembly
Abel Schumann, OECD
Rory O’Donnell, former Director of NESC


Irish Research Council COALESCE 2019/25

Across the European Union and other parts of the world, well-organised metropolitan regions are being promoted as ‘national champions’ to drive investment and development.  In February 2018, the Government of Ireland introduced coordinated metropolitan spatial planning through the new National Planning Framework (NPF).

Cities are key drivers of economic growth and significant contributors to national prosperity. In many contexts, the process of metropolitanisation has accelerated rapidly since the economic downturn of 2008 and government policies have actively intervened to promote larger cities through capital investment decisions and governance reform to ensure more coherent metropolitan governance. Ireland has come relatively late to these debates on metropolitanisation despite the negative outcomes of poor governance that has significantly affected quality of life for urban dwellers. 

Metropolitan Area Spatial Plans (MASP’s) have been developed for the five major cities as part of new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies to address deficiencies in infrastructure planning, urban governance and to alter Ireland’s increasingly unsustainable development trajectory. Through collaborative engagement with policy partners, this project focuses on the MASP’s and their ability to deliver on some of the strategic national outcomes identified in the NPF including more compact urban growth, a strong economy and enhanced mobility. 


Key findings / lessons

  • The NPF and its cascaded architecture – RSES and MASP – are extremely ambitious when compared to other countries, but territorial politics means that implementation and realising the potential of the ambition is under significant pressure.
  • Recent attempts at policy and plan level to move beyond metro-phobia require significant levels of metropolitan civic capacity and capacity-building, but this is most likely to happen incrementally through trust-building and setting achievable targets and goals, rather than through a ‘big-bang’ approach.
  • At present, it is unclear who is responsible for, empowered and resourced to think and deliver regionally. In the Irish context, a key question remains regarding ‘what are regions for?’ For the new architecture to deliver on its potential, a review of responsibilities between central, regional and local level should be a priority but is highly politically challenging.
  • The architecture of the state means that there are a multiplicity of central government agencies working through regional divisions at the same time, but there is significant disconnect between them and limited desire to address this.
  • There is a significant lack of awareness at local level of the scope and content of the new planning plans, policies and approaches. The success and impact of the new approaches will be closely related to questions of local democracy and there is a significant job of work to educate local elected officials and to garner the buy-in of local authority executives.
  • At this early stage, it is clear that the governance of infrastructure is critical and an opportunity to demonstrate, to the public and other stakeholders, the potential of a metropolitan scale approach to effective and liveable city-regional development. However, whether the MASP alone without a recognisable metropolitan authority can deliver on this agenda, remains an open question.

Project Outputs

Ireland in the metropolitan century

City-regional and metropolitan governance

In Callanan, M. and Loughlin, J. (eds) A Research Agenda for Regional and Local Government. Edward Elgar Publishing. 63-78.

Moore-Cherry, N., Pike, A., & Tomaney, J. (20210

Ireland in the metropolitan century

National planning principles and regional and local governance: Ireland’s NPF three years on.

Town and Country Planning, July/August 2021.

Moore-Cherry, N., Kayanan, C.M., and Tomaney, J. (2021)

Ireland in the metropolitan century

In search of the Irish region

What is the region in an Irish context? This resource collates various definitions and understandings of the regional in an Irish context as used in a range of policies and by public agencies. The variety highlights the lack of an agreed understanding of the regional which has significant implications of planning policy and practice.

Ireland in the metropolitan century

A bibliography of metropolitanisation

Based on a scoping review of the literature from 2015-2019 on metropolitan governance, covering a range of geographical and institutional contexts. The bibliography also includes additional sources identified by the Eastern and Midland Regional Assembly to inform the development of the RSES and Metropolitan Spatial Plan for Dublin, as well as additional academic sources found after the initial scoping review.

Achieving Regional Equality

Ireland in the metropolitan century

Governing the Metropolis: An International Review of Metropolitanisation, Metropolitan Governance and the Relationship with Sustainable Land Management

Scoping review on metropolitan governance from 2014-2019 scholarly publications.

Moore-Cherry, N., Kayanan, C.M., Tomany, J., Pike, A.