New figures show that, on average, people here have recovered at least 41% of the quality of life which they lost because of the recession.

That's according to the latest Pobal Deprivation Index, and is based on information collected by last year's Census.

The research also shows that small towns have experienced more deprivation during the past decade than any other type of community, and that disadvantage is a long-term and geographically entrenched feature of society.

The Pobal organisation promotes social inclusion initiatives by the EU and three Government departments.

Using Census data, the latest edition of its index continues to employ measures such as unemployment rates, social class composition and concentrations of lone parent families to award scores to more than 18,000 small areas, each with between 90 and 100,000 households.

Deprivation is defined as an absence of essential or desirable attributes, possessions and opportunities which are considered no more than the minimum.

Pobal says towns with between 1,000 and 5,000 people were worst hit during the past decade of recession and recovery.

However, the authors say Dublin has fared best, bearing less of the recession's impact, as well as benefiting disproportionately from the recovery.

Noting that affluence is highest in urban peripheries and gradually declines as one moves towards rural locations, they say the index shows that it is of the greatest importance to rural areas to be close to and to have access to urban centres.

The research shows urban areas have remained central to economic growth and development.

The most affluent areas of the country are distributed in concentric rings around the main population centres, mainly demarcating the urban commuter belts

These rings of affluence, particularly around the Greater Dublin Region, were less affected by the crisis than more disadvantaged areas of the city and more isolated rural areas.

Although Ireland as a whole saw a decline in average affluence - by 6.6 points - Dublin City declined by just 3.8 points (Cork City by 4.1 points, Limerick City by 6.2, Galway City by 4.9 and Waterford City by 5.8).

The counties coinciding with the most distant urban commuter belts – Kildare, Meath, Wexford, Roscommon, Cavan, Laois and Offaly – experienced the most significant decline.

The housing estates that were developed in these counties towards the end of the boom experienced the greatest difficulties in terms of sustainability, due to inflated property values and the relative lack of local services and opportunities.

The manager of Pobal's Monitoring and Analysis Unit said Government departments would use information to assist in resource allocation modeling.

Martin Quigley said that this included programmes such as the social inclusion activation programme, which is invested into local communities.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Quigley said that he understood the Department of Education would use the information for the designation of Deis schools, while the Department of Health also considered the information.

Speaking at the report's launch, Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring said: "The index provides further proof of the need for the investments my Department is providing to our rural communities and to our towns and villages.
 
"The index has enabled us to more effectively target resources and services at the most disadvantaged and is a vital tool for so many Government Departments, including my own, as well as many State Agencies. 

Up to €15m allocated to local authorities not spent

Meanwhile, Minister Ring has said that up to €15 million which had been allocated to local authorities for this year has not been spent.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Seán O'Rourke, he said 90% of unspent funding will have to be returned to government at the end of the year.

He said local authorities say they need more staff to deal with the number of rural projects available.

"I have allocated money to local authorities all over this country - the town and village (scheme) and the rural recreation (scheme) and they have not spent it," he said.

He added: "It could be €10-15 million around the country and what will happen is that if there is an underspend, some of that money will have to go back to Government. 

"I'll be allowed a 10% carryover, but the rest will be lost." 

"To be fair I've thrown a lot of schemes on them and we've given them a lot of work, and they probably need extra staff, but I'd like to see them spending the money that they've got because it creates a problem for me if that money isn't spent," he said.

Mr Ring said he wants more investment in road infrastructure, and for the Government to address the imbalance in job creation between Dublin and rural Ireland.

He said he would like to see an extension of the new Gort to Tuam bypass to reach parts of Mayo, Sligo and Donegal.