The country's rate of commercial vacancies has fallen but remains stubbornly high in many areas, according to new data from GeoDirectory. GeoDirectory is a joint venture between An Post and Ordnance Survey Ireland, which manages a database of buildings in the country. Its latest report shows the national commercial vacancy rate stands at 13.3%. But there is a huge variance across the country, with Kerry boasting the lowest rate at 10.5% and Sligo the highest at 18.7%

"Dublin and urban centres are doing very, very well and areas outside of Dublin are recovering but at a much slower pace," said Dara Keogh, CEO of GeoDirectory. "Dublin and its hinterland really drive the main activity - they have over a third of all commercial buildings." When Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway are combined they account for 45% of all commercial buildings. Mr Keogh points out that Cork, Limerick and Galway combined are still smaller than Dublin alone.

But the figures show that, even within the supposedly strong performers the reality is mixed, as some parts of Dublin have quite high vacancy rates while others are smaller. And as mixed as the figures may be on a county-by-county basis, there is a huge divergence between areas when analysed on at a town and village level. "It's very variable... at a town level you look at Ballybofey in Donegal with a nearly 30% vacancy rate compared to Greystones in Wicklow which is just 6%," Mr Keogh said. 

Of course it is one thing to know that vacancy rates are high - but another thing to know the precise reasons why. GeoDirectory has tried to delve further into the data it gathers to gain a better understanding of what is going on on the ground. "What we found is that there is a persistently high level of vacancy rates going on," he said. "We've seen a very good economic recovery in Ireland in recent years but it hasn't translated really into dramatic drops in the vacancy rate. We have seen that basically 68% of the vacancy rate has been vacant for three or more years - and in fact 45% of those have been vacant for five or more years."

This issue is particularly apparent in the west of Ireland, he added, though there are long-term vacancies all around the country. That means that even if there are potential buyers or tenants for these properties, they will require a significant investment in order to have them use-able once again. 

However Mr Keogh argues that the situation actually presents somewhat of an opportunity, as people could look to use that investment to orientate the premises into something more suitable to the area's needs. "They're probably on good sites and they could be used to generate economic activities; different types of economic activities," he said. "What the report also shows is that the main drivers of the economy are the services industry followed by distribution, which really is retail. That's really powerful to understand and then to use those premises that are vacant and then use those premises that are available to use in those ways," he said.

BUSINESS BRIEFS - Irish consumer sentiment hit a 17 year high last month, according to a survey by KBC Ireland and the ESRI. The report suggests that this is due to continued economic growth in the country, which is now being felt by more people. However KBC also warned that sentiment usually registers a large monthly improvement at the start of the year, with January accounting for the largest monthly gains in four of the past six years. 

*** The construction sector expanded at a faster rate in January, as activity, new orders and employment levels all rose. Growth was spread across the entire industry, too, with the pace of housing, commercial and civil engineering activity all rising.

*** Barclay's Bank has been charged by Britain's Serious Fraud Office in relation to a $3 billion loan to the State of Qatar from November 2008. The charges are the same as those leveled against Barclays Plc in June of last year and related to capital raisings by the bank a decade ago.