Digital 'one-size-fits-all' approach doesn't suit rural Ireland

Details of a plan to devise a nationwide ‘app’ to allow people access remote hubs for work and study were discussed in the Dáil this week. Members of Dáil Éireann heard of the progress on the roll-out of hundreds of hubs offering high speed broadband to facilitate the option of working in shared spaces and avoiding long commutes.

The Minister for Social Protection and Rural & Community Development, Heather Humphreys, is proposing to develop a phone app that assists users in identifying and locating the hubs.

“My vision,” Minister Humphreys said, “is for an app that people will be able to use on their phone which will mean no matter where they are in the country, they will be able to identify a remote working facility that is available for them to go and work at.”

Minister Humphreys set out her vision for Rural Ireland in a Dáil speech: “Now is the time for the Government to seize the opportunities presented by Remote Working. A new rural policy will place a huge emphasis on assisting communities in healing from the COVID-19 Pandemic. It’s now time to move away from the concept of a ‘rural-urban divide’,” she said before stressing the importance of the National Broadband Plan in the context of such developments.

The Rural & Community Development Minister said external factors have also focused the need for digital development: “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives – how we socialise, how we work, how we study, and how we interact with others. But the crisis has also reminded us of the value of communities working together to support each other and helping the most vulnerable in our communities.”

“The COVID crisis has also shown us that we can adapt to difficult situations and be innovative in how we approach things. It has given us an opportunity to re-value the importance of rural economies to our overall national development, and to reimagine the potential for what rural Ireland and its people can achieve.”

Minister Humphreys said a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not suit rural Ireland: “Different places have different strengths and different needs. The National Broadband Plan, which was signed one year ago, was the right thing to do,” the Fine Gael Minister said.

“The NBP is the single biggest investment in rural Ireland since electrification and I think COVID has proven beyond doubt that the decision to sign the contract last year was absolutely the right call,” she added.

The Minister stated that it was time to embrace the concept of remote working: “I think as a Government we need to seize the momentum around remote working now. My Department is investing in the development of remote working hubs through schemes like the €1Billion Rural Regeneration and Development Fund and the Town and Village Renewal Scheme.

“I think investment in co working facilities is important because not everybody wants to work from home permanently. We’ll also have 200 Broadband Connection Points up and running by the end of this year and that will increase to over 300 by early next year.”

Minister Humphreys concluded by saying: “My Department is working with the Western Development Commission to build an integrated network of remote working hubs along the Atlantic Economic Corridor, from Kerry to Donegal. The WDC has identified and mapped more than 100 remote working hubs which serve that region. I want to see that work spread countrywide so that we can map out all of our remote working hubs across the country.”