Monday 14 October 2019

Nicola Anderson: 'Train heads to utopian heartlands of rural Ireland'

Rural life: Billy Collins, from Wexford town, rides his Sulky past a field in Kilmore, Co Wexford. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Rural life: Billy Collins, from Wexford town, rides his Sulky past a field in Kilmore, Co Wexford. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

On a parallel track to the Brexit train, another locomotive is slowly chugging along - and it may be about to pick up speed.

How it gets to where it is going is unclear. But its destination is the utopian, reimagined heartlands of rural Ireland.

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Distracted by other topics in Budget 2020, almost unnoticed, emerged, piece by piece, the big picture of what the rural Ireland of the future might look like - if the political will is there.

A place where we can work for multinationals or decentralised government departments.

And where we access high-tech healthcare from our own homes, with doctors and nurses monitoring us online.

Where we spend our free time filling up our lungs with air while tramping the greenways, funded by carbon taxes.

Smooth operator: Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil from Rí Na Mara applies hand cream to Leo Varadkar during a visit to eBay
Smooth operator: Deirdre Ui Chathmhaoil from Rí Na Mara applies hand cream to Leo Varadkar during a visit to eBay

A place where the bogs might be silent, but 'environmentally sustainable' jobs are on offer to replace the old turf-based way of life.

And where, realistically, you will still need a car - but it could very well be electric, thanks to an increase in rural charging points.

However, a couple of vital components are central to it all - this new way of rural living hinges on our connectivity to high-speed, secure broadband. And we don't have a start date for that yet.

Also, while the Government has allocated funds in Budget 2020 for rural development, is this really enough to make the progress that is needed?

On a walkabout of the eBay International HQ in Blanchardstown yesterday, the Taoiseach was particularly interested in a section of the tour focusing on eBay@home.

Onscreen, he was introduced to several of the company's employees working remotely in their own homes - who waved at him rather self- consciously.

"But you need a fibre cable broadband?" Leo asked of the executives, and received an answer in the affirmative.

He went back to this later in his speech to eBay Ireland staff, saying that working from home had the potential to transform the world of work, particularly for those living in rural Ireland.

People once thought the agricultural revolution would get rid of jobs, said Leo, adding it's been proven throughout history that "if you stay ahead of the curve," there will be new jobs to replace the old ones.

"We want Ireland to be a country that works to live, not a country that lives to work," he said.

He acknowledged there was some resistance to the National Broadband Plan, but said: "I think people who oppose it don't really understand what the future of 21st-century Ireland, and the future of 21st-century rural Ireland in particular, needs to look like."

Earlier in the week, Minister Michael Ring spoke of the National Broadband Plan as 'the most important bit' of infrastructure for rural Ireland.

"We were talking back in the '70s about rural areas not able to get light. They were making a decision that time that we might only have it in the towns and cities - imagine asking someone now if they are entitled to light?" he asked.

He told of a call he had from a businessman employing 20 people who is 300 metres from the point of broadband in 'an important part of rural Ireland' - "And they won't hook him up," he added.

Meanwhile, the torch of the decentralisation was relit by Paschal Donohoe in his Budget speech. For rural Ireland, the future might look a lot like life in the cities - without the overcrowding, the pollution and the crazy rents.

But can we trust the Government to follow through on its promises and actually deliver?

Irish Independent

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