Tuesday 18 June 2019

Girl who tackled Leo Varadkar tells how she just got broadband

MEETING: Aoibheann Mangan challenges Leo Varadkar. Picture: Collins
MEETING: Aoibheann Mangan challenges Leo Varadkar. Picture: Collins
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

The schoolgirl who confronted Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week about the National Broadband Plan said she felt obliged to do so after seeing how improved internet access has changed her life.

Aoibheann Mangan (12), a pupil at Mount St Michael secondary school in Claremorris, Co Mayo, only got broadband at home two weeks ago.

"Our driveway was all dug up and the place was a mess for a while with it, but it is great to finally have it," Aoibheann's mother Iseult told the Sunday Independent. "Before then, if I was going to the shops or heading out, Aoibheann would come with me and stay out in the car and work on her own projects with the free wifi."

Aoibheann admitted this was far from ideal.

"It bothered me because I wasn't able to stay at home to work on my projects," she said. "I would have preferred to work at home and stay with my family to get help when I needed it.

"When you are sitting working in a car it is just not practical to work the same way. It uncomfortable sitting in the car with a laptop on your lap."

After much waiting and years of working from a car park, Aoibheann said she was thrilled to finally be able to work on projects from home.

She is a budding tech wizard and digital prodigy, so internet access is crucial.

Aoibheann has an interest in coding and takes part in CoderDojo, a volunteer-led community of technical workshops. Last year, she was the joint European Digital Girl of the Year in the 11- to 14-year-old category in recognition of her passion for technology.

She said she hopes there is a career in the industry for her once she finishes school.

"Since I started doing programming I have liked it," she told the Sunday Independent.

Last year, she was invited to speak at Inspirefest, a conference and festival for the brightest minds in international technology, because of her Digital Girl of the Year recognition.

She used it as an opportunity to highlight the plight of people in rural Ireland without broadband.

She returned to the festival this year, with the Taoiseach among the attendees.

"I could tell something was brewing because Aoibheann was getting angry about the Broadband Plan and the fact that she is unhappy with what the Government is doing," said Iseult.

"Then she was introduced to Leo Varadkar and I think she just went for it and told him how she felt, and that she felt people were being let down."

Mr Varadkar spoke about how he wanted Ireland to be "ahead of the curve" when it comes to technology development. Aoibheann said she had to confront him because of the difference broadband has made to her life.

"Once we got broadband it was like a whole new world of opportunity opened up to me," she said.

"It was a wonderful feeling but it is something everyone should have.

"People in Dublin have broadband and the extra opportunities that come with that. Down here in rural areas, we want those opportunities but we don't have the internet access to avail of them. That is why I did it."

Sunday Independent

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