Cork County on the Rise: 'There is more to Ireland than five cities'

Cork County on the Rise: 'There is more to Ireland than five cities'
Alison O’Connor, Irish Examiner columnist and author with Barry Mulcahy, MSD, Brinny at the Irish Examiner Cork County on the Rise event at the Fota Island Resort, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Decentralisation and a greater focus on towns and villages need to be the cornerstone of future policies, according to speakers at the Cork County on the Rise Event.

The conference saw speakers from a variety of backgrounds discuss the importance of Cork's towns and regions.

Among these was Tim Lucey, the chief executive of Cork County Council, who said that a much stronger focus on the development of towns and smaller areas outside cities can be a vital component of Ireland's future development.

He said that such steps, including a focus on decentralisation and remote working, can help to improve work-life balances and sustain towns and villages throughout the country.

"We need to get away from the word 'decline'," he said. "There has been a shift in emphasis from central government, despite the work of the government on rural and community development, on cities.

But, there are 95,000 people employed in the County. 53,000 of these are in towns and hinterlands but 40,000 are in villages and rural countrysides.

Mr Lucey said that it is time to recognise that there is more in Ireland "than five cities".

"We also have to recognise our towns and the roles they play," he said. "We have an exceptionally strong SME sector and elements like remote working and digital hubs offer significant opportunities for further development."

Mr Lucey added that Cork County Council is assessing the prospect of developing digital hubs in seven or eight locations in the county. Irish Examiner columnist and author Alison O'Connor said that "without a doubt" more decentralisation is needed but that changes need to take place to facilitate that.

"Dublin is bursting at the seams," she said. "There have been huge changes in technology that have facilitated the ability to work remotely."

She described the issues with poor broadband as "a major political failure" but added that there are other hurdles to overcome too.

A lot of it is to do with trust. There is an awful lot of employers that don't trust people to work from home.

Barry Mulcahy, plant manager of MSD Brinny said that the company backs its employees to work remotely where possible but said there is greater potential for even more people to do it with some simple changes.

"We have colleagues based as far as Bantry and Skibbereen, as well as the city," he said.

"We are a highly connected company. Digitisation, access to voice connection and other programmes are hugely important. Better broadband would provide better opportunities."

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