The building of digital hubs in community centres and the future prospect of working from home could help rejuvenate rural communities.
That’s according to a UCC technology expert and a county councillor, who has been campaigning for several years to regenerate rural Ireland.
Bernard Moynihan has consistently argued more has to be done by the Government to help some communities, especially in western Duhallow which has seen villages like Knocknagree hanging on by its fingernails due to depopulation.
Mr Moynihan, who lives in Kiskeam, believes after the crisis has abated more and more people will want to get away from large urban areas and settle in the countryside.
“The last number of weeks have proven that work life can be conducted from locations other than the office. Remote employment may yet revolutionise how we work and will with certainty help to address the imbalance between rural and urban working opportunities,” Mr Moynihan said.
“Three weeks ago I discovered how to use Skype. I was shown how to use this software which allows you to make free video and voice one-to-one and group calls remotely.
“Perhaps I’m a little late to the technology party. Adding to my technological knowledge was an introduction to Zoom, a video conferencing service you can use to virtually meet others.
“The 17 members of North Cork Development Board of Cork County Council recently held a meeting through Zoom. We conducted our meeting and approved funding of €36,000 to two local projects in North Cork,” he said.
“The new reality for many in our communities means that social isolation will now be a consequence of social distancing. Therefore when we think about the most vulnerable in our own local villages and those who might not be tech savvy and who may not be used to modern technology, consider if you can spare a half hour to show your neighbours or relation how to Skype, FaceTime or email.
“It might just be the greatest piece of community service you do in 2020,” Mr Moynihan said.
Tom O’Mara, UCC’s digital learning expert, is conducting all his work from his bungalow in Clondulane, near Fermoy.
He is able to do this with an ordinary copperline connection which runs from the nearby telecom pole into his home.
“Around 90% of people in this country have copper line connection. I get an 8mbps upload and 5mbps download from it. It’s sufficient for what I need. We don’t need (broadband) fibre to every part of the country,” he said.
“Hubs are a great idea. They should replicate the Ludgate in all towns so that people who need it can get access to decent broadband. The upside of working from home, or in areas closeby, is that people can live in the countryside, spend more time with their kids and not have to commute long distances to work.
“They will spend less money on fuel and more money in their local shops.”
If there’s one thing Kanturk woman Angela Osborne definitely doesn’t miss about her job in Cork is her daily commute, describing the Mallow Road as “brutal”.
She’s getting used to seeing her husband and two children more and living on the outskirts of the North Cork town there’s plenty of space.
Angela is looking at the positives and maintains more employers will allow people to work from home, especially when they can be more productive.
She’s worked for the past seven years for O’Leary Life, which is based close to the Central Statistics Office and mainly deals with life insurance, pensions, and investments.
“I’m two hours in the car every day travelling to and from work. In the mornings I come down the Mallow Road, which is brutal. I reach the roundabout in Mallow (Annabella) and all I can see heading south is a long line of cars. It’s so bad that when I finish I go back into Ballincollig and up through Banteer to get home,” Angela said. “I’m now getting three weeks to the gallon,” she joked. “All I do now is go into Kanturk for the weekly shop. We are lucky because we have a SuperValu, Lidl, and Spar.”
Angela likes spending more time with her children, Emma, aged eight; and Jack, aged five. Fortunately her husband, John, is on hand to mind them while she’s busy on the keyboard.
He’s a service engineer for Munster Business Equipment, repairing photocopiers and printers in schools, offices etc.
In a normal week Angela would commute to Cork for four days, arriving in her office at 8.15am, leaving at 4.30pm. John, in the meantime, would drop the children to their childminder and pick them up again before his wife arrived home.
That’s all changed, although she likes to keep a work-type routine.
“I get up at around 6am, but instead of getting in the car and going to work I take some exercise. At 8.15am I check my emails and then at 9am I get to do a conference call with my colleagues on Zoom. I’d never heard of Zoom before this happened,” Angela said.
“We were lucky because we had updated all our systems and client database to cloud before the crisis happened. All we needed to do then was get computer installed in our homes. They (the company) gave me a modem to use,” she said.
Working remotely has taken on a whole new meaning for Eamon Dolan, because he has to factor in a completely different time zone.
Eamon, who worked with the Naval Service for 26 years, emigrated to Sri Lanka where he helped train up people for one of world’s largest private maritime security companies, Alphard Maritime, protecting ships from pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and off the Horn of Africa. He still does that, only now he has to get up in the early hours of the morning to work within Sri Lanka’s normal business hours.
Eamon would normally be located there with his recruitment, training and quality team, where he gets to interact one-to-one with ex-military guards who serve on merchant vessel transiting the Indian Ocean and the dangerous waters around Somalia.
“With legitimate fears of being stranded due to airline closures, Idecided to return to Ireland on March 28 and entered mandatory self-isolation for two weeks to ensure I was not carrying Covid-19,” he said.
His company currently has nearly 200 guards deployed on ships and off-shore platforms across the Indian Ocean.
“Utilising technology like Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp and satellite phones, I am able to effectively manage from my home in Cobh. A normal day would start at 3am (7.30am Indian Standard Time), where I communicate with my head of business in Singapore to understand what are the immediate items which need attention,” Eamon said.
“Thereafter, I conduct a risk analysis of the entire global maritime threat picture focusing on areas like the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Guinea and the Mediterranean around Libya.
“I generate a comprehensive intelligence report and this is sent to over 50 vessels across the Indian Ocean where I have security teams situated,” he said.
Eamon then usually coordinates with the company’s operations manager and operations executive to see what individual or specific tasks would be outstanding and need attention.
By the time this is done his family are getting up for breakfast.
“The hustle and bustle of four boys for breakfast would bring a short respite before returning and engaging in planning meetings to assign teams to upcoming vessels, which includes communicating with multiple flag states like Panama or the Bahamas to get approvals, as this involves the movement of weapons and ammunition across international boundaries,” he said.
Throughout his working day he is coordinating with his team in Sri Lanka, where they too are in lockdown due to Covid-19 and also working from home.
If it wasn’t for Siobhán Harrington and the 100-plus drivers she oversees then tens of thousands of you wouldn’t be getting fresh food.
Siobhán, who lives close to the village of Ballinspittle, near Kinsale, is a linchpin in Musgrave’s huge distribution centre at Tramore Road, Cork, which provides food for all SuperValu and Centra outlets south of a line from Gorey, Co Wexford, to the west coast.
She’s worked for the company for 21 years, describing it as “my second home”.
Musgrave’s Cork site has approximately 1,200 employees who are either office based, working in the warehouse or delivery drivers. They also have two massive distribution centres in Dublin.
Siobhán helps plan all the transport for the chill section in the southern region. They deliver such items as milk, yoghurts, and meat.
“We normally do four 10-hour shifts a week in the open plan office I share with 10 other people, although some days now I’m doing 13 hours from home. The reason is it’s a little trickier because when you were at work you could just walk down to the warehouse to sort something out,” she said.
Also, it’s much busier than in pre Covid-19 times.
“When it was announced that the schools were closing people went into panic-buying mode. We experienced far bigger volumes of orders at that time than we’d even seen at Christmas. We began to find it hard to keep up, but now we have got a grasp on it,” she said.
It’s the first time she’s ever worked from home and is grateful because her elderly parents live next door and she was getting anxious about mixing outside and then going to check on them.
“I’m on my own at home so I don’t have any distractions with kids. I have colleagues who have and therefore they’re under more pressure to juggle things,” she said.
Only warehouse operatives and drivers are left working out of Tramore Road. Everybody else is working from home.
“I’d say they (company bosses) can see that it’s now do-able. I wouldn’t be very IT-minded. I had the basic broadband package at home. When I first started working from home it was very slow.
“I got onto the provider and increased the upload speed. If it collapsed then I would have to go back into work. But if it continues to work then I could work from home forever,” Siobhán said.