About 2,000 people live on Ireland’s 30 inhabited islands. That number will continue to fall unless those populations can be supported in a way that encourages employment, sustains communities and acts as a counterbalance to the realities of geography. Some communities are on a cliff-edge and whether the first national island strategy in almost 25-years, announced this weekend, might turn the tide in their favour remains to be seen.
However, it may not be foolishly optimistic to suggest technology can help in ways unimaginable to earlier islanders. One of the changes of our age is the ever-increasing number of people working from home. More than 5.2% of American workers — 8m people — worked at home in 2017. That share is up from 5% in 2016. That trend is replicated here where more than 100,000 people work from home. This evolution depends on reliable, high-quality broadband a fact recognised last week when the €3bn national broadband policy was endorsed by cabinet. That scheme will help island sustainability but it is not a panacea for all offshore ills.
Island communities have welcomed the three-month consultation process to design the new strategy saying it must produce “island-specific policies” across a range of areas, from housing to planning, and transport to education. Like many communities — like those living in urban islands too — they long for and deserve a new sense of opportunity.