No room for Luddites - we need Ludgate-type platforms for rural Ireland

Luddites were 19th century English textile workers who feared technology would end their trade. The term is used to describe people who resist change.

Those Luddites were proved right eventually as not just technology but free trade wiped out their skills in England and transported it to lower- cost manufacturing bases worldwide.

The Luddite badge flashed into my mind when recently looking at the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, a place designed to hook new businesses into the world wide web. 

Like all private enterprise, this hub is a risky endeavour because it is probing new ways of doing business. For that it should be cheered on and encouraged. 

At its heart is a world-class fibre broadband system with the capacity for 1Gbps speed of connectivity. 

Anyone who thinks Ludgate is a silly idea, in my mind, qualifies as a Luddite.

A second runway at Dublin Airport or a new motorway are good examples of how infrastructure can improve an economy’s fortune, but broadband infrastructure is equally — if not more — important. 

While motorways and runways usually are built to connect major cities, broadband is the elixir that can open up rural towns and indeed the entire country to a new and enormous marketplace.

Think about the reasons deployed to explain why rural depopulation has taken place over many decades. 

The gradual intensification of agriculture, which has reduced the number of farmers and, by doing so, lowered spending in local towns, is part of that narrative.

However, the primary cause of rural decline has been the absence of economic opportunity to create incomes and a career path that is fulfilling. 

Small local populations cannot support private enterprise in their own right.

Tourism, in places, provides a seasonal boost but outside of that and agriculture few other services or industries have managed to survive.

This absence of economic opportunity eclipses the unequivocal benefits of rural life.

Easy access to leisure activities, the relatively low cost of accommodation, and community living are all positive elements in a rural setting.

I recently read a swish international magazine that was dedicated to the positives of living in small rural communities.

It picked locations in Asia, Europe, and the US, typically small villages where young people were forging new levels of energy that contrasted sharply with the pressures and costs of living in large cities.

That vision exists for Ireland too but only if we equip it with the turbo charge that comes with world-class internet connectivity.

That platform creates an instant and virtual bridge to a global marketplace where entrepreneurs can explore and serve international markets around the clock.

With the right equipment, a progressive and innovative software publisher in Skibbereen can tap into consumers across the world.

The same applies for designers, administrators, financial planners and more. Indeed, an entire eco-system of businesses, that have the nous to leverage the web, can evolve across Irish towns to target and access global opportunities.

Skibbereen is lucky because a group of progressive businesspeople came together with state agencies to establish a physical hub where this type of activity can take place.

That template can be replicated in other towns too. 

Why is it that Mallow, Macroom, Dungarvan, Tralee, and numerous other local communities cannot shape and execute tangible plans that put in place Ludgate-type platforms to energise such potential?

It seems that a small number of individuals can make a big difference in this context.

Skibbereen tapped into a network of cultural, business and technology leaders who had a genuine interest in supporting this west Cork town.

Other places need similar amounts of enthusiasm but the prize is worth fighting for — reversing the godawful trend of young people leaving rural Ireland.

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.


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