New rural plan 'needs investment and faster broadband rollout'

New rural plan 'needs investment and faster broadband rollout'

Irish Rural Link chief executive Seamus Boland: Persuading workers to live in rural regions depends on investment

A new plan incentivising workers or businesses to relocate to rural regions must be supported by adequate investment and speedier rollout of high-quality broadband.

While welcoming the new Our Rural Future plan, Irish Rural Link (IRL) said the policy was a welcome one, but cautioned it depended on levels of investment, and that there was a "long way to go".

The plan will provide incentives to workers to relocate to rural areas and also see hundreds of remote working hubs being established around the country.

Broadband gap

IRL chief executive Seamus Boland said the new plan was “good news” for rural Ireland but the broadband gap must be addressed as a matter of priority.

While some form of broadband was available in 90% of rural Ireland, only about 30% of rural regions had broadband that was of a standard that could be used for business or commercial purposes, Mr Boland said.

The group had been calling for a rural remote working strategy since 2007, he said, adding  the Covid-19 pandemic had shown it could be done.

“It’s great that there is policy in this area but it needs to be followed by grant investment and normal investment,” he said, adding that broadband must be rolled out much faster to rural areas.

All of this means nothing if the connections are not strong enough to host the kinds of business that we have seen emerge in the past year.”

The plan, he said, must be more serious than a “hubs in pubs” approach, while also providing more funding to Enterprise Ireland and the IDA to attract foreign direct investment and domestic businesses into rural areas.

Energy capacity

Regional imbalances in energy capacity must also be addressed, he said, noting electricity capacity issues west of the Shannon.

“We’re now seeing a possibility that, with a bit of investment, we could keep young graduates at home in their areas instead of them feeling they have to go to the east coast,” he said.

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