Leas Cathaoirleach Cllr Paul Taylor
Chief Executive Sligo County Council Ciarán Hayes
Councillors, Tubbercurry Smart Community working group and invited Guests
Thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be here today in Tubbercurry to launch the Smart Community initiative which will enable communities all over Ireland to discover and experience what it is possible to do using technology and digital content.
Smart Communities is a new approach that will bring exposure to digital content and technology out into the community and support people to discover the value of using digital in their daily lives.
A Smart Community is a community actively working in partnership, combining existing assets and resources under a shared vision to maximise reach, impact and engagement of current schemes and programmes.
This morning I have had the privilege to see a vibrant, active, smart community working together, embracing technology to build on their strengths and the support available to them from local and central Government, to exploit the opportunities that new applications afford and broadband-based services can deliver.
The Smart Community initiative has the potential, in combination with local authority Digital Strategies, to deliver enhanced demand stimulation for uptake of High Speed Broadband services in urban and rural communities.
National Broadband Plan
The National Broadband Plan (NBP) aims to ensure that every home, school and business in Ireland - regardless of how remote or rural - has access to high speed broadband (minimum 30 megabits per second).
This is being achieved through a combination of:
- commercial investment across Ireland; and
- a State intervention in those areas where commercial operators acting alone are unlikely to invest. These are primarily rural areas.
In 2012, less than 700k of all premises in Ireland had access to high speed broadband. In April 2016, 1.2m or 52% of all premises had access to high speed broadband.
Today, over 1.7m or 74% of all premises in Ireland can access high speed broadband services. Commercial operators have invested over €2.75bn in upgrading and modernising their networks over the past 5 years, and further investments are planned.
The procurement process to appoint a bidder for the State intervention network is now at the final stage. The priority is to bring the procurement process to a fair and impartial conclusion as quickly as possible. Minister Bruton will bring a recommendation to Government in the coming weeks.
Digital skills for citizens
We heard earlier about how Smart Communities will focus on four main themes: Physical and mental wellbeing, Economic wellbeing, History and Heritage, and Digital Skills. At Government level we are funding a number of initiatives to support these themes.
In a connected society, digital skills for everyone are absolutely essential. My Department’s Digital Skills for Citizen Programme is providing every citizen who does not have the basic skills or the confidence to get online with the opportunity to avail of 10 hours free basic digital skills training.
Classes are taking place across all Counties, targeted at small business owners and farming communities, as well as people over 45, the unemployed people, persons with disabilities and disadvantaged groups.
Since 2017 almost 40,000 citizens have received training including over 5,000 people from the farming community and 14,600 over 65 years of age.
Trading Online Voucher Scheme
Government is also supporting small businesses to embrace digital transformation through, for example, My Departments Trading Online Voucher Scheme (TOVS).
The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, which was launched nationally in 2014, aims to assist small/micro businesses in developing their ecommerce capabilities through the provision of training, advice and grant assistance of up to €2,500 (subject to matched-funding).
Businesses are investing in their online trading capability and are realising the benefits of being able to reach customers 24 hours a day online. Results are not dependent on location.
Since its launch, over 5,100 businesses have been approved for funding under the Scheme, with over 12,000 businesses availing of the TOVS training and advice provided by the Local Enterprise Office network.
The Scheme will continue in 2019, with funding being made available to assist a further 1,000 small enterprises in bringing their businesses online.
The Trading Online Voucher Scheme is available nationwide through the Local Enterprise Office. I am delighted to see Liam Kiely here today from Sligo Local Enterprise Office along with Eileen Kirrane of Riverhouse Books who is a past recipient of a Trading Online Voucher.
Back to Tubbercurry I would like to acknowledge some of the reasons it was chosen by the Action Group as the ideal location to test the feasibility of this idea, mainly the strong active community groups. Tubbercurry is also a Bank Of Ireland enterprise town; there is a strong local presence by all of the Stakeholders in the Action Group, well established Community Networks, the availability of high speed broadband, the existence of an Open library, Co-location of a Post Office and a Supervalu, which is being used as a test site for the An Post digital assist initiative.
In the Post Office you will find a smart tablet, keyboard and printer, which is available to the public providing access to Government and An Post websites. Post office staff are on hand to assist customers to access Government or local authority services, forms and information and customers can print Government application forms and information brochures free of charge.
There are 316 online sites available, including Government Departments, their Agencies, Local Authorities, and other semi-State bodies. Additional sites which add value and relevance for online transactions, such as payment sites and comparison sites like, Bonkers.ie and Switcher.ie are also available.
- I am delighted that the Department of Rural and Community Development saw Tubbercurry’s digital potential a number of years ago when it funded an Open Library pilot in 2015.
- My Open Library provides self-service access to the library using innovative technology. Tubbercurry library opens from 8am to 10pm; 7 days a week; 365 days a year.
- These opening hours are in addition to the normal staffed hours and provides enhanced access for the community.
- Tubbercurry was one of only three libraries in the country that were selected for the pilot and has been very successful in operating the Open Library model.
I am pleased to say that we now have 7 Open Libraries with another 16 to open in the coming months.
The new public library strategy Our Public Libraries 2022– Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering Communities which was launched last year aims to have a 100 Open Libraries by the end of 2022.
The strategy also seeks to establish the library, as not only a community hub, but also as an important enabler of digital services and facilitator of digital skills development.
That is why late last year my colleague Minister Ring announced an investment package of almost €8m for digital services and facilities in public libraries.
This investment has enhanced ICT infrastructure, created new meeting spaces with state of the art technology and provided dedicated digital learning suites.
The new facilities and services will attract new users of all ages to our public libraries.
I am delighted to say that Sligo County received €80,471 under this investment fund.
I would like to thank everyone involved in developing the Smart Community initiative too many to mention and to commend the local smart community working group for organising todays event’s.
My thanks also to the team of volunteers in Grow Remote who are working passionately to set up a remote working community in Ireland. Grow Remote is about choice, when jobs are mobile it provides an opportunity for communities to compete. I wish them every success with their Tubbercurry Grow Remote event in April.