Thursday, 3 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
I ask the Tánaiste and Ministers of State about the potential for a remote working hub or digital working hub in the town of Youghal in the constituency of Cork East. Youghal is a large town, which has struggled for many years to attract employment and industry. The Government should consider this location for a remote working hub.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which he has brought to my attention on a number of occasions.
On 15 January last, the Tánaiste published Ireland's first national remote working strategy to make remote working a viable and sustainable option for all after the pandemic. A key action within the strategy is to extend the mapping and classifications of hubs. Earlier this week, my colleague, the Minister for Community and Rural Development, Deputy Humphreys, launched the national connected hubs network, which includes a booking platform, brand and remote working hubs.
I am pleased that Youghal was successful in securing €4 million in funding under the Government's Project Ireland 2040 rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF. This funding will transform a derelict site on the main street in Youghal into a new library, incorporating a digital learning suite and community space.
The Department of Rural and Community Development is investing in new hubs through further calls under both the RRDF and the town and village renewal scheme. The €15 million town and village renewal call launched on 30 May 2021. This will assist in bringing vacant properties in town centres back into use or repurposing existing community or publicly owned buildings as remote working hubs. The third call for category 2 applications to the RRDF is open and will close on 16 July. Category 2 funding will enable projects at an early stage to be developed to a high standard and be ready to commence.
To date, my Department has provided funding of €250 million for the establishment of approximately 270 enterprise centres throughout Ireland, administered by Enterprise Ireland, EI, including for Enterprise Youghal Centre, Emmet Place. This investment has enabled the establishment of physical space for entrepreneurs, start-ups, scaling companies, SMEs and a balance of small scale FDI. This enables the delivery of enterprise-related programmes to companies and provision of physical space to support remote working.
I thank the Minister of State for his response and look forward to meeting him later today in the chamber of commerce in Youghal to discuss this issue. Is that funding sufficient in the post-Covid era? My position is that it is probably not. It is something Government should give a greater priority to. To the full suite of Ministers and the Tánaiste present, I say that their Department has a huge opportunity to step in with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to further invest in remote working centres that have the capacity in towns like Youghal with 8,000 or 9,000 people living in them to provide 100 or 50 work spaces with high-speed, good quality broadband.
Many towns, including Youghal, will suffer greatly through the closure of branches by our main banks, including Bank of Ireland, which will close its branch in Youghal shortly. Why not use such buildings in our towns that already have many of the features required, including broadband, to provide such a facility?
My thanks to Deputy O'Connor. I look forward to engaging with the representatives from Youghal on the Zoom call later on today.
There is a feasibility grant of €15,000, or 15% of the eligible costs, available to community groups if they wish to bring forward a proposal for a remote working hub, as alluded to by the Deputy.
My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, is working on the south-west regional enterprise plan. That work has already commenced. It is a unique plan for the specific area to address the challenges and exploit the opportunities as part of the regional enterprise plans that the Minister of State, Deputy English, and I are working on. There will be a new funding stream and a call out for funding under that proposal. Perhaps the best way to go is to look at the feasibility study and come forward with a concrete proposal to avail of funding that will be coming down the stream later this year.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, for his co-operation and above all for his interest. It is great that he will be meeting representatives from the town's enterprise and business sectors.
I will put this in context. Youghal is a town that suffered greatly from the loss of manufacturing jobs towards the start of the Celtic tiger, unfortunately. There were 4,000 people working in Youghal in the 1980s and 1990s in manufacturing and low-skill labour. Many of those jobs were let go because people were working in areas like textiles. Unfortunately, we never saw any real direct State support going to Youghal following those job losses, which is completely unacceptable. As the Minister of State can imagine, the loss of jobs to that extent in a small town in rural Ireland decimated the local economy. Youghal is on the up. A remote working centre for this town is something our Government should look at providing for the people of Youghal. It is the least they deserve.
I wish to use this opportunity to call for IDA Ireland to take a greater interest in Youghal. There are many opportunities to invest in the region and plenty of free space. We should definitely do it.
I wish to advise the Deputy that public consultation has commenced on the south-west regional plan. There is an opportunity for all stakeholders and public representatives, including Members, to make submissions on what they would like to see achieved in that plan. The plan will be unique for the south-west area. As I have said, it will address the challenges faced in that area and exploit the opportunities.
IDA Ireland published a new strategy in January this year to bring the strategy up to 2024. A key part of that strategy, which I was pleased to see and highly vocal on, is that 50% of any new IDA Ireland investment in the coming years has to be in the regions. We want to see greater investment in the regions. A key theme across every Department is greater investment in the regions to support job creation. I look forward to engaging with the Youghal Chamber later today.