Tuesday, 25 May 2021
Department of Rural and Community Development
574. To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development if she will consider decentralising her Department to a regional location as an indication of the commitment by the Government to the Our Rural Future - Rural Development Policy 2021-2025 policy document; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27574/21]
Our Rural Future’, the new Rural Development Policy for 2021-2025, is the most ambitious and transformational policy for rural development in Ireland for decades, focussing on sustainability and optimising opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses. It contains over 150 measures for delivery over the lifetime of the policy, which were developed in collaboration with Departments across the whole of Government.
Through the Policy, the Government aims to breathe new life into rural areas, in particular towns and villages, building on the rollout of high speed broadband and the opportunities that presents in terms of remote working, attracting new investment and enabling a more connected, cohesive society.
The policy commits to the Government’s ‘National Remote Work Strategy’, the vision for which is “to ensure remote working is a permanent feature in the Irish workplace in a way that maximises economic, social and environmental benefits”. This will be achieved through significant investment in the rollout of broadband connectivity, improved remote working infrastructure, and policies that facilitate increased numbers of workers to work remotely. Our Rural Future contains measures for delivery to progress these ambitions.
Already just over 50% of civil servants are working outside Dublin, and in the current COVID-19 context many more are working remotely. The Government believes that the public sector should lead by example and build on this positive momentum.
The policy supports the Programme for Government’s commitment to move to 20% home or remote working in the public sector in 2021. The Government also supports the prioritisation of regional locations for new public sector offices during the lifetime of the policy.
With regard to my own Department, since our establishment in 2017 we have operated from two offices, one of which is in Ballina, Co Mayo. Approximately half of the Department’s staff are assigned there, the majority of whom are currently working from home. Additionally, since June 2020, when I assumed policy responsibly for the islands, my Department’s regional footprint extended to Furbo, Co. Galway. At present, 93 of the 175 staff in my Department are based in regional locations.
My staff have full capacity to work remotely and our ambition going forward is to introduce a blended approach of office and remote working. At this point, there are no immediate plans to further extend our regional footprint though we remain fully committed to our remote working targets.