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Ireland has introduced a remote work plan to address urban-rural distribution

Ireland has introduced a remote work plan to address urban-rural distribution

Ireland is taking advantage of the “unique opportunity” offered by changing pandemic-era work habits to shift people from major cities to other countries, planning a network of remote workplaces and rejuvenated urban areas to address the country’s long-standing rural areas. urban distribution.

The Irish government presented “Our Rural Future” strategy on Monday, ahead of an announcement to ease the three-month shutdown. Some of the measures currently in place, especially bans on non-essential travel of 5 km, have particularly affected rural residents.

The plan, the first of its kind to be launched by a European country since the start of the pandemic, is to create a network of more than 400 remote jobs and implement tax breaks for individuals and businesses that help with household chores.

By the end of the year, the government has set a target of 20% of Ireland’s 300,000 civil servants going to work remotely. Other measures include “economic support” to encourage people to live in rural villages and accelerated broadband deployment.

“As we are recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a unique opportunity for us to achieve a balanced development in the region and a goal to maximize recovery in all parts of our country,” Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters.

Rural-urban distribution has dominated Irish politics for decades. But, Heather Humphreys, the minister for rural and community development, said the country now has “an unprecedented opportunity to turn the tide.”

“The biggest mistake we can make when we get out of a pandemic is to get back to normal.”

Ireland’s last major decentralization push was in the early 2000s, when government departments moved from Dublin. The move provided the region with far fewer jobs than initially expected. Humphreys said this plan was different. “It’s a modern decentralization of workers, not of buildings, but of people.”

Only one of the 152 measures in the plan has an attached deadline. And it didn’t cost a single one, even though the ministers stressed that funding was available. Humphreys promised to provide more details on what could be achieved this year next week.

Other European countries have similar questions about how their cities will change as a result of changes in work practices caused by the pandemic.

Ian Warren, director of the think tank for the Towns Center for the UK, said Ireland’s plans were “very promising” and added: “The UK believes cities have been the focus of government intervention for a long time, and there needs to be a better balance in terms of investment. yes “.

Working from home in Kerry, Ireland © Lionel Derimais / Alamy

Warren stressed that “a lot of investment” is needed to manage population shifts, including “very good infrastructure, broadband, good housing, good public services, good transportation,” as well as access to green spaces and culture.

Warren said the tax incentives promised by Dublin were “the only lever to pull.”

The presentation of the plan featured video testimonies of several women who have moved to Irish countryside in recent years. They mentioned several advantages, including not having to travel, being closer to family, and having cheaper housing.

The opportunities that follow one another are already worrying for Dublin businesses, many of which have been closed for the last year in one of the toughest closures in Europe.

Samuel Beckett Bridge over Dublin’s Liffey River © Hollie Adams / Bloomberg

“Office staff are the backbone of Dublin’s economy,” said Richard Guiney, CEO of DublinTown, which represents 2,500 businesses in the Irish capital. He said the plans showed a “clear trend against Dublin”.

But economist Ronan Lyons and director of social research at Trinity College Dublin said the multi-faceted attraction of cities could mean a desire to leave people.

“Cities are not just a place where you work, they’re also a way of life,” he said. “It’s hard to see that people who expected to have the breadth of what cities have to offer choose to leave that to small towns.”

Lions added: “This is a manifestation of something that has reappeared in Irish politics for over a century. Irish politicians… Want to reward rural areas.”

Opposition Sinn Féin rural development spokeswoman Claire Kerrane said the plan was “very welcome… Really positive.”

“The big question is whether everything will be implemented and how quickly,” Kerran said, adding that “it’s been nice to have nice documents and ideas.” . . we need a clear roadmap ”.

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