*The Kilrush digital hub. Photograph: Eamon Ward
DigiClare are planning to launch an international marketing campaign as part of a bid to make Clare “the remote working capital of Ireland”.
Currently DigiClare has seven digital hubs established across the county in Feakle, Kilrush, Ennistymon, Carron, Miltown Malbay, Corofin and Kilkee.
“We have substantial numbers of people working from all sections of the community from students to business people, relocated individuals and web developers,” Urban McMahon Head of Information Systems Broadband and Digital with Clare County Council explained.
He outlined that there is an “ambitious programme” currently in the pipeline is preparing for the opening of other digital hubs. In Cross, the site which was formerly home of the national school will become a community hub incorporating a working and social element. Plans are advanced for the creation of digital hubs in Sixmilebridge, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Flagmount and Kilfenora, construction of the Ennis digital hub which will be located on the Quin Rd ceased during the lockdown.
McMahon outlined, “We should have fifteen to sixteen hubs of varying sizes”. He told February’s meeting of the Rural Development SPC that many representations have been made for different locations. “We are going down various routes with communities such as community or club buildings, it is difficult to find a suitable location to turn into a professionally looking hub without spending large sums of money”.
Clare County Council’s role is to build the hub and bring in the facilities to get it up and running but then the cleaning, opening and closing of the facility is the responsibility of the community, Urban stated. Bookings and payment are managed by the local authority with some of the funds returning to the community. “It is €10 per day per member with reduced rates for students, it is not expensive but our experience is if we push it much higher we feel we would suffer a loss of customers”.
A marketing campaign for DigiClare that will be international, national and local will be launched shortly, he advised.
Prior to the commencement of an international campaign Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) highlighted the need for the local authority to get its ducks in a row. “If we’re going to go out to the world and tell them to come to Clare, we have to have the opportunity for them to come and live here and that means housing. Marketing without the product they can buy is not going to deliver a successful outcome”.
On this topic, Cllr Murphy flagged that 15 properties are available in Kilkee, “eight of them are sites that you won’t get planning permission on”.
Similar issues exist in Shannon, commercial representative Niamh O’Callaghan noted. “Shannon Commercial Properties are bringing in top tier companies but there is no housing for them to live in, there is a lot of high-paid employees but no housing for them in Shannon”. She criticised the cost of housing in the town as “a disgrace” and referenced the €1250 fee for a flat in Drumgeely “the first block of flats built in Shannon”.
Continued work to promote relocation is needed, Cllr Joe Killeen (FF) maintained. He spoke of one user of the digital hub in Ennistymon who is architect for a Dublin company, “he loves water sport and has the benefit of being by the Atlantic, works in the hub and enjoys all the benefits of living in the west of Ireland”.
“Non-stop use” of the digital hub has been experienced in Feakle, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) detailed. Work of the Council staff involved in DigiClare was praised by Director of Service, Leonard Cleary who declared that the team “have endeavoured to make Clare the remote working capital of Ireland”.
Following a query from Cllr Mary Howard (FG) regarding an opening date for the Ennis hub, McMahon responded that had the construction not been disrupted it would have been opening in March, “I don’t want to commit to a date but we’re talking the beginning or middle of May, it is a pity because I know we would have the demand for the facility now”.