Project Ireland 2040: hit and miss
It is always good to have a plan.
Without a plan that everyone can reference to know what they are doing, well, no one knows what they are doing, or worse still, they think they can work in isolation and you end up with disjointed actions.
That has characterised many major development plans in Ireland over the years, resulting in isolated elements that never quite work together.
So despite the Stalinesque connotations of a five year development plan, it was with some fanfare that the “Project Ireland 2040” plan was unveiled to day by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Much of the content had been kited, but one glaring omission struck me.
The list of major points runs to 10, and they are as follows:
- Compact Growth
- Enhanced Regional Accessibility
- Strengthened Rural Economies and Communities
- Sustainable Mobility
- A Strong Economy, supported by Enterprise, Innovation and Skills
- High-Quality International Connectivity
- Enhanced Amenity and Heritage
- Transition to a Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Society
- Sustainable Management of Water and other Environmental Resources
- Access to Quality Childcare, Education and Health Services
Obviously, I was looking to see how the government was going to deliver on a new economy, fit for the middle of the 21st century, and thought it had be digital and highly interconnected, and so was scanning for words like “digital”, “broadband”, “connectivity” etc.
So, alighting on item 6, I looked for further detail to find this:
“Continued investment in our ports and airports is crucial, particularly in the post-Brexit environment. There will be a particular focus on cooperation and joint development of border areas that open up potential for an all-island economy.
“Key actions for international connectivity will include a new runway for Dublin Airport, continued development of Cork and Shannon Airports, investment in Ireland West Airport Knock, and for smaller airports under the Regional Airports Programme. There will also be major development of Dublin, Cork, Shannon-Foynes and other Ports, as well as investment in transport connectivity to ports.”
OK, not much there about the kind of connectivity I was looking for, but carry on.
Under point 5, the last paragraph of the blurb says:
“As digital links and opportunities for remote working and new forms of enterprise continue to grow, our rural areas will increasingly have the capacity to accommodate employment focused on ICT based industries, multi-media and creative sectors.”
That is hardly a comprehensive vision for a future digital economy, in a plan that an Taoiseach referred to as both “imaginative” and “responsive”.
One would have hoped that, with Ireland’s record in FDI, and specifically the technology and hi-tech industries we tend to attract, that a national level, internationally oriented, ICT framework would be a major part of any five-year, let alone a 20-plus year plan.
A national connectivity infrastructure should now be seen in the same way as the power grid, water system and transport network — it is critical infrastructure. Therefore, to leave it out of the plan seems illogical.
The vagueness of the term “increasingly have the capacity” in reference to rural areas accommodating new ICT-based industries and creative sectors, to my mind, is not reassuring in anyway.
While on the one hand, government ministers liken the advent of rural broadband to the electrification of the 1930s, there appears to be either a lack of understanding of where this ranks in the grand scheme, or a lack of understanding ion how to implement in the context of the other critical elements for Ireland’s development in the future.
Just to be sure, I went back in and looked at each of the major points, and point 3 states:
“Fast, secure, high capacity and reliable digital connectivity is imperative, not just for economic competitiveness but also for sustainable living in all parts of the country. A key short-term action, therefore, will be delivery of the National Broadband Strategy ensuring coverage in villages, rural areas and islands.”
OK, now we are getting somewhere. The words fast, secure and reliable, are all good in relation to connectivity, “imperative” is even better but then it is followed by the words “National Broadband Strategy” — and we are let down again.
The full detail document goes on to say of the NBS:
“The NBP has acted as a catalyst in encouraging commercial investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure and commercial operators have invested over €2.75 billion in upgrading and modernising networks over the past 5 years. As a result 69% of the 2.3 million premises in Ireland had access to a high-speed broadband service at the end of 2017. By end 2018 this is set to increase to over 77% of premises and to more than 90% by the end of 2020.”
All of which would leave almost a quarter (23%) of premises without quality broadband heading into the third decade of the 21st century.
These paragraphs are headed by:
Current Status: In Procurement
Estimated Cost: Confidential
Estimated Completion Date: Contract to be awarded in 2018 for a 25-year contract
It would appear as if there is no integration or upgrading of this to a national-level, critical infrastructure status, nor any great change to what is already a process in turmoil, due to the withdrawal of eir from the competition.
This is deeply disappointing. The scope of the plan is incongruous with the grandiose terminology being used, and fails to recognise the critical nature of what will be one of the most important elements of infrastructure for our future economy.
It is a missed opportunity.
And, it also begs more questions, not least of which was well framed on Twitter:
Maybe before launching #Ireland2040 we should look back all all previous reports and see why they did not achieve their goals.
We do glossy brochures and "consultants" reports like no other – The Circus rolls on.
— Paul Sommerville (@PaulSommerville) February 16, 2018