23rd January 2017, Ballymahon Library, Co. Longford
Ladies and gentlemen,
One hundred years ago a new Irish state was created from ideals of community, and values of self-belief. Our state arrived on the world map in an era of unprecedented upheaval and uncertainty. The Treaty of Versailles redrew the map of Europe. The United States withdrew, into a phase of isolation. Our lesson in Ballymahon today, is that while the world may be in upheaval, we are not powerless.
An Irish state, however challenged, can succeed.
Across this country, from inner cities to rural parishes, there are communities partly or sometimes wholly excluded from basic criteria of modern convenience and comfort, in terms of communications, energy efficiency and fuel poverty. We are here today to demonstrate in practical actions, how small communities and small countries can determine events, and not simply be buffeted by them.
Shaping events, requires the means of communication. To overcome isolation, to challenge the sense of powerlessness in homes and in parishes across rural Ireland, our children must be able to do their homework, our small enterprises and family farms must be able to do their business; on-line if required. Debate on local issues as well as global ones, must be accessible across the full range of digital platforms. People must know, they are really part of the bigger picture.
Just as roads came, and then electricity, the government is determined that broadband will be delivered. And, it will leave a lasting a legacy.
1.4 million homes and businesses in Ireland can access high speed broadband of at least 30 Megabits per second. 4G data services are available to over 90% of the population. This is where we start from. But in this two-speed digital Ireland another 1.8 million people are left out, and left behind. That is a story of disadvantage and of isolation we are determined to end. The National Broadband Plan will do that. It will deliver high speed broadband network to over 750,000 premises, covering 100,000km of road network and 96% of the land area of Ireland.
A procurement process is underway to select the winning bidder or bidders. This process is being intensively managed. It will be a predominantly fibre-to-the-home network for rural Ireland. This means the network will be future proofed for a generation.
And high speed broadband is already revitalising rural Ireland. The Trading Online Voucher Scheme, is a specific initiative, transforming an ideal into action. 3,000 small businesses have successfully applied for grant assistance from my Department. More than 6,000 business owner-managers have benefitted from expert advice and from peer-to-peer support under the Scheme.
Businesses like SmartHeat, nearby in Edgeworthstown – a provider of sustainable heating solutions - are investing in their online trading capability and are realising the benefits being able to sell to customers 24-hours a day online. Results are not dependent on location. They are dependent on quality broadband, in a digitally equal Ireland.
The national broadband plan will put every place name on the digital map. It will give every parish the means to be the hub of a living community. I am here today, not to announce a plan; I am here to tell you that the plan in-hand, is well underway.
Fuel poverty, energy efficiency and the air we breathe are closely related issues. Empowering people means giving them the means to reduce their bills, to cut the fuel they consume, and to make a contribution to a cleaner environment. The lesson of global warming is not that individual effort is useless, it is that each individual effort is essential.
In Ireland, four people are dying every day because of poor air quality. Poor air quality is costing the State €3,800 per minute. If we can make our homes more energy efficient and switch to cleaner fuels then we can reduce energy bills, create jobs, and personally contribute to a cleaner, healthier environment. This year I secured €100 million euro for energy efficiency projects. €30 million euro of this will go directly to community groups because policy that empowers people, strengthens communities.
Today, I want to announce the launch of a new pilot Scheme specifically targeting people living in rural Ireland who are dependent on solid fuels as their primary source of heat. I accept that the use of peat and turf can at times be a contentious subject. But, through this pilot I am confident it will provide tangible evidence that managing our peat lands will lead to warmer homes, to reduced bills, to job creation and to a sustainable future for rural Ireland.