Ireland must grasp opportunity of €800 million EU Covid-19 recovery fund to unlock digital and green recovery

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  • SIRO CEO calls for funds to be allocated for fast-tracking of digital public services; legislating for all new homes to be built fibre ready, and a digital fitness app for business
  • Call comes as reports suggest Commission will not approve national plans which do not sufficiently invest in a green and digital agenda

21st March – SIRO CEO John Keaney has called on the Government to prioritise monies from the €800 million Ireland is expected to receive from the EU Covid-19 recovery fund to drive a digital recovery. The impact of Covid-19 on Irish society has highlighted shortcomings in the online delivery of public services; weaknesses in terms of Irish SMEs eCommerce and digital capacity; and inequality in terms of broadband access for the public and business community alike – all of which need to be addressed to futureproof the Irish economy.

Ireland is expected to receive an estimated €800 million in EU funding as part of the latter’s support mechanism to assist member states’ recovery post-Covid-19, with the Government due to submit its proposals for the funding by 22 April at the latest. Once approved, the funding will form a core part of the financing of Ireland’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP).

Media reports over recent days suggest that the European Commission was not prepared to sign off on Member State plans which did not sufficiently adhere to EU criteria on how the monies would be allocated which includes investment in the digital and green economy.

As part of the Government’s public consultation on Ireland’s national recovery and resilience plan, SIRO has called for a ringfenced and dedicated digital funding programme akin to the annual National Roads Programme, led by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and has made a number of recommendations including:

  • Prioritise making at least 90% of public services available online by end 2023 and make these digital services more user friendly. In addition, many existing online public services are not fully digitised. Those merely providing downloadable forms and not accepting electronic signatures are common basic examples where improvements are needed, but we should aspire to replicate the success of countries like Estonia and Denmark where services like the ability to receive all correspondence digitally from public authorities is commonplace or all application and funding processes are fully digital.
  • New planning and building regulations which mandate connectivity for all new homes. Ireland needs both a uniform framework for broadband planning across all local authorities to fast track fibre roll-out and regulations which mandate that all new housing is broadband ready, enabling fibre to be delivered into each new home (including social housing).
  • A Digital Fitness App for organisations which allows them to assess how digitally ready their company is and then direct them to toolkits and supports so that businesses can fortify their digital capacity.
  • Strengthen partnerships with industry tech leaders to accelerate the roll-out of smart cities. Public-private partnerships between Government and industry can increase the speed at which smart city principles are adopted. They can ensure Ireland has the funding and expertise to roll-out smart cities, but within strict governance and data protection principles.
  • Invest in digital literacy. While many recognise the need for accelerated digitisation of Irish society, there are many groups with lower levels of digital literacy that cannot fully participate in the global digital revolution such as those in disadvantaged communities or those outside of the workplace such as the elderly. It is vital that new services are accessible for everyone by investing in targeted intervention to reach and support people with unmet digital literacy needs.

Commenting on SIRO’s submission to the Government’s public consultation on Ireland’s national recovery and resilience plan, SIRO CEO John Keaney said: ‘Covid-19 radically fast-tracked changes in society and businesses that most knew were coming but didn’t expect to see so soon. While companies and public services responded well in a short space of time; now comes the bigger challenge to shape and reinvent what comes next.’

‘Governments and businesses right across the world are now planning how to build the next normal. Fast-tracking the absorption of digital technologies into all aspects of how we live, and work, is top of their agenda. Digital acceleration will also support a recovery which is greener, such as by reducing commuting or driving greater productivity and efficiencies. The EU’s recovery fund, of which Ireland is set to receive €800 million, can lay the foundation to rapidly accelerate digitisation across the public and private sectors. Covid-19 has shown how digitally dependent we are, so it is critical that funds are prioritised for a digital evolution of Irish society.’

‘The growth in subscriptions for SIRO’s fibre powered broadband service clearly illustrates the demand by the public and business community for a high standard of connectivity not just to live and work during the current pandemic but also to transition an increasingly digital future. Government and our public services must now keep pace with the opportunity which a fibre, future proofed Gigabit society is unlocking across Ireland.

‘The EU’s recovery fund will give us the firepower to rapidly accelerate digitisation across our communities, business, and the public services. It can make give us a competitive advantage as we look to rebuild and establish Ireland as a global digital leader.’

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