By Niall Ó Brolcháin, eGovernment Unit, Insight Centre for Data Analytics, NUI Galway
Following on from a presentation that I made to a meeting of the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) in Ballaghaderreen on Friday 19th May 2017 the following motion was passed unanimously.
“That each Member will bring a notice of motion to their own County Council meetings that supports the Northern & Western Regional Assembly, the Western Development Commission and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics in establishing a Smart Region approach to encourage new industries, sectors and opportunities.”
The motion was proposed and backed by Cllr Niall McNelis who was very supportive of the concept of a Smart Region and Seconded by Cllr Declan McDonnell.
Cllr Declan McDonnell of Galway City was also very supportive of the project and stated that it would be a benefit to everyone. He suggested that it could underpin employment in the region including, many professors, researchers in universities, benefits to business, science and health.
Cllr Enda Stenson from Leitrim referred to Smart rural towns and villages, pointing out that rural places have suffered and that rural areas have a lot of catching up to do. He was concerned with the need to develop the region, stating that rural people can be left behind regarding technology and roads and that they have a long way to go to catch up. He felt that it was important to bring everyone along. It was pointed out that the purpose of the project was just that, to map the existing Smart initiatives in the Region and to propose a strategy that will lead to Smart interconnectedness while being clear that we would initially have to focus on developing centres of excellence in towns and villages.
Students at Grange Post Primary School in Sligo attended the meeting on the invitation of the Cathaoirleach of the NWRA Cllr Seamus Kilgannon from Sligo. They asked if it would be feasible to establish schools that would be centres of excellence with fast and efficient broadband? The clear answer to this was yes. It was pointed out that that the Insight Centre has a very strong outreach programme and that it makes perfect sense to promote smart technology and smart systems in all educational institutions in the region. They also asked, about the risk of failure of technology which was a very astute question as truly smart systems must be designed to take account of all potential risks.
Cllr Keith Henry from Sligo felt that smart technology makes sense, as it saves time and is more efficient. However, he pointed out that there is a fear factor around smart technology, with fears for jobs as processes become automated and a general fear about how to use technology especially from older people. This was clearly acknowledged. Obviously, the fear of technology amongst older people will always be an issue but we can look at ways to support and encourage people of all ages to adapt to new technology. With regards to jobs and automation, that relates to a change in the nature of work. It is important that we design and resource, sufficient and appropriate training to allow people of all ages to fully participate in the smart economy.
Cllr Gerry Murray from Mayo asked about smart infrastructure and what are the prospects of a state owned utility for broadband? He felt that this would ensure 100% penetration of broadband through-out the country. He pointed out that it has been done in Luxemborg, and felt that we need it here. It was agreed that broadband is a key priority for rural areas and that all centres of excellence in the Smart Places region by definition need to have an excellent broadband infrastructure. The issue of a state owned broadband utility was duly noted.
Cllr Dermot Connolly from County Galway made it clear that our region is agriculture based and that we need to be bigger and better with sustainable products, connecting with smart technology for small and medium enterprises. Examples of smart technology in the agriculture and food sector were given such as electronic tags in cow’s ears developed by a Galway based company. It was agreed that Smart Agriculture is clearly a major priority for the region.
At the end of the meeting NWRA CEO of the NWRA Mr David Minton, thanked all the members for a lively and very informative debate. He urged them to promote the Smart Places initiative at local authority level. He also thanked the students from Grange. He formally launched the Smart Places survey at http://smartplaces.insight-centre.org and encouraged members to fill it out.