Working from Home – ‘The New Normal’?

Introduction

Though unintended, one of the biggest experiments in employment practices is underway globally; enforced working from home. Where possible, Governments have asked that all workers conduct their normal work from home, a radical change from what has gone on before.

What will happen when some degree of ‘normality’ returns? Some commentators suggest working from home will become a much more established feature of working life. Others suggest that life and work will return to ‘normal’, only time will tell. In this blogpost I look at patterns and trends in working from home and remote working up to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The terms telework and e-Work were more common in the past but generally refer to remote working – the practice of using technology (tele-work) and electronic ways (e-Work) to work at a location separate or remote to the office.  Working from home is specifically that and can be considered a subset of remote working, in contrast to working from a shared space such as a hub.

Recent History

Working from home and remote working is not a new phenomenon. As noted in the recently published Government report Remote Work in Ireland (2019), The late 90’s saw the first emergence of Government activity on remote work (then referred to as e-Work or telework). This was due to the increasing availability of ICT and broadband infrastructure. A series of actions were undertaken to promote e-Work (largely working from home).

  • In 1998 the National Advisory Council on Teleworking was established by Government. Comprised of experts across a range of areas it was charged with the task of advising the Minister on telework and related employment opportunities.
  • In 2000, twenty years ago, the Government approved a Code of Practice on e-Working entitled ‘e-Working in Ireland’ and the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (2000-2002) (PPF) committed the Government to introduce e-Working options into mainstream public service employment by 2002.
  • In 2001-2003, the Western Development Commission (WDC), was represented on the e-Work Action Forum, the successor to the National Advisory Council. The e-Work Action Forum assumed the role of developing tasks and strategies set out in the report, e-Working in Ireland: New Ways of Living and Working.
  • The Department of Finance, in 2003 issued a circular on Pilot schemes to promote e-Working in the Civil Service. Though some individual Departments did introduce pilot schemes and may have continued the practice, no central evaluation or assessment of the policy has ever taken place.
  • The Office of the Revenue Commissioners issued guidance dealing with the tax implications of e-Working for employees and employers which was updated in 2013 and updated further in April 2020 to take account of the current enforced working from home practice under Covid-19.

Environmental impacts

Generally, the earlier work on promoting e-Working focused on economic and social benefits and there was little attention paid to environmental benefits. Before the financial crisis hit, and in line with economic growth, high employment levels and greater levels of commuting, the Department of Transport published its Smarter Travel Policy A Sustainable Transport Future, A New Transport Policy for Ireland 2009-2020 (2009). This included actions to reduce travel demand and traffic congestion.

  • One of the actions was to realise some of the benefits of e-Working. This included setting targets to encourage e-Working in the public sector.
  • There was also an objective to research and develop e-Working centres (in effect the precursor to enterprise centres & working hubs). For example, as part of the smarter travel town initiative, a pilot e-Working centre was established in Dungarvan in 2012. This ‘Remote Working Space’, allows workers to rent space and access broadband while also operating in an office environment closer to home than the office. At that time, Westmeath County Council set up six community e-Working centres aimed at residents who travel to Dublin or elsewhere to work.

However, the financial crash ensured that e-Working as policy objective was relegated and the ensuing higher unemployment, lower employment levels and associated lower congestion levels removed some of the impetus for e-Working.

Employment Trends and Working from Home

The unemployment rate and the numbers working from home rate, as measured by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) is shown in the chart below. The data from the LFS measures those who work ‘usually or sometimes’ from home.

In 2012, the unemployment rate was 16% and the working from home rate was 13.8%.

As the unemployment rate declined the percentage engaged in working from home increased. When unemployment was at its lowest, in 2019 at 5%, the percentage working from home was at its highest, 20%. One of the factors seems to be that with a tight labour market, and high employment levels, there are greater levels of working from home. More employees seek the opportunity of working from home especially given the longer journey times associated with full employment and congested transport networks. It is also argued that employers are more receptive to the practice in part related to the need to retain skilled workers.

The Labour Force Survey is a sample survey and therefore it is more difficult to get detailed regional breakdowns. The WDC uses Census data in order to get a Western Region picture.

Census data on Working from Home

The Census asks the question ‘How do you usually travel to work’? with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’. While the Census measure is valuable in providing regional data, it is limited in that it only captures those that work from home most of the working week, and excludes those who work from home one or two days per week. More recent data from the CSO (discussed below) suggest one or two days per week is the most common pattern.

Furthermore, the Census definition is inadequate in capturing the extent of e-Work as it includes all those that are self-employed and work from home (such as those engaged in agriculture and home-based sole traders such as GPs, childminders and others across all sectors) and not just e-Workers.  For example, in 2011, 4.7% (83,326) of all those at work, stated they worked mainly at or from home. Of these the most significant occupational group is farmers, fishing & forestry workers, comprising over two fifths (43.5%). Excluding this group, in 2011, the share of the state’s working population reported as working ‘at or from home’ was 2.8% (47,127)[1].

[1] This compares to 3.2% (8,994) of workers in the Western Region, indicating a higher incidence of working from home in the Western Region.

The chart above depicts the numbers ‘working mainly at or from home’ (secondary right-hand axis) and the unemployment rate since the late 1990s up to and including March 2020. This excludes the Covid-19 monthly unemployment figures which was first measured in March 2020. In 1996 there was over 158,000 persons who stated they worked ‘mainly at or from home’. As noted above, a large proportion of this number is those engaged in agriculture. With the ever-declining numbers employed in agriculture it is likely that the agricultural component has continued to decline.

Most recently, there were 94,955 persons who stated they worked ‘mainly at or from home’ in 2016. This was still below the 2006 peak of 105,706, though it represents an increase of 14% between 2011 (83,326) and 2016. Once more the peak in 2006 corresponds to a period of very low unemployment, while the dip in those working from home in 2011 corresponds to a period of high unemployment. Notwithstanding the caveats with the data there does seem to be a relationship between employment, unemployment and the extent of working from home.

CSO 2018

More recently, the CSO invited submissions to the consultation on questions for Census 2021. The WDC advocated for the inclusion of a question to more effectively capture the extent of Working from home/e-Working to which the CSO agreed. The CSO conducted a pilot survey in September 2018. This found that among those at work, 18% declared they worked from home. The level of non-response among workers was low at 3%. Of those working from home, the breakdown by number of days was as follows:

Working from home 1 day per week was the most popular practice (35%), followed by 2 days a week (13%) and 5 days per week (by 11%). It should be noted that 26% of those who said they worked from home did not state the number of days. One possibility may be that their pattern changes on a weekly basis.

Profile of those working from home

  • The CSO pilot results showed that the percentage of those working from home increased as age increased, peaking at 19.6% of those at work in the age group 45-49. Of this group 32% worked one day from home. The proportion of home workers decreased among workers in older age groups.
  • Over half of those who worked in ‘Computer programming, consultancy and information service activities’ indicated that they worked from home. This industry comprised 3% of all workers in the pilot but 11% of all home workers were in this industry. See the CSO release here.

IBEC collects data on the extent of e-Working (largely working from home) based on a survey of their membership. The most recently published data (for 2018) shows an increasing prevalence of the practice. For example,

  • In 2018, 37% of IBEC members (152 companies) had a practice of e-Working/home-working, on one or two days per week basis, up from 30% (110) in 2016.
  • The likelihood of e-Working among IBEC companies increases with company size, 54% of companies with 500+ employees cite a practice of e-Working 1 or 2 days a week.
  • There is a higher rate of e-Working among foreign owned companies compared to Irish, 40% and 33% respectively, and both these figures are up on two years previously – 34% and 27% respectively.
  • Sectorally the highest rates of e-Working are within the Electronic services sector (69%), followed by the Financial services sector (58%).
  • At a regional level IBEC members in the Dublin region have the highest incidence of e-Working, with almost half (49%) reporting having an e-Working policy of 1-2 days working from home per week. This rate drops to one-third of companies in the Cork region, one-quarter in the Mid-West and South-East and 24% in the West/North West. This regional variation supports the idea that at least some of the e-Working demand and take-up by employers is driven by the greater extent of congestion in larger urban centres.

What will be ‘The New Normal’?

So, if there is a correlation between economic growth, employment levels and the numbers working from home, what might happen once we emerge from the Covid crisis?

It is very likely that the ‘enforced’ working from home experience will have created an appetite and interest to continue the practice, by both employers and employees. The extent of this will depend on how suitable the work and role is and how effective the supports for employees working remotely has been. Some employers may find that they are pleasantly surprised with how its worked and will be receptive to continuing the practice, others may find the opposite. It is worth noting that the draft document for Government between Fiánna Fail and Fine Gael propose that public sector employees move to 20% home and remote working in 2021.

It is also likely that we will have a higher rate of unemployment than before the Covid pandemic and as with the aftermath of the financial crisis, with lower employment levels, congestion levels on public transport and road networks may drop considerably. However, the current circumstances are unprecedented and it is possible that any correlation with working from home and high unemployment will not apply while the various restrictions remain in force.

There are some differences in the context now and what prevailed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which will likely impact on ‘the new normal’.

  • Technology is even more advanced with videoconferencing easily available and this can be useful for employers and employees in maintaining and promoting the remote working relationship.
  • Before the pandemic, working from home has become a feature of some company’s business models, illustrating that companies can operate very successfully with all staff working remotely (e.g Shopify, Wayfair)
  • The Covid pandemic forced a huge section of the workforce to engage in working from home, and in effect to trial it, albeit under rushed circumstances. While unintended, this provides a mechanism for much of the labour market to experiment working in a new way.

The most recent data[1], suggests that up to one fifth of the workforce work from home on at least a 1 day a week basis. This could be considered ‘the normal rate’ up to the occurrence of the Covid pandemic and under conditions of strong economic growth and close to full employment.

The LFS to be published in August will have additional data on the impacts of the pandemic including figures measuring the current extent of working from home.

However, as the restrictions are slowly lifted the numbers working from home will decline from their current peak and over the next few months and beyond the level of ‘the new normal’ will begin to emerge.

The levels of working from home may well be influenced by the extent to which the economy can recover relatively quickly or whether we enter a longer recessionary period. Either way ‘the new normal’ may not become clear for another year or so.

In the meantime, the WDC will continue to monitor trends and highlight issues as they emerge. As part of this work the WDC is collaborating with NUIG to gather the experiences of those working from home at this time and the findings will be discussed in a future post.

 

Deirdre Frost

23 April 2020

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC.

[1] CSO Pilot September 2018

United Nations AI for Good Conference Announced for Sligo

Trail blazers from the world of Artificial Intelligence alongside international and national policy makers will gather in Sligo for The ‘AIforGood Global Visions’ conference from 25th-27th March. The event which is fully supported and endorsed by the United Nations agency for Information and Communications (ITU), will be the first of this kind to be held outside Geneva.

Keynote speakers include Neil Sahota, Global Lead for IBM Watson, Digital Inclusion advocate Joanne O ‘Riordan, Alessandra Sala from Nokia Bell Labs and Ethical AI leading expert Dr. Kevin Danaher. The conference has been organised by US firm, Live Tiles who have their EMEA headquarters in Sligo and is supported by The Western Development Commission, The Atlantic Economic Corridor, IDA Ireland, IT Sligo, Sligo County Council and Tech Northwest.

CEO of The Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin welcomed the announcement and said “improvements in technology and developments in artificial intelligence [AI] will bring significant change to the way we live. Welcoming the AI for Good conference to Ireland’s west coast is timely and the conference will explore the ways in which new technologies can improve quality of life for millions around the globe.“

The conference aims to ensure trusted, safe and inclusive development of AI technologies and equitable access to their benefits. Additionally, a priority goal of the Irish event will be to provide recommendations and actions that feed into and influence policy making at the Global Summit to be held in Geneva in May 2020. Attendees can also look forward to AI-inspired performances from the Yeats Society of Ireland and AI-related activities bringing together surfing and sea forecasting, oyster farming and Ocean health, hill walking and cultural heritage activities.

“AIforGood Global Visions will connect innovators in artificial intelligence with problem owners to solve national and global challenges” says Karl Redenbach, CEO of LiveTiles who are partnering with the UN’s ITU agency to launch the event in Ireland. “AI represents not just the biggest economic opportunity that the world has witnessed but an unequalled opportunity to leverage AI technologies for good and to put human-centric policies and design at the forefront of how we interact with technology.”

The 2020 summit is kindly supported by and is run in conjunction with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) the UN agency for information and communication technologies (ICT).

A Limited number of early bird tickets for this event are now on sale, alongside discounted accommodation prices from the trusted partner hotels. See www.aiforgoodsligo.ie for more details.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

 

Western Development Commission welcomes more than €16m for key projects along the Atlantic Economic Corridor 

€40m has been allocated to 26 projects nationally from the Regional Enterprise Development Fund. Ten of the projects, with a total value of more than €16m, are based along The Atlantic Economic Corridor. The Western Development Commission is supporting a number of these projects including Grow Remote, Comhoibriú and Future Mobility Campus Ireland.

As a national initiative Grow Remote has become a focal point for Remote Work in Ireland, fostering a pipeline of remote jobs, and making them both visible and accessible to communities who need them. Today’s announcement of funding will continue to build on the success of the Atlantic Economic Corridor, stretching from Donegal to Kerry, which is a flagship project for the WDC and as set out in Ireland 2040.

Combhoibriú will focus on the Digital Creative Sector through the development of a regional Centre of Excellence in Galway (GMIT) providing co-working space, incubation and accelerator programmes, training and outreach services. This will increase enterprise development and job growth in the Creative Economy in the West of Ireland. The WDC along with GMIT, Údarás na Gaeltachta and TG4 will support the recruitment of a Project Manager.

Future Mobility Campus Ireland is a €4.7m national project to develop a test bed for connected and autonomous vehicles which will be based in Shannon, Co. Clare. This facility will enable companies to add value to their businesses by testing new technologies. This builds on the existing expertise in sensor mobility in the region and is closely aligned with the long term strategy of the Western Development Commission to build a global competitive advantage in a hi-tech niche.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO of the WDC said “These ambitious projects acknowledge the existing expertise within the region and the appetite to build a common platform for future innovation. The Creative Economy through Comhoibriú has an unparalleled capacity to fire the public imagination and bring together industry and community, building on more than ten years of development work by the WDC. GrowRemote and the scope to work remotely has the potential to change the way in which people live and work in rural and regional areas and Future Mobility Campus Ireland acknowledges the regional strengths in sensors and mobility and the ambition to build on that knowledge to bring bold new ideas to life. In doing so, it is a concrete commitment to regional rebalancing as Ireland 2040 takes shape.”

The fund is an initiative of the Government under Project Ireland 2040 and it aligns with the Future Jobs Ireland framework. It is administered for the Government by Enterprise Ireland. Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys TD made the announcement this morning that 26 successful applicants representing all regions of the country have been approved for funding of over €40 million. Further details are available here.

 For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

Western Development Commission Leading the Way on Blue Circular Economy

 The Western Development Commission (WDC) today announced an event to be held in the Aula Maxima Galway on January 22nd 2020 as part of the Blue Circular Economy project. The three-year programme is an international partnership including, amongst others the WDC, Technical University of Denmark, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the Centre for Sustainable Design® at UCA, and the Environmental Research Institute Scotland.  Its aim is to support the development of the fishing net waste recycling industry in regions across Europe and initiate a discussion with relevant West of Ireland SME’s in order to investigate existing and emerging opportunities in the sector, much of this driven by the Single use plastics directive , introduced in March 2019.

The workshop, which will be hosted by the Ryan Institute at the National University of Ireland Galway, will bring together stakeholders from a range of different sectors including those involved in the aquaculture and fisheries sector, port authorities, waste management companies, research institutes, SMEs and others involved in innovations to make new products from recycled fishing net waste as has been done in other countries in areas including clothing, textiles, garden furniture, exercise equipment, kayaks and filament inks for 3D printing.

Attendees at the workshop will hear from Alena Petrikovicova – de Chevilly, representing the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Alena will provide an update on the directive surrounding single use plastics and what it will mean for the sector. Professor Martin Charter of the Centre for Sustainable Design UK will lead the workshop. He will be joined by Professor Charles Spillane, Director of NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute and Richard Glavee-Geo, Associate Professor at NTNU in Ålesund.

CEO of The Western Development Commission Tomas O’Siochan commented; “There are significant opportunities for SMEs or individuals who are looking to get involved in this sector and through projects like the Blue Circular Economy, the WDC hope to help further the impact a circular economy approach can have on a local level- both in terms of providing business opportunities and also from the positive environmental benefits that go hand in hand with the proper management of our resources. “

Over the life of the project the Blue Circular Economy aims to help develop local innovation clusters both here in Ireland and in Norway, as well as supporting SMEs looking to get started in this sector.

For further information, including how to register for the 22nd January event, please visit:

https://cfsd.org.uk/projects/bce/workshops/galway-local-innovation-systems-1/

For information on the Project visit www.bluecirculareconomy.eu

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 For further information on the Blue Circular Economy Initiative (www.bluecirculareconomy.eu), please contact Stephen McCormack, BCE Project Officer stephenmccormack@wdc.ie or Head of Regional Development WDC Ian Brannigan ianbranniga@wdc.ie )

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

ABOUT THE WDC

  • The WDC is a State agency established under statute to foster and promote the economic and social development of the Western Region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare).
  • The work of the Western Development Commissionfocuses on investment, lending, regional development and policy analysis.
  • ieoffers an overview of business activity and life in the Western Region including an up to date jobs platform.
  • The WDC supports regional growth through its EU projects programme
  • The WDC is leading on The Atlantic Economic Corridor initiative. The AEC is an initiative to attract investment, support job creation and improve the quality of life in the West from Kerry to Donegal. This includes the Enterprise Hubs Project which is a 3-year project to create an interconnected community network from the 101 hubs identified as either operating or in development, in the AEC region.

About Blue Circular Economy.

  • Established in 2018 the Blue Circular Economy is a partnership between Western Development Commission, Technical University of Denmark, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, The Centre for Sustainable Design® at UCA, and the Environmental Research Institute Scotland.
  • The three year programme will promote and support companies to create sustainable industries in the recovery and recycling of used fishing netting into commercial products.
  • The Blue Circular Economy project is funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic 2014-2020 programme. Full details on bluecirculareconomy.eu

About yan Institute at NUI Galway

  • The Ryan Institute focuses on four thematic research areas, namely (1) Marine & Coastal, (2) Energy & Climate Change, (3) Agriculture & Bio Economy, and (4) Environment & Health.
  • The Ryan Institute is comprised of 12 Research Centers/Clusters spanning these four thematic research areas.
  • The Ryan Institute is NUI Galway’s largest research institute comprised of 91 Research Groups and 12 Research Centers/Clusters that are responsible for over 350 funded research projects comprising circa. 20% of the overall research income of NUI Galway.
  • The 91 Research Groups (each lead by a Ryan Institute Principal Investigator) within the Ryan Institute collectively consist of circa 470 full time researchers, including 90 Postdoctoral Fellows, 50 Research Assistants, and over 240 PhD students.
  • The Ryan Institute’s 91 research groups generate over one quarter of all research publications and citations from NUI Galway.

About the Single use plastics directive

  • In March 2019, the European Union passed the Single Use Plastics Directive which contains provisions for manufacture, use and disposal of fishing gear.
  • Fishing gear is largely made up of different types of plastic and the next few years will require an increase in recycling of these materials which, when collected, separated, cleaned, shredded and then extruded into plastic pellets, can then go onto be used for the manufacture of new plastic products.

 

Western Development Commission Marks 15 years of Investment in Cora Systems

  • Western Development Commission first invested in Cora Systems 15 years ago.
  • Cora Systems is a global software company set up in 1999 headquartered in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim.
  • Cora Systems now have regional offices in Dublin, Bedford (UK), New York and Arlington (VA).

The Western Development Commission today celebrated 15 years of investment in global software company Cora Systems, who are based in Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim. The WDC Investment Fund has to date invested over €55 million in 166 SMEs, Micro and Social/Community Enterprises in the region with over 5,000 people employed directly and indirectly in portfolio companies.

Since its foundation in 1999, Cora Systems, a leading provider of enterprise project and portfolio management solutions, has grown from its base in Co Leitrim to become the largest software company operating in the northwest of Ireland with over 80 staff and regional offices in Dublin, Bedford (UK), New York and Arlington (VA).

As a global software solutions provider, its client roster includes some of the leading brands in the world, such as City of London, Elanco, Honeywell Building Solutions and WSP in addition to powering the largest transformation program in the history of the Irish state at the Health Service Executive.

Cora Systems has won several recent international awards for its software. Earlier this month the company won a prestigious PMI award in the UK for its work in orchestrating NHS Digital’s £1.3 billion Global Digital Exemplar (GDE) programme so that a range of NHS Trusts across the UK can more effectively manage and spend their yearly budgets.

CEO of The Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin said’ ‘Cora Systems has seen significant recent growth, but it is the culmination of a long journey for CEO Philip Martin. It illustrates the value of the WDC support over an extended period of time. This is reflected in our aim, over the next year, to put long term supports in place in one or two sectors, to ensure similar success stories, job creation and growth in the region in the long term.’

 Philip Martin, CEO, Cora Systems, said: “These are exciting times for Cora. We’ve gone on a huge journey since starting up.  It’s great that wá can compete against the best companies in the world in our space like Microsoft, Oracle and Planview – and win – from our base in Carrick-on-Shannon, with all the benefits that brings in terms of employment and benefits to local suppliers. And after several successive quarters of profit, it’s only going to get better.”

On visiting the Cora Systems office in Carrick on Shannon, Minister Seán Canney commented; “Cora Systems are accessing global markets from their base in Carrick on Shannon. The extent to which indigenous businesses can become world players is where the opportunity lies, and Cora Systems are a fine example of how that potential can be realised. I acknowledge the support of the Western Development Commission and Enterprise Ireland in supporting our Global Ambition. As Chair of the Atlantic Economic Corridor Taskforce, I want to congratulate Cora Systems on their achievement to date. The AEC region is well positioned to develop opportunities and increase sustainable jobs in the regions.”

Due to the success of its Evergreen Strategy the Western Development Commission now has significant funds to reinvest in enterprises in the Western Region. Recent investments/lending include Atrian Medical in Galway, Lough Gill Brewery in Sligo and Cerebreon Technologies in Donegal.

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 For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

 

WDC Investment Fund Supports Arigna Fuels Move Towards a Renewable Future

  • Investment Fund to help accelerate the transition from low smoke carbon based products to renewable biomass products.
  • Arigna Fuels emerged from the coal mining industry in the region and built the first smokeless fuel plant in Ireland in the mid-1980’s.
  • Today’s announcement is part of an ongoing investment by Arigna Fuels shareholders in transitioning the company to a renewable and sustainable future.

The Western Development Commission today announced investment and support for Arigna Fuels as the company moves towards renewable biomass based products.

Arigna Fuels is a family owned business based on the Roscommon/Leitrim border and has been ever present since the 1870’s through generations of the Layden family. Arigna Fuels was the first manufacturer of smokeless coal ovoids in Ireland and has continually expanded operations up to a 24/7 basis and developed its brands Ecobrite and Cosyglo as market leaders in the expanding market for cleaner solid fuels. The company has sold well in excess of 1million tonnes of manufactured fuels to date and currently employs 53 staff directly and up to 15 indirectly.  In response to the on-going climate change agenda and in anticipation of Arigna Fuels’ customer’s future needs to find suitable replacement for carbon based fuel, the company embarked on a multi-million euro investment and commenced work on a biomass based fuel in 2010 and construction of a pilot plant in 2012.

The technology developed for the new plant is cutting-edge and has been developed by the Arigna team. The next stage for the biomass project is the production of commercial quantities of biomass based product to test a number of identified market segments both in Ireland and abroad. Once the development phase is complete the company plans to expand capacity rapidly. The team at Arigna have put a large focus on the energy efficiency of the process to ensure that all useful energy is recovered and available for use in the process itself.

WDC CEO Tomás Ó Síocháin said ‘Arigna Fuels is an excellent example of both the challenges and opportunities of the ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy in regional and rural areas. This is a resilient family business that has provided significant employment for generations along the Roscommon / Leitrim border and continues to innovate. We are happy to support Arigna Fuels as they continue to innovate and develop new and sustainable markets in a time of significant change.’

Brendan Layden Managing Director said “Arigna Fuels have been very impressed with our interactions with the WDC and its staff. From early on it was clear they shared our vision for innovation and our desire to produce a renewable and sustainable product for our customers. Our new products will still be usable in existing appliances and make the inevitable transition from carbon based fuels to a renewable fuel possible for all.”

Gillian Buckley, Investment Manager, stated that “The WDC Investment Fund is delighted to support Arigna Fuels, a family business steeped in a rural area at the cutting edge of the transition to the low carbon economy and renewable fuel products.”

This funding round was also supported by the company’s shareholders and the Bank of Ireland.

The WDC policy team are currently studying the impact on rural areas of the move to a low carbon economy as part of the Government’s Climate Action Plan, the findings of which will be published early next year.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

 

Western Development Commission Welcomes National Broadband Plan

The board of The Western Development Commission met yesterday (Tuesday 19th November) at Shannon Airport to discuss progress on their recently announced strategy ‘Work Smarter, Live better’ and to discuss the impact of The National Broadband Plan on western counties.

CEO of The Western Development Commission Tomás Ó Síocháin said ‘This is a significant step forward toward the vision of Ireland 2040 to rebalance regional development. This is a long-term commitment to allow rural and regional areas to engage in society on an equal footing with other areas. In the short term, the WDC, through the work of the Atlantic Economic Corridor, are leading the development of a network of hubs all along the Atlantic coast.’

CEO, Shannon Group Mary Considine said  “We are delighted to welcome the Western Development Commission CEO and Board to Shannon Airport. With Project Ireland 2040 aspiring to deliver 75% of growth in areas outside the capital, the need for collaboration and joined-up thinking to maximise all opportunities has never been more crucial. We look forward to working closely with the Western Development Commission and all stakeholders to develop opportunities to enhance our offering and the reputation of the western regions as a place that people will want to live, work, learn, invest and spend leisure time,” she said.

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 For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

New Literary Tourism Project to Provide Up To €10,000 to Support Developing Literary Tourism Products or Services 

  • New series of workshops announced in Galway, Mayo and Sligo
  • Local businesses and organisations urged to sign up
  • €10,000 fund available for businesses

Are you an entrepreneur, culture vulture, or community group? Join a Spot-lit workshop this month in Galway, Mayo or Sligo to discover how to create new products for the untapped literary tourism market in the West of Ireland and bring even more tourists to your region.

Spot-lit, a new EU Funded innovation programme, will shine a light on literary tourism over the next three years, with a focus on developing new literary tourism products or services.

Workshops are being held in Sligo at The Glasshouse Hotel on November 26th, in The Ellison Hotel, Castlebar, Co. Mayo on November 27th, and in The Maldron Hotel, Galway, on November 28th. Attendance at the workshops is free of charge, though registration is essential at https://www.spot-lit.eu/spot-lit-literary-tourism-workshops/

The Western Development Commission (WDC) are the Spot-lit  Irish partners and through the programme are working to develop and support organisations and businesses in this culturally-rich region to grow, collaborate and engage with wider audiences and customers.

CEO Tomás Ó Síocháin of the Western Development Commission said: 

‘The west has a fantastic story to tell; an area of arresting physical beauty, centres of innovation and economic growth, however Spot-Lit is an opportunity to focus on some of the stories as yet untold. I would urge communities, groups and SMEs to engage with the Literary Business Support Programme, one aspect of the work of the WDC in supporting the Creative Economy.’

Focused on the coastal counties along Ireland’s western seaboard, the Spot-lit programme is open to small businesses, social enterprises, community groups and literary associations with a unique idea for the development of literary tourism in their area. A series of monthly engagement workshops, learning journeys, business advice clinics and individual mentoring supports will be available. Attendance at one of the initial workshops is essential for any organisation that wishes to proceed to the next stage.

Literary Tourism is an emerging niche sector within the wider cultural tourism sector, where places with literary heritage offer author and fiction-related literary tourism opportunities along with opportunities arising from literary festivals, trails and book shops.

In Ireland, this would include literary rich locations such as Sligo, synonymous with the poet WB Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Bellaghy in Derry, Cuirt International Festival of Literature in Galway, Doolin Writers’ Weekend in Clare.

Following on from the workshops, micro-enterprises/SMEs from the West of Ireland, which show potential for the development of their business and the wider region through literary tourism, will be invited to apply to the Spot-Lit programme.  The programme provides up to €10,000 per participating business to support their development over the project duration.

Further information on the Spot-lit programme is available online from www.spot-lit.eu or follow on social media @spot_lit_eu

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Notes for Editors:

Media Queries: Contact Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communication at the Western Development Commission on allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

Spot-lit is a new EU-funded programme for the literary tourism industry in the NPA Region.

Partners in this project include:

  • Western Development Commission (Ireland) (Communication Lead Partner)
  • Irish Central Border Area Network, Arts Over Borders (Northern Ireland) (Project Lead Partner)
  • Arts Over Borders (Northern Ireland)
  • Wigtown Festival Company (Scotland)
  • Kajaani University of Applied Sciences (Finland)
  • Lapland University of Applied Sciences (Finland)
  • Regional Council of Kainuu (Finland)
  • Reykjavik UNESCO City of Literature (Iceland) (Associate Partner)
  • Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature (Associate Partner)

About the NPA Region

The Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme 2014-2020 forms a cooperation between 9 programme partner countries. The NPA 2014-2020 is part of the European Territorial Cooperation Objective, supported by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and ERDF equivalent funding from non EU partner countries.  Despite geographical differences, the large programme area shares a number of joint challenges and opportunities that can best be overcome and realised by transnational cooperation. It is the programme’s vision is to help to generate vibrant, competitive and sustainable communities, by harnessing innovation, expanding the capacity for entrepreneurship and seizing the unique growth initiatives and opportunities of the Northern and Arctic regions in a resource-efficient way.

Regional Profiles 

Ireland, known to many as the land of saints and scholars, is today home to numerous writers, poets and dramaturgs. The Spot-lit region in Ireland is the West of Ireland coastal counties and is renowned for its literary heritage; it is synonymous with the internationally recognised poet William Butler Yeats, songwriter Percy French, writer Pádraic Ó Conaire and many more. The region celebrates its literary heritage through modern-day festivals and events such as the Yeats Summer School, Tread Softly Festival, Doolin Writers Festival, Letterfrack Poetry Trail, Baboro International Arts Festival for Children, and the Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering, amongst others.

The Kainuu Region in northern Finland is another partner region where Spot-Lit project partner The Regional Council of Kainuu is working with the literature associations. Cultural life in Kainuu is regarded as lively with year-round professional and amateur theatre, musical training, modern dance, music festivals and the Kajaani poetry festival. The Kalevala is a national poem of Finland featuring old Finnish ballads, lyrical songs, and incantations that were a part of Finnish oral tradition. Today, it inspires place names, business names, contemporary culture and art and is celebrated at events throughout the year. The Juminkeko Culture Center is of national importance and showcases Kalevala heritage. Significant literary figures from this region include Elias Lönnrot, Eino Leino, Ilmari Kianto, Veikko Huovinen and Isa Asp.

Uniquely rugged, Northern Ireland provides an untapped resource of literary talent, history and heritage. The birthplace of Seamus Heaney, the region has connections with Patrick Kavanagh, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde. A rich calendar of cultural and literary festivals and events each year include the Bard of Armagh, the Happy Days Enniskillen International Festival and The Wilde Weekend. Arts Over Borders present literary festivals which celebrate a strong sense of place, both rural and urban, throughout border communities and landscapes – what is now regarded as the northern literary lands.

The Scottish town of Wigtown is well known for its Wigtown Book Festival with a wide programme of over 300 events, but it is also Scotland’s designated ‘National Book Town’ due to its high concentration of bookshops. The Georgian townhouse Moat Brae also inspired the author JM Barrie, creator of Peter Pan and most recently the house opened in July 2019 as a visitor centre –  Peter Pan’s Enchanted Land –  along with a National Centre for Children’s Literature and Storytelling. Big DoG, a children’s book festival, also takes place in Wigtown. Scotland is also home to Robert Burns, Scottish poet and lyricist widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.

Western Development Commission Leads 3 County Delegation to visit Community-led Renewable Energy Projects in Germany

 

  • 31% of total renewable energy production in Germany owned by its citizens compared to 0.14% in Ireland.
  • Western Development Commission is hosting a conference on December 11th to discuss the lessons learned from both Denmark and Germany regarding community owned projects within the renewable electricity auction process.
  • Mayo, Clare, and Leitrim represented on EU project visit.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) along with communities from the West of Ireland joined others from Norway, Sweden and Finland recently in the Aller-Leine-Tal region of Germany to explore best practice community owned renewable energy projects. This was the second trip that was facilitated through the NPA funded Local Energy Communities (LECo) project. While in Germany the team were hosted by the German Renewable Energy Agency and visited community owned wind farms, an electric car sharing energy co-operative, a community owned biogas plant and a range of energy efficient building upgrades. One of the key learnings for the group was to see first-hand how local communities are raising the finance required to bring a multitude of renewable energy projects to fruition and how this could be replicated for rural areas in the west of Ireland.

Dr Orla Nic Suibhne, LECo project officer with the Western Development Commission stated that “Germany is leading the path with community owned energy and this was an excellent opportunity to learn first-hand how to bring these projects to a financial close, and also how renewable energy can be a significant economic factor in rural areas.”

The Aller-Leine-Tal region has experienced greater added value in agriculture and forestry, more tax revenue from energy incomes, additional wealth locally as the energy is produced domestically and not imported from abroad, an increased number of local jobs in the sector and more income from land leases. It’s worth noting that there is an extremely low opposition rate to solar PV and wind farms, with almost 31% of total renewable energy production in Germany owned by its citizens compared to 0.14% in Ireland.

WDC CEO Tomás Ó Síocháin said ‘these EU projects and visits help to inform the conversation about climate change and renewables in Ireland at a time, when the state, local authorities and citizens are all trying to find methods to make the most efficient use of limited resources while also reducing carbon emissions.’

The renewable electricity market in Ireland is about to fundamentally change for communities with the introduction of the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS). As part of this new auction based scheme, there will be a ring fenced capacity for 100% community owned projects from 2020 onwards. There will also be an opportunity for citizens to purchase and own shares in new renewable projects. Whilst the final RESS details from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) are due next month, the following supports are anticipated for communities:

  • 10% of auction capacity allocated to community owned projects.
  • Supports in place for communities such as: technical assistance, planning assistance, risk free financial assistance for possible applications, independent advisors etc.
  • Priority grid access for community owned schemes.

Joe Lowe, Head of the Leitrim Local Enterprise Office, who also attended the study visit on behalf of the Local Authority, stated “This was a fantastic opportunity to see how community owned energy projects can participate in the energy transition, and we are looking proactively at similar opportunities in Sustainable Energy Communities within the County”.

As a direct result of this visit, the WDC are organising a conference in the Raheen Woods Hotel, Galway on December 11th to discuss the lessons learned from both Denmark and Germany regarding community owned projects within the renewable electricity auction process. The conference will be chaired by Paul Kenny CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency and will feature speakers including Craig Morris Renewable Energy Agency Germany, Dr Louise Krog Aalborg University Denmark, Enda Gallagher Dept. Communications Climate Action & Environment, Ian Kilgannon Gas Networks Ireland, Xavier Dubisson XD Consulting and Prof Jerry Murphy and Dr Richard O’Shea, MaREI centre, ERI, UCC.

Tickets for the conference are free and guests can register HERE through Eventbrite.

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For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications

 

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713

 

 

ABOUT LECo

  • LECo is a 3 year, €1.95m project, that aims to bring together the combined experience, knowledge and expertise of the project partners and provide conditions for the creation of energy self-sufficient Local Energy Communities.

 

ABOUT THE WDC

  • The WDC is a State agency established under statute to foster and promote the economic and social development of the Western Region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare).
  • The work of the Western Development Commissionfocuses on investment, lending, regional development and policy analysis.
  • LookWest.ieoffers an overview of business activity and life in the Western Region including an up to date jobs platform.
  • The WDC is leading on The Atlantic Economic Corridor initiative. The AEC is an initiative to attract investment, support job creation and improve the quality of life in the West from Kerry to Donegal. This includes the Enterprise Hubs Project which is a 3-year project to create an interconnected community network from the 101 hubs identified as either operating or in development, in the AEC region.

 

About the investment Fund

  • The SME Investment Fund provides both equity investment and loan finance for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across a range of sectors.
  • The Community Loan fund provides term loans and bridge finance to community projects and social enterprises in the Western Region.
  • The Creative Industries Micro-Loan Fund is open to sole traders, partnerships, businesses, co-operatives and groups operating in the creative industries sector, and provides loan finance ranging from €5,000 to €25,000.
  • The Western Region Audio-visual Producers Fund (WRAP) is a Regional Fund committed to strategic investment to support film, television, animation and games.

Minister Sean Canney launches twelve-month progress report and outlines next steps for The Atlantic Economic Corridor

 

  • Minister Sean Canney announces new phase for the Atlantic Economic Corridor task force.
  • Two key events to take place in Limerick and Sligo next week as a consultation for hubs development as part of the €1m allocated from the dormant accounts fund.

The Minister of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development, Sean Canney this morning launched a twelve-month progress report of the Atlantic Economic Corridor and outlined the next phase for the project. The launch took place at this morning’s task force meeting in the Corralea Court Hotel, Tuam, Co. Galway attended by key stakeholders from across the region. Minister Canney also announced the winners of a recent competition for nine trips along the AEC including hotels, access to co-working hubs and other activities in each region.

The aim of the Atlantic Economic Corridor is to facilitate the delivery of the National Development Plan by promoting collaboration within the AEC that attracts investment and creates jobs and prosperity in the region. The Department of Rural and Community Development is responsible for co-ordinating the AEC project and developing a collaborative road-map for delivery of the objectives.   Speaking at this morning’s event the Minister said “The first AEC Taskforce Progress Report is a timely moment to take stock on the progress that has been made in establishing the AEC Taskforce as an effective vehicle forstakeholders to collaborate in identifying and developing projects that can help to better balance future development, attract investment and add real value to the economy of the West.”

This morning’s event outlined a new phase for the taskforce as it takes a project focused approach to delivering for the AEC region. The first of the projects announced today is the development of a hubs network across the region. The AEC Enterprise Hubs initiative will be a three-year project to create an interconnected community network from the 101 hubs identified which will be coordinated by the Western Development Commission (WDC). Speaking on the project the Minister said “The AEC Enterprise Hubs Network has the potential to deliver significant achievements under all three of the key pillars of the wider AEC Initiative; developing connectivity, promoting innovation and supporting the growth of a robust and diverse economy in the region. Working with the AEC officer network across all local authorities, the WDC has already established strong partnerships and collaborative relationships. We have now employed a new hubs development manager, Stephen Carolan who will help to co-ordinate the project alongside Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications and AEC Development and the wider WDC team. We have organised two key stakeholder events taking place next week in Limerick and Sligo and we are encouraging all hubs managers and stakeholders to attend. This process will ensure the strategy developed supports the hubs and co-working spaces in every community along the AEC.”

Next week’s events will bring together key stakeholders including IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Grow Remote and all hubs managers from across the region to begin building a strategy. The focus of each event will include hubs infrastructure, business development, technology that will enable growth including an online booking system, promotion and marketing, funding, sustainability and remote working.

The events are open to the public and they can register on Eventbrite below.

  • Workshop 1. November 19th – Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Limerick. Click HERE for tickets and more details.
  • Workshop 2. November 21st – Sligo Park Hotel, Co. Sligo. Click HERE for tickets and more details.

 

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For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact 

Allan Mulrooney, Head of Communications and Atlantic Economic Corridor Development

allanmulrooney@wdc.ie or +353 87 334 3713