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Rural projects showcased on Minister’s Clare visit

COMMUNITIES across Clare have been commended by Minister Heather Humphreys for their efforts to survive and thrive in challenging times.

The Minister for Rural and Community Development visited six Clare projects last Thursday (July 29) where she saw first-hand how depopulation of rural towns and villages can be tackled and jobs created in the process.

Each of the projects the minister visited in Ennis, Cross, Kilrush, Lissycasey, Kilmihil and Tulla have received funding under the Rural Development Investment Programme which includes a number of integrated funding interventions including Rural Regeneration and Development Fund (RRDF), Town and Village Renewal Scheme, CLÁR and Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure Scheme.

The minister was particularly impressed by the roll-out of remote working hubs and described Clare as being “ahead of the curve” in developing ten facilities across the county.

“I’ve had a great time looking at digital hubs,” Minister Humphreys told The Champion. “My goodness me, Clare is ahead of the curve when it comes to digital hubs. There’s ten digital hubs here in the county. Before remote work became a reality. The local authority under the CE Pat Dowling, and indeed all of his staff there, recognised that this was the future. And now it has become a reality. Here we have people coming to Clare on their holiday staying here for three and four months and working remotely bringing their families down, and they’re wondering how they’re going to get the children back to Dublin.”

The Cross Community/Digital Hub, which was formerly the local national school, was among those launched by the Minister. The project was funded by Clare County Council, Kilballyowen Development Association and the Department of Rural and Community Development under Town and Village Renewal Accelerated Measures in 2020.

The Minister also officially opened the new Ennis Digital Hub, located at the Quin Road Business Park. The hub was also funded the council, with additional funding obtained through the government’s Connected Hubs programme

“Clare is well-placed to respond to the increased shift to remote working because of the pandemic with a comprehensive network of hubs which, complemented by numerous Broadband Connection Points, are providing families and individuals with the option to live and work in rural communities throughout the county,” said the Minister.

The official opening of the hubs coincided with the launch of DigiClare’s Remote Working Prospectus which will be distributed across Clare, Ireland and abroad to showcase the county as an established remote working location in Ireland.

Commenting on her department’s recent €209,000 allocation under the Connected Hubs programme towards the upgrade of other hub facilities at Ennistymon, Kilrush, Flagmount and Feakle, the Minister said: “This investment enables the local authority to optimise the opportunities and to enhance these remote working facilities to adapt to meet the ever-changing demands.”

Councillor PJ Ryan, Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, said Clare’s Digital Strategy, complemented by the rollout of the National Broadband Plan and the Clare Rural Development Strategy 2026, has sought to ensure that broadband is leveraged to help alleviate the root causes of rural depopulation.

“The county’s network of digital hubs has been extremely busy over the past 18 months, and it is great to see the facilities being utilised by increasing numbers of people from all sections of the community from local residents to students, local enterprises and entrepreneurs, visitors to the county, relocated individuals and web developers,” he said.

“I wish to acknowledge the work of the Digital Team and Rural Development Directorate of Clare County Council, as well as the council’s General Design office, on the delivery of these newest Hubs which will help to further bridge the digital divide as well as create smarter communities in Clare.”

During her visit, Minister Humphreys officially opened the Lissycasey Community Amenity Area project, which received funding under the Department’s CLÁR programme to develop the community carpark and public areas around the local crèche, primary school, GAA grounds and playground. The area serves as a hub for community activity and provides a safe space away from the main road for people to safely attend.

The Minister also met with community representatives and Clare Local Development Company (CLDC) at Kilmihil People’s Park. The Leader-funded project comprises an integrated sports, leisure and community complex comprising of an open plan park area, recreational equipment and facilities available to all age groups from the village, the neighbouring communities and beyond. The project was also the beneficiary of CLÁR funding in 2020 from the DRCD of €50,000 towards the development of outdoor amenity area, public lighting, footpath and a road crossing.

In the evening, Minister Humphreys also visited the Cnoc na Gaoithe Cultural Centre in Tulla. Speaking to The Champion at the venue, where the convent has been redevelopment and work to convert the old primary school into an auditorium is underway, Leonard Cleary, Director of Rural Development with Clare County Council congratulated all community groups. “Congratulations to all of the communities that welcomed Minister Humphreys today to the elected members and Oireachtas members who accompanied her and who supported her in the projects,” he said. “Thanks also to the Minister herself and to her officials for the funding that’s invested in Clare and the opportunities for projects in the future.”

While in West Clare, the Minister visited the Vandeleur Walled Gardens Project Development works in Kilrush which are subject of a significant investment project. The council recently received approval to proceed to construction stage. The proposed works at the popular visitor attraction include an interpretive museum, multifunction room, retail, accessible facilities, a new gardener maintenance building along with the development of a new visitor experience design and approach for the complex and woodlands.  Additional funding support of €250,819 from the Department of Rural and Community Development has brought the overall Department funding received under RRDF to €1,975,819.

“The overall investment in Vandeleur, is part of a Visitor Development Strategy, maximising the use of the important heritage landmark, prolonging the life of the protected structures in a sustainable manner, and adding to the expanding amenities in West Clare and along the Wild Atlantic Way,” said Councillor Joe Killeen, Leas Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council. “This project will form a strong supporting asset to the local community and tourism in Clare addressing the objectives of the Clare Tourism Strategy 2030. I would like to acknowledge the ongoing support from the Minister’s Department, Kilrush Amenity Trust, Coillte, the team and management of Vandeleur Walled Gardens and Centre, West Clare Municipal District and Clare County Council staff, together with the design team, appointed contractor and the support of loyal customers and visitors without whom the venture would not exist.”

Pat Dowling, Chief Executive of Clare County Council, said the projects visited by Minister Humphreys align to the objectives of the Clare Rural Development Strategy 2026 and Our Rural Future (2021-2025) for growth in rural communities.

“Massive strides are being taken in communities the length and breadth of Clare due to the strategic and close working relationship between the local authority and community groups,” he said. “The collaborative vision set out in the Clare Rural Development Strategy to address rural challenges in a creative and practical way is being realised and is having a positive economic and social impact in our towns and villages.

“I look forward to the continued support of the Minister and her Department under the government’s new strategy for rural development towards the revitalisation, repopulation and development of our rural towns and villages, to deliver new opportunities for people living in rural Clare in the years to come.”

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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