“With today’s global village, it is not A Long Way to Tipperary as the world-famous song suggests. Thurles, nestled in the heart of Tipperary, is one fiftieth of a second away from anywhere in the world.”
This assertion comes from Thurles: Connecting Business and Quality of Life, Thurles Marketing Initiative’s glossy brochure. The initiative is a collaborative effort between Shannon Development, IDA Ireland, the Tipperary Institute, the Chamber of Commerce, the Enterprise Board, Tipperary Leader Group, the town council and the county council; clear evidence of the health of community consensus in the north Tipperary town.
Evidence too of a determination to revitalise the local economy. The closures of Moulinex and GMX in 2001, followed by job losses at Miza Pharmaceutical and Aventis Pharma in Nenagh a year later mean that the area has been hit as hard, if not harder than anywhere else by the downturn. The fight back is on, however. In addition to the marketing initiative, there’s also a business ambassador programme, which aims to tap into top-end business networks to foster introductions and so draw investment into the town.
Pride of place in the rejuvenation effort, however, is Tipperary Technology Park. One of Shannon Development’s family of parks, a 20,000sq ft state-of-the-art building at Bawntameena on the Nenagh Road opened in 2000. Brian Keating, project manager of Shannon Development, explains that with the Tipperary Institute up and running since 1998, Thurles was the next logical location for a park. “Aesthetically, it’s a fine building. It’s kitted out with the very latest in technology… the raised floors, dropped ceilings. We’re using an IP [internet protocol] telephony system… fully networked conferencing rooms that include audio conferencing, videoconferencing, DVD, video, TV, the whole lot,” he explains.
Local public access to the internet is restricted to the four machines at the library. The town’s only internet cafe, on Kickham Street, closed down a couple of years ago. Cuts in local authority funding mean that the library internet service must now be paid for; €2 per hour for adults and €1 for children. Jess Codd at the library explains that the payments have at least taken some of the pressure off resources that had been extremely heavily oversubscribed. A web catalogue of books is available at www.tipperarylibraries.ie. Plans are in place, however, to have a rejuvenated site up and running by the summer.
Other public internet sites are good and improving. Thurles.com, Thurles.net and Thurles.org aren’t included here; the first is a Florida- based hawker of Celtic merchandise, the second is under construction (as what is unclear), while the third is an extremely low-spec parish site. The real goodies are at Tipperary.com. Web co-ordinator at Tipperary North County Council, Áine McCarthy, explains that the recently launched site has been designed as a community portal, offering business and events listings, news, local information and links to Tipperary sites together with live streamed radio from TippFM and Tipperary Mid West Radio. Look and feel is great and it’s bang up to date.
With 60,000 hits since its launch last October, there’s been particular interest in the site from the tourist sector; hotels and B&Bs anxious to get their listings online. A cursory glance at the traffic statistics explains why: over 86pc of site visits are international.
While the county council site, Tipperarynorth.ie, is a little more workman-like than the community portal, its range of services are well above average. The planning facilities are the barometer here; the ePlan viewer offers a powerful means of searching applications at all stages of the process. One third of almost 30,000 page views during January were of the planning facilities. The usual suites of reports and application forms can be downloaded onsite, while the county council site was one of the three local authority sites that piloted the Motortax.ie portal prior to this month’s national rollout. Evidence, says head of information systems, Gerard Lynch, of north Tipperary’s commitment to web-based initiatives.
The council is also part of the Shannon Broadband Consortium that was responsible for rolling out the metropolitan area network in Limerick and plans are now afoot to ensure that the one fiftieth of a second connection time is extended well into north Tipperary. “We’re liaising very closely with the Shannon broadband partners,” he says, “on how best we can put a proposal together to bring broadband to communities in Thurles and its surrounding environs. We’re looking at a mix of infrastructures… fibre optic in the major towns, together with wireless solutions or satellite solutions.”
The council is also hoping to secure pilot status for the Mobhaile initiative currently being advanced by the Local Government Computer Services Board. The programme offers local community groups support in setting up their own websites, as both community portal and marketing tool. Lynch acknowledges that the population densities and demographics in the north of the county offer significant potential for all forms of web-based activity. “I suppose people have the view of north Tipperary being a fairly rural area. We’re trying to address that by saying listen, just because you’re rural doesn’t mean you can’t be very advanced technology-wise,” he adds.
By John Hearne