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Ireland looks to pubs, derelict buildings to boost remote working outside cities

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a sign in a window saying 'there's gonna be good times', amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Galway, Ireland, September 9, 2020. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will turn vacant buildings in rural towns into remote working hubs and examine whether pubs could be used as workspaces during quiet afternoons in a bid to encourage more people to live outside big cities.

Describing the pandemic-driven move towards remote working as a potential “game-changer” for struggling towns and villages, the government plans to establish a network of 400 remote working hubs as part of a five-year rural development policy.

Local authorities will be given funding to add vacant properties to the network and ministers committed to exploring whether tax incentives and grants could be offered to employers and employees to encourage more rural remote working.

“As we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unparalleled opportunity now exists to realise the objectives of achieving balanced regional and rural development,” Rural and Community Development Minister Heather Humphreys said on Monday.

“The move to remote, or connected working, has the potential to transform rural Ireland. It will help to sustain and increase the population of rural areas and revitalise town centres.”

The government announced last year that public sector employers would be mandated to make sure 20% of their staff work from home when COVID-19 restrictions are fully lifted and said on Monday that there would be further annual increases to 2025.

The plan includes a pilot scheme to support the use of rural pubs as community spaces and hubs for local services. Humphreys was quoted by national broadcaster RTE as saying that could mean pubs being used as working spaces when they are closed during the week or during the day, as many rural premises are.

“Let’s put it this way. If you want to move rural Ireland, we want to help you,” Humphreys told a news conference.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Bernadette Baum

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