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Saturday, 26 October, 2002, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Ireland ambitious for broadband
The net means less people are moving to cities such as Dublin
As well as the most famous black drink in the world and a chain of pubs, the Irish Republic now has another important export - software.

In fact, per capita, the Irish Republic exports more software than any other country in the world.

There are 800 software companies based there, including IBM, Microsoft, Computer Associates, Lotus, Oracle and Novell and 40% of all European PC packaged software is produced there.

It is part of the success the country has had in recent years in building a strong knowledge-based economy and encouraging hi-tech firms to make their base in Ireland.

It seems to be riding the wave of the global tech downturn with exports up by nearly 30% in 2001 to 1.48bn euros.

Unique partnership

One of the reasons for its tech success is Enterprise Ireland, an Irish Government organisation created to assist the development of Irish businesses both nationally and overseas.

As well as providing technology, business training and export marketing, Enterprise Ireland also provides wads of cash to Irish businesses - amounting to 28m euros in 2001.

"Enterprise Ireland is unique in the world in the depth of involvement it has with Irish companies," explained Michael Ahern, Minister of State at the Irish Department of Trade and Employment.

A favourable tax regime and the fact that the Irish Republic is the only English-speaking country in the euro zone probably also help, he said in an interview with BBC News Online

Broadband ambitions

The impact of technology has been felt not just by businesses and the Irish economy but also on a social level.

The net has kept communities alive

Michael Ahern, Irish Minister
"The internet has had a big social impact. People are staying in their own villages and towns and working from there," said Mr Ahern.

"There used to be a big drift of people previously but now they are moving back and that will increase."

Net penetration in the Irish Republic is quite low with just 34% of the population having a dial-up connection

The government has high hopes and big ambitions for broadband, which has been very slow to take off in the country to date.

Slow starter

It plans to roll high-speed net services out to 67 towns and villages in the next three years with another 127 being connected by 2007.

This would, said Minister Ahern, bring pretty much universal access, although he was not able to say what technologies would facilitate such a roll-out.

Critics have questioned whether the government is being over-ambitious in its targets and whether consumers will actually take services up.

"Ireland was slow to start with and there have been lots of problems in telecommunications," admitted Mr Ahern.

He is confident that the government can achieve its goal and believes that the future prosperity of the nation will depend on it.

"Historically young people have emigrated to the UK, US and all over the world. Now people have been coming back," he said.

"The net has kept communities alive and emigration is now a choice," he added.

See also:

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