2 June 2021

 The Government welcomes the publication of NESC’s Report No.154, Digital Inclusion in Ireland: Connectivity, Devices & Skills.

This NESC report focuses on digital inclusion: the importance of ensuring that everyone can confidently and safely access the digital world as employment, training, and ways of life move increasingly online.

It argues that aiming for full digital inclusion is the next logical step to build on Ireland’s large investment in broadband connectivity and in e-government.

There are strategies to help support digital inclusion in Ireland, such as the National Digital Strategy 2013, the Mobile Phone and Broadband Task Force, and the National Broadband Plan. However, based on research with a range of organisations and international evidence, this NESC report argues that stronger supports for digital inclusion are needed.

It recommends that Ireland needs to:

  • Develop a national strategy for digital inclusion, to provide a shared direction and responsibility, co-ordinate existing work, and highlight and address gaps.
  • Create a comprehensive framework for digital skills progression, draw the range of existing training into a common framework, and develop a more structured pathway for training progression and certification of competencies.
  • Support digital inclusion at community level by coordinating and building upon the pilot schemes currently operating at local level, to promote ICT engagement among hard-to-reach groups.
  • Deliver targeted supports for material access to key groups, including those in education and older people.
  • Enhance guidance for digital and assisted-digital public services, and provide non-digital access through a range of channels, including face-to-face, written correspondence, and by phone.

International studies show that the return to such investment in digital inclusion is high. Greater levels of digital inclusion will help Ireland’s households, businesses and public sector capture the full potential of digital technology and will provide an important means of combatting social exclusion.

The report highlights that there are a number of groups poorly engaged with digital technology, in particular those who are older, have lower levels of education, lower incomes, and live in rural areas. They tend to have poorer broadband connectivity, less access to ICT devices, and poorer skills, and lack confidence to engage with ICT.

The response to Covid-19 has accelerated the transition to digital. The Report shows that there has been a small increase in internet connection and use overall, with much larger change among particular groups.

The report also notes the strong growth in particular types of internet activity including online shopping, education and work-related activity. But the strongest growth has been in internet telephoning such as Zoom and Skype.

Difficulties in accessing online resources was an issue among certain groups during lockdowns.  The report notes that the impacts of the pandemic are still emerging but that there are geographic and socio-economic variations when it comes to connectivity. These variations are mainly socio-economic when it comes to access to devices and age-related and socio-economic when it comes to skills and confidence.