Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

8:00 pm

Jerry Cowley (Mayo, Independent)

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this very important matter on the Adjournment. I am glad to see the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, present.

I raised the difficulties in Ballina on a great many occasions and on a weekly basis in Dáil Éireann. It is certainly an unemployment blackspot. Although the Minister might dispute this, the reality is that 1,000 jobs have been lost over nine years and have not been replaced. Any area that loses so many jobs is in trouble.

There are construction and service industries in Ballina but they are just giving the impression that things are happening. However, the jobs are not industrial jobs. The industrial base has been significantly weakened thanks to the closure of a series of very valuable industries in the area, such as Asahi, Hennigans and Oasis. Since I raised this in the Dáil, Duffy's Bakery has lost 42 jobs.

Ballina, the capital of north Mayo, with its large population, is an unemployment blackspot. I previously referred to the unemployment rate of 11%, which is twice the national average, and stated there are more on the live register there than in County Roscommon. This speaks for itself.

We clearly need proper infrastructure. The IDA says the lack of infrastructure is the difficultly and this has been raised time and again. Progress on the N26 and Ballina-Bohola bypass seemed to stop in mid-stream. Construction took place as far as Carrowntreila but was never completed. We need infrastructure such as a proper industrial site and it is a scandal that there is still none. The issue of the 27-acre industrial park on the Sligo road has been ongoing for almost a decade. It is a total fiasco and an indictment of the failure of the local authority, in association with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland, to address the very serious unemployment that exists.

The area is crying out for some positive initiatives. The Taoiseach was in Ballina about two weeks ago with Dara Calleary, the Fianna Fáil hopeful. I asked the Taoiseach what he was doing for Ballina and whether he would make a positive statement about the town before he left. He went around the town with Mr. Calleary but said nothing about the terrible situation that exists there. Worse still, he did not take my advice and make a positive statement on what could be done. The problem is due to a lack of infrastructure and balanced regional development, to which the Government says it is committed. However, it is just paying lip service to the idea because there is almost a €3.9 billion underspend under the national development plan. The reality is that the area is uncompetitive. If people are to develop the area, proper investment is required.

I raised this issue in the Dáil with the Minister previously and he made all sorts of promises that there would be action and stated the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, etc., were doing wonderful things. I was told progress on the 27-acre site on the Sligo road was at an advanced stage but there is still no progress although it is the end of September. This is intolerable.

In March the Minister of State, Deputy Killeen, expressed regret at the Oasis closure and said there would be positive developments. However, there were none. He stated it was a great priority to find alternative employment for those who lost their jobs but this has not been done either. The IDA is supposed to be doing all sorts of things and bringing all sorts of people to set up industry in Ballina but this has not happened. How could it happen when there is no industrial site?

There was talk of prioritising expenditure in the BMW area but it amounts to nothing. The Minister is very confident that the State development agencies will strengthen, promote and market Ballina and north Mayo but it is just more words. The time for words is long gone and I hope the Minister will do something more positive than the Taoiseach, rather than just giving me the same old line that so much is happening. The reality on the ground is that jobs are continuing to be lost, and those affected are real people. The job losses at Duffy's Bakery serve as another example.


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