Thursday, 16 November 2006
Industrial Development Bill 2006: Second Stage
Eamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
Deputy O'Sullivan spoke of the innovative success of the Shannon region over the past decades. I have often wondered what makes the Shannon region special. Perhaps it was the O'Malleys, the Noonans, the Kemmys, the O'Deas or the O'Sullivans who pulled one stroke after another to ensure preferable treatment for the region. Perhaps there is a cuteness in the air in Kerry, Limerick and Clare that lends itself to an enterprising nature. Whatever it is we should bottle it and spread it around the country. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, could do with it in the south east. Statistics about wealth in this country suggest that the north west and the south east could do with the development achieved by Shannon Development in recent years.
Perhaps we should examine this on a national basis to ensure each region is developed in a fair manner. I do not know if this would mean a development body in every part of the country. I welcome the intent of this Bill, to implement the recommendation of the enterprise strategy group. Those working with the Shannon Development agency on enterprise development could join Enterprise Ireland.
Questions must be asked about the development of our enterprise and innovation strategy. We have a successful economy but much of the economic growth and development comes from property development or foreign direct investment from overseas. Exports from indigenous manufacturing and service companies are declining, despite the Celtic tiger economy. There is concern that, under this Government, we have failed to develop real innovation and new enterprise success stories. We have failed to increase our level of productivity in traded companies. This requires a reappraisal of our enterprise strategy, including the roles of Forfás, Enterprise Ireland and the IDA. We must examine how these agencies develop technological, marketing and employment competence.
A bureaucratic system may be left by the transfer of some staff to Enterprise Ireland. The remaining entity, Shannon Development, may continue without recognising the change. This may result in replication of bureaucracies. A regional development agency linked to strong regional or local authority could examine strategic issues across county boundaries such as tourism development, enterprise development, services and infrastructure provision. This could be replicated across the country. We have a unique application of the principle at Shannon and we could knit such a regional development organisation into a reform of regional and local government. There is no point in such bodies without strong development of local and regional government to ensure joined-up thinking. Shannon Development should become the norm rather than the exception.
I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that regional development requires a change of thinking in central government. The transport policy has not been based on analysis, consultation or debate in the Dáil. A national roads programme was agreed on the principle that all roads lead to Dublin. Ministers claim this is to facilitate regional development. However, international research and analysis shows that such a centralised transport system around the capital sucks life into the capital and sucks the population towards the east coast.
The effect of the Government's transport policy has been to oppose proper balanced regional development. First, it set out a national spatial strategy that included too many centres. It did not concentrate growth in real alternative city centres, such as Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Cork, that could provide the back-up facilities such as universities and other resources that would attract foreign direct investment. In failing to so do, it weakened the entire case for regional development.
The Government then went further in undermining the case for regional development by scattering the Civil Service throughout the country. Some of the main cities on which we must concentrate development were ignored. The fact that Cork city will not acquire a single agency or new job under the decentralisation programme demonstrates what a disgraceful mistake it has been on the Government's part. It was dreamt up by Charlie McCreevy on the eve of budget day because he was bored or could not think of anything else to do after seven years in office. It will leave a legacy that will harm regional development and the overall development of the Civil Service.
The Shannon region of Limerick, Clare and north Kerry has enormous assets that should be protected and developed. For instance, the deep water port at Shannon is a great asset. My party will seek to develop such assets in the best possible manner. Shannon Airport is an asset that would be greatly enhanced by a proper rail connection. When I worked as a tour operator in the region, if tourists arrived after lunchtime on any given day it was impossible to get them to Killarney by public transport before the next day. It took more than 24 hours unless one shunted them to Dublin and back down again. This lack of basic public transport infrastructure was remarkable in a country that was supposed to be trying to develop the region.
The Green Party believes the Shannon region should be strengthened by the provision of additional rail services such as fast-tracking the western rail corridor and the rail links to Shannon. Although Limerick city has four rail lines running into it, services on them barely exist. This is a remarkable example of the poor short-term thinking applied by the Government. While the region covered by Shannon Development should be developed, I am unsure whether responsibility for so doing lies primarily with Shannon Development. It lies with local and national Government. Hopefully the Green Party will have a say in that regard in future and will be able to help.