Thursday, 16 November 2006
Industrial Development Bill 2006: Second Stage
Seymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate but, like the previous two speakers, I will not dwell on the Bill. Shannon Development has a proud record and I wish it well in its change over to Forfás. It created jobs in a difficult areas.
Many years ago the previous Minister visited us in the Lough Egish area. We were seeking a similar tax regime to the Shannon or Cork areas to develop industry. The proposed closure of the Lakeland Dairies milk powder plant in the summer of next year brings the issue of the Lough Egish development park back into focus.
Through no direct fault of the Minister or IDA Ireland, Cavan and Monaghan have not made much progress. The situation in Northern Ireland and the lack of infrastructure have caused many difficulties. Thankfully, infrastructure is improving and the Northern situation, which has improved dramatically, should be finalised within the next few months. There will be no further excuses then for those involved in inward or national investment from seeing Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal as areas for industrial provision.
All parties visited the milk powder plant in Lough Egish. There was still some hope at that stage that four of the co-operatives in the north east might come together to establish a cheese factory using the plant's premises. We got the good news that the Minister for Agriculture and Food had provided grant aid of €100 million for such projects. Unfortunately, within weeks of that announcement, the situation was changed and a ceiling of €12.5 million grant aid or €25 million investment was laid down. As anyone involved in the sector knows, that would kill off the idea of a cheese factory. I hope there may be a way around it because there are cold stores and drying plants that could be used for whey and other products, minimising overall costs. It is hard to understand why such changes happen in middle of the process.
I pay tribute to the Molloy and Sherry families who owned the premises next door to Lakeland Dairies in this rural area. They own a cold store and a number of factories and have undertaken a major investment programme that was visited by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney. We never heard a reply, however, to our request for a tax benefit. It was unfortunate that Mr. Sherry felt he had to sell out because of the lack of support he got for the number of units he provided.
It has since been taken over by another industrialist, Mr. Paul Shortt, and I hope the Minister and the Minister for Agriculture and Food will ensure the necessary help is given to this establishment to allow for full use of the existing buildings and the erection of new buildings. This man has provided employment in the Castleblayney area, working with Heinz in Dundalk and the Kerry Group in Carrickmacross to bring in raw material and export the final product. He would offer a great service to any industry that set up in Lough Egish. He is an Irishman and should enjoy the same support as any foreigner who comes in.
The closure of CPV in Clones was a blight on the area. The then Minister's main interest was in getting back the few hundred thousand euro in grants she claimed was owed to IDA Ireland, instead of encouraging someone else to take over the factory. It has been bought by a number of different groups but little progress has been made in replacing the 150 jobs in this depressed area. More interest in the area should be shown by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.
Deputy Ellis mentioned the co-operatives that had become PLCs. There is doubt this has had a major impact. The difficulties in Lakeland Dairies, although it is not a PLC, are more related to the banks than to farmers, which makes me worried for the future. It is strange to see that water, which costs a nominal amount to bottle, is more expensive than milk. My farm produces liquid milk and it is scandalous that this high quality product which has served the country so well has been failed by the co-operatives, particularly the PLCs. They deserve a great deal of criticism for the way they have failed to sell it compared with companies like Coca Cola. There is a factory on the border between Cavan and Monaghan. I gave a graph it provided to us to the Irish Farmers' Journal, and it is published on the second page of this week's edition. It clearly shows we are no longer competitive with regard to power. It is difficult to understand that in a world economy, the price of electricity for 2007 will be €1.10 per kilowatt hour in Ireland. The price is 62 cent per kilowatt hour in the Netherlands, where this company has another factory, and a factory belonging to the company in France pays 55 cent per kilowatt hour. In other words, France is half the price of Ireland for power in 2007.
There are 300 jobs at risk in the Wellman plant in Mullagh, County Cavan, on the border between Cavan and Meath. There is a cost to that plant of electricity alone, compared with France. We are not talking about China or the Far East, but another EU country. The cost is a 50% difference, 55 cent per kilowatt hour in one and €1.10 for the same unit in the other. Some €2 million is the charge to Wellman for that alone.
Returning to the situation in Cavan-Monaghan, where the Minister has been in the not too distant past, I advise that we are at last getting the infrastructure there right. I pay tribute to everybody concerned. It was one of the issues I stated clearly would be a priority when I entered this Chamber 14 years ago. I congratulate everybody who has brought us this far.
The Acting Chairman, Deputy McGinley, may not be here long enough to see the full benefit of the Castleblaney bypass, as he is retiring, but it will leave us within an hour from Dublin at Carrickmacross and within two hours from Dublin in Monaghan town. The road will bring the trip down to approximately an hour and 45 minutes. Infrastructure is no longer an issue. We are within that journey time from the airports. By 22 December, we will be closer to Dublin Port, and we have access to Larne and others already.
I beg the Minister to spread the message, especially to those interested in setting up here, that we have the availability of land. We have some advance factories built by the private sector, and we have personnel and staff who would be willing to come back to live in Cavan or Monaghan if they got the opportunity. Thankfully, we are getting a small level of decentralisation in Monaghan, and I hope it will be a greater level in Cavan.
We need high-tech jobs. For whatever reason, most of our young people seek third level education. The opportunities for these people to return and work in Cavan and Monaghan are not as they should be. The Minister's predecessor reminded me several times that we have one of the higher levels of immigrant workers in Monaghan. That is because we are in the food and furniture industries, for example, which deal with manufacturing jobs. That is not acceptable, and we need real help from IDA Ireland.
The only outside jobs created in Monaghan in recent years came through Associated Packaging, outside Carrickmacross. I was directly involved in the process. That company did not take any capital grants from IDA. The buildings were constructed for them by a private entrepreneur, being changed from another business. That is the only major group to come in.
I am told by Deputy Deenihan that the Minister visits Kerry and such places. We would welcome the Minister to Monaghan and I guarantee him a safe journey.