Thursday, 16 November 2006
Industrial Development Bill 2006: Second Stage
Seán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
I thank the Fine Gael Whip for calling a quorum and bringing the Taoiseach into the House to hear my important intervention on behalf of County Laois and industrial development in the midlands. I am very pleased with the audience and I know the point is well taken.
Enterprise Ireland has a particularly good track record in County Laois. It has been responsible for Irish companies increasing employment in Portlaoise and in the county. I also note the good track record in this regard of the county enterprise board.
Modern industrial development is no longer to be associated with physical development and jobs in industry. I regard jobs in the tourism industry as industrial jobs because tourism is one of our major industries and remarkable development has taken place in that sector in County Laois. Seven new hotels have been built in County Laois in the past seven years, six of which are brand new buildings while one of them replaces an existing hotel. The situation has changed from a single hotel in Portlaoise to having three major hotels in the town and seven new hotels in the county. IDA Ireland would always have stressed the importance of having such facilities when industrialists are coming to a region to visit the IDA Ireland park such as that in Portlaoise. It is a top class facility on a 47-acre site which is very close to the centre of the town. It is landscaped and finished to a high standard. It contains a fine office block which, hopefully will soon be occupied by an Enterprise Ireland or IDA client. If that is not possible, perhaps another suitable business could be allowed to use the facility.
Another industry also operates on the site and recently the Minister and IDA Ireland agreed that part of the 47 acres will be used for the decentralisation of the Department of Agriculture and Food. There will be much activity on the site in the coming years. An office block to house 800 people in the Department of Agriculture and Food will be a major development for that part of town. I hope it attracts other developments into this first class IDA Ireland site.
We have other sites in Portlaoise for development, such at the Togher interchange near the motorway. If heavy industry is not to use such sites, I would like to see financial services companies coming to County Laois. Quinn Insurance recently announced a large new operation in Navan and the VHI is operating successfully from Kilkenny, as are other banking and financial organisations. Laois is as equally well-placed as those counties for such employment. We have the motorway and a first class train facility. There is plenty of scope for IDA Ireland to bring industry into the county.
We are working on improving third level education in the county. Many Laois people currently attend Carlow Institute of Technology. We are examining the possibility of opening a campus attached to that institute in Portlaoise. Should it go ahead, it would be called the midlands, or south-east, institute of technology.
I firmly believe that the midlands region needs an airport. Traffic to and from Dublin Airport can only be described as horrific. On the radio yesterday, someone said it had taken him five hours to fly to Dublin from Boston, but two and a quarter hours to get from the airport to Ballsbridge. That is off putting. It would be welcome if, in conjunction with its military facilities, Baldonnel could be used as a commercial airport. The entire midlands could be served by such an airport. Dublin Airport has major development plans, but the number of passengers is increasing enormously. People in the midlands are now travelling to Shannon Airport where there is greater ease in accessing the terminal building and the car park; one need not worry about negotiating the M50. One can predict the journey time to Shannon Airport with much greater accuracy. I accept that any new airport would have to be funded by private investment, but I do not have an issue with this prospect. I would like to see such investment attracted to Baldonnel on the south side of Dublin. It would be within 40 or 50 minutes of much of the midland region.
I encourage IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise boards to continue their work in Laois. We would like to see greater activity from IDA Ireland in the county than we have had recently.