Thursday, 16 November 2006
Industrial Development Bill 2006: Second Stage
Micheál Martin (Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
I thank Deputies who contributed to the debate. The Industrial Development Bill has a narrow focus. It is an enabling Bill that provides security for employees who transfer from Shannon Development. Their terms and conditions of employment are protected, in line with the views expressed by Deputy Finian McGrath, in respect of employee rights. The transfer from Shannon Development to Enterprise Ireland follows a comprehensive consultation process in which all relevant interests in the mid-west had the opportunity to make their views known. Implementation of the new arrangements will provide clarity on the respective roles of the industrial development agencies in the region. The agencies will welcome this position.
Many Deputies referred to industrial development and how it applies to their regions. All parties welcomed the Bill and were supportive of the role of Shannon Development in the region. The national development plan will have a strong regional development focus that will underpin the objectives of Shannon Development. It will also reflect the views articulated by the Deputies on the importance of regional development.
The national spatial strategy is a key instrument in terms of the regional spread of population and industrial development. Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland will work closely with Shannon Development to ensure the mid-west continues to enjoy economic success. The number of people in employment in Ireland has increased by 350,000 since 2000, an increase that has been replicated across all regions. Employment in the mid-west grew by 20% since 2000. The unemployment rate for the region is 3.9%, below the average for the State. One does not often hear that in discussions on jobs in the mid-west and the Shannon region. The numbers are provided by the CSO, the live register and the quarterly household survey. The area has a strong industrial base and heritage.
The new project, Digital River, will involve the creation of 350 new jobs. We pay tribute to Shannon Development in this regard. It will be located in Westpark Shannon, a €150 million joint venture between Concre Developments Limited and Shannon Development located in the Shannon free zone. I visited the facility recently. It offers the possibility for further development, including job creation, inward investment and indigenous enterprise. Regeneration of the Shannon free zone is one of the key flagship projects in the new corporate plan of Shannon Development. The objective is to create 1,500 jobs at the top end of the knowledge and information technology market over the next three years.
Halifax Insurance and Sykes Enterprises announced expansions in June. This will generate 285 new jobs. The 30-acre information age park in Ennis was opened in May 2005. It is at the early stage of a long-term development to cater for high-potential start-up companies. Foreign direct investment companies that IDA Ireland can attract will be located there. This has the potential to create 3,500 jobs in high-quality accommodation over time.
The Shannon Development E-Towns project, bringing knowledge-based enterprise activity to towns with populations of 1,500, is well under way. Four towns were selected, Miltown Malbay, Cappamore, Tarbert and Newport. The project at Miltown Malbay is the most advanced. Shannon Broadband connectivity is a project involving eight new towns in the region selected for MANs in 2005. Delivery is expected in 2006. A related project, Shannon Connect, will provide services to 80 communities in the region.
Shannon Development has engaged in these substantive projects and will continue to do so. Links will be developed with Shannon Airport, which is key infrastructure in terms of economic development in the region. The role of the University of Limerick, in conjunction with industry and the agencies, will be central to developing a centre of research excellence. The omens are good because we have had significant success, such as the recent appointments of Dr. David Parnas and Dr. Martin Caffrey. They will add to the reputation and attraction of the region. The computational science project at the University of Limerick is another example. Significant research and development investment has taken place in four projects in 2006, providing long-term sustainability. In 2005, €19 million was committed to nine IDA Ireland projects in the region.
The Enterprise Ireland decentralisation programme is on track. A site for the new Enterprise Ireland headquarters has been identified. The regional development unit and a county enterprise board co-ordination unit will move to Shannon in 2007. An interim office has also been found.
Deputy Ellis referred to the food industry. Enterprise Ireland works with a number of food companies to develop value added activities to support research and development. Significant announcements of investment have been made by food companies over the past 12 months. These will add to exports and employment. I note what Deputy Nolan stated in respect of Carlow. IDA Ireland is not ignoring Carlow. I went on missions with IDA Ireland and we are conscious of the business park developed by IDA Ireland. We are anxious to secure an overseas company to use it.