Tuesday, 6 March 2007
Question 97: To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will urgently establish an action plan for industrial employment in County Mayo, in view of the fact that the county is calling out for increased employment taking into account the empty IDA parks in Castlebar and Ballina; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8577/07]
State support for enterprise and job creation is channelled through the industrial development agencies. While I can issue general policy directives to the agencies under the Industrial Development Acts, I am precluded from issuing directives about individual undertakings or giving preference to one area over others. I have been assured by the agencies under the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that they are endeavouring to attract new investment, encourage the establishment of new businesses, expand existing businesses and develop the labour market in County Mayo. Ballina and Castlebar will benefit from the ongoing investment in transport, energy and utilities outlined in the new national development plan. It is vital that national investment is partnered with local vision and leadership. Private investment must also play a role. County development boards are best placed to oversee any additional responses required, in addition to the work of the industrial development agencies under the auspices of the Department.
IDA Ireland which recognises the need to secure high value investment that will provide sustainable long-term jobs is developing world-class business parks in Ballina, Castlebar and Westport as part of its marketing strategy for County Mayo. I was pleased to learn recently that significant progress had been made by Mayo County Council in securing unburdened title to a site of 10.29 hectares on the Sligo Road in Ballina. Employment in companies in County Mayo supported by IDA Ireland increased by almost 10%, from 2,711 to 2,973, between January 1998 and December 2006. The county's employment performance has been good when considered within the current global economic climate. There is a diverse range of foreign direct investment companies in the county in sectors such as medical technologies, pharmaceuticals, international services, engineering and information and communications technology.
Enterprise Ireland is focusing on the creation of new jobs by supporting entrepreneurs establishing new high potential start-up companies. It is concentrating on the retention and creation of new jobs in existing companies and the enhancement of Ireland's innovation capability at a national and regional level. It is supporting research in companies and third level institutions. The overall aim of Enterprise Ireland's strategy is to transform Irish companies into businesses which are focused on the market and driven by innovation. It is working to increase the exports, sales and employment of such companies. Some 3,145 people were employed in Enterprise Ireland's client companies in County Mayo at the end of 2006. Since January 2006, Enterprise Ireland has approved funding support of almost €2 million, of which €1.45 million has already been paid to companies in the county which are supported by the agency. The Mayo County Enterprise Board supports small businesses throughout the county which have not more than ten employees. The board approved the allocation of €620,000 to 30 projects in 2006. It paid approximately €440,000 in grant assistance to 29 projects which resulted in the creation of 110 net jobs in companies throughout the county which are assisted by the board.
I welcome the progress made with the industrial site in Ballina which has been discussed for donkey's years since the last time I raised the matter in the House. Perhaps we can make further progress, as IDA Ireland has not delivered. The Minister has mentioned that he does not have anything to do with IDA Ireland, but he cannot deny that the buck stops with him. Perhaps he is not aware of certain developments. For example, the former Henniges plant on the Crossmolina road has been converted into a 12-unit retail warehouse and garden centre. When the plant closed in 2001 with the loss of 170 jobs, the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, said her "immediate priority" was to find "an alternative industry for Ballina". She pointed out that the Government aimed "to ensure that 50% of all new jobs are located in the Border, midlands and west region". She said she would "ensure that Ballina figures prominently" in further job creation efforts. She mentioned that she had asked IDA Ireland and other State agencies "to actively promote Ballina", but new investment was not forthcoming. Some 230 staff at the Volex plant in Castlebar which employed 950 people at one time were laid off in January 2002. In August 2004 the plant was sold for over €5 million to a local auctioneer who was operating on behalf of a consortium. It later became a car showroom and a furniture sales operation. Many IDA Ireland factories have been sold and are now being used for purposes for which they were not originally intended. That sends the wrong message to those who hope to be able to stay in the west and work in their own areas.
When I met officials from IDA Ireland, they told me they could not do much for County Mayo because of the poor state of its infrastructure, including roads such as the N5 to Westport, the N26 to Ballina and the R312 to Belmullet. Similar problems are encountered in the county's telecommunications infrastructure, for example, as a result of the Government's failure to spend €3.75 billion in the BMW region. We all hope the western rail corridor will be developed, but as matters stand we cannot even get an early train to Dublin.
IDA Ireland claims to have arranged nine visits by potential investors over a number of years. I do not know where they were brought in Ballina because there was nothing to show them. I hope this will change. I ask the Minister to advise me of the significant changes made since October when I last raised this issue which I have been raising consistently. Millions of euro are being spent on the rental of vacant IDA Ireland premises in County Mayo. Does IDA Ireland have a policy of selling its premises to private enterprise to turn them into car showrooms? I am sure these private enterprise people are very happy. I question the potential for jobs and the reason for these factories being vacant.
The industrial policy in County Mayo encompasses more than just IDA Ireland. There are approximately 19 IDA-supported companies in County Mayo, employing approximately 3,000 people in permanent jobs and a further 450 in temporary and contract employment. Employment numbers are strong relative to the 1990s and almost 10% higher than in January 1997. Some of the key companies include Baxter, Allergan and Coca-Cola, which are significant reference sites to enable us to market the county for other types of investment.
Enterprise Ireland has been very active in County Mayo and working with the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology is providing a significant source of graduates to the area. It is also providing additional supports for locally-based companies and incubation space for entrepreneurs and new companies. IDA Ireland is investing significantly with more than €6 million devoted to property solutions. I refer to the Castlebar flagship business and technology park which is built on a site of 11.78 hectares. The Deputy is correct that with regard to Ballina, significant legal difficulties arose which were beyond the control of IDA Ireland and of the Department but these are nearing resolution. A site of 25.31 hectares contains a world-class business and technology park in Westport. I refer the Deputy to the developing road infrastructure and significant progress has been made in that regard. I refer also to the development of the sites along with the 12.5% corporation tax and the strong education infrastructure. County Mayo is positioned for foreign direct investment but indigenous space should not be forgotten nor the need to develop and support locally-based companies. I have met with a number of such companies in County Mayo which have been particularly successful. If the infrastructure can be developed further, then we will do even better.
I wish to ask the Minister a brief question. Will he explain why €2 million is being paid by the IDA for empty buildings in County Mayo? Why does the Minister not try to fill these factories when the unemployment rate is twice the national average in the Ballina area, in particular, and considering that 1,000 jobs have been lost in the past nine years?
The unemployment rate is not twice the national average. The unemployment rate in the region is about 4.3% which is in line with the national average. We must be careful not to bandy about figures which are not accurate.