Wednesday, 20 January 2010
I thank the Chair for allowing me to raise this most important of issues. I also thank the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, for being here to deal with the issue.
A key factor is that the mid-west task force was established in February 2009 in the wake of the announcement by Dell that more than 2,000 people would lose their jobs as a result of the closing of its manufacturing facility in Limerick. I very much welcome the fact that Dell continues to provide more than 1,000 high-end jobs in Limerick and we hope that number will increase. This report emerged from the fact that a significant number of jobs were going to be lost in Limerick and the mid-west region. This task force was established nearly 11 months ago. Its report was completed and published within a short period by July 2009. Yet we find some seven months later that little if any of its recommendations have been implemented. That is not good enough.
A person of the eminence of Denis Brosnan took on the job of chairing this task force. It is extremely important that his recommendations and those of the other members of the task force are taken are taken on board. I note with regret that the IDA did not partake in work of the task force. The report's recommendations are varied and in its executive summary up to 20 issues are raised. I wish to deal with a number of specific recommendations that should have been implemented with immediate effect. The report states that Limerick and the mid-west region should be made a priority region for foreign direct investment. Yet we find that since the announcement by Dell, not one single IDA-backed job has been created in Limerick or in the neighbouring counties of Tipperary or Kerry. A total of 134 jobs were created in County Clare last February, around the time the task force was established. However, 2,500 new IDA-backed jobs went to Cork, Dublin, Kildare and Galway. The majority of the mid-west region did not get one.
I am speaking for four minutes so I have another minute. I thank the Acting Chairman.
Another issue is that of promotion of the Limerick region. Of the €53 million tourism and economic development plan, only €6 million has been dedicated to this, in the form of funding for the Limerick-Shannon gateway. The report recommends that such funding should be provided and there should be a proper marketing strategy.
How will the European Globalisation Fund work in practice? This is a fund of €23 million, consisting of €8 million of taxpayers' money from the Irish Government and €15 million from the EU. When will it be fully up and running and how can it be accessed? This is a key issue for people who want to become entrepreneurs.
I want to hear good news from the Minister. What we want is action. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment says she will not resource the implementation of the report's recommendations. That must change. The mid-west has become the forgotten region; this must no longer be the case. I want the Minister of State to tell the House that the recommendations of the report will be implemented, that Limerick and the mid-west will be the number one priority for foreign direct investment, that jobs will be created and that the globalisation fund will be accessible.
I thank Deputy O'Donnell for sharing time with me. The report of the mid-west task force has major implications not only for the immediate region, but also for north Kerry, which is quite close to Limerick city. Indeed, we look more towards Limerick city than to Cork city. It was unfortunate that the terms of reference of the report did not include north Kerry from Tralee northwards.
When the task force was established by the Minister, she assembled a high-powered group which was the envy of those in many other areas. Most of those people participated in the task force on the basis that action would be taken on their recommendations. They are busy people who do not waste their time. They received such a commitment at that time. Now, they are disappointed and disillusioned. Next Friday they will have a press conference for politicians. I will not pre-empt what they will say, but I suspect they will be critical of the Government. They put their time into producing this report and they now feel their time will have been wasted unless there is some effort to implement their recommendations.
The task force report contained a good proposal for a large cargo facility at Shannon Airport. My understanding is that the group approached the Government for support for this proposal, but to date it has received no response. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, who is a pragmatist and in whom I have great confidence, will relay to the Minister how disillusioned these people are with the way in which she has responded to the recommendations of the task force despite her previous commitment.
Dara Calleary (Minister of State with special responsibility for Public Service Transformation and Labour Affairs, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputies O'Donnell and Deenihan for raising this issue and acknowledge the regular contact we have received from Deputy O'Donnell on the issue of the globalisation fund over the past number of months.
As the House is aware, the mid-west task force completed an interim report which was presented to the Minister by the chairman, Mr. Denis Brosnan, last July. A number of national and local issues were dealt with in the report. All measures taken by the Government to address the downturn in the economy have benefited regions including the mid-west region. The measures taken by the Government were outlined fully in an initial response by the Minister to the recommendations of the task force in late September of last year. Given the wide range of recommendations in the report, the Minister also brought the report to the attention of the Cabinet, and it is currently being further considered in a number of Departments, as well as my own, following the recent budget.
The Minister and I are very grateful for the work undertaken by Mr. Brosnan and the other members of the task force, and I will continue to keep the task force informed of the Government's work on matters covered in the interim recommendations. The task force identified a number of issues for further study in its final report, which we look forward to receiving. Over the coming weeks I intend to visit Limerick and I have no difficulty in meeting members of the task force to discuss their specific concerns about its implementation.
As the Deputies will be aware, the European Globalisation Fund, EGF, was approved by EU budgetary authorities in late December 2009 and we anticipate the transfer of EU funds later this month. Provision has also been made under my Department's Vote, as Deputy O'Donnell recognised, for the national financing element. The timeframe permitted for eligible expenditure under the fund is September 2011. We are continuing with the implementation of the suite of EGF-funded measures. For example, FÁS has already provided guidance services and training courses to over 1,500 workers affected by the closure of the Dell plant in County Limerick.
My Department will be the managing authority for EGF funding in the State, while the Department of Education and Science, FÁS and Enterprise Ireland will be designated intermediate bodies for funds transfer, reporting and monitoring purposes. Approved funding will be made available to public beneficiaries delivering services on the ground to eligible redundant workers. All intermediate bodies must certify expenditure in their areas of responsibility and report to my Department, and all expenditure must adhere to relevant EU and national accounting and auditing procedures.
It is imperative that the wide suite of EGF-assisted measures being provided to eligible redundant workers is co-ordinated in the most effective and efficient manner locally and regionally. To that end, the Minister and I have charged FÁS with establishing a dedicated EGF co-ordination unit in Limerick to ensure that all relevant supports are co-ordinated on the ground in a timely, effective and efficient manner. The unit will act as the primary co-ordination agency for the Department in the implementation of the EGF programme for Dell worker supports. A manager of that unit will be appointed in the next week to act as a contact person for any queries.
This week, FÁS is contacting all relevant redundant workers to inform them of the supports being offered with EGF assistance in the areas of training, skills, entrepreneurial supports - which were mentioned by Deputy O'Donnell and which I agree should be a particular focus of the fund - and further and higher education. It is also inviting workers to a two-day information fair in early February at which all service providers will be in attendance to detail their programmes and supports, to answer queries and to provide for course registrations. A steering group will be established to include worker representative bodies in order to ensure that the views of the redundant workers and other key stakeholders are made known and fed into the implementation process.
In the first week of February I will be going to Limerick to meet representatives of the redundant workers and hear their views at first hand. I will also seek to meet the Oireachtas Members from the mid-west. A review of the operation of the EGF will be undertaken by the Department in June of this year to ensure that all measures are being taken in a timely fashion and that all expenditure is reached within the designated period.