Thursday, 28 January 2010
Mid-West Task Force: Statements
I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power. I ask the Leas-Cheann Comhairle to indicate when five minutes of my speaking time remain.
I welcome this opportunity to address the House on this matter. I established the mid-west task force early last year under the chairmanship of Mr. Denis Brosnan following the announcement of the Dell manufacturing closure in Limerick and associated industrial job losses in the mid-west region. The task force completed an interim report which was presented to me by Mr. Brosnan last July. The wide range of recommendations in the report covers both local and national issues. Some fall within the remit of my Department and its agencies, while others fall within the remit of other Ministers and require a whole of government approach in responding to them.
The Government has been responding to the recommendations under these headings. Last September, I sent the task force a report on responses up to that time. Since then, I have conducted a broad consultation with other Ministers and relevant divisions and agencies in my Department. Ministers are finalising their responses in light of their budgets for 2010 and I expect to send a further report to the task force shortly.
I shall set out the main responses. Fuller detail will be provided on some of these responses in the closing remarks of the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher. With regard to the position in the mid-west region, which developed around the Dell manufacturing closure announcement, a variety of actions have been taken. As an immediate response to the developing situation, a response under the heading "Tus Nua" was initiated in December 2008. Tus Nua is a multi-agency regional group which was established specifically to address the issue of the impending business closures and downsizing across companies in the mid-west. The group includes Enterprise Ireland, the city and county enterprise boards, FÁS, Limerick Institute of Technology and the University of Limerick.
This multi-agency response to job losses has been taking place at two levels. At the level of individual employees, information and services to those facing unemployment has been provided to facilitate them to retrain, re-educate or start a new business. At the level of companies, specific initiatives have been delivered to indigenous sub-supply companies in the mid-west to explore alternative markets, products and business opportunities.
A range of supports and programmes are being provided. Management of the web portal, Tus Nua, which provides seamless access to a comprehensive range of information and enterprise supports, is available via Enterprise Ireland, the county enterprise boards, FÁS and third level institutions. In addition, the website allows individuals to register their specific request for support with a facility for immediate follow-up by the relevant agency.
Information events have been held encompassing all enterprise, employment and education institutions together with private and voluntary sector organisations, including financial institutions, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, citizens information centres and recruitment agencies. A collaborative information brochure detailing contacts, business start-up supports and financial assistance is available via Enterprise Ireland and the county enterprise boards.
A series of one and two night seminars and workshops throughout the mid-west commenced in March 2009 to provide individuals with information on enterprise start-up and identification of new business opportunities. A further Enterprise Ireland led six-week, part-time enterprise start programme is due to commence in early February at the Enterprise Ireland funded enterprise acceleration centre at Limerick Institute of Technology to facilitate individuals to explore business start-up as a new career option. This is in addition to a series of programmes run last year.
An enterprise platform programme also commenced at Limerick Institute of Technology to assist individuals to commercialise existing business ideas. A one-to-one meeting facility for individuals interested in business start-up has been available from locally based Enterprise Ireland regional development executives. In addition, Enterprise Ireland has focused on the sub-supply base in the mid west with dedicated sub-supplier events to facilitate supply companies to explore new opportunities, new business leads and new markets with assistance from El's overseas market network.
In addition to the Túsnua initiative, a successful application was made under the EU's European globalisation adjustment fund in June 2009. The application of co-funded assistance from this fund will support the costs of a personalised package of occupational guidance, training, employment, entrepreneurship and educational measures for workers made redundant at the Dell plant in Raheen and in ancillary enterprises. This application was approved by the European Union budgetary authorities in late December 2009 and the transfer of EU funds is anticipated this week or next. Provision has been made in my Department's Vote for the national financing element required. The timeframe permitted for eligible expenditure under the fund in this case is September 2011.
Having successfully secured EGF funding together with significant Government co-financing, we are continuing with the implementation of the suite of EGF-funded measures. Good work continues to be done by State agencies and educational institutions in Limerick and the mid-west region. For example, FÁS has already provided guidance services and training courses to more than 1,500 of the affected workers.
My Department will be the managing authority for the 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 the eligible redundant workers. All intermediate bodies shall certify expenditure in their area 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 of State, Deputy Calleary, and I have charged FÁS with establishing a dedicated EGF co-ordination unit in Limerick to ensure all relevant supports across all service providers are co-ordinated on the ground in a timely, effective and efficient manner. The unit shall act as the primary co-ordination agency for the Department in the implementation of the EGF programme for related supports for Dell workers.
FÁS is currently contacting all relevant redundant workers to inform them of the supports being offered with EGF assistance in the areas of training, upskilling, entrepreneurial supports and further and higher education. They are also inviting the workers to a two-day information fair in Limerick 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 is also being established to include worker representative bodies to ensure the views of the redundant workers and other key stakeholders are made known and fed into the implementation process. The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, will go to Limerick shortly to meet with representatives of redundant workers as part of this process and will hear their views at first hand. A review of the operation of the fund shall be undertaken by my Department in June 2010.
In regard to the promotion of industrial employment in the mid-west region, the development agencies Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Forfás and Shannon Development have enjoyed a close working relationship with the task force to date and this will continue into the future. As with all the other stakeholders in the region, the agencies are fully committed to working through the current difficulties and to getting the message out that the mid west is a great location and is very much open for business.
A strong promotion effort is under way in respect of foreign direct investment. IDA Ireland is working very hard overseas in continuing to promote strongly the mid west to potential investors. This is evidenced by the fact that the agency hosted 18 visits to the region by potential investors in 2009.
It continues to focus on attracting high technology investment to the mid west. Intel announced a €50 million investment in research and development in the Shannon Development free zone in 2009, a major vote of confidence in the region. IDA has 52 client companies in the mid-west region employing more than 8,000 people on a full or part-time basis. While 2009 was been a difficult year for these companies, we continue to work with them to protect and strengthen their operations in the region and to assist them in broadening and deepening the range of functions carried out there.
Foreign direct investments take some time to be put in place. In this regard a number of companies who announced investments in 2008 and in 2009 are currently recruiting. These include Vistakon, Channel Advisor, ON Semi, Cook Medical and DTS in Limerick, Microsemi in Ennis, and Intel in Shannon. Enterprise Ireland's client employment complement in the mid-west region in 2009 was more than 9,100. Nevertheless, it is clear that the economic downturn is resulting in a negative effect on employment creation. The effect on job retention, particularly in certain sectors such as construction and related industries, has been significant, with a net decrease of numbers employed in El companies. A key driver of employment growth in the region will be the presence of innovative start-up companies. Five such high potential start-ups were established in the mid west in 2009, with Enterprise Ireland's support.
We also announced a €26 million Bank of Ireland seed and early stage equity fund, supported by Enterprise Ireland and the University of Limerick Foundation, which will invest in start-up and early stage companies. Its focus will be on high potential university spin-offs and export-orientated start-up companies that operate in the technology, including green technology, food and financial services sectors.
Although 2009 was a difficult year for established companies, Enterprise lreland expects the ongoing focus for established industry in the mid west to be on consolidation, growing gross value added. In Shannon Development's free zone 7,100 people are employed in about 100 companies.
Through Shannon Development, we have also facilitated the establishment and growth of both indigenous and FDI companies. Shannon Development has extensive industrial property available in 57 separate regional locations.
Concerning the national technology park, NTP, in Limerick, it has appointed consultants to audit the existing infrastructure and to carry out preliminary design work on appropriate layouts, budget estimates and timelines for the further development of the NTP into a more strategic site for the attraction of industrial investment from Irish and foreign companies.
IDA Ireland is currently finalising a new strategy for the coming decade, with a particular focus on the period 2010 to 2014. I wish to advise the House that the broader Limerick area and the region will be a particular focus of attention and will be mentioned specifically in the context of that strategy which I shall publish later next month. That is very much a target. I spoke about the region as a whole because it includes not only Limerick city but the environs, which were affected also.
Although Limerick has been well served in terms of access and knowledge infrastructures, particularly with those at Shannon Airport, the sea port and the national technology park, there remains a need for improvement.
These aspects are covered in the recommendations in the task force's interim report and have been the subject of my consultations with other Ministers. They will be very important.
In addition, the Lynx Cargo Group signed a memorandum of understanding with the Dublin Airport Authority in March 2009 to explore jointly the feasibility of developing a major cargo facility at Shannon Airport. That report will be made available shortly to the Minister of Transport and I have spoken to him about it.
Tourism market funding has been very much a focus in the context of investment. There are many other initiatives towards which the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, and I have been working, with particular regard to the issue of local government and governance.
We will continue the work in progress with the report and with all the agencies.
I know and appreciate this is very much an opportunity for political point scoring. Perhaps it is best-----
Perhaps it would be best if all the Deputies and Senators who represent the region were to work together to support the people. I certainly will do that-----.
I thank the Tánaiste for sharing the very limited time available. In that short time I wish to make some key points. All Deputies from Limerick and the mid-west in general have been dealing with the fall-out from the decision by Dell to cut its work force in half by letting go 1,900 employees. It is important to emphasise that 1,000 very high quality jobs remain at Dell which need to be supported. That must be acknowledged.
Every Deputy has dealt with people in the area who have lost their jobs and some of the stories have been very difficult to hear. The people deserve our support. What was the response? Initially, the Tánaiste made every effort to have the jobs retained. She travelled to the United States in an all-out effort to achieve this. It was not possible but she has moved swiftly and decisively to deal with the fall-out from the announcement by Dell. Her initial response in setting up Túsnua gave valuable information and opportunities to those who lost their jobs in the immediate period. She acted decisively in setting up the mid-west task force. She also recognises that there are other parts of the country - including the Border and midlands regions - which have higher rates of unemployment than the mid-west.
However, she set up a dedicated task force to deal with the difficulties experienced by the latter region. I compliment the members of the task force, including its chairman, Mr. Denis Brosnan, who have done an excellent job.
One of the Government's key initiatives during the past 12 months was to make an application to the European Globalisation Fund. That application was successful and funding has been made available. The Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, have been working flat out since the beginning of the year to ensure that funding is distributed in accordance with the terms laid down by the European Globalisation Fund. Those terms include allowing former employees to access such funding in order to upskill and retrain.
I urge the Tánaiste and FÁS, which is the co-ordinating body, to allow private companies to provide training and support to former employees. Not all employees are interested in going on to third level education or in furthering their education. Some of them want to become involved in business and create jobs. It is important, therefore, that money be made available for start-up micro-enterprises.
Shannon Development and IDA Ireland must work closely together in order to attract both employment and foreign direct investment. I welcome the Tánaiste's announcement that IDA Ireland's new strategy will place a particular focus on Limerick and the mid-west. The Lynx Cargo project is extremely important for Shannon and the mid-west region. I have being pressing the Tánaiste and the Minister for Transport to provide every support possible in order to ensure that the project will come to fruition. The project to which I refer would provide a great boost for the airport similar to that which will come as a result of this morning's announcement that Shannon Airport has been granted preclearance in respect of general aviation - in other words, flights involving private jets - to the United States.
Perhaps the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will inform me when there are two minutes of my slot remaining because I would like Deputies from the region to have as much time as possible in which to make their contributions. It is disappointing that we do not have more time to discuss this important report.
I thank the Tánaiste for her contribution. I must point out, however, that she barely referred to the interim report of the task force.
It might be someone else's mobile telephone. No, I apologise, it was mine.
The Tánaiste's speech could have been written by someone who had not even read the report by the task force. I wish to read into the record of the House some of the aspects of that report which I believe to be correct. The report indicates that from January 2002 to September 2008, Ireland lost 32% of its international price competitiveness. In 2000, average labour costs here were 40% lower than those in the US and 10% lower than those in the UK. By 2008, however, they were 11% higher than those in the US and 19% higher than those in the UK.
I was happy to switch off my mobile telephone. Perhaps the Leas-Cheann Comhairle might chair the debate.
No. The Tánaiste is referring to the 25% target in respect of regulation, which is entirely different. The report also calls for a national competitiveness strategy. Developing such a strategy should also be a matter of policy for everyone and proposals in this regard have already been put forward by Fine Gael.
The report also calls for the entire joint labour committee, JLC, system, particularly as it relates to premium rates of pay, to be overhauled. That is another policy which Fine Gael supports. Further, the report refers to reducing employers' PRSI across the board. Fine Gael proposed this in its alternative budget. The report also proposes changes to corporation tax.
Other proposals contained in the report include a workshare arrangement for those who work short time. My party has also made proposals in this regard. The report suggests that additional resources should be allocated in order to encourage people to remain in education and training. This is similar to the national internship programme and the second chance education scheme proposed by Fine Gael.
The report also makes proposals in respect of capital spending on projects relating to the N18, the N20, the Adare bypass, the Foynes Port link and the Northern Ring Road. In its alternative budget, Fine Gael proposed that the capital budget should not be cut. However, the Minister for Finance reduced it by €1 billion in the budget.
The report proposes the establishment of a commission to consider the boundaries in the area, a move I would support. There are other proposals in the report which I would support and others with I would not. One of those I would support is that which suggests using the energy complex that comprises Ardnacrusha, Tarbert and Moneypoint as a possible avenue for developing alternative renewable energy. This very much fits in with Fine Gael's NewERA strategy. The report also refers to merging the different State agencies operating in the mid-west, which is worthy of consideration.
If we are going to establish task forces, then it is important that the Government should take into account the reports they submit. There is no point in appointing a task force, waiting for it to report and then making a speech in the House which does not in any way take cognisance of the work of the task force. It is as if the Tánaiste did not read the report of the mid-west task force or as if that report is irrelevant.
What should have happened is that the task force should have carried out its work and issued a report and a month or two later the Tánaiste could have provided a reasoned response in respect of each recommendation with indications regarding which of the recommendations she intended to accept and which she proposed to reject and why. It appears that her intention in establishing the task force was to engage in a PR exercise. She wanted to be seen to do something when she actually intended to do nothing. That is what must change with regard to how the Government operates. If a task force or the Competition Authority issues a report, the least those in Government can do is show the minimum of respect to those who compiled it.
I refute that. I am aware that this debate is being broadcast on local radio and I must completely refute what the Deputy said. It is an interim not a final report.
The best way for the Tánaiste to refute what I have said would be for her to return to the House next week and provide a short two or three-line reasoned response in respect of each of the report's 20 recommendations indicating which she proposes to accept and which she intends to reject. She should not bother refuting statements or making arguments on radio. All we ask is that she provide a reasoned response to the interim report.
As the recession continues to deepen, everyone involved in politics are coming across a great many down-beat and depressed people. In Limerick late last week, I met the most depressed individual I have met in a long time. I refer to Mr. Denis Brosnan who was completely depressed by the fact that following all the work he and his task force had done, the Government had failed to issue a response. Mr. Brosnan did not just make this charge in private; he repeated later on at a press conference held in the hotel where I met him.
Mr. Brosnan indicated that he was depressed because, as far as he was aware, there had not been a response from the Tánaiste's Department or from any of the other Departments to which the 20 recommendations made in the interim report are relevant. He stated that there are three choices for people in the region. The first of these is that our fellow citizens could wallow in long-term unemployment. Alternatively, he said that the Government could initiate a programme under which emigration could be promoted in order that people would move out of the region in the hope of obtaining employment abroad. The third choice is that Government could take initiatives to create jobs in the region.
Mr. Brosnan was depressed and down-beat because he is of the view that the Government has no intention of taking action in respect of the problems of the region and that an entire cohort of individuals, principally young people, would be condemned to long-term unemployment for a generation. The contrast between the briefing Mr. Brosnan gave to Deputies from all parties and the Tánaiste's speech today is amazing. I accept that the Tánaiste is an honest politician and that she is sincere in her views. However, her contribution to this debate was such a collection of guff - prepared by people who do not understand what is happening in the mid-west region - that it is difficult to know whether we are seeking to address the same problem. Most of the claims made in the Tánaiste's speech are not happening on the ground. Túsnua is an invisible organisation. There may be considerable activity in exchanging e-mails and discussing matters with each other, but there is no practical result of any of the initiatives that are being taken. It is appalling that 12 months after all the redundancies we are still at this state.
We all know the history of the problem. Almost 2,000 workers were made redundant in Dell before Christmas last year. Another 2,000 in sub-supply industries where Dell was the principal customer lost their jobs. Another series of jobs that were connected in one way or another to Dell's activities were eroded in the region. The Government knew this was about to happen and the Tánaiste, the local Minister and other Cabinet Ministers did not share the information with either the workers or the public for quite a long period before the redundancies were established. We all have contacts. We were getting the feed through from senior executives in the company-----
----- and from senior executives in the United States that the jobs were going down the tubes. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment had Dell on its critical list of industries. The Tánaiste kept the story going that she was going to save these jobs almost up to Christmas.
Mr. Denis Brosnan is a reputable entrepreneur. His record as head of the Kerry Group is beyond criticism. He built it up to be an amazing international company. He has been involved in other business projects and has been equally successful. He is admired throughout the region. He took this on as a public service task. I was amazed last week at how forthright and blunt he was in saying that of the 20 recommendations across the various Departments he could get neither access nor action and that nothing was happening. Even the Fianna Fáil Deputies will vouch for that. That was the blunt message.
According to the statistics I have, the mid-west region has the highest unemployment level in the country at 13.8%. Among the under 25s the unemployment level is more than 20% in the mid west. Many young people have emigrated and many others have continued in education which tends to keep the figure lower. The Tánaiste spoke of IDA Ireland being the pillar of initiatives in the mid west. IDA Ireland has done nothing for Limerick in the past two or three years. Its senior executives did not even meet the task force. No IDA Ireland manager based in Dublin bothered to meet the task force. All connections were through the local office and neither Enterprise Ireland nor IDA Ireland has delivered a job coming from inward investment in the region in the past two years. Their record is appalling. To assure us that everything will be all right because IDA Ireland has it in hand is absolute cod.
Shannon Airport is crucial to the region. However, because of the apathy of the Government and the hostility of the Dublin Airport Authority, it is on the way to being closed down. There was a 12% decline in passenger numbers in 2008. While the 2009 figures have not been published yet, they are indicating a decline of between 12% and 15%. Aer Lingus has withdrawn many of its transatlantic services. Ryanair is pulling out the bulk of its planes based there from 1 March and Shannon is losing its status as a major international airport. Shannon has been crucial to the development of the region, not only through the direct employment it provides at the airport, but as the gateway for tourism and for inward investment. The Shannon issue must be addressed.
I cannot understand why the Government will not abolish the travel tax. Given that it collects such a small amount of money, that there is such pressure on and that Ryanair has committed to increasing the throughput of tourists if the travel tax is abolished, I cannot understand why it is still there. The dead hand of the Dublin Airport Authority must be removed from Shannon. The two airports are competitors. The Dublin Airport Authority has no interest in promoting Shannon. Shannon must be given autonomy and allowed to find its own way and market Shannon for other airlines now that it has been let down by Aer Lingus.
The Tánaiste briefly referred to other recommendations of the task force. I am glad about what she said on the Lynxs project, but she seemed to centre it in Dublin rather than in Shannon even though the original initiative was in Shannon.
All right. I am glad to hear of that. However, before it is viable the Government or one of its agencies must provide approximately €7 million for the supporting infrastructure, not in the airport itself, but to provide the access roads and the other infrastructure necessary to promote this. I would like a commitment in this regard.
The western corridor is also crucial to the west. Completion of the carriageway from Limerick to Galway is held up and the commencement of the carriageway from Limerick to Cork is held up. If they cannot be done through the public capital programme, the Government should take the PPP route and get private funds to do it.
I welcome what the Tánaiste said about National Technological Park, Plassey and her kind of half-intention of providing some funding there for the microbiology industry. That would be very welcome.
The €20 million global fund going to workers is very welcome. It is specifically tied into named redundant workers. Of the 2,000 individuals, between 400 and 500 were from eastern Europe, many of whom have gone home. Will a quarter of the fund be tied into people who are no longer living in the region and have gone back home because it is tied into the workers? Will there be an element of the fund being frozen? Alternatively will these redundant workers who have now returned to Poland and the Baltic states be able to avail of the fund in their home countries since it is an EU global fund and they were made redundant from Dell? I require clarification on that. Obviously, it is in the interest of the region that the money be spent in the region. However, a legal problem is emerging on the terms of the arrangement, on which I would like clarification.
I would like more information about the fund. In reply to a parliamentary question yesterday the Department refused to give me the details of the training programmes that would be funded on the basis that FÁS would announce it in a fortnight's time. FÁS is not in here. I am a Member of Parliament for Limerick. Public funds are being used, two thirds of it European and one third domestic, and the Tánaiste's Department refused to answer a question from me about the programmes to be funded from the fund on the basis that it was holding the information because FÁS will announce everything in a fortnight's time. That does not inspire confidence in me or in the region. It is a very bad way to treat the Dáil and Members of Parliament when essential information to do with the accountability for public funds is held from Deputies so that a PR announcement can be made in a fortnight's time by a State agency.
I thank Deputy Penrose for allowing me to use this 15-minute slot because I need that much time to address the issue in any detail. Deputy Higgins will speak later to give a west of Ireland perspective.
I fully agree with Deputy Noonan that it is unprecedented that somebody like Mr. Denis Brosnan who was given charge of a task force on this very important issue should have had none of the 12 recommendations of the interim report implemented or responded to by Government. He was forced to take the unprecedented step of calling in the public representatives from the mid-west region and go on the national media to highlight the issue. While I have every respect for the Tánaiste, her speech contained the greatest load of waffle without any specifics about what is happening. Words like "information" were used repeatedly in terms of response to the plight of people losing their jobs and who have lost their jobs in the mid west. There is great concern in the region that what was once a thriving, innovative, prosperous and forward-thinking region has been left with above average unemployment rates, with jobs going down the Swannee and the response from the Minister in respect of IDA Ireland was about nothing. It has not delivered jobs to the region. I firmly believe the original brief of Shannon Free Airport Development Company, SFADCo, delivered much more to the region than these reconfigured agencies. I am very critical of the IDA because, as Deputy Michael Noonan has said, they did not even engage with the process.
It is unprecedented that somebody like Mr. Denis Brosnan, who was appointed by the Minister to do a job, and the members of the team who gave of their time, should have such a non-response. We need urgency about this and specifics rather than generalities. In term of specifics, I am very disappointed that my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea from Limerick, is not present for this debate.
This is the most important thing that has happened for the region. I acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Power, at least took the time to come in and make a contribution, but Deputy O'Dea is the senior Minister in the region and I wanted to ask him a couple of questions, had he been present. Where are the 700 jobs, for example, that he announced on national radio when Dell closed? Where is the multi-million public private project he announced, in the context of regeneration for Limerick? The people of the mid-west are sick of being led by the nose on issues such as this and being told things are happening when clearly they are not. In the same context, we were given all types of reassurances by the senior Minister in the region about Dell. By the time he went to Texas with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, it was too late. The stable door had closed, the horse had bolted and Dell had already made its decision.
We will all work together in the region on this issue, but we need our most senior Government people to be working with us and I am very disappointed that the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, is not here. Some of the specifics have been referred to already, and Mr. Brosnan highlighted some of them in his report. One of them was the Lynx project which has been referred to in the context of the Shannon cargo hub. Part of what is involved are temperature controlled warehouses to store medical products, to attract biomedical and biopharmaceutical industries. We already have a record in that regard. As was mentioned, we have the Vistakon plant in Plassey. There are 70 acres behind that plant and that area needs to be upgraded in order to attract similar industries. The mid-west region has a record of attracting multinationals, as well as the experience. Practical measures are needed such as developing the site behind Vistakon and providing the €7 million, as identified in relation to the Lynx project and the Shannon cargo hub. We urgently need a specific response on those issues.
The mid-west region is one of innovation. We have done things for ourselves - the Shannon Airport initiative was the start of this endeavour. We need to examine how this was all built up. It took a long time and we are not going to let it continue to go rapidly downhill, as is happening at the moment. We are looking for specific blocks or ledges that will stop the downhill momentum to give us the opportunity to pull ourselves back up. That is what is being sought in the region. We have a good deal of co-operation with the third level institutions, FÁS, VECs, etc., in the region. They are working together, but need the Government to take their issues seriously. We need to ensure that they get the response they need.
On the Shannon Airport issue, it is true that figures declined by 12% to 14% in 2009 and it is expected that they will decline again in the coming year. The threats from Ryanair are very real. Jobs were announced yesterday in Cork and Farranfore now makes more profit than Shannon. There is a real concern that it will become a regional airport. Shannon's potential is enormous as is the need for it in the country. We need a balance between the east and the west. Shannon Airport is a key infrastructural access point for that and it needs to be taken seriously. We do not need the body running Shannon Airport to be called the Dublin Airport Authority.
The region's needs have to be prioritised, and there is major consensus in this regard among all mid-west public representatives. Most of us here, for example, attended a meeting recently between Mr. Christoph Mueller of Aer Lingus and the workers' representatives at Shannon. We are all committed to supporting the proposals coming from the workers' representatives. We all listened to Mr. Mueller saying there needs to be an injection of support for tourism in the mid-west and along the entire western seaboard. Again, that has to be driven and led by the Government, but at the moment we are not getting that response. Mr. Mueller is experienced regarding the European market and he can see the significant potential for tourism in the entire western part of Ireland, but at present tourists trying to get to the west are going into Dublin. They should be flying into Shannon Airport and immediately accessing places such as Killarney, Galway and all the other beauty spots that are unique to Ireland. If we could increase our international tourism figures even by a small percentage, it would make all the difference to the Shannon region.
All of us here know the detail of what precisely is required to achieve this. All we need is for the Government to respond on the very specific promises that were made, such as the announcement by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen, of a €53 million tourism and economic plan for Shannon. In the event, all we got was €6 million. We just need such specifics addressed. I see Deputy Timmy Dooley nodding his head, because there is agreement among all parties in the region about what is needed. The mid-west region can use funding well if it can get it.
I have referred to the Shannon workers, but the redundant Dell workers have not been properly included in this process either. They should have had a central role in the task force. The task force is primarily led by industrialists and people at that level, but the workers represent a crucial voice regarding the spending of the globalisation fund. My colleague, Mr. Alan Kelly, MEP, brought that to the attention of the powers that be in Europe and while I acknowledge the Government's role in this regard, it also needed that catalyst from Mr. Kelly and other MEPs to ensure that the workers could talk to officials in Brussels and that the fund was released.
There is a now a relatively short timeframe within which that fund has to be spent, however. I recently met with members of the redundant Dell workers' group and they are not happy with the top-down arrangement that is in place. They are to meet the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, next Monday and that is welcome, but many of the decisions are already made before they are consulted. Such consultation will take place under the auspices of a so-called steering group that has been established which will include worker representative bodies. However, many of the structures will already be in place before the workers are listened to. They are lobbying for the type of supports they need to be made available to them, not just the supports the university, the institute of technology, the VEC or FÁS believe they should have.
This is the problem. People in Limerick believe this is money in their pockets and I have said ad infinitum, and it was never refuted by the Opposition, that it is case specific to the needs of the people. That has not come across, unfortunately.
I understand that, but the point I am trying to make is that what some of those workers need will not necessarily fit into the type of boxes the statutory organisations proffer. I know someone, for example, who wants to do a horticultural course. Others want to do courses that do not necessarily fit into what FÁS believes should be provided. It is important that their voices are heard.
Another issue is the fact that Limerick VEC had to turn away 2,500 applicants for the college of further education in Mulgrave Street because there was not enough room for them. In other words, 2,500 people in the mid-west region who want to do further education courses cannot fit into the college because it is so tightly squashed in terms of space. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, to the House and believe he will be interested in this area.
Would it not be much better to give those 2,500 people the opportunity for further training and education, rather than obliging them to sign on to the dole queues? Moreover, this is what such people want and I urge the Minister to bring this suggestion to the Government. It would be much better to facilitate people's involvement in education rather than remaining on the dole queues. Many people come into my clinic, as I am sure is the case in Members' nationwide, and state this is what they want. I refer to people who never have been unemployed previously and who want the opportunity to either pursue further education and training or to have work.
As for work, regional seed capital and venture capital to assist start-up enterprises is required urgently. Many people have bright ideas, some of whom already have started businesses. I recently spoke to a young self-employed woman who provides workplace safety training. When she first established her business, it paid her a living wage but this no longer is the case. She has been told that were she to give up her business and become unemployed for six months, she could receive a back-to-work payment and could start up the business all over again.
Such a system possesses no logic. It would make much more sense to give that young woman sufficient support to enable her to keep the business ticking over by using whatever she would get on the dole. Subsequently, after one or two years, or however long it will take, the business will become viable again. While this is a single example, that person's experience could be multiplied 100 or 1,000 times over in the region and many more times nationwide.
I seek a practical response from the Government to the issues I have raised. While I have been speaking in general about the region, a couple of specific and important issues arise within Limerick itself. One issue concerns a boundary extension and all five Deputies for Limerick East have signed a letter requesting the establishment of a commission to consider this issue. This matter must be furthered rapidly by the Government because Limerick is unable to compete with other cities unless its environs in their entirety are incorporated within the city limits. At present, several major sites such as the University of Limerick, Crescent Shopping Centre and the major hospital at Dooradoyle hospital all are located within the administrative area of Limerick city and this matter must be addressed urgently.
In addition, the Limerick regeneration agencies must receive the funding they require to redevelop. I note that a body that was set up by the Government under the chairmanship of John Fitzgerald has produced beautiful reports. However,the agencies now are stuck because they lack sufficient funding to develop the projects that have been identified and people are becoming disillusioned. Were regeneration to be properly funded, it would be possible to employ thousands of additional people in the mid-west region in the morning. There are many areas in the mid-west in which people wish to work and to use and build on their strengths. However, I refer to the 20 recommendations of a task force that was set up by the Government and which gave its interim report last July. The need for its chairman to go public to state the Government has not responded to a single recommendation constitutes a huge indictment on the Government's response. I welcome today's debate because it should initiate an urgent response that will deal with the specific issues that must be addressed in the mid-west to bring it back to being the strong region it was, can be and will be in the future the correct response is provided.
This illustrates the failure of the Government to tackle this problem seriously as it promised following the massive job losses in the region in companies such as Dell which gave rise to the worst unemployment crisis in a generation. This pertains both to the unemployment created directly by Dell's closure and the knock-on effect on other small businesses that were ancillaries to that major company. This stands in stark contrast to the speed with which it acted save the banks and the property businesses at everyone else's expense, the true extent of which shall never be known.
The task force made 20 recommendations, including the allocation of significant additional funds for companies and community enterprise schemes, as well as the fast tracking of local infrastructure development. Instead of implementing these recommendations, the Government has decided to make cuts to the capital budget in respect of both of these areas. How will so doing help places such as Limerick and the mid-west in general to overcome their current difficulties? The result of such Government inaction is an ever-growing tide of unemployment, despondency and emigration. There is a very effective way to cut the cost of social welfare, namely, to put our people back to work on a programme geared around the recommendations of the task force with regard to developing and improving the infrastructure of the mid-west allied to a comprehensive re-training initiative.
In budget 2010, the FÁS allowances for community employment and jobs initiative schemes were reduced to €20 and €40 per week, respectively. In tandem with this measure, the training allowances for participants were cut by half from €1,500 to €750. The Government rationale for this move was that it would facilitate an additional 500 places on the community employment schemes. A key part of any strategy to turn things around must be to devote more attention to the development of the Irish social economy and both the jobs initiative and community employment schemes are central in this regard. The social economy encourages empowerment and community schemes have enormous potential for the mid-west region, as was highlighted by the task force. It is increasingly recognised that the social economy has an important role to play in society, particularly by enhancing the economy within those communities suffering social and economic exclusion. The social economy is necessary to build a strong and stable economy but their contribution was undermined by the proposals of the budget of 2010. The result of the Government's inaction both in the mid-west and throughout the State is an ever-growing tide of unemployment, despondency and emigration. Inaction is an invitation to another recession and will leave deep scars on the region in the forms of poor infrastructure, long-term unemployment and social exclusion.
There is an effective way to redress the socio-economic problems in the region, which have been exacerbated by the closure of the Dell manufacturing plant, and that is to put people back to work on a programme geared around the recommendations of the task force with regard to developing and improving the infrastructure of the mid-west, allied to a comprehensive re-training initiative. It is clear that the Government has no strategy to deal with the jobs crisis. Although the report called, as a matter of urgency, for the acceleration of the Limerick regeneration plan, nothing has been done. The Government is paying lip service to job creation, regeneration and regional development. While it may have garnered a few brownie points for Fianna Fáil in the wake of the closure of Dell to put together a task force and commission a report in an effort to be perceived to be doing something but that is not enough now. The putting together of a report and doing nothing about it merely constitutes fooling people.
The report warned that unemployment in the mid-west could rise to 55,000 by the end of 2010 unless urgent action is taken. However, 3,000 jobs could be created in the construction process and 4,000 jobs developed under the regeneration plan. The regeneration plan was never simply about regeneration areas but always had the potential to enhance the entire city and to provide thousands of jobs. Any potential large-scale investment in infrastructure must result in construction employment. The Government's immediate priority should be to provide essential, labour-intensive infrastructure with an emphasis on the re-employment of construction workers, which is one of the hardest-hit sectors in the present downturn. This investment in infrastructure will have the dual benefit of improving the region and providing much-needed employment in construction, architecture, engineering and ancillary trades and services.
A variety of existing models can provide a template for such an approach. Throughout the European Union, labour clauses have been agreed as part of public contracts and urban regeneration projects. The insertion of labour clauses into development briefs and public contracts is leading the way and provides a linkage between public spending on capital projects and services with public policy objectives, such as reducing unemployment and providing work placement opportunities to apprentices.
Many of the recommendations in the report have a national context, in particular cost competitiveness which has a focal role in economic recovery. The failure of the Government to take on board the recommendations of the report highlights, not only its blatant disregard for the mid-west region, but its overall negative attitude towards framing a strategy for recovery. Instead, it appears content to implement huge cuts in public provision that will further set back any hope of recovery and make matters worse for those who have already lost their jobs. The Government seems content to allow ailing regions sink further into trouble and to let unemployment soar and is only too happy to throw its cronies in the banks a lifeboat to keep them afloat. The problems in the mid-west - the rising unemployment and the social problems associated with that - are not confined to that region. The spin-off of what is happening there can be seen in County Kerry. North Kerry and west Limerick are as badly affected as the mid-west.
The interim report of the mid-west task force contains many useful proposals for areas such as education, retraining and exploiting the region's natural resources to combat unemployment. However, one reservation I have about the recommendations of the report is the large emphasis that is placed on cutting pay. In its recommendations for what actions could be taken by Government to increase the competitiveness of the sector, reference was made by some companies to the need to reduce labour costs. That is an extremely negative approach that offers little to those employed in the region or for the future of the region in terms of attracting highly skilled or educated labour.
The biggest contributor to Irish economic success and success in the mid-west region has been the exceptional wealth of intellectual capital. Pay is a huge issue for indigenous enterprises, especially SMEs. Some enterprises have called for a reduction in labour costs, including the minimum wage, as part of a Government package to reduce business costs, claiming that wages take up too big a part of turnover. Given the high cost of living in Ireland, a 40-hour average week makes it difficult for many workers in the sector to earn enough to make ends meet. Reducing wages is an irresponsible and short-sighted way of addressing the cost competitiveness of the sector. The policy of reducing wages takes more money out of the local economy. How can such a policy benefit a local economy? The concern for Government is not just the quantity of jobs that is created. The quality of jobs created is equally important. Regional development cannot be done on the basis of driving down wages. Further cuts in wages and erosion of conditions and standards of employment would not be acceptable to most people in the region. The emphasis instead should be on strategic investment in the indigenous economy to take advantage of the potential that lies in sectors such as agri-food, where development and growth can be initiated based on the export market. This sector already seems to have turned the corner. This is preferable to waiting for a return to the levels of inward investment behind much of the economic growth of recent years.
Foreign investment is welcome and even necessary, but one of the lessons of the downturn is that we were too reliant on it and too neglectful of the real indigenous economy. As we have seen from the fall-out from the banking and property crisis, too much of the wealth of this country was invested speculatively and incompetently while at the same time genuine enterprises that were contributing to the real economy and employing people often found it difficult to access credit, a situation that has worsened recently despite the relative health of many Irish businesses which appear to have weathered the storm and are potentially in a position to generate new growth. I doubt there is any Deputy who has not had representations from small businesses that find it extremely difficult to access credit in order to stay afloat and keep people employed. Unfortunately, the directions from the Department of Finance inhibit the survival of small enterprises throughout the island, in particular in the mid west. This is something that is dealt with extensively in my colleague's, Deputy Arthur Morgan, report on the agri-food sector. The Government needs to implement the positive recommendations of the task force and make them part of a State wide strategy to encourage recovery rather than continue down the path of undermining public provision and further depressing the economy and setting back recovery for years.
I was shocked to hear what Deputies Noonan and Jan O'Sullivan had to say about the non-existence of IDA supports in their area. I concur with what they had to say because the same situation is reflected in my county. This is disgraceful. Nothing has been done to help. The rate of unemployment in my county is 26%, more than double the national average. Deputy Noonan pointed out that some 20% of those under 25 years of age are unemployed. This is an indictment not just of the Government but of the State bodies set up to provide employment and bring equality to rural Ireland. That is not happening and it does not appear it will happen in the short term. It needs to happen. Each day we see the result of this lack in the mid west. We see Limerick City going through a scourge of antisocial activity, with crime lords running rampant in their respective areas. This is fuelled by an economy that does not serve the people and by high unemployment, particularly among young people. We need to wake up to that, not just in Limerick City but throughout and beyond the mid west. We must be aware of the benefits of providing proper employment and incomes for people and of making proper education and training available to young people coming into the labour market. Doing that would be the best defence against our problems. I strongly recommend that the recommendations of the task force be implemented speedily.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue. We have been calling for this debate for some time and we now have the opportunity to address some, if not all, of the issues identified in the mid-west task force report, as well as some of the more peripheral issues with which those of us involved in the region are familiar. Like other Members from the mid-west, I had the opportunity to discuss with Denis Brosnan, the chairperson of the task force, his views on these issues and his concerns about the advancement of some of the elements identified in the report. He made it clear to all of us that he wanted a co-operative approach across all political divides and stressed the necessity to avoid political point scoring. Politics being politics, perhaps he as a former chief executive of a public limited company could carry off that suggestion. However, it has not happened and there has been a level of going for the soundbite rather than taking action.
This is unfortunate, because this is not about the task force nor the recommendations. It is about the lives of men, women and children who have been affected by the scourge of unemployment, by the disastrous decision of Dell to leave and move to Poland, with the loss of 1,900 jobs, and the knock-on effect that has had on other supporting enterprises and industries. It behoves all of us to try to find solutions. We must move away from the necessity to score political points. There are other issues where we can do that. When it comes to something as important as the livelihoods of people, the loss of people's homes, unemployment to which there seems no end and lack of opportunity we must stop throwing balls across the House and sit down and work constructively towards solutions.
Several contributors to this debate have identified that some of the issues raised in the report are not local issues. There is a national dimension to them. One of the most important aspects of trying to generate employment and assist small businesses was dealing with the banking crisis and resolving some of the major issues. We have dealt with and are dealing with these issues. There are no overnight solutions to many of the main problems.
Deputies referred to foreign direct investment and the necessity for the IDA to bring more companies to the mid-west region. In the past year and a half or two years, the IDA secured 18 visits to the mid-west region. Not enough visits have been converted into job creation but I do not blame the IDA for that. It is very clear that, with the distressed state of economies around the world, particularly in the United States, from where much of our foreign direct investment derives, other nations are experiencing their own financial difficulties. Companies are down-sizing and are not expanding and investing overseas. We must be mindful of that when seeking in the House to impugn the reputation of the IDA in respect of its efforts.
The IDA has a very considerable track record. Even in the past two years in the mid-west region, it has been involved in the creation of so much employment. In February 2008, 60 jobs were announced in respect of Vistakon. Also in that month, Channel Advisor announced 15 jobs and Zimmer Holdings in Shannon announced 250 jobs.
The IDA announced 49 jobs in respect of ON Semiconductor, 200 in respect of Cook Medical and 50 in respect of DTS. Microsemi in Ennis announced 315 jobs and Intel Ireland Limited in Shannon announced 134 jobs. The IDA is doing its job.
It is doing its job in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development. Let us move away from attacking the agencies and deal with the facts.
Mr. Brosnan identified a couple of areas in respect of which he wanted to see significant movement. He referred to governance and boundary issues. It will be interesting to see how Members on the other side of the House will grapple with those issues when the Constituency Commission recommendations are dealt with. We will see local squabbling for territory and wonder whether there will be the same unity of purpose as there is today in attacking the Government. We will learn whether the Members will be able to solve their difficulties on the ground. I suspect they will not.
Deputies referred to investment in regeneration. That is clearly part of the Government's policy. They referred also made to the necessity to deal with the Lynx project. That cannot necessarily be dealt with overnight. Tremendous work has been done behind the scenes on this. Those of us interested in promoting the project have had several meetings with the relevant Ministers. I hope the Lynx project will get the go-ahead.
An issue arises regarding State funding and its impact under EU rules. Notwithstanding that issue, I am confident a solution can be found. If anybody believes the €7 million associated with the project and the €12 million it will invest to develop the facility will solve overnight the plight of the many unemployed in the region, they are misguided and sending out the wrong signal. Bigger issues that arise at national level must be, and are being, dealt with.
It is interesting that the previous speaker criticised the Government for not doing enough based on what he perceived to be the issues identified in the report. Funnily, one of the recommendations, if implemented, would reduce the minimum wage. The task force referred to the reduction in the cost of employment. Inherent in that was a reduction-----
There has been an overall reduction in the unit labour cost of approximately 7%, which is welcome. Energy costs are decreasing and we have become more cost-competitive in the mid-west in line with decisions taken and the changes to the general state of the economy. The report identified all these issues. It is important to differentiate between national and local issues and ensure that we continue to invest.
There was some talk of a lack of investment in the mid-west and of ignoring the region with regard to investment and infrastructure. The region has done exceptionally well because of the efforts of Members on all sides of the House to campaign for infrastructural investment. The Ennis bypass and the ongoing construction of the road between Gort and Crusheen are cases in point. At a time when there has been a reduction in the amount spent on capital projects, commencing the work on the route between Gort and Galway is vital. The tunnel in Limerick will provide very significant infrastructure to assist in the development of Shannon Airport. Quite a bit of money has been spent on the airport over the years.
The mid-west region has not been ignored. There has been investment in the western rail corridor and the station at Sixmilebridge has been opened. I hope there will be an announcement very shortly on the re-opening of a train station at Crusheen. These are all vital investments in infrastructure of which the Government can be proud. To suggest that we ignored the region in good times is wrong, although that is not to say there is not a difficulty at present. Issues arise in many areas nationally but a unique issue arises on foot of the loss of 2,000 Dell jobs.
We must look to what we have in the region. There is an exceptionally good tourism market. It is suffering at present because of the recession across Europe and the United States. The United States was a great feeder of visitors to Ireland. We must be more competitive and aggressive in marketing the mid-west. We should certainly pull up our socks regarding tourism marketing. We must be much more clever about the use or our resources and target them such that they will give the mid-west a competitive edge, not over other regions in Ireland but over other destinations throughout Europe. If we work well collectively, it will be to the benefit of all concerned.
I recognise the efforts being made to create jobs for the unemployed. The work being done by the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, who is to visit the region next week, must be noted. He has been dealing with people individually to assist in the design of an education and training programme with a view to advancing their careers. This is the correct approach. The allocation of money, not directly but through the provision of necessary training courses, represents the best way to proceed.
The effort of the Government regarding the European globalisation fund has been one of the most important aspects of assisting people to meet their immediate needs. We must work collectively to ensure the existence of a framework that will allow enterprise to evolve and allow us to return to what we do best in the region.
I am delighted to contribute to this debate. Having listened to the Government side, I believe the Government and Opposition are living in parallel universes. Clearly, the facts do not back up what the Government is saying it has done for the region.
The report produced by Mr. Denis Brosnan, in addition to people of the calibre of John Herlihy, the head of Google Ireland, is excellent. Last week Mr. Denis Brosnan was forced to call a meeting of Oireachtas Members from the mid-west to state that the plan had effectively received no response from the Government. The plan has been sitting on the Tánaiste's desk for six months.
The key point is very simple. When the Open Skies arrangement was being implemented in respect of Shannon, the tourism and economic development plan was commissioned by the then Minister for Transport, Deputy Martin Cullen. The plan has not been implemented. Of the €53 million referred to in the plan, only €6 million has been allocated to date. The funding was made available to allow Shannon deal with Open Skies. The task force report has been available for six months but there has been no action. Mr. Denis Brosnan asked Members to ask the Minister to implement a few key recommendations, at a relatively low cost to the Exchequer.
In 2009, there was a 17% drop in net employment by enterprises supported by State agencies in the mid-west. Mr. Denis Brosnan looked for a couple of key items, including the fast-tracking of urban regeneration in Limerick. While the recent announcement of €25 million in this area is welcome, it will not enable capital projects to get under way. Proper capital funding must be provided. I would like if the Minster for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government made a statement on this matter.
Mr. Brosnan also sought to have Limerick and the mid-west made into a priority region for foreign direct investment. Not one single new IDA Ireland backed job has come into the mid-west in 2009 since the Dell closure announcement. This report was commissioned on foot of that announcement. To say that the Government has looked after the mid-west region makes no sense and does not bear up to the facts.
Mr. Brosnan raised other several points. Shannon Airport runs the risk of being classified as a regional airport unless something radical is done. Only €7 million is required for the Lynx cargo project but the Dublin Airport Authority is still examining it with the Department of Transport. A commitment from the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to push on this is needed. There is also the proposed bio-medical industrial park in Plassey technology park with 70 acres for Shannon Development which would cost €10 million. The two projects would only come to €17 million but bring many jobs to the region.
This is a good report but all we have got are bland statements from the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. She has not made one commitment to fund any of the individual projects raised by Mr. Brosnan.
Mr. Brosnan said he sees no purpose in proceeding with the final report until some recommendations of the interim report are produced. Without any disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, I would expect the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to make the concluding speech in this debate. This is the largest single crisis in jobs to hit the mid-west which will lead to the downgrading of the region. All of its Deputies should be working together. However, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, are not present in the Chamber for the debate on a report which is critical to our region and one on which we want action to be taken.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important report. I commend the eminent businessman, Mr. Denis Brosnan, and his team for the excellent work they did in preparing the report. The least we could have is the Government taking on board some of its recommendations. We cannot afford the luxury of having another report left to gather dust.
Unemployment in the mid-west region stands at 13.8%, some 1% above the national rate, while in Clare it rose by 121% in the past two years. The most concerning fact is that the number of under-25s on the dole queues has jumped by a staggering 142.3%. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment or the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Dara Calleary, should visit the Shannon Free Zone where they will see many "For Sale" or "For Lease" signs on business premises.
Shannon Airport is the key driver for economic growth in the region but it is facing the most difficult period in its history. It is a crisis that has not been helped by the Government. Ryanair is axing 18 routes out of the airport which had been a boost to tourism over the past five years. This is because the Government has imposed a €10 travel tax.
I am also concerned about Aer Lingus's operations in the region, particularly after the investors' day meeting in London on Monday last when the airline's chief executive officer, Christoph Mueller, said Dublin provides a natural advantage for long-haul expansion westbound. That tells me Aer Lingus is not interested in Shannon Airport or transatlantic business out of it, raising questions about its commitment to the region. While I accept the airline is going through a crisis, the Government should use its shareholding in the company to influence the airline's policy direction.
In last night's state of the union address, the US President, Mr. Obama, focused on job creation policy. He said his administration could slash tax breaks for companies that shop jobs overseas. This would have consequences for the 65 US multinational companies employing thousands in the mid-west region. It could be another factor in the death knell for the region.
I do not want to be just negative. Last July, on the aviation preclearance legislation, I referred to the Lynx cargo project in which the company is willing to invest €12 million in the region. While the Dublin Airport Authority will need to spend €7 million on the project, the money has not been forthcoming. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said she supports the project. If she does, then she should put her money where her mouth is to ensure the Dublin Airport Authority finances the project.
It is what the region will need. Companies in the region will be producing medical devices and refrigerated units, yet the Government has turned a blind eye to the Lynx project which would assist in exporting these products. As well as cargo preclearance, we need full preclearance for the corporate jet sector.
The Dublin Airport Authority is spending €1.2 billion on the development of its second terminal at Dublin Airport. Last week's Sunday Independent reported that the authority spent €850,000 on consultants to advise the Minister which company should operate T2. Surely some of that money we need for job creation in the mid-west could be diverted to Shannon Airport. Will the Minister of State give this authority money to the mid-west?
Our region will die unless the Government gets involved. Over 50 years ago, the late Dr. Brendan O'Regan came knocking on the Government's door for money to support his initiatives in Shannon Airport and the region. Today, Mr. Denis Brosnan is knocking on the door seeking support for his recommendations but, unfortunately, the Government is silent on the issue. We want action quickly. The buck lies with the Minister of State and his Government colleagues. I urge them to stand up and deliver on these task force recommendations instead of leaving them on the shelf gathering dust.
I welcome the opportunity to make some contributions to this important segment in today's business. Like other Members, I had the opportunity to be briefed by Mr. Denis Brosnan and other members of the task force in Limerick last Friday. I commend them on their tremendous work and the service they are doing for the region and the country at great inconvenience to themselves. Other Members referred to the priorities that Mr. Brosnan asked us to highlight such as the Lynx cargo hub project. We all recognise the importance of this project to Shannon Airport. Fortunately, the newly appointed chairman of the Shannon Airport Authority, Mr. Brian O'Connell, was present at the briefing and he also pointed out the economic boost the project could be to the airport and region. 1 o'clock
However, when a Government is asked to support an airport it can raise difficulties. We are all aware of how careful the Government must be in terms of the provision of State aid. I welcome that the Tánaiste in her speech referred to this matter in a positive manner and that the Government, Dublin Airport Authority and Department of Transport are examining ways of supporting it. I believe it will be beneficial to the region.
Mr. Brosnan also raised the issue of the development of a technological park, which is practical and can be done quickly. I refer again to the Tánaiste's remarks in this regard. She stated: "In relation to the National Technological Park in Limerick, it has appointed consultants to audit the existing infrastructure and to carry out preliminary design work on appropriate layouts, budgets, estimates and timelines for the further development of the NTP into a more strategic site for the attraction of industrial investment from Irish and foreign companies." In my humble estimation, that is action. The matter is being dealt with. Rather than being negative, Members should acknowledge that the Lynx and technological park projects are being examined and supported. I welcome the Tánaiste's comments in this regard.
Mention was made by Mr. Brosnan and previous speakers of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development. I encourage these three organisations to in the strongest possible terms continue to prioritise the mid-west region in terms of its need for jobs in the months and years ahead. Deputy Dooley referred in his contribution to the number of visits last year from potential overseas investors. While many of them have decided not to invest in the region, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland have a job to do and must continue to attract investors to the region and to sell the region to them. We must ensure we have in place the critical infrastructure necessary to win that investment. It is hoped we will do so in the future.
Another point worth mention is the back to education schemes. Applicants wishing to return to education are experiencing difficulties owing to the embargo in the teaching profession and public sector generally. Perhaps when globalisation fund moneys are being disbursed this matter could be re-examined in the context of assisting the mid-west region. It is critical people have access to education, in particular Dell workers, many of whom are interested in going that route.
I welcome that the Government has secured €22 million from the European globalisation fund. This funding will soon be disbursed to organisations to assist people who have lost their jobs. The closure of Dell was a huge blow to the region. Many other industrial jobs have been lost subsequent to the closure of Dell. As regards the Dell workers, I believe these people are county enterprise board type clients. However, the criteria within which the county enterprise boards must work needs to be changed. I recently spoke to Mr. Ned Twomey, the CEO of the county enterprise board in Limerick who agreed with me when I pointed out that many of the people who are losing their jobs will be inclined to get into small service-type industries such as hairdressing, small garages and so on. We need to support these people. The criteria currently laid down for county enterprise boards is too rigid and should be changed. I asked Mr. Twomey to contact the other agencies to see if they could come up with practical ways these people can be helped. People want practical support on the ground.
I ask the Tánaiste to take into account, in the critical weeks ahead in terms of the disbursement of funding from the European globalisation fund, the following suggestions. Support could be provided through feasibility study reports in respect of which normal feasibility rules would apply, the rate of support would be 80%, balanced by individuals' own time and by allowing people to retain their back to work allowance. I accept the prior agreement of the Department of Social and Family Affairs would be required in this regard. In terms of priming grants under the European globalisation fund, EGF, a special category should be established for Dell and other workers in relation to providing aid for self employment or entrepreneurial activity. This is in keeping with the EGF regulations which state that the EGF should provide specific, one off support to facilitate the reintegration into employment of workers in areas, sectors, territories or labour market regions suffering the shock of serious economic disruption. This may include out-placement assistance and entrepreneurship promotion and aid for self employment. This proposal should be considered. An employment subsidy targeting eligible European globalisation fund participants and paid to employers who employ and retain an eligible participant for 12 months could be introduced. There are many ways we can offer practical help to workers on the ground, including loosening some of the regulation and removing some of the red tape. This is a critical time for the mid-west region and for those who have lost their jobs. We should not be tying ourselves up in knots with red tape, stringent regulation. We must allow agencies the discretion to offer practical support on the ground.
Other suggestions include an interest-free loan of up to €25,000 per applicant repayable over five years with a 12 month moratorium on repayments, the purpose of which would be to promote entrepreneurship and business creation. A mentor could be appointed as a condition of the loan. Conditions as apply in the new county enterprise board micro-credit proposal enterprise loan fund could also be applied. These are ways through which we can provide practical help and support to people. I appeal to the Tánaiste to examine these suggestions. I believe county enterprise boards can be effective. Many of the people losing their jobs are typical county enterprise board clients who need help.
Mr. Brosnan asked that representatives of the mid-west region - all Deputies and Senators present that day agreed with this - work together to support the region, which is exactly what we should be doing. I see no benefit in launching a personal attack on the Tánaiste who has been accused of not being honest and fair with the people of Limerick. It was also stated that her speech was bluff, which is not helpful. We must be positive and proactive and support our region. We can do so by refraining from making these type of comments and remarks. I am not here today trying to score political points or make political charges. I have come here in good faith as a messenger to the Dáil, sent this week by Mr. Brosnan with a clear message for Government, namely, that he needs assistance in regard to three or four suggestions. The Tánaiste addressed those issues during her speech. We should respect that and should continue in our efforts in our constituencies. We must work together and be proactive to ensure we obtain the best possible results for our people in the shortest period.
I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate this afternoon. This is a critical debate for all parts of the mid-west region, including my constituency of north Kerry and west Limerick. Mr. Brosnan brought home to us the reality of the situation last Friday. He took the unprecedented measure of calling politicians from all parties together and appealed to us to help him. The task force report provides us with two advantages starting out. First, we have someone of the calibre of Mr. Denis Brosnan, whose record in terms of the development of one of the biggest food companies in the world, certainly in Ireland, we all know. He developed that from a greenfield site from humble beginnings in Listowel in north Kerry. He has a proven track record and the Government did well to get him to chair this task force.
However, Mr. Brosnan is obviously a man who is disillusioned at present because of the lack of action. He is a type of individual who likes to contribute but does not like to waste his time, and if he is taken for granted and is not being listened to, then he is someone who does not walk away from a task he is given but who will not stay around much longer if there is no interest from the Government in his recommendations. Mr. Brosnan pointed out to my party quite clearly that it is over six months since the report was sent to Government and there has been no action that he can see in implementing any of the 20 recommendations of the report. I am sure there are a view recommendations in this report that could be implemented immediately, just to keep the task force alive.
The figure Mr. Brosnan gave to us that struck home was that the numbers signing on in the mid-west region has increased by almost 150% since December 2007. Apart from Dell, there are jobs being lost across the region. This must be of concern to the Minister. Mr. Brosnan asked us for political support. I say this to the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, if I can get his attention, he is obviously not interested in this debate. Minister O'Dea, could I just-----
Mr. Brosnan asked for political support, and could I say how it should start? The Minister, Deputy O'Dea, should chair a small sub-committee of the type used by the Government on a regular basis. Its membership should include the line Ministers including, especially, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It would also concern the Taoiseach because of his interest in the mid-west region. At local level, if one wants political support, with which I agree, both Deputy O'Dea, as the senior Minister in the area, and a former senior Minister, Deputy Noonan, should co-chair a group of politicians. It is not that this will be the panacea to solve this problem, but Mr. Brosnan wants political support. We can give it to him, but it must be co-ordinated. It is an asset that we have Mr. Brosnan. If we give him the necessary political support, I believe he will stay with it and we will see results.
We have in the region a shining example of an agency that has done more for regional development than any other agency in this country, that is, Shannon Development, an organisation much maligned and criticised over the years and whose powers were taken away. The Government took away the power of creating local indigenous enterprise and handed it over to Enterprise Ireland. In the Kerry area, the dynamic which existed when Shannon Development had responsibility for local indigenous industrial development was far greater than it is at present. The dynamic presence in the region has been reduced since it was set up by Dr. Brendan O'Regan. This has been referred to.
On Shannon Airport, the Dublin Airport Authority which has responsibility for Shannon Airport will make losses of €70 million next year and it will not provide the necessary funding for Shannon Airport. I suggest that Shannon Airport should be linked with Shannon Development to provide the necessary funds to carry out the necessary work so that this company of which we speak can invest there.
Like the other speakers, I am glad to have an opportunity to comment on this. I am coming from the perspective of a representative in the mid-west area, despite being from north Tipperary. Often people forget that north Tipperary is very much part of the mid-west area.
We are coming from a background where on 28 July last the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Coughlan, launched the interim report of the mid-west task force. At that launch, she stated she would waste no time in consulting with her colleagues with a view to evaluate, consider and implement the task force report.
Almost seven months later we, as Oireachtas Members, joined the chairman of the task force and the chairman of Shannon Development in Limerick to discuss the matter. I listened in awe to the chairman of the task force, Mr. Brosnan, when he went on to outline his frustration, and that of the members of his board, with what was happening in the mid-west. In no uncertain terms, he sounded the alarm bells, stating how desperate was the situation.
I listened to Deputies here today state that we are scoring political points. I listened to the eminent Mr. Brosnan, who stated, in no uncertain terms, that the State agencies and the Government had failed the people of the mid-west. He went on to outline why. He stated that they were crying out for an initiative from the Government to give hope and confidence to the people of the region by supporting at least three of the 20 projects that he outlined, those being the international cargo hub for Shannon Airport, Plassey Technological Park in Limerick and the governance of Limerick city.
Mr. Brosnon went on to express his alarm at the number of people who had lost their jobs in the mid-west - over 38,000. We do not blame the Tánaiste. It goes back over the ten years of the Celtic tiger, when the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, and his colleagues totally abandoned the mid-west region and did not put the necessary development into it. Mr. Brosnan outlined that. He went as far as to say that if the those involved in the relevant State agencies were members of the Kerry Group, of which he was an eminent chief executive, they would be long gone. Those are startling words to come from any chairman of a task force who was appointed by the Government.
Mr. Brosnan went on to state that the situation was getting worse, we cannot continue to wait, the people of Limerick and of the mid-west region need jobs, and if we do not get jobs, the crime and the social deprivation will increase and reach enormous proportions in Limerick.
The chairman put it up to the Minister, Deputy O'Dea. This is not my quote, but I will remind him of what was said, that it is time that he, as figurehead Minister in the mid-west, behaved like Mighty Mouse in Dublin, not Mickey Mouse as happened.
-----and no jobs created. Take the Minister's own role, at which he can laugh all he likes, it is the job of Government to create jobs and to give inspiration to the people. What did the Government do with the Garda College in Templemore?
In the lead-up to the election, it packed them in like sardines in a tin. Today, the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is in Templemore living it up. I presume he is there, if he had the nerve to visit the place. The last graduation out of the Garda College in Templemore of 268 is taking place, and after that, what have we for the next two years?
Jobs have been lost in the Garda College in Templemore. The college is for the next two years virtually like a ghost college. What is happening in it? What are the Government's proposals for it? Why not give meaningful employment to the people,-----
There are 1,000 retired this year. Does Deputy O'Dea know how many the Government is training? It is training 198 in Templemore who will not be ready in two years' time. At the same time 1,000 gardaí a year retiring. What the Garda College and the Garda Force needs - I spoke to a chief superintendent outside the gate here yesterday - is experience. There has been a drain of experience from the Garda Siochána that will not be easily replaced. This is what the Government is presiding over. I will finish with a quote for the Minister, Deputy O'Dea, which I am sure he will enjoy.
It is from the man who set up this State, the first Minister for Finance, Michael Collins, who stated:
What we must aim at is the building of a sound economic life in which great discrepancies cannot occur. We must not have destitution or poverty at one end, and at the other an excess of riches in the possession of a few individuals, beyond what they can spend with satisfaction and justification.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic. At present I represent a constituency from a neighbouring western region, but I am familiar with Limerick, in particular. It is the city in which I was born and where my father spent most of his working life. It is important that we are positive in responding to the interim report of the task force. I wish to be positive in what I have to suggest. The report highlights the deficiencies generally in respect of regional thinking. It is impossible to deal with the matter in detail in ten minutes but I wish to make one or two points I believe are important.
It is impossible to develop a strategy that one can effect quickly for any one region without considering its connection with other regions. Most people who write reports on regional policy generally use a title such as "towards a policy for the regions". I refer to one illustration of this, that is, the recent report from the Dublin Institute of Technology on the development of a North-South corridor that would be located along the eastern side of the island. It is in contradiction to the proposals made for the Atlantic Way. It is also rather methodologically flawed and ignores some fundamentals in respect of regional thinking.
It is best if I make matters plain. If one has undeveloped resources in one region, they sometimes co-exist with urban dis-economies in another region. If one analyses them clearly, the history of these two documents shows there has been significant urban dis-economies in the greater Dublin area. This has led to an overspill in respect of housing and transport and much other unsustainable activity in the adjoining counties to Dublin. The new North-South corridor, as proposed by DIT, would be both impractical and unsustainable, apart from the fact that it challenges the assumptions in the Atlantic Way. This is a matter on which there are further opportunities to speak. There is an unfortunate distinction in the report between the members of the task force and the stakeholders. It is also somewhat regrettable that some of the unsubstantiated assumptions of some of the task force have fed in to the report. A rather casual engagement has taken place with the real interests of stakeholders, for example, the workers.
I will be specific now, which is necessary in a ten minute speech. In response to this interim report, one could arrive at one general conclusion, that is, the importance of the retention and creation of employment and the provision of opportunities for those who have been made unemployed involuntarily. This is surely a central matter and I find it very difficult to understand why innovative strategies have not been taken. I refer to the particular example of when Digital closed in Galway. I was a member of Cabinet at the time and Dr. Mike Cooley carried out a skills audit on the workforce of Digital. This led to the successful establishment of several new companies by people who had worked in that computer sector and who brought new businesses into existence, such as one involving the weighing of cattle and other such developments. These were small clusters of new opportunities.
It is very important to realise the impact of Mike Cooley's work. It included the grouping of worker skills and new skills, and the creation of new enterprises was invaluable. It would have been useful if he had been brought in to examine what was possible for the Dell employees. People may say something like this has been attempted already. So be it. I am acquainted with Dr. Cooley, who is from Tuam. He has spent a good deal of his lifetime as an expert in such areas as the development of special equipment necessary for disabled people, and this is his current interest. This is the type of positive suggestion I wish to offer. I believe his contribution could be a good deal more practical than some of the people who I have identified in the task force from the public statements as those who beat a very old, battered drum.
It is nonsense to suggest that if one reduces the spending power of people in the region generally, one will somehow have made a contribution to overall economic recovery or development. This obsession is unfortunate and is something of a latter day fall-out from an old version of economic thinking. The suggestion is that if one interfered with the minimum wage and those on low income, one would automatically have done something of benefit. It would be far better to consider the number of graduates emerging from the higher level colleges in the region. They are available for a series of internships and short-term employments as part of the generation of new opportunities in tourism. Given its demography, the region is full of opportunities in the caring economy. Ireland, at its highest point of net income earned, was second from the bottom in Europe in terms of social protection. One could emerge with a new economy, with social protection enhanced and useful social and caring skills recognised as employment.
Others will take the opportunities that exist in respect of the green economy and other opportunities. As president of the Labour Party, I am disappointed with the response to some of our very practical proposals in the party's document entitled Jobs and Recovery. The proposal was issued prior to the budget. This is not simply a partisan view. Limerick and the entire region has many opportunities.
In analysing the interim report and the Government's response, I failed to see an acceptance of the importance of connectivity between various agencies. We should all draw breath and consider what we are trying to create by way of a new start towards genuine regional thinking. This should be something entirely new. If there is simply a rehearsal of what everyone has done descriptively within the various agencies, it does not constitute a platform for a new departure. Recently, I visited Limerick and spoke at the university and I noted that regeneration is a crucial part of the recovery and that there must be a new approach towards skills.
People live in a particular space and that space is not disconnected from the overall quality of life in the region. Let us consider the European model. No city recovers without a new connection to its hinterland. I recall working in the first factories created in the Shannon development area and I travelled in from Newmarket-on-Fergus. I took part in a debate with Pat McNabb. He had a choice to make on whether Shannon town should be redeveloped as a new town or whether all the villages in the hinterland should be developed. There is some connectivity but I do not see it between the authorities, which carry the burden of a fairly authoritarian managerial system.
I acknowledge what is in the interim report in respect of governance. However, one wonders whether the capacity for a new start exists. I refer to what is possible with Limerick. I took the decision to move the chamber orchestra to Limerick and I am aware of what is possible in the university there. A connection between the University of Limerick and its hinterland and NUI Galway and its hinterland is immensely rich in opportunities in the creative industries, whether in film, music or the various visual arts. There is enormous advantage to having airport access and being easily able to relate to the international community. I wish that could happen.
In regard to what I heard in the announcements, what is in the interim report and what to do if one wants to drive this on, I have two quick points to make. There is immense benefit in seeking to purchase patents, technologies and forms of research and development and putting them into a common pool to which people would have access to develop new kinds of jobs.
Something pathetic, which this House must stop, is underfunded VECs. Vocational education committees all over the country wish to provide courses for people who want to go back to education. They are, however, not able to do so because of the staffing cap. We should take a decision today that where people want to get back to education at several different levels, the cap on recruitment of teachers, which would make that possible, must be eliminated. That is relevant not only to Limerick and that region but to every other region in the country.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I have raised this matter on a number of occasions by way of Adjournment debate and parliamentary questions and I welcome the fact the Government has provided time to debate it.
Strong regions are a basis for a strong country. It is in the interest of every citizen in this country that the mid west is allowed to realise its undoubted potential. Balanced regional development must be much more than a catchphrase. We need proper, sustained investment in the mid-west region.
The mid-west task force was established February 2009 by the Tánaiste to consider and make recommendations to address the serious economic downturn experienced in Counties Clare and Limerick and in north Tipperary. Last Friday I attended a meeting called by the chairman of the task force, Mr. Denis Brosnan. He chose to go public with his frustration at the lack of response to the report shown by Government to date. The 20 recommendations contained in the report are clear, concise and unambiguous. The key conclusions, along with the thought process, as presented in his interim report, reflect the difference between one of our most successful businessmen and the manner in which the Government works. The interim report has been sitting on the desk of the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment since last July with no work done on it.
We have reached a critical stage in our region - a stage when the Government's attitude needs to change. That is the stated position of Denis Brosnan, the chairman of the task force. He said that at the meeting and publicly afterwards. The interim report could not be more simple in the manner in which it is presented. It consists of an executive summary with 20 recommendations, which require implementation. This report and the recommendations were put together to be implemented. They cannot be ignored. The report also contains eight key issues to be addressed in the final report along with eight chapters explaining how the task force came to its conclusions.
The report points to a litany of systematic neglect of the region by Government. The facts speak for themselves. Net employment in enterprise supported by State agencies dropped by 17% in the mid-west region in 2009 as opposed to 11% in other regions. There has been a 12% year on year decline in passenger numbers through Shannon Airport in 2008 and 2009 with the same expected in 2010, although it probably will be much worse. Unemployment in the mid west, from a percentage point of view, is higher than in other regions. Unemployment is more than 1% higher in the mid west as compared to the national figure.
The report also highlighted an acute problem developing in regard to unemployment among the under 25s. More than 7,000 people under the age of 25 are unemployed in the mid-west region. Tourism, which is a major industry in the mid-west region, is in rapid decline, as was pointed out in the report. This is just a flavour of the downward spiral of the economy of the mid-west region.
In his presentation last Friday, Denis Brosnan was direct in his conclusions. He informed the Oireachtas Members that if no action was taken on implementing his report, we would have a generation of unemployed people who should be encouraged to emigrate because we will not be able to cater for them. That is a damning indictment of Government.
This Government is propped up by a considerable number of Deputies who put their political party first instead of their region. One of the more high profile members of Cabinet, the Minister for Defence, Deputy Willie O'Dea, represents the region, supposedly backed up by a cohort of junior Ministers. It is time backbenchers and junior and senior Ministers stood up and said the mid-west region counts, deserves investment and that they will not stand for this report being left on a shelf ad infinitum with none of the recommendations implemented.
A man of the calibre of Denis Brosnan said he is being blatantly ignored by Government. That is not acceptable. It is up to political leaders in this country to step up to the plate and ensure the recommendations are implemented. I would say to Government party members that if the recommendations are not implemented in a timely fashion to withdraw their support for the Government, which depends on their support at every vote. They are only propping up the Government if they do not insist on that.
In regard to the key recommendations put forward, it is essential that the €5 million to €7 million required to establish the Lynx cargo facility at Shannon Airport is provided immediately. This investment would bring about a project that has potential to bring back life to Shannon Airport and the region. A state of the art international cargo facility at Shannon Airport would provide substantial employment during the construction phase in the short term and would be a major asset and employer in the long term. Such a facility, as the report outlines, would be a catalyst for new manufacturing and logistics investment in the region which would be further enhanced if the customs and border facility at Shannon Airport was extended to cargo. The realisation of this project is a must for Shannon Airport and the mid-west region. This project has endless potential and requires a mere investment of €5 million to €7 million. The Government must get on with the job and make that investment of €5 million to €7 million. It must do that in order to get the facility up and running. That could be done this evening.
Priority needs to be given to job creation. Few new industrial jobs have been created in the region in the past three years by the various State agencies. I agree with the recommendation put forward that a high-powered mid-west response unit should be established to address the region's alarming unemployment problem. A temporary derogation to permit Objective One status should be sought to encourage and to stimulate foreign direct investment in the region.
One of the statements made by Denis Brosnan was that doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing has been the modus operandi of this Government but that is no longer an option. Let today's debate be a kick-start for the recovery of the mid-west region. Let today mark the start of a determined effort by Government to stop the haemorrhage of jobs. Let it also be the day Government commits to implementing the recommendations of this report as a means of helping the mid west to realise its full potential.
I too welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. With my colleagues, I attended the meeting on 22 January with Denis Brosnan and some of his team. I agree with everybody who attended the meeting that he was very dejected. He was almost depressed by the lack of action because his group had put in a lot of work. I have seen members of the task force, who are eminent people. Bringing them together and deciding who should be on the task force was a very positive beginning to the regeneration and improvement of the mid-west.
Mr. Brosnan spoke at length regarding job losses in the region and referred to net employment and enterprise supported by State agencies such as IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development. Jobs supported by those organisations dropped by 17% in 2009 and fewer than 1,000 new jobs were created in the region by the IDA from 2006 to 2008. People have spoken of the impact Dell had on the region. While many people think of it as a city employer, it employed an enormous number of people from County Limerick, which was severely hit by the closure. In referring to the State agencies, I am trying to think when they last created a job in Limerick or west Limerick. I cannot remember when they did; we know they supported industries which have folded over the past ten years.
I accept the Rahine Industrial Estate is of help and provides employment to the people of Limerick, but we also need employment creation in places like Newcastle West, Kilmallock and Foynes. There is a marvellous opportunity to create marine industry and employment in Foynes. This is not a new idea; ten years ago we discussed creating marine employment and industry in Foynes because it has the potential to develop a port and other types of employment.
Many referred to Shannon Airport. The task force saw this as one of the keys to the future of the region. Mr. Brosnan pointed out there was a 12% decline in passenger numbers in 2008 and the 2009 decline was of the same magnitude. Further decline is anticipated in 2010. It is necessary to reverse that. One of the keys to reverse it is to support the Link project to provide funding for the necessary infrastructure to enable it to proceed. Mr. Brosnon pointed out that this could be the key to the future development not just of Shannon Airport but the whole mid-west region.
There is concern that from April only one Ryanair plane will be based in Shannon. The plans for Aer Lingus are unclear and there is a lot of concern about its continued support for Shannon. It was pointed out to us that other US carriers are also pulling out. People were quite concerned that the Dublin Airport Authority, which was in competition with Shannon during the development of the aviation industry, did not support the development of Shannon. The Minister of State might examine the issue. I do not know what the solution is, but the point was made that the DAA is a hindrance to the development of Shannon Airport and to stopping its decline. I cannot give the Minister of State the solution but he might examine the relationships between the DAA and Shannon Airport.
The cargo hub link is vital. If the Minister of State announced it today, it would be supported. It costs €7 million. He should think of what he had to pay out for the flooding and the big freeze, which was not enough. A sum of €7 million is small compared to those immediate actions, which were unexpected. This is planned and the benefit is obvious.
On tourism, it was pointed out there was a 3% decrease in visitor numbers in 2009, which will increase to 15%. If the services in Shannon are being reduced, it will have an impact on our tourism business. I will mix infrastructure and tourism, but I want to raise the issue of Adare, which has a very good tourism product, but could be improved immensely if a bypass was built. If one stands at the Dunraven Arms most days and looks down towards the road, all one will see are trucks and cars. I went to take a photograph there a number of years ago at 11 a.m. and I had to go away. One could not take a photograph of the village as all the cars and heavy traffic destroyed it - I took it at 7 o'clock one morning as there was less traffic. It would be of enormous benefit to the region. It is 25 years since the first line was drawn for the bypass of Adare and four have been drawn since then. I often felt like researching the cost in terms of drawing four different lines for the route for the Adare bypass.
The tourism and economic development plan funding which the task force sought was €53 million, of which €6 million has been provided to date. The Minister of State might address that in his closing remarks. A major spend was requested in the Irish market for holidays in the mid-west campaign, which should be completed by Shannon Development and Fáilte Ireland. It is urgently required due to the expected difficulties as a result of the reduction in passenger numbers in Shannon.
The mid-west has the potential to create much more employment in tourism. It was pointed out to us that the cost structure for the tourism product must be examined to ensure it is competitive. We must make sure we are very strong in ensuring the cost base, especially energy, for the tourist product in the mid west is addressed.
It was pointed out that funding for enterprises, in particular small enterprises, was restricted which caused job losses and resulted in new ones not being created. It was suggested that a regional venture capital fund be established to provide seed capital to entrepreneurs to create jobs in indigenous start-ups.
My final point concerns the western rail corridor. It must not move down the list of priorities in terms of any reduction in capital funding made in our infrastructure policy because it would have enormous benefits for the mid-west and Limerick. It would also aid the construction of the Adare bypass. I look forward to the Minister of State's contribution.
I have very limited time available to me because I am sharing time with the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Kelleher.
I apologise to the House for missing part of the debate. I understand my absence was referred to by Deputies O'Donnell and Jan O'Sullivan. From 10.30 a.m. until approximately 12.10 p.m., I was in committee on defence business with Deputy O'Donnell's colleague, Deputy Deenihan. I also had to deal with a number of other matters. I hope Deputies accept my apology.
I listened with interest to Deputies Michael D. Higgins and Dan Neville. Both Deputies made constructive contributions, most of which I agree with. Contrary to the impression given, however, a great deal has been done since the interim report was produced and considerable work continues to be done behind the scenes. For example, one of the recommendations in the interim report was that action be taken to address the boundaries of Limerick. The Government has made a commitment to establish an independent commission to determine whether the current local authority structure for Limerick city, Limerick county and County Clare is adequate and suitable for purpose. The commission will be established shortly and will be given a limited timescale within which to report. I cannot anticipate what it will recommend. While some of its recommendations may not suit Deputies Joe Carey, Dan Neville or me, the commission will be independent and will have a specific mandate to identify what is best for the region.
On the proposal regarding cargo, a great deal of work is being done behind the scenes in this matter and an announcement is imminent.
It will not be made today but it is due shortly. Significant work is also being done behind the scenes on the industrial park.
The globalisation fund was negotiated with the European Commission by the Government, not by Alan Kelly, MEP, or any other MEP. The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Calleary, will visit Limerick on Monday to explain how the process will work in practice. Everyone in the mid west is welcome to attend the meeting, which I also hope to attend.
The Government also put in place the regeneration process and has spent a substantial amount on regeneration. While much remains to be achieved, progress has been made in terms of stability in the areas in question. For example, one of the primary recommendations of the regeneration report was to provide an additional 100 gardaí in the areas in question. This recommendation has been implemented.
As I stated, a significant amount of money has been spent, although I am not entirely satisfied it has been spent to best effect. I am reliably informed that substantial private investment is available and investors are interested in becoming involved in the regeneration programme. We need to set a target in the near future for attracting this investment. With this objective in mind, I have called a meeting with all the principal parties for next Tuesday. I await the outcome of the meeting with interest because there is significant potential for employment creation if the regeneration proceeds with an infusion of private capital.
A great deal of money has been spent to develop communities. We have allocated 100 additional gardaí which means the number of gardaí in the areas in question is about twice that when the Fine Gael-led Government left office. That was at the origin of many of the areas' problems.
Contrary to the impression being created, a great deal of work continues to be done. I have every confidence in the ability of the Government and Tánaiste to deliver on the recommendations in the interim report. I was somewhat disappointed that the Government was not consulted by Mr. Brosnan before he met the joint committee. Much work has been done and remains to be done but it will be done by this Government.
Billy Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I remind Deputies opposite that we have experience of regeneration in Cork. It is more appropriate to rehouse people before one demolishes their houses. That is the first step in the regeneration process. Housing people, demolition and rebuilding are part and parcel of the regeneration process.
Billy Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Tánaiste outlined the responses made by the Government and her Department to the task force recommendations. No Member has a patent or copyright on understanding the difficulties unemployment causes to families and communities. Every Deputy is fully aware of these difficulties and none of us needs a lecture at this difficult time for those who are being made redundant. The problem affects everybody, including the sister of a person working in my office who will be let go from Dell tomorrow. We are all keenly aware of the problem.
What we must try to do is deal with the recommendations in the report. The Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, outlined some of the responses to the recommendations, noting that action is being taken in Limerick. We must also consider this issue against the backdrop of international developments, rising unemployment and difficulties in securing foreign direct investment. The IDA is proactively chasing foreign direct investment. We must first secure investment and then ensure regional balance by directing such investment to areas where deficiencies exist. I repudiate the criticism levelled at the IDA. As anyone who examines what the agency is trying to achieve will understand, it is working in a very difficult international environment.
Reference was made to the globalisation fund. Many of those who described the fund, when it was first announced, as a publicity stunt and gimmick are now tripping over each other to spend the money.
Billy Kelleher (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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While I do not seek to take personal credit, I met Commissioner Spidla more than a year ago to discuss the globalisation fund. The fund is a positive step and an acknowledgement by the European Union of the difficulties created by globalisation, its impact on employment and the problems that flow from it. It should be noted that moneys from the fund are not paid directly to individuals but used to provide training programmes. I am reliably informed that every person affected will be interviewed to identify his or her needs in terms of training programmes, skill sets and so forth.
While I would have liked to discuss all the points raised by Deputies, time does not permit me to do so. We will take on board the issues raised. We are all critically aware of the importance of ensuring people do not drift into long-term employment, as occurred in the 1980s when people became removed from the education process, upskilling and retraining. We must avoid long-term unemployment at all costs.
Deputies should not downplay the importance of the mid-west and the significant advantages it enjoys.
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The party wants to cut public sector pay, public service numbers and public programmes, reduce the number of quangos and abolish the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. We must have some coherent policies and I am trying to be helpful. It is important that the Deputies on the opposite benches do not downplay the opportunities and advantages-----
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There are great advances in infrastructural development and there is accessibility. Those are key components in attracting inward investment.
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The confusion and noise made by the Deputies will not help me when I am abroad trying to promote Ireland and the mid-west as an area for locational investment.
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We must work together to ensure a future for the mid-west and the people we are talking about, those who have lost their jobs in Dell and the ancillary or embryonic spin-offs from Dell. The globalisation fund will be a key component in that.
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The Deputies should look at the Tánaiste's speech and acknowledge that there is movement on some of the recommendations of the task force.