Wednesday, 8 June 2011
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the matter of the global pharmaceutical centre of excellence in Tralee. This is an issue of the utmost importance for the people of Tralee, the people of County Kerry and for the entire south-west region. When the centre of excellence was first announced it represented an unprecedented ray of hope for Tralee.
I remind Members that even at the height of the so-called boom, at one point the town of Tralee had a live register figure that was higher than that for the entirety of County Meath. Tralee has been an industrial wasteland for almost two decades and this project offered huge hope and optimism for the future. However, in recent days it has emerged that the project, which has the potential to create up to 5,000 jobs, may be in danger of being relocated to Derry in Northern Ireland. Since the onset of the recession, the unemployment problem in Tralee and in County Kerry in general has worsened considerably and it now appears as though this project, which was dangled in front of them and looked so positive, will be lost to the people of County Kerry and the south west.
The project backers have cited huge differences in attitude between State agencies south of the Border and their equivalents, such as Invest Northern Ireland, north of the Border. In particular, the IDA has come in for enormous criticism from the backers of the global pharmaceutical centre of excellence. I call on the Minister of State to assure me, as well as the people of Tralee and County Kerry, that everything that possibly can be done will be done to ensure this vital project stays in County Kerry and does not go north of the Border. Second, will representatives of the IDA be asked to explain its record on this project and the reason those who back this project have felt obliged to take to the airwaves in County Kerry and to approach the media to complain about that agency? This must be done if jobs are to be successfully created and if the economy is to grow in the future. It is not good enough that a State agency should be cited as being so weak, poor and unresponsive when a huge project such as this is offered as an opportunity.
The project backers also mentioned they have been highly impressed and are satisfied with the support they have received from Shannon Development and from the Minister, Deputy Deenihan. In addition, Kerry County Council and the other local authorities in Kerry have worked hard to try to bring this project to fruition. However, the IDA is an agency that appears to have allowed this project to slip through its fingers. Anyone who examines the IDA's delivery figures for County Kerry over the past 15 years will discern the agency already has a disastrous record in the county. I seek action in this regard as it is not too late. While this project has not yet departed, it will go unless something is done. I seek a guarantee this evening that the Government will stand up for the people of County Kerry and the south west and will help to deliver this project. It is not good enough that there is a possibility that it will be lost. Too many people from County Kerry have been forced to emigrate or are out of work. Too many graduates of the Institute of Technology Tralee have no hope because they see no jobs in the county. Similarly, too many of the leaving certificate students who are sitting their examinations at present wonder why they should even bother going to college because no opportunities will await them on graduation. This project could be the catalyst that County Kerry badly needs to get its economy moving again and to be a model for the rest of Ireland. I wish to ensure this project is not lost to the people of the county and I call on the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, and on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to intervene. They should do what is right by the people of County Kerry and should ensure that the global pharmaceutical centre of excellence will remain in Tralee and will lift the county and the south-western region as a whole out of recession.
I thank Deputy Griffin for raising this matter, which refers to efforts to develop a global pharmaceutical centre of excellence to be located in Tralee. The concept involved is to develop and build a multidisciplinary life sciences and pharmaceutical contract research centre in Ireland. The original concept as outlined my predecessors, to my Department and to the State agencies, was estimated to cost €4.7 billion and envisaged jobs for 116 leading academic professionals, 321 corporate management executives and 4, 380 graduates. The project was to operate on a commercial market basis, carrying out paid research for clients such as international pharmaceutical companies.
Since the project was originally mooted, I understand there has been much local and national political involvement. The support of the industrial development agencies and of my Department has been available to the proposers to discuss and develop proposals. In late 2010, the promoters met the former Taoiseach and the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. However, the proposers have not thus far succeeded in developing the concept to a point where a firm business plan has been proposed. Being in business, it is important for me to make the point to Deputy Griffin about the necessity of getting the business potential of such a project onto a plan. Such a plan always is necessary in order that the relevant State agency board, which under legislation is tasked with deciding on how much State monetary aid might be paid to any industrial project, can assess the proposal and reach a decision.
In late 2010, an enterprise agencies team, led by the IDA and involving representatives of Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and Shannon Development was set up to examine a plan submitted by the promoters, which related to the original full proposal. Incidentally, on the issue of Enterprise Ireland, I believe we are well served in this regard. Moreover, since my appointment as Minister of State, the amount of foreign direct investment into Ireland has been extraordinary. Consequently, I would be disappointed to hear this is not the case in County Kerry. The aforementioned group was tasked to furnish its analysis to the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation by the end of the first quarter of 2011. However, in early February, the then Minister was informed that the backers of the global pharmaceutical centre of excellence had, for the time being at least, withdrawn from the engagement. An examination of the plan was therefore in abeyance until such time as the promoters of the global pharmaceutical centre of excellence were in a position to re-engage with the agency group.
More recently, proposals for a first phase of the project have been in discussion. It has been indicated that this might involve a number of international research operators and international funding and might have the potential to create approximately 280 jobs. Again, however, neither a business plan nor an application for State support has yet been submitted. A lengthy meeting took place last Friday in which Enterprise Ireland and Shannon Development advised the promoters on drawing up a business plan and on submitting an application for State financial support. If the Deputy has contacts with the promoters, I appeal to him to emphasise to them that the business plan is the absolute starting point. The proposers were given an application form that can be used in a global pharmaceutical centre of excellence application to Enterprise Ireland for financial support. I hope this can lead to an early application for State support. In the meantime, I emphasise to Deputy Griffin, who raised this important issue of huge potential to the region, that he may be assured the support and advice of all relevant State agencies and Departments are available to the promoters.
The Adjournment motion this evening refers to a potential loss of jobs to Northern Ireland. In all negotiations on the location of and State support for mobile industrial projects, it is not unusual for promoters to talk to a number of different countries and State authorities. In this case however, where it is not yet clear whether a firm proposal will emerge or how many jobs might be involved, it is premature to talk of jobs being lost to any alternative location. Finally, from a business perspective, this is about the promoters engaging with the State agencies such as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and so on. The IDA has been highly successful in terms of both job retention and job creation and I am certain that were an application to be put on its desk, it certainly would get all possible State support to ensure this potential enterprise was located in the region to which the Deputy refers.