Tuesday, 9 May 2017
Topical Issue Debate
As long we are getting the coverage, I will be happy. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing us to raise this matter. I will be sharing two minutes with Deputy Calleary and giving a minute of my time to the Minister. I mean I will be sharing a minute with Deputy Fitzmaurice. I thought he went into Government last February. My apologies.
The recent announcement of the closure of the Exclusive Cigar Manufacturers Ireland, ECMI, plant in Ballaghaderreen really did not come as a surprise to many people. A number of the staff have been saying that the writing has been on the wall for some time. I feel that, because it was known for some months that there could be difficulties, the Government should have been on the ball and monitoring this situation. If it was not able to save those jobs, perhaps it could have had something in place in order to ensure that employment would have been brought into Ballaghaderreen to replace those jobs that are being lost.
ECMI was established in Roscommon in 1978 and is one of the largest private employers in west Roscommon. That might surprise some people, but it is the case. The jobs involve a specific skill set and many who are being made redundant will likely have to leave their county to find similar work, and we all know that Dublin is busting at the seams. IDA Ireland has visited County Roscommon only once in 2017 and nearly half the year is gone. From the information I have received, its representatives also only visited once in 2016. Ballaghaderreen has been dealt several severe blows in recent years. Going back 12 or 14 years, we had the loss of the United Meat Packers, UMP, meat plant, but we have also lost a hotel and several businesses. The reality is that community in Ballaghaderreen reacted. It built many units which are there for jobs to go into, but the Government has not delivered. There is a huge amount of talk about balanced regional development in the programme for Government but it is not happening. I know I will have an opportunity to come back. I will hand over to Deputy Fitzmaurice for tamall beag.
Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Comhairle. I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for sharing time. I echo his words with regard to Ballaghaderreen having suffered a devastating blow. My understanding is that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has said that the likes of Enterprise Ireland or IDA Ireland do not get involved with tobacco-related products. That was said to me in recent few weeks. Regardless of what they do or do not get involved in, the west of Ireland needs a balance of development. It is not getting it. Ballaghaderreen was once noted as a sort of gateway town, especially with Knock Airport located nearby. We need a focus on Ballaghaderreen as well as other towns in County Roscommon and, indeed, the west of Ireland because, sadly and as was noted earlier, these people will have to drive 90 or 100 miles to Dublin, which is not able to cater for those that are there already.
If one looks at all the plans, one will see that there is a focus on building railways out to the likes of the airport and such projects. There should be a focus on putting good infrastructure in place and on ensuring that it is attractive, especially for business people, to move to towns like Ballaghaderreen. I am not saying that people can be picked up by the neck and told to set up business there. The town lost the meat factory and it has lost other businesses. There is scope there. There are people in the area. That is one thing there is. The raw materials are there in respect of employment because of the number of people in the area. If we can get jobs in, it will be good for the west of Ireland and it will be good for Ballaghaderreen. It will also be good for the economy. I ask the Government to start focusing on this and making sure that the west of Ireland gets its fair share.
I thank Deputies Eugene Murphy, Fitzmaurice and Calleary for raising this issue.
It is an important issue that I have been following this issue closely since I was first informed about the announcement. First, as a rural Deputy, I recognise the impact that job losses can have on a town such as Ballaghaderreen and my thoughts are with the workers and the wider community affected by this announcement. Thankfully, there have not been too many announcements like this in recent times. In fact, the trend is going in the other direction. When it does happen, it is dramatic for a town. I must highlight that Workplace Relations Commission customer services staff are available to meet the employees concerned to provide information and answer any questions they may have with regard to their current situation and statutory employment rights entitlements. In addition to this, the State provides industrial relations mechanisms to assist parties in their efforts to resolve any differences they may have.
ECMI received a number of supports under various schemes from my Department through Enterprise Ireland between 2006 and 2011. In January 2013, the Department of Health communicated to all Departments and their agencies the guidelines for the implementation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Specifically principle 4 of the guidelines states that "because their products are lethal, the tobacco industry should not be granted incentives to establish or run their businesses". As such, my Department and its agencies are no longer in a position to support companies in this sector. Let us be clear that this only applies to this sector.
That said, my Department will continue to concentrate on creating sustainable employment in all regions of Ireland through the regional action plans for jobs. The action plan for jobs for the west covers counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. It is designed to promote the region as a whole for economic development, which will in turn benefit all three counties. In 2016, the west was the second fastest growing region in terms of employment, with numbers employed increasing by 5.5% over the year. We are definitely moving in the right direction, so I am committed to working with the various agencies and stakeholders in the west to ensure positive trends continue and sustainable jobs are ultimately created.
I might point out to the Deputies the importance of indigenous industry in the area. The local enterprise offices, LEOs, in Roscommon created 121 jobs in 2016. Enterprise Ireland created 133 jobs while IDA Ireland created 34 jobs. From IDA Ireland's point of view, it is difficult because it tries really hard. One must understand that many of the new jobs announced by IDA Ireland are in existing IDA companies, so it is not a case of new companies coming in all the time. I am very encouraged by the LEO figure. I think the LEOs have a very important role to play in job creation, particularly in the counties concerned. There are 31 of them in the region. I am convinced that they along with Enterprise Ireland will play an active role in securing indigenous jobs in the region. If the Deputies are anxious for me to visit the LEO offices to see any plans for the future they have, I will be delighted to visit the LEO offices in County Roscommon and bring Enterprise Ireland personnel with me to see what we can do to improve the job situation in Roscommon. However, I am confident that with the regional and overall action plans for jobs, we will be able to grow in the regions, especially in Roscommon. I will elaborate on that in my further reply.
I thank Deputy Eugene Murphy for allowing Deputy Fitzmaurice and me to share his time. I bear the Minister of State no personal grudge but that response was completely inadequate. There is nothing specific in that response that relates to west Roscommon or east Mayo, the areas that are directly affected by the loss of these jobs. Knock Airport in east Mayo, which catered for 750,000 passengers last year, is completely underutilised as a base and asset for economic development. A very innovative food ingredient plant run by Aurivo in Ballaghaderreen has the potential to spawn more industry if focus is put on food and creating food jobs within Ballaghaderreen. We cannot keep ignoring the collapse in small towns. The ultimate irony is that Ballaghaderreen is the headquarters of the Western Development Commission whose outgoing chairman, former Fine Gael councillor Paddy McGuinness, declined to be reappointed because he called the Minister of State out, called the Government out and, more importantly, called permanent Government out for their complete lack of interest in and lip service to the challenges facing regional Ireland. We want the Minister of State to come to west Roscommon and east Mayo and, in terms of Roscommon, focus on west Roscommon. The growth he speaks about is going into the area around Monksland. It needs to be spread across the county. Similarly, the action plan for jobs in the west is a plan for Galway city and the rest of us are being left behind.
I thank Deputy Calleary for highlighting this issue. Ballaghaderreen has a population of 3,000 people. A loss of 38 jobs is significant in such a region. They are all local people as well. However, I must put on record the work that has been done through the Action Plan for Jobs. The first progress report was completed in December. The statistics are there to prove that the number of people on the live register in Roscommon fell by 1,300 over the past four years, which is a decline of 30%, so it is not all doom and gloom in respect of job creation. My Department and I are very focused on the regions. The new Action Plan for Jobs, which we launched last February, has said that 200,000 jobs will be created by 2020, of which 135,000 will be in the regions. We have exceeded our expectations. In the first Action Plan for Jobs, we said we would create 100,000 jobs. We created 190,000 jobs. I assure the Deputy that the agencies under the aegis my Department and the Government are committed to Roscommon.
We had an initial allocation of €5 million in competitive funds for 48 local and regional initiatives. We had two calls under the competitive fund and the community enterprise initiative. Eleven projects in the west were successful in securing funding. Five of those involve partnerships with organisations in Roscommon and aim to benefit and support local business and entrepreneurs. The unemployment rate in the west is 7.9%, which is a bit above the rest of the country, but efforts are being made by agencies.
I must again point out the work being done by the LEOs. Foreign direct investment, FDI, will not go into every area. It tends to go into clusters. It is important to encourage entrepreneurship and we are doing this. Despite the challenges, the LEOs succeeded in creating more than 3,500 jobs last year. When we look at the LEO figures in Roscommon, we can see the figure in 2015 was 145, which was double the 2014 figure. The figure fell back slightly in 2016 but I am anxious that we continue to ensure Roscommon is well served. Enterprise Ireland is doing that and is working in collaboration with the LEOs as well. A total of 133 jobs were created in Roscommon last year, while in 2014, 311 jobs were created.
With the agencies and the support of the Government, I am confident we will secure alternative employment for Ballaghaderreen. There are 3,000 people living in Ballaghaderreen, so losing 38 jobs means a lot, particularly for young families that may have mortgages, etc. We are very conscious of that. Last year, we made €150 million available to IDA Ireland to support a regional property programme to drive jobs in the multinational sector in rural areas. The resources are there. We got resources in last year's budget. Rural Ireland is very important to us and will continue to be important to my Department. I am very conscious of the concern raised by all three Deputies and will visit Roscommon in the near future to see at first hand what is happening with the agencies there.