Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Enterprise Support Schemes
50. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the regional enterprise plans; her views on the way in which these will benefit County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20593/19]
What is the status of the regional enterprise plans and how will my county of Carlow be affected? Carlow suffered quite a bit in recent years from unemployment as we lost the sugar industry and the Braun plant, which was a major employer in the area. We have been playing catch-up to a large extent in recent years. Will the Minister give an update on the regional enterprise plans?
I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.
During February and March of this year, I launched nine new regional enterprise plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am pleased to say that implementation has commenced in all regions. Shaped from the bottom up by regional stakeholders and overseen by my Department, the new regional enterprise plans complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the top down, and there is strong alignment with Ireland's national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and Future Jobs Ireland 2019.
The principle behind the regional enterprise plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region's enterprise development potential and add value to the core work of the enterprise agencies. These stakeholders include local authorities, the local enterprise offices, the enterprise agencies, the regional skills forum, tourism boards, private sector enterprise champions, higher and further education institutions, business representative bodies and others. County Carlow is part of the new regional enterprise plan for the south-east region, which also includes counties Kilkenny, Wexford, Tipperary and Waterford. The regional steering committee for the plan, chaired by Frank O'Regan, formerly of Bausch & Lomb, Waterford, has already met to commence the plan's implementation.
There are five strategic objectives in the south-east plan, with a focus on County Carlow as part of the south-east region. These include building enterprise resilience; marketing the region; a regional engagement strategy on key infrastructure priorities; ensuring the south east is a learning region; and tourism growth. Actions in the plan that are of significance to Carlow in particular include industry led enterprise clustering; building on collaboration between industry, higher education institutes, including IT Carlow, and others to solve enterprise challenges; and supporting skills development and greater adoption of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, STEAM, subjects, through making the south east a learning region.
The unemployment rate in the south-east region has decreased from 11.7% in quarter 1 of 2015 to 7.7% in quarter 4 of 2018. Despite this very significant progress, more needs to be done through the regional enterprise plan to reduce the unemployment rate to within 1% of the national average. The collaborative actions in this plan, along with the ongoing core activities of the enterprise agencies and local enterprise offices, LEOs, and the new initiatives in Future Jobs Ireland, will support this.
I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I think she acknowledges that the south east and Carlow have suffered quite a bit and have been playing catch-up compared with other areas in the country. I also acknowledge and agree with her point that education is a key driver in the region. It is disappointing that the technological university for the south east project has slowed down, if I may put it that way. I am hopeful that progress will be made in the area very shortly. It is essential that the project moves on at pace in the coming period. It is not for want of political pressure that it has slowed down but it needs to move on now. I encourage those who are involved in the project to move it on in order that we may have the process in place by the academic year beginning September.
From time to time, people in Carlow feel, because of the county's geographic location in the northern part of the south east, that it tends to lose out. The northern part is in no man's land to a certain extent - in limbo perhaps. Should it be considered as being in the south east, the midlands region, the wider Dublin region or somewhere else? From time to time, there is a feeling in Carlow that it is not getting its fair crack of the whip in this regard. We have also seen the slow progress being made on the IDA Ireland advanced facility in recent times. It was supposed to be developed in 2019, which is not looking likely at this stage. Perhaps the Minister could give us an update on that as well. Its development would be a key indicator of progress going forward.
The Deputy has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions. As part of its €150 million regional property programme, IDA Ireland is directly investing in a building programme to help ensure that property solutions are in place for overseas companies. I understand that IDA Ireland has now completed the acquisition of a suitable site for the Carlow advanced technology building, ATB, and has appointed a design team, which is working on the detailed plans for the building. Planning permission is expected to be lodged in the coming months. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2019 or early 2020, subject to planning permission being granted. I know that this issue is very important and that the Deputy has worked very hard on it. I am pleased it has been resolved with the successful acquisition of land in Carlow. The agency has assured me, subject of course to planning permission, that the facility will now proceed according to schedule. I look forward to visiting the building once it is complete and I have every confidence that it will be a significant asset to Carlow in attracting further multinational investment into the town and the wider region.
I thank the Minister for her answer. I am glad to hear that the acquisition has been completed. I was concerned this would not happen for a long time as the dates were being pushed out further and further. This will be a key driver and major confidence boost for the local economy. In the past, we have seen the development of similar advanced technology buildings and we ended up with the building in Carlow town of a top-class Merck Sharp & Dohme facility, which is now extending into a second building. When complete, it will employ more than 800 people directly and another 300 or 400 indirectly in the next two years. We need something similar to be developed once this facility is built. Obviously, planning permission is required first but I encourage the Minister to apply pressure to make sure this does not drag on any longer. She indicated deadlines and dates in her response. These must be very firm. We have seen them drag on through no fault of the Minister. At this stage, this is a kind of pet project. Every other Question Time I put this question on the Minister's agenda, as she knows. It is very important to the local area and I encourage her to ensure that it does not drag on any further and that the deadlines she has indicated will be those that will actually deliver the project on time. I look forward to welcoming the Minister-----
As the Deputy knows, the agency did not own the land in Carlow and had to acquire a site through the open market. This was a lengthy and complicated process that resulted in the overall completion objective for the facility being delayed. I will certainly keep a close eye on the timelines I have given the Deputy and I have no doubt he will keep an even closer eye on them. I look forward to the completion of the facility. The Deputy has been raising this matter with me since I became Minister about a year and a half ago.