Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

IDA Ireland Portfolio

3:45 pm

Photo of Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for selecting this important issue. I have highlighted this issue in the House in recent years, whether through a Topical Issue matter or written or oral questions. The timelines have dragged on considerably in recent times.

I want to hear from the Minister of State today on where exactly things are at the moment. This is a highly important potential development for Carlow town. It is an advance facility. Carlow town was one of the nine towns selected in 2015 as part of the €150 million project at the time for an advance facility. Towns were picked or selected on the basis that they suffered job losses in the previous period. Like many other towns in the country, Carlow suffered many job losses, including at the sugar factory. The sugar industry was wound down approximately ten years ago. Another large factory in Carlow town at the time was the Braun facility, which at its peak employed 1,400 people. Again, that came to a conclusion approximately ten years ago. As a result, it was decided that an advance facility would be helpful to try to reinvigorate Carlow town.

It must be acknowledged at the same time that several extra facilities have come on board in Carlow town and have been developed, including the MSD facility, which has gone from strength to strength in the past ten years. That was done on the basis of an advance site being purchased approximately ten years ago in conjunction with Carlow County Council. The company could have been attracted to several different facilities, but we were fortunate in Carlow that MSD came along and purchased the whole site. The company is now expanding, and by the time of completion it will have an employment capacity of approximately 800 people. Obviously, that is important for Carlow town. What we need at the moment is the other advance facility that has been promised to give Carlow town and the surrounding areas an extra boost to push on employment prospects.

This issue has been dragging on for several years. In May this year, in answer to an oral question, the Minister informed me that the site for the facility had been purchased by IDA Ireland. It was suggested that planning permission for the advance facility would be lodged within several weeks. That was on 14 May 2019, which was five or six months ago. We are no wiser in Carlow now about when the planning application will be lodged. In answer to my oral question in May, it was suggested that, depending on planning permission, construction would commence towards the end of 2019. As of today, 16 October, no planning permission has been lodged. It is obvious that there will not be a commencement date this year, and so another year will go by. There is no sign of the planning application. The site has been built. In my estimation it will be several years before we go through the planning process, commence the stage of building so that the facility will be in Carlow.

I thank the Minister of State for his presence today. I want to know about the timescales. The purchase of the site was completed in May, as per the answer to my oral question. There is no sign of the planning application. I would like to know a definite timescale for when that application will be lodged. Presuming that the planning process will be completed in the normal time, when is it hoped that the facility will start operating? What work has been done to ensure that appropriate tenants come into this facility so that we provide appropriate employment in the general area in the coming period?

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Deering for raising this issue. In fact, Deputy Deering has been raising this issue regularly with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and me at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

I wish to emphasise that the Government is focused on doing everything possible to deliver the fairest possible spread of foreign direct investment throughout the country. Our success is evident from IDA Ireland's recent figures of 58% of foreign direct investment being outside of Dublin. Strengthening regional development is important. Carlow and the south east remain an absolute priority for my Department and IDA Ireland.

Since 2015, IDA Ireland has been working hard towards ambitious regional development targets set out in the agency strategy for the period 2015 to 2019. These include the goal of increasing investment in every region of Ireland by between 30% and 40%. IDA Ireland, to its credit, is on track to achieve that objective by the end of the year. An important instrument of IDA Ireland in its efforts to boost investment outside of the main urban areas is the regional property programme. The programme, as Deputies may be aware, is designed to ensure the ready availability of an adequate supply of marketable serviced land, office and industrial buildings in advance of demand by existing and potential client companies of the agency. Deputy Deering alluded to this as the reason MSD located in Carlow. He suggested it was because there was an advance property portfolio available for that company. The company now employs in the region of 400 to 450 people. The IDA Ireland facility in Carlow will form part of this regional property programme. It is hoped it can help to attract more investment to the county and the surrounding area.

I can inform the Dáil that the agency has acquired a 12.6 ha site at Rathnapish in Carlow town. IDA Ireland is intensively engaging with the local authority there regarding planning issues concerning access to the site. It is important to have this preliminary engagement before we put in the planning application.

My Department has been informed by the agency that a planning application is being finalised. The good news for Deputy Deering is that it is expected that the application will be submitted later on before the end of this month. It is on target for what Deputy Deering was talking about, that is to say, to have the planning in place. The normal planning process will apply, obviously, but I hope that permission would be given with all the preliminary discussions with Carlow County Council. I hope that it goes as speedily as possible.

As the Deputy will be aware from a previous briefing on the matter, IDA Ireland did not originally own land in the county for this important facility. As such, it had to acquire a site through the open market. The process associated with this purchase was lengthier than anticipated. This led to a later than planned completion date. I imagine the Deputy will understand that as well. I have every confidence that this building, once completed, will be a significant asset to Carlow in terms of attracting further multinational investment to the town and the wider region.

Photo of Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his response. He outlined the advantage of having the advance facility in any town, but especially Carlow town. In Carlow we are proud of the MSD facility coming to town. It is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The co-operation between IDA Ireland and the local authority ten years ago resulted in MSD coming to town. When the company completes its latest extension, it will employ up to 800 people, which is important.

It is important to move on. Time always moves on. More wants more, obviously, as we all know. The fact is there is an expectation now that the advance facility will be coming on board. It was promised some years ago. We have waited so long. It is important now that progress is made. I am pleased to hear that the planning application will be ready to roll at this stage.

I wish to impress on the Minister of State the importance of having the planning application lodged before the end of the month. It is essential that it would be lodged before the end of the month. Obviously, there is a planning process to go through after that, which will take several months. That will bring us into 2020, which could be an interesting year in many ways, as we all know. It will be for everyone bar yourself, a Cheann Comhairle. It is important that we would make progress in that regard.

I would also like to know from the Minister of State whether progress is being made in attracting a tenant to this facility. The site is one thing. It is 12.6 ha, which is substantial. The building then will come on board in due course. I hope by this time next year we will have the building in place or we will be a long way towards completing it. Obviously, a building is no good without a tenant, which will obviously employ people for the future. That is what the people in Carlow and surrounding areas want to know. What work is being done at this stage by IDA Ireland to attract a tenant to fill the facility? What type of facility will we have? Will it be an engineering facility? Carlow has a long track record from an engineering point of view. We had the sugar company there previously. We have the Burnside Eurocyl facility in Carlow and surrounding areas. It employs 1,000 people in three different facilities. People want to know what potential there is for employment in the general area for the future.

I am keen to hear about the timelines first of all.

I am delighted to hear that the planning application is ready to be submitted. I would also like to know what type of facility it will be and what the timeline will be for completion.

3:55 pm

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I work closely with IDA Ireland. It is one of the most professional agencies we have to attract industry into Ireland against stiff competition. It will continue to engage with its clients to identify further opportunities for new investment in Carlow and the south east. I have visited the region with the Deputy and have also visited Carlow IT, which is important for attracting industry into the region. The region is well positioned to attract further foreign direct investment and the agency is working with all its stakeholders in the region to support that goal. Carlow has experienced a year-on-year increase in foreign direct investment employment since 2011, so extra jobs are coming to Carlow each year. There has been a two-fold increase in employment by IDA Ireland client companies in that period and last year alone, the number of IDA Ireland-supported companies in the county increased by 31%, with 275 net jobs added.

Another key development in the context of foreign direct investment in Carlow was the beginning of the construction of MSD's second manufacturing facility in the county. The new production facility will create up to another 117 new jobs and the expansion reflects Carlow's appeal to overseas investors. County Carlow is making real strides when it comes to overseas investment, though we cannot rest on our laurels and we want to see more, particularly given that Brexit is coming. We have ensured IDA Ireland has the necessary resources to continue to attract investment into the country and the new IDA Ireland facility, which we hope will be constructed as soon as possible, will be a very important part of that. It will add to the other good companies in Carlow such as Autolaunch, Thermo Air Environmental, Imofa and DeLaval and we should not forget the indigenous companies, both from Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprises, which have all contributed to making sure the Carlow economy is well served and jobs are created.