Dáil debates

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2019 [Seanad]: Second Stage


9:25 am

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I welcome the opportunity to present this Bill to the House. I am grateful to the Members of Seanad Éireann for ensuring the speedy passage of the Bill in that House on 10 October last. I look forward to seeing the Bill progress through this House as quickly as possible with the kind support of Deputies. The Bill needs to be passed quickly because it is yet another flanking measure that seeks to ensure our businesses and our economy will be as resilient and as prepared as possible in the event of a disorderly or orderly Brexit.

As the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, said in the Seanad, the provisions of Part 3 of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2019, which is known as the Brexit omnibus Act, are set out again in this Bill. The substantive provisions relate to the granting of lending powers to Enterprise Ireland with regard to debt finance and the purchasing of shares etc. Other provisions in the Bill relate to support for research, development and innovation in several critical sectors. As part of the Brexit omnibus Act has not been commenced, it is prudent and proper to introduce those provisions in this stand-alone Bill now. This approach will further help the enterprise base to remain competitive on the global market through the support of Enterprise Ireland, thereby mitigating the adverse effects of Brexit, regardless of what its nature will be. Many of the provisions of this Bill, including Enterprise Ireland's proposed new lending powers and the enhanced grant-giving provisions in the area of research and development, were discussed during the passage of the Brexit omnibus Act earlier this year. Additionally, the Bill before the House proposes technical amendments to increase the aggregate limit for funding to the enterprise development agencies and to increase the aggregate limit on grants made to Microfinance Ireland.

I welcome the agreement that was reached last week between the EU and the UK on a revised withdrawal agreement and a political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK. The Taoiseach has confirmed his support for President Tusk's proposal to grant the extension sought by the UK to give the UK Parliament more time to enact the necessary legislation aimed at ratifying the withdrawal agreement. Notwithstanding the great challenges of Brexit and other international developments on the horizon, the Government is determined to plan and prepare for future growth and the jobs of tomorrow. Despite all the uncertainty, Irish companies have continued to win sales around the world. We must ensure we can sustain these success stories and sustain and increase our market share in the UK and global markets.

The provisions of this Bill must be considered in the context of Enterprise Ireland's development and diversification agenda. The Government's ambition, through Enterprise Ireland, is to increase the exports of Irish companies to the eurozone by 50% by 2020, or from €4.1 billion in 2016 to €6.5 billion next year. A great deal of work is ongoing to drive this ambition. As part of the global footprint initiative, Enterprise Ireland has announced the targeted expansion of its overseas presence in 2019. Fifteen new posts are being created across 13 countries to help more Irish companies to accelerate their market diversification efforts. This will include new offices in Germany, France, the US, Denmark, Vietnam and Australia. This year, Enterprise Ireland's schedule for international trade mission and events covers an impressive total of 207 events in Ireland and international locations, including 73 ministerial-led trade missions and events. This includes missions across the eurozone, North America, the Asia-Pacific region, the UK, the Nordic states, central Europe and Latin America.

As outlined in budget 2020, the Government is putting in place an additional contingency package of more than €1 billion for Brexit supports for the coming year. This contingency will ensure an initial provision of €110 million will be available to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and its enterprise and regulatory agencies to provide targeted supports to affected businesses in the immediate aftermath of a no-deal outcome. This contingency funding will allow additional tranches of supports to be provided to meet actual needs in critical areas as the impacts of a no-deal outcome develop. The targeted no-deal supports that have been developed by the Department will be available to companies of all sizes, including microenterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. The sectors that are most exposed include those with a focus on food, manufacturing and internationally traded services. Exporters and importers are both included in this context. As the Department plans for no-deal Brexit enterprise support schemes, its supports will be prioritised in the first instance to assist the firms that will be most affected by Brexit and have future potential. In other words, we will focus on firms that are vulnerable but viable. In the event of a disorderly Brexit, it is essential that appropriate mechanisms are in place to provide liquidity support to businesses.

This Bill proposes to amend the Microenterprise Loan Fund Act 2012 to provide a further €10 million to Microfinance Ireland, MFI. This will improve the SME and microenterprise lending market and maximise the ability of businesses to access appropriate finance at a time when liquidity will be critical. This legislative amendment will enable loans of between €25,000 and €50,000 to be made available to businesses based on the Brexit-related eligibility criteria that apply under the Brexit loan scheme. As a further enhancement, MFI will be able to support the local enterprise office, LEO, network. A combined LEO-MFI Brexit support product will offer funds of up to €100,000 to LEO clients, with MFI servicing the first €50,000 and a LEO repayable grant providing the remainder up to a maximum of €100,000.

The likely immediate consequences of a hard Brexit include currency movements, supply chain constraints, delays, duties and tariffs. This will place a strain on the working capital position of businesses in the first instance. The urgent support requirement for these sectors will be financial liquidity, which will be available through the funded supports of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, the Brexit working capital loan scheme, Microfinance Ireland and the credit guarantee scheme. This will be available to all sectors.

The key message the Minister, Deputy Humphreys and I have been constantly delivering to business is the critical importance of putting in place working capital safety nets to deal with short-term liquidity demands, including through the Brexit loan scheme.

Adopting new customs arrangements will be a key challenge for business trading with the UK. In addition to the training programmes being rolled out by the local enterprise offices, LEOs, Enterprise Ireland, EI, and by Bord Bia in early August, my Department and the Department of Education and Skills, through a joint initiative with Skillnet and EI, launched Clear Customs, a new €5 million customs recruitment and training initiative. This initiative will boost the number of specialists by more than 500 in customs agents and firms.

With regard to EI's most Brexit-exposed clients, more than 530 companies received approval for funding of €74 million in total in 2018. We need to build on these supports and to provide further latitude to our development agencies to provide a wider suite of supports and flanking measures to help mitigate the negative effects of Brexit. Through these legislative amendments to section 29 of the Industrial Development Act 1986, as proposed in section 1, we are enabling Enterprise Ireland to help position Irish businesses to be more agile and to be able to respond to global challenges, including Brexit. By enhancing their research, development and innovation capabilities and activity Irish firms will have a greater competitive advantage and will be able to maintain it by developing cutting edge products and services that are better performing, more efficiently delivered and more effective for their customers.

The amendments remove the 50% cap set in national legislation on the research and development grant rate to allow EI to fund within permissible EU state aid rules and to pre-fund research and development grants to companies of all sizes. Allowing EI the flexibility to offer enhanced research and development supports will provide for the development of new or substantially improved products, services or processes and assist businesses to grow and increase employment by remaining competitive. All research and development projects that will benefit from the introduction of these amendments but we will still have to meet value for money criteria and comply with the Enterprise Ireland conditions related to the offer of research and development grants.

Section 2 is a technical amendment, which increases the aggregate capital funding that can be provided to IDA Ireland, EI and Science Foundation Ireland from €7 billion to €14 billion. Primary legislation currently sets a statutory limit of €7 billion on the aggregate capital funding that can be provided to these agencies since 1993. As the combined cumulative totals being prepared for the agencies annual financial statements as of end 2018 amounted to €6.543 billion, it is timely to increase the limit for the total capital amounts that the Minister is empowered to provide to these agencies.

Section 3 aims to permit EI to lend and participate in certain types of follow-on investments and provides that Government approval is required for investment amounts or loans in excess of €7.5 million for any client. Providing EI with the powers to facilitate additional lending and investment instruments in certain circumstances increases the flexibility to support enterprise development and to manage its investments on a par with private sector investors. Such additional powers will help to preserve the value of the State's investments in these businesses and will assist companies through restructuring or redevelopment programmes that may be critical in the weeks and months ahead. I emphasise that there is no additional cost to the Exchequer as the cost of these enterprise supports will be accommodated within EI's existing budget. It is now more important than ever that EI can respond in an agile and flexible manner as the opportunities and challenges for its client companies change, specifically in the context of a potential no-deal Brexit, and as the investment market changes. It is also important that EI can flexibly deploy the widest array of interventions that match supports available in other countries, particularly now in a Brexit context.

Section 4 provides for a technical amendment to section 5(2) of the Microenterprise Loan Fund Act 2012.

Section 5 caps the equity that Microfinance Ireland can receive at €25 million, providing for a grant of €10 million under section 5(1) and a further €15 million under section 5(2). The amendment to section 5(2) of the Act will increase the funding by €10 million, from €15 million to €25 million, to a total of €35 million. This will mean that up to €10 million in additional funding can be provided to enable Microfinance Ireland to provide increased lending in the event of a disorderly Brexit. The section also provides for the repeal of Part 3 of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Act 2019, as this Part is now contained in this stand-alone Bill.

Section 6 provides for the Short Title, collective citation and construction of the Bill. It also provides for the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to commence the Bill, or sections of it, as appropriate.

In summary, the proposed amendments to allow an extension and enhancements to research and development supports aim to help firms that have tight cash flows to commence important research and development projects. EI can already do this with small companies. In proposing the amendments to the Microenterprise Loan Fund Act 2012, we can maximise the ability of businesses to access appropriate finance at a time when liquidity will be critical.

9:35 am

Photo of Eugene MurphyEugene Murphy (Roscommon-Galway, Fianna Fail)
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I must ask the Minister of State to conclude. He will have a further five minutes at the end of the debate.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin supports this Bill. We support all measures that will provide support for businesses and workers whose livelihoods will be adversely affected by Brexit. As the Bill, with the exception of the two new provisions, has passed through the Houses and my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, has addressed it, I do not propose to speak to it in detail.

The only amendment to the Bill appears to be the increase in the aggregate limit for funding to Microfinance Ireland and the Science Foundation Ireland, which is fine, but it is not enough. While I support the Bill, I am frustrated that the Government is not doing a lot more. In the period since the Bill first passed through the Houses, serious issues have been raised in regard to State supports that have not been addressed in the Bill or elsewhere. For example, the British Irish Chamber of Commerce, IBEC and the Small Firms Association have all said that their members have serious concerns regarding the Brexit loan scheme. They believe it is overly bureaucratic, the qualifying criteria are such that some of the most businesses most vulnerable to Brexit have been excluded, and businesses that need support are not going to take on debt at a time of major uncertainty. This is evident in the low uptake of the supports, which has been highlighted on numbers occasions.

In regard to the Brexit loan scheme, as of this month, fewer than 200 loans worth €44 million, have progressed to sanction at bank level. In the case of the future growth scheme, 366 loans worth €58 million have progressed. The Minister has not addressed these matters. I do not understand why she has not altered the schemes to ensure they target the right sectors and the right businesses or provided additional supports for those who cannot borrow. Owing to the uncertainty, people are reluctant to borrow. Supports are also need for people who need assistance to diversify, to upskill workers and to do all they can ahead of Brexit to prepare. My colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, asked for a review of these schemes to establish what went wrong and how it might be rectified. His amendments were not supported on the basis that the Minister is engaging with other reviews. She has not shared the findings of those reviews with us, or what action she proposes to take.

During the passage of the Bill through the Seanad a week or so ago, the Minister said that she had not heard any complaints about the scheme. At a committee meeting yesterday, which I had requested to address these issues, several groups who represent business and workers raised concerns. I hope the Minister will review the submissions made to the committee and heed the concerns raised. She repeated her statement of two weeks ago that she had not heard any complaints about the schemes despite the low uptake at yesterday's meeting.

The budget is also another disappointment in this regard. Rather than a concrete plan, we were given vague statements relating to grants, loans and equity but nothing that might be useful or practical for business. I am glad that the Government has finally listened and has made provision for a €1.2 billion Brexit fund. It is not as ambitious as the Sinn Féin proposal for a €2 billion fund, which is money from State resources rather than borrowed money, on which the Government is relying. However, what is provided is better than nothing. I am sure it will reassure businesses that they will not be left completely to their own devices in the case of a no deal. These provisions are more of a crisis management approach than a Brexit plan. It is shocking that, at this late stage of the process, businesses are still unprepared and many feel the Government is failing them. The Border region is most exposed. Businesses in Border counties, including my constituency of Louth, are worried. There is nothing in this Bill that will specifically help the Border counties. I have tabled two amendments that seek to ensure Border enterprises are prioritised.

I hope that the Minister, as a Border Deputy, and given the acknowledgement in her Seanad speech that the Border will be worst affected, will support these amendments on Committee Stage.

The Border region has long suffered from underinvestment and neglect. Since Fine Gael came to power this has escalated and my own town of Drogheda is a prime example. I will discuss this further when I speak to my amendments. As this Brexit fiasco lurches from crisis to crisis in Britain, Border businesses are taking a hammering. Confidence is at an all-time low and it will ebb away as long as this goes on. It is important for those areas to see that the Government is standing with them, prior to and following Brexit.

The Bill will do the bare minimum. It does not offer targeted specific supports for businesses. That was made clear in the submissions. The supports offered have more of a consultation element to them, rather than being specific and targeted. It makes no provision for workers or people. An additional allocation was made in the budget for social welfare in the case of job losses. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, has said the same. There is nothing concrete to ensure that workers remain in their jobs. While investment in business is needed, the Government also has to invest in people to ensure they are supported to upskill or diversify their skills while remaining in work. This was done during the financial crisis in 2008. Sinn Féin put forward a plan to establish a similar scheme for Brexit, only we would target those most affected. This is an issue, in particular, for small and micro businesses in the export sectors such as agrifood and fisheries, chemicals and related products, and machinery and transport equipment, where Britain is the main or sole export market. Such a scheme would benefit workers and small businesses significantly. Has the Government plans to introduce a scheme of this type? I raised this yesterday with the Minister at the committee meeting and she did not give a response that I could have total confidence in. It is vitally important that we safeguard jobs, rather than just accept that a large number of people will lose them. If this could be done in 2008 by putting safeguards to ensure that people hold onto their jobs and stay in them, there is no reason the Government should fail to do that now. This is an issue that could be devastating for my constituency and it needs to be addressed.

Another issue that is absent from all of the Government's plans is capital investment. We were decades behind most European countries when the crash hit and we then had ten years of underinvestment in infrastructure. We all know that a major overhaul in transport, housing and public services is needed. I have no confidence in the Government's ability to deliver anything in this regard, given the mess it has made of broadband provision, and the overspend on the national children's hospital, as a result of which funding for other vital projects has been pulled. Housing and childcare are left to the market, despite the fact that we are in the midst of a housing emergency. The Government is making a spectacularly bad job of that, week in week out, and destroying lives in the process. We need to invest in infrastructure if we want businesses to thrive. I should not need to tell the Government that. This is basic and fundamental to what we are facing ahead of Brexit.

Brexit, on top of poor transport links and infrastructure, in particular outside of Dublin, is not good for business. How is the Government supposed to encourage investment in regional areas outside of Dublin if there is a deficit in public transport and in infrastructure projects that would encourage businesses, small and medium, to invest?

We will support the Bill, but it is lacking. I would much prefer if the Government had done much more. It has had ample time to prepare. This has been discussed for the past three years. The bare minimum is not good enough at this stage.

9:45 am

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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We will also support the Bill, although I agree with Deputy Munster that it could go much further. It is a relatively straightforward Bill with increases in the funding available under various schemes through the IDA, EI, the microenterprise loan fund, etc. Clearly it is focused on the fallout from Brexit. We still do not know when Brexit will happen and the extent of it. It is important, therefore, that we prepare. All parties in this House have raised this issue on a number of occasions in a variety of contexts, including the recent budget. The Labour Party wanted a larger amount set aside for Brexit contingencies. We still do not know how hard Brexit will be. The deal currently on the table appears to be considerably more impactful than the original Theresa May deal. There is still a lot of fear and trepidation as to what exactly the outcome will be.

I have also raised in the past the fact that many businesses had not taken much action, because they were not sure what to do. I accept that a great number of workshops have been held. Many companies, however, found it difficult to figure out exactly how their own particular enterprise would be affected by Brexit. For that reason, one of the points I have made before in Oral Questions relates to the accessibility of these funds. If companies suddenly find that they are in trouble and that there is a problem with their supply chain, for example, or that they are in a position where they are worried that they will have to lay off workers, etc., or if there is just a difficulty accessing markets, they will need immediate access to funds to prevent them having to either close their enterprise, or reduce employment. I still have an issue with how difficult it is going to be to get this money quickly, when it is required, to prevent sudden closures or job losses.

The funding is available with a sum of €25 million replacing the €15 million available in the microenterprise loan fund, with larger amounts for the IDA, effectively doubling the amount available to the organisation to €14 million, together with other funds, which is all good. Much of this funding is in the form of loans and not grants, which is something that could cause difficulty for some companies, because they would be afraid to take out loans that they might be unable to pay back. This would be a concern for a lot of people.

I also agree with Deputy Munster's comments on generally protecting workers as opposed to protecting companies, where there are issues about having to put workers on short time. There should be some way in which their income could be maintained, as these people will have outgoings, including mortgages, etc. There may be a sudden impact whereby their income may be reduced because their working hours have been reduced. Something needs to be there to ensure that people can maintain a standard of living given their outgoings.

We also have a major difficulty with the fact that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Doherty, said that the national minimum wage increase will be deferred. I do not know if there will be any change in this regard given that it does not appear that there will be a crash-out Brexit. The minimum wage needs to be increased in accordance with the original proposals, because it needs to increase in line with the cost of living. There is also the issue of the basic social welfare payments not increasing. For people who are working on the minimum wage, their incomes will not increase commensurate with their cost of living. While this is not a matter for the Minister of State, it is a matter for the Government. It is an important issue that needs to be clarified now. I would strongly argue that the minimum wage increase should be applied in accordance with the original timetable.

Firms near the Border will be most affected. Like the Minister of State, I come from much further down the country.

I am not saying it is because of Brexit but we have also seen significant job losses in the past week in the case of Molex in County Clare, as well as job losses in County Cork and a smaller number in Dublin. I am not saying that any of these are particularly attributable to Brexit but there are vulnerable companies all over the country. I know there are concerns, particularly around supply chain issues and how particular forms of regulation are done that will affect the whole country. I accept that in the main, it will be companies near the Border that probably will be drawing down much of this money. However, it is important that this money be accessible in any part of the country that will be affected, because all parts of Ireland are affected by our close relationship with the United Kingdom, be they east-west or North-South.

Regarding infrastructure, I know it is not under the remit of this Department but I wish to raise the issue of our ports and airports. I think there is some delay regarding the ports being ready, which is really important in terms of access, trade and movement of goods. I know the Minister of State is concerned about ensuring that Shannon Airport continues to have a hub providing access to the wider world. Following Brexit, Heathrow will presumably will not be in the EU so we desperately need another European hub for Shannon Airport, which is crucially important for jobs in the mid-west, in the west as a whole and in some ways, in the entire country. It is hugely important for companies, particularly multinational companies, which need to get their executives and various expert people to other parts of their worldwide operations, particularly their parent companies. This connectivity also is hugely important for jobs. Again, I appreciate that it is not a matter for the Department but IDA Ireland, which is under the auspices of the Minister, has a role in that. I make the point that regional and industrial policy must be aligned with the policy of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I have had difficulties with questions to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport concerning getting an acceptance that airline connectivity is not just a matter for airports but affects the success and sustainability of economic development, which is a matter for the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

We support the Bill. We recognise that it is quite narrow in focus and that there will be broad issues. The most important point I wanted to make is that these funds must be accessible to companies that suddenly find themselves in trouble. If a company could plan ahead, put in its application, do all the paperwork and make its case with a good amount of time, it probably could access this funding if it needed it under the various agencies but if a company suddenly finds itself in difficulty, it needs to get to those funds. I hope that in his reply, the Minister of State will be able to reassure me that if a company genuinely needs the money to continue with its business to keep its workers properly paid and carry on with the kind of international business it would have done, be that over the Border in Ireland, east-west or in other parts of the world, the process will be relatively straightforward. I am not talking about companies that do not need the money. We welcome this legislation. We will not hold it up because, obviously, it is important that it gets through as quickly as possible.

9:55 am

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. This Bill will increase the lifetime cap on Oireachtas grants made payable to IDA Ireland and will empower Enterprise Ireland to award research and development grants to the horticultural sector. We know that foreign direct investment is pivotal in providing over 200,000 IDA Ireland-supported jobs in our economy. IDA Ireland estimates that for every ten jobs generated by foreign direct investment, a further seven are generated in the wider economy. As a rural Deputy, I am very interested in any Bill that will have an impact on job creation in Ireland, including rural areas such as west Cork, particularly given the dire news of the loss of 320 jobs at Novartis in Ringaskiddy and of 500 jobs in Shannon. As the loss of 80 jobs in Dublin was also announced yesterday, this has been a dire series of announcements in a short period. I must commend the wonderful opportunities the Ludgate Hub has brought to Skibbereen in west Cork. We need to attract future investment like this to west Cork to generate more jobs and sustain the future of rural Ireland. IDA Ireland's ongoing work to increase foreign direct investment in Ireland needs to be supported. We need to look at empowering IDA Ireland to acquire property for future development, not just for immediate use. Enterprise Ireland works with Ireland's most ambitious entrepreneurs and businesses and has helped them to scale up and reach new export markets by funding market insight or access to an international network, resulting in a record figure of €23.3 billion in export sales by client companies in 2018, of which €7.9 billion involved the UK market. With that in mind, it is vital that access to the UK market is protected. We must be prepared for a worst-case scenario.

We all know that Ireland is an extremely attractive location for foreign companies to do business in. I am biased towards west Cork and all it has to offer. Towns such as Baltimore, Skibbereen, Clonakilty, Bantry, Bandon and Kinsale, to name a few, should be considered as locations for foreign companies. There are many positive reasons that foreign companies wish to set up in Ireland and our exceptionally talented and highly educated workforce is pivotal in these decisions. I welcome changes that will ensure job opportunities for Ireland, particular west Cork, but I must ask what development aid is being granted to the peninsulas and islands in west Cork. IDA Ireland and the Government seem to be unable or uninterested when it comes to funding developments in rural areas like Castletownbere, Bantry, the Mizen Peninsula, Dunmanway, Ballinspittle and Schull. In one of these areas, €500,000 of local money was spent to make sure a project was shovel-ready to secure funding under the rural regeneration and development fund but was refused. Rural areas fight their corners as best they can to see whether they can pick up funding from IDA Ireland but are told that because their areas are so rural, it will always be that bit more difficult to attract businesses. Consequently, they must look at other sources of funding that allow them to make improvements. The rural regeneration and development fund was put forward as an alternative for rural communities to allow them to rebuild and create employment. It is sad to think that the project to which I referred spent €500,000 and was shovel-ready but got nothing. It was one of 48 projects in County Cork that received no funding in the last round of the rural regeneration and development fund. We must get IDA Ireland and other bodies to concentrate on creating employment in rural areas because they are dying. It is okay if Dublin, Cork and Galway are doing well. I do not begrudge anyone doing well but not everybody can leave west Cork in the morning and travel 80 to 90 miles to work. This is what is happening because people cannot get employment in their communities. This is replicated in towns like Ballinadee, Kilbrittain, all the way west to Goleen, down into Allihies and Eyeries and places like Sheep's Head. Everybody is travelling long distances to find gainful employment. The reason for that is because there has been no great commitment from Government bodies like IDA Ireland and others that are well funded and could really make an effort to see whether they can create employment in these areas. Where did the money from the rural regeneration and development fund go? The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht got quite a lot of money from it, while areas in rural Ireland did not.

If extra funds remain, I ask the Government to concentrate expenditure in rural areas in the future. West Cork, in particular, is an area starved of gainful employment opportunities.

10:05 am

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I apologise for being delayed. I was attending a meeting of the Business Committee.

I am delighted to speak to this Bill and the Minister knows what I am going to say. Yesterday was a black day for employment, from Cork city to the Minister of State's county of Clare. I passed the iconic building that houses the printing presses of Independent Newspapers Limited in west Dublin this morning and there are problems there also. We are fortunate in south Tipperary and the county as a whole to have many thousands of foreign direct investment jobs. Some companies such as Merck, Sharp and Dohme have been based in the county for 50 years and are providing very valuable employment. The spin-off in employment from these companies is also great. In Clonmel we have companies such as Boston Scientific and many similar plants. Therefore, we are very lucky. However, the record of the Industrial Development Authority, IDA, in County Tipperary, even when it comes to site visits, is appalling.

IDA Ireland has been a wonderful organisation and used to do great work. It has not, however, adapted to the times. The city of Dublin is exploding because of investment. It is nearly impossible to move through the streets or find a bed for the night, as those of us who have to stay here some nights know. As Deputy Collins mentioned, the time and cost involved, especially of transport, are significant. Someone recently travelled here to meet me and then went back down to Tipperary. It was a day's work to get in and out of the city. At most, it should only involve a drive of two and half hours from Tipperary. I pity people who have to travel.

IDA Ireland will have to adapt to the times. I met its head some two years ago at a briefing in Washington DC. I was told that it was impossible to get industries to locate in Limerick, Cork or Galway because they all wanted to be based in Dublin. I appreciate that is a problem, but it is due to the way Dublin has been sold and marketed as the be all and end all. However, it is not. We might need to have another agency, in addition to IDA Ireland. I am not referring to another quango, but IDA Ireland is not adapting. It is abandoning rural Ireland. I have the figures, but I do not have them with me. I think there have been eight visits to County Tipperary in the past three or four years. That is a paltry number for a county at the centre of Ireland, if I can put it that way, because of the new motorways. The new M24 motorway from Limerick to Waterford and on to Rosslare Harbour will strengthen that position. It is only an hour and a half's drive from the city of Dublin.

There is a need for proper investment and engagement and to adapt the supports available. I am not sure of the exact figures, but Enterprise Ireland will only help a company if it has ten to 100 employees, while IDA Ireland will only become involved with a company with more than 500 employees. Small employers must be supported also instead of being strangled and choked by bureaucracy. There are rates to be paid and every other kind of payment to be made if they want to build, rebuild or invest. Small businesses should be supported. However, there is nothing included in this legislation and there was nothing in the budget either. We must support what is local and good. I met some business people yesterday, including Mr. Dan O'Brien and others, who had wonderful and novel ideas for farming. Given the way the farming sector is going, such ideas are badly needed. The people in question have received support from the local enterprise office, LEO, and from Dublin and now have some seed capital, but we need to embrace such enterprises and help them along. It should not be as difficult for them. They are bright and intelligent people with many degrees. They are well able and all they want is to be able to access seed capital and support for research and development. IDA Ireland needs to be refocused to support smaller companies and think of the regions.

We cannot all travel in cars. We talk about our carbon footprint, about which farmers are being bashed today. People want to change, but they are being forced to travel great distances to work. IDA Ireland needs to get down and dirty, put its wellies on and engage with the LEOs. We used to have county enterprise boards which were great, but they have been destroyed also. The LEADER programme worked from the bottom up and was working very well, but the Fine Gael-led Government destroyed that initiative too. It hijacked them because they were too successful. LEADER was one of the best programmes we had and was a model for the European Union, but it was ravaged, savaged and destroyed. We need to do something with IDA Ireland. I am not targeting any official, as it is the policy that needs to change in order that the agency will be able to support things local and rural. Not everything should be concentrated in this huge capital city which can no longer handle all of the development taking place. I refer to roads and water services. There is an attempt to bring water from County Tipperary, but 58% of water is lost in leakages.

Photo of Pat BreenPat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
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I will nearly need 25 minutes to conclude, given all of the comments that have been made, for which I thank Deputies.

As part of the Government's approach, my Department is working intensively with Brexit-exposed firms. It is important to make that point. It is being done with the help and support of the agencies. It is important that we recognise the good work being done by all of the agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the LEOs. We are working together to respond to all needs, including in the regions. Deputy Mattie McGrath spoke about the LEOs. They play a very important role in creating jobs in every community in the country. Last year they created 3,700 jobs in the regions. Turning to Enterprise Ireland, last year it created nearly 21,000 new jobs. The same applies to IDA Ireland. Looking at the way jobs were dispersed, it was the first time in 17 years that more jobs were created in the regions. A total of 58% of the jobs created by IDA Ireland were in the regions. The same applies to Enterprise Ireland. A total of 64% of the jobs it created were located outside Dublin. I assure the Deputy that every effort is being made to ensure the regions will grow in tandem with large urban areas. That is why put in place grants and supports to assist Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs, of which there are 31 throughout the country.

Many Deputies made interesting observations. I have very little time, but it is important for us to realise that the provision of supports is important to help companies in these difficult and troubled times. There is an appropriate mix of supports in place to address the needs of companies. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has stated the use of a mix of grants, loans, equity and support is important, but it is not all about grants. We must also support companies with loans. On the accessibility of funds, we are continuously encouraging companies to apply for loans through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and Microfinance Ireland, MFI. It is a straightforward process and we encourage firms to apply for these supports and to apply now. It is important that they do so. It is not necessary to draw down funds unless they are required. It is important to make that point.

A number of comments were made on the uptake of supports. It is important to highlight the Brexit loan scheme, to which many Deputies referred. They were 860 applications, of which 774 were approved by the SBCI. A total of 204 loans progressed to approval stage at bank level, to the value of €45 million. Of the approved applications to date, 154 were reapplications as eligibility expires after four months. It is important to note that point. The same applies to the future growth loan scheme which attracted 1,638 applications, of which 1,551 were approved by the SBCI. A total of 376 loans were approved at bank level, to the value of €64 million. I refer to other similar schemes such as the Brexit score card and the Be Prepared grants scheme. All of these initiatives are important in our preparations to ensure companies will be prepared in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit. Deputy Munster referred to the Border counties. Brexit shocks will affect all regions and it is important that support be given where demand arises.

Returning to the Bill, from which we have strayed, it is about providing support by increasing the range of supports available to Enterprise Ireland and MFI. Throughout the interdepartmental system which encompasses all workers, an early warning system has been put in place to assist where there are problems. Intreo offices stand ready to help workers to make the most of labour market opportunities through the establishment of short-term schemes and the provision of necessary training. The offices play an important role.

Given the type of jobs coming into the country, it is important to point out that we may need upskilling and training for workers. Such training is available. Yesterday morning, I saw the enthusiasm and energy of the various stakeholders in Shannon. As a result of the proposed closure of the Molex firm, all the stakeholders, including the universities, the agencies and the industrial sector, got together and stated they would ensure that these workers will be either retrained or skilled and they would ensure that they would get them jobs. Such enthusiasm is evident in every region when an emergency like that occurs. Of course, it is a difficult time for workers and their families.

The European Globalisation Adjustment Fund is to be extended to encompass Brexit shocks as well. The EU is presently working with the European Union Solidarity Fund as well to extend that. There is a lot happening out there.

I could go through various other areas there as well, particularly in respect of Brexit supports, but I do not have time for that. Projects in the Border counties have received over €10 million to date. The projects were funded by the north-west Border region of Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim and they have received over €5.2 million in funding, while the north-east region of Cavan, Monaghan and Louth has received €5.4 million. We are working to ensure that the Border regions, which are most vulnerable as a result of a possible hard Brexit, are assisted to ensure that companies there are assisted along the way.

Of course, it is important to point out, as I stated in my speech, it is about helping companies that are viable but vulnerable. It is important that we ensure that any funding, given from the taxpayers or wherever, is given constructively to ensure these companies can remain viable, move forward and meet any Brexit shocks.

Question put and agreed to.