Dáil debates

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Pharmaceutical Sector

11:10 am

Cathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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7. To ask the Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment the status of a site (details supplied). [25953/20]

Cathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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As our country continues to deal with the ravages of Covid, I ask the Minister for an update on the status of the Roche Ireland site at Clarecastle, County Clare.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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As Tánaiste and Minister with responsibility for enterprise, trade and employment, my focus is to lead our country through the economic crisis that has been caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. My Department and the enterprise agencies under my remit are doing everything possible to sustain businesses and get our people safely back to work in all parts of our country.

IDA Ireland has been working closely with Roche ever since its decision to close the Clarecastle facility in 2015. I recognise the interest that Deputies Cathal Crowe and Carey have taken in the site since then. IDA Ireland continues to market the site actively to prospective investors through its network of offices in Ireland and overseas.

Roche is now focusing on remediation and has commenced works to decommission the site. The company has also developed digital content of its plans which can be shared with potential investors who may wish to take over the site.

The Department and IDA Ireland will continue to work hard to drive new investment and job creation for County Clare and the broader mid-west. There are 67 IDA client companies in County Clare employing more than 7,000 people with in excess of 220 net new jobs added by foreign direct investment, FDI, firms in 2019.

More broadly, it is clear that FDI will have an important role to play in Clare, the mid-west and throughout Ireland as we seek to recover from the damage caused by Covid-19. Balanced regional development is a priority for this Government and will be an objective in the IDA's new strategy which I look forward to launching in the coming months.

Cathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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Roche, originally trading as Syntex Ireland, opened its plant in Clarecastle in 1974, before either the Minister or I were born. In 1994, it began trading as a part of the Roche group, but in 2015, having sustained debts and losses of approximately €9 million per annum, it announced its closure. It was a massive blow to Clare and represented an annual loss of €20 million to the county's economy. While there have been extensive efforts to find a new buyer, that has not happened and the plant is now being decommissioned at a cost of approximately €4.5 million.

One Clarecastle resident recently told me that Roche made Clarecastle. Now, as an accelerated decommissioning of the plant gets under way, I ask the Government and other stakeholders to do everything possible to ensure that the next stages happen in as seamless a fashion as possible.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. In November 2015, Roche Holding announced it would close the facility in Clarecastle, following a review of its worldwide manufacturing network for small molecules. Since then, IDA Ireland has been actively promoting the site to existing clients and potential investors. As the Deputy knows, the IDA engages regularly with key stakeholders on the ground across County Clare, including local authorities, public bodies, the education sector and companies from its client base. The July stimulus package, the mid-west regional enterprise plan and the IDA's new strategy will be major policy responses to drive further investment and job creation in County Clare and the mid-west.

The decision to cease production in Clarecastle was a direct result of the underutilisation in Roche's worldwide manufacturing network for small molecules. The Clarecastle site was incompatible with that reality as it focused on large-volume production. It is a site that should be of interest to a new investor at some point. I was not far away from it when I visited the county with Deputy Carey not long ago. The Government is determined to find a new operator for the site and put it to good use again.

Cathal Crowe (Clare, Fianna Fail)
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There is a state-of-the-art scientific laboratory in Roche and the site also has a high grade wastewater treatment plant. The repurposing of these facilities should be considered, even at this eleventh hour. I urge the Minister to ensure that no stone is left unturned in his attempts to attract new industry and employment to Clarecastle. There is an unprecedented global scramble to produce new pharmaceutical drugs. I hope IDA Ireland will consider Clare and the mid-west an ideal location for new pharmaceutical industry, given its strong track record, skill set, air connectivity from Shannon Airport and motorway network.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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There is great potential in the mid-west for future investment by life science companies, medical technology companies and the pharmaceutical industry. I had the honour of being at Regeneron in Limerick with the Taoiseach only a few weeks ago. A considerable investment is happening there with the creation of nearly 1,000 jobs. I can see more investment like that happening in Limerick and Clare.

Part of what was announced in the July stimulus package was a new state aid funding package for life science investments. The state aid rules of the European Commission were relaxed in response to the Covid-19 crisis and that allows us to grant aid to companies that invest in Ireland and develop new plants for the production of medicines and medical devices. We have a fund of tens of millions of euro available which we can use to grant aid to companies to do exactly what we would like them to do in Clarecastle. We just need to find a company willing to do it. We can then put the money on the table.