Thursday, 17 December 2020
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
National Development Plan
95. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the priorities of his Department in the context of the forthcoming national development plan review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43682/20]
In light of the changes that have occurred in recent times with Brexit and the challenges associated with Covid, what are the Department's priorities in respect of the review of the national development plan?
The review of the national development plan is an important opportunity to assess our programme of investment in public infrastructure and ensure we are developing our physical infrastructure, human capital and cultural capital to serve the changing needs of our society and economy. The Government's priority is that we use our capital investment optimally to drive a jobs-led recovery and develop the longer-term capacity of our economy and the reorientation of our economy. The original national development plan was written at a time of full employment. We are now in a very different place and enterprise and employment must feature more strongly in the revised plan.
The revised national development plan will reflect the priorities of the forthcoming national economic plan, which will set out a pathway to a renewed economy and society. It is now time to plan for renewal and for a lasting and inclusive recovery in 2021 and beyond. The updated national development plan will be impactful on a number of fronts, such as providing a countercyclical fiscal policy, renewing the Government's investment in regional development, closing significant infrastructure gaps, supporting agility and resilience in the enterprise and labour market, and funding climate-related investments. At €10.1 billion next year, our capital budget will be the largest ever. In practical terms, this means investment in our transport networks, and public transport in particular, broadband, e-hubs, health and education infrastructure, and our water network. It means investment in the kind of infrastructure that will enable the transition to a digital and low-carbon economy.
We must also continue to make considerable investments in our human capital, that is, our people, in order to achieve the widest economic and social return on investments in physical infrastructure. Such investment needs to be flanked by investments that enhance competitiveness in job creation and productivity and the innovative capacity of our businesses. These will include capital programmes such as those managed by the enterprise development agencies.
I thank the Tánaiste for his comprehensive response. When does he expect the national development plan review to be completed? He referred to capital infrastructure. Does he envisage that the plan will include areas of the country that have been left out of development up to now, including towns that have not seen any major growth in employment? With the roll-out of broadband, will he be looking at towns such as Youghal in County Cork, in my constituency, with a view to increasing employment there? Will he encourage IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland to focus on towns like that, which could now become seriously important in terms of providing employment?
The original plan, Project Ireland 2040, and the national development plan which flowed from it stands. There was going to be a review in 2022 and we are bringing forward that review by a year. We should have the revised national development plan by the middle of 2021. There is more money going into capital expenditure than we intended so there will be some scope for new projects and others will have to be re-profiled because of various issues that have delayed them. There will be something of a change in focus which will be more towards digital, with a little bit more on housing and climate. That we have gone from full employment to high unemployment will have to be recognised in any national development plan. As the Deputy has said, job creation is going to be a big part of that, which will mean ensuring the national broadband plan benefits all parts of east Cork so that there will be more job opportunities there. It may mean improving the service to some of the commuter rail stations around Cork, such as Midleton in east Cork. That will be a very significant focus of the plan.
I thank the Tánaiste and welcome his reply. I draw his attention to the need for Irish Water to be given more resources. There should be a focus on speeding up some of its work because many development plans, especially in my area, depend on Irish Water getting its act together and putting infrastructure in place. I would be concerned that any other plans could be stalled because of the challenges that it faces.
As part of the budget for 2021, there is an increase in the capital allocation to Irish Water so it will be getting more resources. I am aware that water services are a significant development constraint in many parts of the country. If we look at the list of works that need to be done and the available budget, it does not mean that everything is going to be done next year or the year after, but hopefully we will be able to speed up some of the projects and perhaps add some more.