Thursday, 17 December 2020
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Enterprise Support Services
100. To ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Question No. 28 of 10 November 2020, if he has held the meeting with the agencies with a particular focus on Ballinasloe, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42230/20]
I welcome the high-level meeting between the Tánaiste and the enterprise agencies regarding the town of Ballinasloe. It now needs to be followed by a determined effort by all of the agencies, especially the IDA, to promote the town and what it has to offer. I ask the Tánaiste to ensure that a co-ordinated marketing strategy is put in place for the unique IDA site in the town which has a large, State-owned land bank and is the only such site in the country with access to water, wastewater, gas and fibre in abundance.
I again acknowledge the difficulty that the Aptar job losses present for Ballinasloe and the surrounding area, in particular the individuals and families directly affected.
I met with the western regional enterprise steering committee on Friday 11 December by videoconference. The committee is comprised of representatives of various agencies, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the local enterprise offices, LEOs, the local authority chief executives, the regional skills forum manager, the Western Development Commission, higher and further education institutes, and Fáilte Ireland. The committee implements the regional enterprise plan for the west and considers new and emerging issues for the region. The meeting focused on one agenda item, which was maximising enterprise development potential in the west. It was noted that the life sciences sector, ag-tech and creative sectors offer particular opportunity for further growth through start-ups, business growth and new investment. The IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs will continue to work with stakeholders in the region to secure sustainable employment opportunities in the west, including but not exclusively Ballinalsoe.
The IDA is going to promote the Aptar property to prospective foreign and indigenous companies and I am encouraged to hear that 60 of the former Aptar employees have already secured alternative employment and that Harmac is going to expand its operations in Castlerea. I also expect 30 more jobs to be announced in Galway city in the next few days.
In the coming months, we want to refresh the regional enterprise plan for each region, including the west, to generate a pipeline of new investment, enterprise growth and economic recovery, in line with the objectives of the forthcoming national economic plan. I have asked the west regional committee to begin this work.
I was encouraged to hear that the Western Development Commission will provide a programme manager, with whom I met the other day, on an interim basis. The commission is now actively working with the four local authorities in the region to put a longer term arrangement in place for the development and implementation of the new regional enterprise plan for the west.
I thank the Tánaiste for his response. I will bring him back to the comments he made last Friday after the meeting. He specifically referenced the IDA lands in Ballinasloe. There are 50 acres of land available there. Will the IDA acquire those lands which are currently in the ownership of the HSE? Will the IDA build an advance factory on those 50 acres rather than relying on the local community to try to fundraise to build an advance factory there? Will the Tánaiste direct the IDA to develop a marketing strategy for that 50-acre campus which is unique in terms of the infrastructure available and its capacity as development land? There is not another site like it in the country and it needs to be marketed nationally and internationally by the IDA.
As the Deputy knows, the IDA is going to market the Aptar site to alternative investors. The Deputy is correct that the 50 acres to which he refers is a valuable piece of land that can be developed for industry and employment. Ballinasloe has a lot of assets, including good transport links.
I would have to talk to the IDA about the HSE lands. The IDA acts autonomously and, as a Minister, I am always cautious about getting involved in land deals or transactions or commercial transactions in any way, though I appreciate any deal in this case would be between two public bodies. I will certainly speak to the CEO of the IDA about that matter.
The Deputy asked about advance factories or advance building solutions, as the IDA likes to call them. These have been a real success down the years. People often complain that the IDA does not do enough site visits in their area but there must be something in the area to show somebody. An advance building solution is such a thing. Eleven have been built and seven are now occupied. As part of the IDA strategy that we will approve in January, we propose to build more of those around the country but I cannot give the locations today.
I will again bring the Tánaiste back to the comments he made last Friday. He stated on the local radio station that the 50-acre site is underutilised. That is not in the ownership of the IDA. Will the Tánaiste ask the IDA to acquire and market the site?
I welcome the fact that we are going to have a new regional enterprise plan.
I suggest that Roscommon and east Galway should form part of the midlands enterprise strategy, given that Athlone is designated as a growth centre and that we saw the closure last week of Shannonbridge power station and tomorrow of Lanesborough power station. If we are talking about a just transition across the midlands, surely all the local authorities and communities impacted should be part of a single regional enterprise strategy.
We do not have any plans to change the IDA regions. No matter where these boundaries are drawn, there will always be people who argue they should be somewhere else. There are merits and demerits but we think including east Galway and Roscommon in the west rather than the midlands makes most sense. I take the Deputy's point on Athlone as a designated regional growth centre in Project Ireland 2040.
I will ask the IDA to examine those HSE lands to see if they are appropriate for acquisition. I am told that the IDA continues to market the available lands on the IDA Business and Technology Park in Ballinasloe to potential investors, including the advanced planning permission for an advanced technology unit on these lands, which are adjacent to Aptar.