Thursday, 9 February 2006
Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe to the House. For years in Carlow we were told by the IDA that we could not get industry because we did not have a business park. Then thankfully, due to the foresight of the former county manager, Mr. Tom Dowling and the current incumbent, Mr. Joe Crockett as well as the Carlow public representatives, the purchase of a 70-acre piece of land outside the town as one approaches from the Dublin road was arranged. That was bought for a few million euro in 2001 and a road and services were put into it. Unfortunately, very little has happened since. An advance factory was built on the site, through private investment, but there has been no State investment as such. The site, meanwhile, lies idle.
I am very concerned that the IDA is failing in its responsibility to allow for the even regional distribution of jobs around the country. I have tabled this issue on the Adjournment before with the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, and the current Minister, Deputy Martin. I am blue in the face listening to the IDA, in chamber of commerce forums or whatever, telling us how great we are in Carlow. I know that already, as well as the fact that we have two third level colleges and an able workforce. They keep telling us this, yet nothing is happening.
Everybody in Carlow is bemused at this stage. I had a photograph taken 12 months ago last August outside the park, standing beside a round bale of hay. It caused a fair degree of controversy at the time and assurances were given that it was only a matter of time before there would be investment in the business park, but it still has not happened. The last time the IDA made a major investment in Carlow was in 1973, the year I was born. There has been no major investment since. We have had Braun and Lapple. Trek was an extremely successful bicycle manufacturing factory, which received support from the IDA, but unfortunately relocated to east Germany. That was beyond our control.
A serviced business park in Carlow is lying idle. We are blue in the face listening to Ministers and the IDA telling us how great we are and asking us to be patient. We have been more than patient, waiting 33 years for investment and we cannot go on. The Fianna Fáil record in Carlow is very poor. The sugar factory closed because the Minister for Agriculture and Food failed to stand up to Greencore, even though she had notice of the closure three days in advance. She should not have allowed it to close when it did. It would have made more sense to take a decision in that area when the EU talks had concluded.
We were even promised a science discovery centre and Deputy Harney, when she was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, was pushing this. That has also been shelved. The sugar factory has gone and the science discovery centre never materialised. The local authority, in that case, was willing to give the land free of charge in a prime location and it would have been a flagship project, none like it in the country. This would have meant tens of thousands of school children arriving every year, a win-win scenario, but nothing happened.
The IDA's annual report was published recently and I was struck by the fact that Cork, Dublin, Waterford and Limerick have been gaining all the jobs. The poor counties in between were not even mentioned. I will leave the Minister of State with another startling fact which he will find hard to believe. Three business parks were opened recently. He may call me a cynic or a sceptic, but coincidentally, Deputy Dermot Ahern announced jobs for Dundalk, Deputy Martin announced the jobs in Cork and Deputy Harney launched a major IDA investment for Clondalkin, which by pure coincidence is in her constituency. I am sure these announcements are purely coincidental and not by design. However, I remind the Minister of State that Carlow exists. It is outside Dublin and Cork, which tend to dominate everything at present. We need jobs there. Carlow town has seen a major explosion in the retail sector. There is talk of two Dunnes Stores coming to Carlow. My initial reaction when I heard this on the radio was to ask where the wages would come from to pay for the goods being retailed.
In any town or county there should be a balance of different jobs, retailing, indigenous industry, manufacturing, commercial banks, etc. We do not have that balance in Carlow and are very vulnerable. I ask the Minister of State to urgently get investment into the Carlow business park. We need a commercial bank and we need to build on the fact that we have two third level institutions in the county. Teagasc has its headquarters in Carlow and there is enormous scope in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical areas. Across from the new business park a private health clinic is being built. There is great potential to link this to a pharmaceutical firm. I hope I will not hear again how great Carlow is. We want action and jobs, full stop.