Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage


12:40 pm

Photo of Jimmy HarteJimmy Harte (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I shall not need ten minutes. I welcome the Minister of State.

The measures that have been introduced are a step forward. However, we must ensure that there is not simply a change of name or location but a change of policy. Donegal and areas outside Dublin are not getting the same jobs boost as the east coast. Areas like Donegal and the Minister of State's area of Sligo suffer a great deal of unemployment so we must target and develop the businesses in those regions.

Over the years the county enterprise boards have had to deal with a different economy but now the economy has changed. Therefore, it is important that the new local enterprise offices, LEOs, focus on creating sustainable jobs in areas other than Dublin which seems to be progressing very well.

Senator Quinn has left but I wish to refer to his comment on pension funds, an issue that I was going to raise at some stage. I spoke to an employee of an American company in Donegal that administers pensions in the US. I am sure that people are aware that in the US one can borrow against one's pension but pay it back without defaulting. That is a very strict system. As Senator Quinn has said, it would be helpful if a person with a pension of €0.25 million could pay it back at a reasonable interest rate. However, if he or she misses one payment then the penalty would be much worse than on a normal missed payment to a bank or a credit card company. It is a very strict scheme but gives a person an opportunity. The fact that it is a person's pension fund then it must be reimbursed. A person can benefit as long as the fund is replenished by he or she paying the money back at a certain interest rate and reaches retirement age. We should introduce a similar scheme here. We have discussed pensions here and how to release pension funds. It was mentioned that one could take out the pension and not repay it but that is not a good idea. People depend on their pension. At 50 years of age it might seem like a good idea but one would regret it on reaching 65 years.

Another suggestion was that one could borrow against one's pension through a bank. I disagree with that suggestion because a pension fund should be sacrosanct. It is important to point out that the pension belongs to an individual and cannot be chased by creditors. Letting a bank use it as collateral would destroy the reason for people to take out a pension.

Let us examine the American pension model. Earlier I mentioned an employee I happened to meet in my office where he spoke about a pension scheme. He said that the scheme worked efficiently and that the American company issued cheques from Letterkenny to people in places like Alabama or California. He made the point that if a payment is missed then it became dangerous for the company concerned and the employee. The scheme must be administered well.

I digress so I shall return to discussing the replacement of county enterprise boards with local enterprise offices. Senator White said that she was not sure where the new offices will be located. Perhaps the Minister of State will outline their location. Will the new office be located in the same building as the former county enterprise board in Letterkenny? Is it planned to have different offices? I would also like to know the physical nature of the scheme. The staff of the county enterprise board in Letterkenny do a great job. They have facilitated many information evenings for small businesses and provide their expertise and a mentoring service.

As I said earlier, the economy has gone in a different direction and away from manufacturing and construction. Senator White mentioned that Michael Tunney, in Letterkenny, said that services and certain industries were not being supported. Obviously they cannot be supported under the legislation. However, we should examine services because areas like Donegal depend on more than one industry. Donegal, like every other rural county, has the tourism sector, the services sector which is increasing, agriculture, financial services and computing services. The new LEOs must examine providing long-term help to the sectors because the physical structure of employment has changed. We can no longer build advanced factories like in the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s. Factories waited for a generation hoping for the arrival of a large employer from Europe or America. Now one can create ten or 15 jobs from one desk in a small office. That is where we need to go and we have a good example in Letterkenny. I refer to CoLab located at the Letterkenny Institute of Technology. I know that the Minister has visited the place and wonder will he visit it again soon. Small incubation companies export all around the world from that location. That global market was not possible ten or five years ago. Recently I visited some of them and saw their innovative work first hand and anyone interested in job creation should visit them. Those young guys and girls operate under radar to create jobs and with the support of CoLab have the potential to create a massive amount of jobs.

Recently I spoke to an individual who is talking to CoLab but has not joined it yet. He hopes to develop a flu test for animals that could be transferred for use in humans and marketed worldwide. Such veterinary tests cost a lot. The Donegal company comprises two men and a couple of associates. A large drugs company has already indicated a willingness to invest. High value jobs are the future for this country so we must move away from what was the norm in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Obviously we lost our way during the Celtic tiger years when it came to sustainable jobs and thought that the world would keep turning with an unending property market. With the recession we have had to make a massive adjustment. I work in the small business sector and anyone operating in the small business sector knows the difficulties that the sector has encountered in order to restructure. It has not been easy, particularly when change happened overnight. Many companies have gone through that experience and many businesses will experience difficulties until the future becomes more certain.


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