Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill 2013: Second Stage


1:00 pm

Photo of Mary Ann O'BrienMary Ann O'Brien (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this important and welcome County Enterprise Boards (Dissolution) Bill. I second what Senator Ó Murchú said. We heard earlier from Senator Feargal Quinn. When I started my business he was one of my mentors in that I was living in the Duke of Leinster's country house in the stable flat of Carton, in Maynooth, from where I was working on my chocolates out of the kitchen. I went up and knocked on the door of Superquinn in Lucan where I met Feargal Quinn, who was not a Senator at that time. That is the reason I started down the path I took and believed in myself. I wonder how Seanad Éireann attracted such a brilliant man who does not need to drive in here from Howth every day. He has a very important Bill before the House later today yet he took the time this morning to come into the House to give us many important ideas and insights. I pay tribute to him in that regard.

On the dissolution Bill, I congratulate Julie Sinnamon, who was recently elevated to head Enterprise Ireland. I have known Julie for years. She is a superb individual. I welcome that the enterprise boards will be known now as LEOs, local enterprise offices, which is easy to remember, and will come under Enterprise Ireland and the local councils. We all know that Enterprise Ireland is brilliant and the way it has its finger on the pulse not only of medium size businesses but also in terms of internal and international investment, in addition to the technological sector, but to micro-manage the small businesses of Ireland is a lot to ask of it. I was glad to hear it repeated that over 95% of the businesses in Ireland are the businesses we are discussing this morning but in terms of the county enterprise boards, now LEOs, the Minister will agree it is vitally important that we get this right. He is our champion here in the Oireachtas but has he had discussions with Julie Sinnamon and who will she get to champion the 31 LEOs? This is a major evolution. It is a time for reform, and I am pleased to hear that the staff of the enterprise boards will be transferred into the new LEOs but in my county of Kildare there has been a great deal of unhappiness and uncertainty about what would happen. I received some phone calls yesterday and this morning and people are waiting to hear the outcome of the discussions today and what it will mean for their future. I would like to see those good people in all the enterprise boards upskilled, trained and championed by the new person in Enterprise Ireland.

People think my business is in good shape but mine is a medium size business. I hope this year to have a turnover of €20 million, and I have over 100 employees, but the challenge is to keep up with the times and the evolution in technology, particularly e-commerce where there are huge opportunities for a business like mine, but there are even bigger opportunities for small entrepreneurs throughout Ireland who have ideas. I had a meeting last night with a group of English entrepreneurs who already had a successful e-commerce cycle and have started a new one. I was terribly jealous but I was also shocked by how little I knew. I have two persons working in my company who specialise in the web, Facebook and social networking, and I thought we were ahead of the times. My point is that we must make an effort to not only form the LEOs within the councils but to make them edgy and upskill the people who will run them to a level where we might have to avail of international expertise and recognise that every six months we will have to push ourselves to keep up with international best practice.

In terms of Kildare and Naas, we have a wonderful new shopping centre out of town where one of the biggest English multiples has taken root. We have an Aldi located next door and all the local shops have joined them in a lovely centre. I am not a great shopper but I called in there last Sunday and the car park was depressingly packed. Naas town is dying. The council had to drop car parking charges last week. This area probably comes under the remit of the Minister, Deputy Hogan, but we are talking about service industries and retail and we should try to keep the town centres alive for some of the fledgling businesses. In that respect I ask the Minister to examine the issue of car parking.

The Minister of State is in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation but we need to join the dots, so to speak, at the Cabinet table. I refer to education, starting with transition year. My daughter who is in first year loves business. She wants to be a business person but she does not have a clue about the challenges. By the time children get to transition year we should start showing them what the LEOs are about and how easy it is, that is once we hear about the removing of red tape and bureaucracy about which other Senators pleaded earlier with the Minister. Can we link the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Minister for tourism to the LEOs? Representatives of the Department of heritage were in Buswells Hotel last week. Most Senators called over to meet them. They have dropped the budget from €22 million to €7 million. We continue to talk about saving €20 million if the Seanad is abolished, which is a lie, but what about the €17.6 million we give to the European Space Agency programme? I ask the Minister to speak to the Minister, Deputy Hogan, get back that €22 million and put jobs back into local communities. I am making my point in a roundabout way but construction workers who do not have to upskill can work on restoring important buildings in the community. Tourists are being brought into the country in much greater numbers as a result of The Gathering, and there are more plans for the future. However, with tourism comes a chance for young entrepreneurs to think about getting into craft, artisan food, services, hairdressing, beauty and other franchise ideas. Tourism generates hope in rural communities. The Minister should not be alone in his Department. Other Departments must feed into his and help him.

I second what Senator Quinn said about crowd funding, which is in its infancy in this part of the world. I have been a member of Kildare County Council audit committee for three years. I have never been a councillor. I had nothing to do with councils and when I went into the council I did not have a clue about the level of responsibility, the challenges they face on a daily basis and how much they have to manage.

I, too, second the concerns expressed about LEOs going into county councils. The situation must be managed - whether by the Minister or Enterprise Ireland - to ensure there is an environment, culture and appetite created in the councils so that the LEOs are given a separate identity. I welcome the newness of and the enthusiasm to evolve the LEOs, but the councils have their own cultures, which is a worry.

On the LEO staff who are moving from the enterprise boards, has the Minister considered putting in a performance management system? For example, were I a new LEO member of staff who came from a county enterprise board my remuneration would change. However, I would want the Minister to enthuse me, to give me some targets and to tell me that if I can find five entrepreneurs in my county in the next two years, I will get X, Y and Z. Matters should cascade down from Enterprise Ireland to the 31 LEOs. Let us have some fun, set targets and pull in the right direction.

With regard to bureaucracy and red tape, I am not a great business person - thank God I became a Senator because I now have someone who is much better than me at being the CEO - but I am a definite, mad, crazed entrepreneur. I love barbed wire fences and big brick walls because I will get through them if there is a sale on or an opportunity on the other side. I have accountants, technical people and scientists - the whole nine yards - working for me so I am fortunate. However, since my journey's beginning I have detested red tape and bureaucracy. There are so many people like me who are madly enthusiastic - they just want to be let out of the traps and go - and have ideas. Most of the other Members have spoken about the fact that we cannot have the same amount of red tape and bureaucracy for a large business and a small business, but that is the position. The Minister has the power and I ask that in his deliberations with Enterprise Ireland, he makes it easy for the people who want to make a change. I ask the Minister to consider a few incentives for new entrepreneurs. For example, perhaps there should be different capital gains taxes for people who have run a business for five years and manage on an exit clause and sell their business.

Job seekers allowances and failure are two subjects that people are scared of. People have told me they are taking a big chance because they know so many businesses fail and they worry about whether they will lose their job seekers allowance or whether they will succeed. When I tell them that they will get there, they respond that they have nothing to fall back on. We need to join the dots and put in place a protection mechanism around people who are willing to take a chance. To try to encourage us, the fear of failure must also be removed. That is a huge barrier to entry for many entrepreneurs. I thank the Minister for listening to me.


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