Wednesday, 6 November 2019
Report of Seanad Public Consultation Committee: Statements
I have noted all the Senators' comments. I will inquire into the Údarás na Gaeltachta funding for the LEOs for Senator Ó Céidigh. That is well noted.
I noted the comments of Senators Devine and Davitt on apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are important. Thankfully, we are gone from the days when mothers and fathers felt that all their sons and daughters should get academic degrees in universities. There is much more value in high-end apprenticeships or whatever type of apprenticeship one undertakes. Many multinational and indigenous companies prefer to have a worker train with them on an apprenticeship. That person often turns out to a good quality worker.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell mentioned the important of trade missions in diversification. That is very much part of the Department's policy with Enterprise Ireland this year. We have sought to diversify into other markets, such as the eurozone, which is strategically important for us. One time, language was a barrier in those areas but that is no longer an issue. I am always proud to travel abroad with Irish companies on trade missions, particularly with SMEs. I know Senator Devine will not mind me saying many of these are located outside of the greater Dublin area, particularly in the medical technology sector, and they can stand up to any of these big multinational companies, work with them, partner with them and sub-supply them, etc. I am proud of those companies.
Senator Boyhan mentioned the agrifood sector, which is so important to us. He is correct about the supplementary income for jam makers, sausage makers and cheesemakers. All these play an important role in showcasing Ireland in artisan food, particularly in contributing to the significant tourism business we have in Ireland.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell is correct we should reward people who take risks. That is important.
To respond to Senator Feighan's contribution, access to finance is important and it is something we are conscious of for SMEs and small businesses. That is why Microfinance Ireland has played a significant role.
I thank all Senators who made a contribution. It was a valuable exercise. I am glad we had these constructive statements. It is clear we have a shared appreciation of the fundamental role SMEs play in our economy, not only from the business sense but from a social perspective as well. Senator Devine was born in the Liberties and now represents Tallaght but she knows the importance of SMEs in Dublin as well. They are just as important in those sectors all over Dublin. I have visited them and have seen the important role microenterprises play in Dublin, including in the community context. SMEs are the fabric of the daily life of every village, town and region in the country. Even before we go into the central role of developing the strength and resilience of our economy, our SMEs are also the facilitators of the fabric of life so that people throughout the country can provide immediate employment opportunities closest to the people in their homes and communities. One finds that communities build when there are small microenterprises there. That helps families to avoid commuting, which prevents pollution and helps with our climate obligations.
On the basis of the contributions, I am reassured we have a shared understanding of the many leading priorities that should be pursued by Government by seeking to develop and strengthen the SME sector across Ireland. These priorities have been reflected in the excellent report carried out by the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, in the OECD review, which was launched last week, and in the contributions we have heard this afternoon.
To recap, we must ensure our forthcoming SME and entrepreneurship strategy addresses all the crucial aspects, including ensuring we have the appropriate targets and support programmes for SMEs to foster the conditions whereby SMEs can innovate, pursue new and emerging technologies, including digitalisation; develop the skills of the owners and managers of SMEs because it is important they have the requisite skills such as the management of finance; create regional ecosystems based on the development of excellence, which will include clusters and hubs that are enterprise-led and; facilitate collaborations.
A few Senators, including Senator Boyhan, mentioned the importance of female entrepreneurship.It is important that we put in place and grow female entrepreneurship. Importantly, we must enable and assist our small and medium-sized firms to access export markets and grow exports both in volume and in terms of the capacity of the markets.
I wish to thank all present, including the rapporteur, Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, and the committee chairman, Senator Paul Coghlan, for their thoughtful and insightful preparation of this report and for facilitating a positive session this afternoon. I found the contributions positive. It was an hour and a half but it flew by because all spoke from the urban and rural side on the importance of the small and medium-sized business sector in light of the fact that 98% of enterprises in the country are SMEs and they employ 70% of the population.