Wednesday, 13 April 2005
I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Killeen, to the House to discuss this matter which is of importance to him, myself and Senator Daly. My comments are directed at the Minister, Deputy Martin, in terms of his role in job creation in County Clare.
We all learned with sadness in the past few days that Microsemi, an excellent employer on the Gort Road industrial estate in Ennis, had announced that it would no longer be able to sustain the level of production jobs it had in place. However, it indicated it would continue with its sales and marketing efforts from a European perspective and would consolidate its efforts based on production capacity in other plants and jurisdictions.
This was particularly bad news for Ennis at this time. Over the past years we have seen a number of companies go out of business in the region and in no real way have we seen replacement jobs in line with the growth in the population. The Minister of State knows this since he has been involved for much longer than me in terms of encouraging businesses to remain or locate in the area, something it is important to continue. Ennis is growing at a rapid rate and in order that it is not left behind as a dormitory town it is critical that the Minister puts in place an action plan coordinating the efforts of the IDA Ireland, Shannon Development and Enterprise Ireland. This will ensure that people who have decided to live in the area can work in their own communities and that their area does not become part of a commuter town. It is critical that we consider whatever measures can be put in place.
I welcome the announcement today by the Minister of State regarding developments at Shannon and a potential 1,500 jobs in the not too distant future. However, we need to concentrate our efforts on the town of Ennis. The fact that the town does not have a large rate base to develop services and facilities a growing town the size of Ennis needs has an impact on development and job creation. The Minister of State is well aware of this. It is important that the Minister puts in place the necessary forum to ensure we advance this proposal.
I thank Senator Dooley for giving me the opportunity to make a brief intervention with regard to this industry. I regret that we must raise this matter, but unfortunately Microsemi has given notice of its intention to lay off most of its workers.
It intends to retain a limited presence in Ennis, which is welcome. Perhaps in the next year or so, following reorganisation, it might be possible to retain a number of jobs at the plant. The company had not decided to leave immediately. The 2002 census highlights success in the Ennis area with total employment at 9,700 compared with 6,700 in 1996. Shannon Development has worked hard with other development agencies and a new 46,000 sq. ft. high-tech park has been built in the grounds of Our Lady's. A plant has been opened on the Quin-Doora road and an industrial estate is planned on the Kilrush road. A number of new commercial developments are taking place in the town.
I deplore the comments made by public representatives last weekend who stated it was time to close the gates of the Gort road industrial estate, on which Microsemi is sited. That would mean the gates would be closed on more than 200 people employed on the estate. Most of the lots on the industrial estate are occupied and it is regrettable that people have engaged in such a hysterical reaction to this closure and have not put forward positive solutions to attract industry to Ennis. Gates are opening, not closing, around Ennis. I wish the Minister of State well in his new office and we are hopeful further gates will be opened. It is not our intention to close gates in Ennis. These comments were made by people who ran in the last election and proclaimed they would solve all Ennis's problems.
I thank the Senators for raising this matter on the Adjournment, particularly for the positive and constructive manner in which they presented their case. I was disappointed to hear of the recent decision, announced on 4 April 2005, by Microsemi Corporation to cease production at its Ennis-based manufacturing facility. Microsemi employs 44 permanent and 87 temporary staff in manufacturing in Ennis. These positions will be phased out over a 12 to 18 month period. The European sales and marketing team of 15 staff, which is also based in Ennis, is not affected by this decision.
The job losses come as a result of the company's decision to consolidate production in its US facilities, as these have surplus capacity. The company will provide a redundancy package and outplacement services for the individuals affected by the closure. The company considers that the closure of the Irish manufacturing operation is necessary to consolidate manufacturing for the overall Microsemi group. It regards this step as necessary for the group's worldwide manufacturing strategy and its ongoing competitiveness. The decision to absorb Irish manufacturing output into the US operation, where there is surplus capacity, in no way reflects on the performance and commitment of the Ennis workforce. I have offered to travel to Scottsdale, Arizona, should reorganisation take place along the lines mentioned by Senator Daly.
Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. FÁS has been in contact with the company to offer its full range of support services. However, it has been advised by the company that it is too soon to consider availing of FÁS services and that it would be more appropriate later in the year.
A meeting of Industry Ennis took place earlier to discuss the employment situation in Ennis. Industry Ennis was formed to capitalise on the Ennis information age town investment and to act as a one-stop shop for Irish industry, foreign direct investment and Irish mobile investment. The group's primary function is to support and, where possible, augment the services of the development agencies, including Shannon Development, IDA Ireland and Clare County Enterprise Board. The outcome of the meeting was that the Industry Ennis group will develop a strategy to address the employment situation in Ennis. This will build on the group's current work with the State agencies in continuing to promote Ennis through initiatives such as the Clare consul programme, which targets successful business people, mainly in Dublin, with Clare connections, as well as working with foreign direct investment itineraries.
Shannon Development and IDA Ireland are committed to the development of the mid-west region, including County Clare and Ennis, and are promoting them for foreign investment. Their efforts are being hampered and undermined by comments such as those mentioned by Senator Daly and the description of Ennis as "a ghost town". It is the fastest growing town in the west but competitors under consideration of new foreign direct investment do not know that and when they read descriptions of Ennis in The Irish Times as "a ghost town", it seriously undermines the chances of attracting new industry.
Last year was successful for the mid-west with investment decisions by Cook Incorporated and Power-One Ireland Limited in Limerick and Organic Lens in Ennis, representing significant additions to their existing operations. In addition, Monster Cable announced a greenfield project for Ennis. Organic Lens will implement a €6.5 million investment for the development of its manufacturing operations in Ennis, which will create 100 jobs. Monster Cable has announced its intention to establish a shared services centre in Ennis, which will create 50 jobs.
A central goal of IDA Ireland is the achievement of balanced regional development. The national spatial strategy provides a framework for the achievement of this goal through the prioritisation of development and investment in the linked gateway of Limerick-Shannon and the hub location of Ennis to allow foreign direct investment needs to be met. The sectoral emphasis for IDA Ireland in the mid-west is on attracting new knowledge intensive projects in information communications and technology, international services, medical technologies and life sciences. Between 2001 and 2004, IDA Ireland companies in the mid-west committed to research and development projects worth €37 million.
The agency works closely with the local educational infrastructure in the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology to foster collaboration between industry and academia with a focus on research and development and emerging new business sectors, for example, digital media and e-learning. In the Shannon region overall, Shannon Development has invested more than €40 million in developing the Shannon Development knowledge network at five locations. Four of these are under way.
Shannon Development has recently completed construction of phase one of the fifth knowledge network location, the information age park in Ennis, with an overall investment of approximately €2.5 million in land, infrastructure and buildings. The park provides 46,000 sq. ft. of world class incubation, expansion and own door office accommodation in an urban park environment on the outskirts of Ennis. This investment marks the first phase of a significant development for Ennis. It is expected that the park will attract continued investment by both private and public sectors over the coming years. Shannon Development's regional office for Clare will relocate to the information age park Ennis as part of the development. The park will become one of the Shannon region's premier locations for working and living, combining state-of-the-art business services and connectivity with thriving local town facilities and access the finest leisure facilities. A total of €110 million will be invested between the public and private sectors in the new park over the next 15 years. The park will cater for office-based knowledge driven activity such as research, software development, back-office type activities and headquarter facilities.
This initiative is a visible demonstration that the Government is committed to delivering balanced regional development in Ireland and the launch of the information age park Ennis provides a good illustration of County Clare's participation in that process. The park will help to spread development in Clare from the traditionally strong focus points of the airport and the Shannon free zone. I acknowledge Senator Dooley's reference to the launch earlier of a new centre, which will be hugely successful and will be of enormous benefit to Ennis and Clare. I am satisfied that the State development agencies continue to market Ennis and County Clare for investment and will make every effort to secure alternative employment for the staff affected by the job losses at Microsemi.