Seanad debates

Thursday, 9 February 2006

1:00 pm

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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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.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Senator Browne has raised what is obviously an extremely important issue in his local area. State support for enterprise and job creation is channelled through the Industrial Development Agency Ireland, which has responsibility for foreign direct investment, and Enterprise Ireland, which concentrates on the development of indigenous industries. Although the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment may give general policy directives to the agencies under the relevant Acts, he is precluded from giving directives on individual undertakings and from giving preference to one area over another.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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That did not seem to apply to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in Dundalk, to the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, in Clondalkin or to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, in Cork.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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IDA Ireland has assured the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment that it is committed to the development of County Carlow and is actively promoting Carlow town for new foreign investment in international services and high-value manufacturing activities. IDA Ireland has invested almost €11.5 million to date in developing the Carlow business and technology park on the Dublin Road. Following receipt of planning permission, the development of a 17,000 sq. ft. advance office building with 100% expansion capability was completed in November 2005. The agency is already actively marketing the building and the technology park through its network of overseas offices. The Minister understands from IDA Ireland that to date a total of six site visits to the park have taken place and discussions are ongoing with a number of these companies.

In addition to actively promoting County Carlow for new foreign investment, IDA Ireland is actively working with its existing portfolio of supported companies in County Carlow to encourage them to grow and to expand their range of activities here. The agency believes Carlow has a number of the ingredients necessary to be attractive to overseas investors. For example, it has an existing base of five overseas businesses, a first-class institute of technology, a growing population and a high-quality of life. Carlow is also within reasonable proximity of Dublin and its international airport.

Enterprise Ireland activity is focused on creating new jobs by supporting entrepreneurs to set up new high-potential start-up companies. It is also focused on the retention and creation of new jobs in existing companies and on enhancing innovation capability through support for research in companies and third level institutions.

Enterprise Ireland assists companies in its portfolio to grow their sales and exports and to improve innovation in order that they can compete on world markets. During the past three years Enterprise Ireland approved support of over €5.3 million and made payments of over €3.5 million for manufacturing industry in County Carlow. This investment was in areas such as research and development, capability building and process development. The Minister also understands that the agency has approved €1.42 million for the construction of a campus innovation centre at Carlow Institute of Technology and an additional €156,000 for the management of the centre. As construction work on the centre is now complete, the first tenants will be in a position to move into the centre in the nearfuture.

Enterprise Ireland has also approved €200,000 for the construction of the 7,500 sq. ft. community enterprise centre in O'Brien Road, Carlow, that opened in December 2004. Enterprise Ireland believes the development of community-based enterprise centres is a crucial part of the drive to create new regional enterprises. Carlow County Enterprise Board has relocated its offices to the centre and five new enterprises have started there. An additional two units are available for letting and we hope the building will be fully occupied shortly.

Carlow County Enterprise Board was established in 1993 to provide a source of support for small businesses with ten employees or fewer. The function of the board is to develop indigenous enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity within County Carlow. The board provides a single point of contact at local level for new and established small businesses. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, enterprises may qualify for support from the board primarily in the form of capital and feasibility grants.

During 2005, Carlow CEB paid €291,829 in grant aid to 21 projects and assisted in the creation of 60 net jobs in grant-aided companies in the Carlow area. The board also trained 564 people in small business skills and provided professional mentoring to 83 clients. The Minister understands the board's networking seminars, including the Women in Business Network, recorded attendances of 371. Such seminars provide local businesses with the opportunity to discuss and seek advice on issues relevant to them.

The Minister understands a steering committee has been established, comprising nominees from Carlow County Council, Enterprise Ireland, Carlow County Enterprise Board, Teagasc's Oak Park Research Centre, IT Carlow and the private sector. The objective of the group is to explore opportunities for Carlow as a centre for agribusiness/biotechnology, with regard to the existing capabilities in crop and food development, life sciences, biometrics and biofuels. A feasibility study supported by Carlow CEB to assess the opportunities for Carlow was commissioned and its recommendations are currently being considered.

The Minister is confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by the development agencies in Carlow, together with the ongoing commitment of the Government to regional development, will bear fruit by providing additional sustainable investment and jobs for the people of Carlow.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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As one of the fastest growing towns in the country, Carlow is now almost as big as Kilkenny city. The thousands of people who commute from Carlow are forced to waste four hours each day in their cars. I urge the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to bring major industries to Carlow, for which we have been waiting 30 years. We need major industry such as manufacturing to keep the town growing. Otherwise we will be very vulnerable.

Photo of Batt O'KeeffeBatt O'Keeffe (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing, Urban Renewal and Developing Areas, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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There are many positives in what Senator Browne said about Carlow. As I said, the proper structures are being put in place in Carlow and co-ordinated efforts are now being made to ensure that Carlow receives the benefits that many other towns in a central or hub position have received. The science building and other buildings that Senator Browne mentioned augur extremely well for Carlow. In a way the Senator has portrayed how well Carlow is gearing itself for significant future development.