Seanad debates

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

7:00 pm

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I have raised the need for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to outline the efforts being made to attract major employers into the north west and to secure existing employment that will impact on County Donegal given the ongoing employment difficulties since the decline of the textile industry and taking cognisance of the recent plant closure announcement by Seagate.

I empathise and sympathise with the workers of Seagate in the Limavady plant. As a Member for over a decade I am too familiar with the decline of the manufacturing industries. Primarily, in Donegal it was the female-dominated textile industry. Fruit of the Loom was good to workers and generous in its redundancy packages. The same cannot be said for companies such as Clubman Omega. The redundancy package can assist people in the immediate fallout from their job loss but also can be the key to some people beginning their own initiatives. There is some evidence of this in Donegal after the decline of the textiles industry. I offer that as some small comfort to those in the north-west directly affected by this week's announcement by Seagate.

There are more involved than the significant figure of 930 workers. There are their families and the service industries in the region. Each have thrived on the fact that paid employment gave families a disposable income. Nearly 1,000 workers being laid off in a city like Dublin would have a big impact. Can any Member really contemplate how that number impacts on a small rural community? We in Donegal know of it at first hand. This situation is compounded by the fact that the company has a sister plant in Derry and the obvious question, despite assurances to date, is how safe are those jobs?

Some may ask what have Limavady and Derry to do with Donegal? There is proximity geographically and politically through the north-west region cross-Border group. The same issues concern all of us, namely, attracting employment into the region, training employees and ensuring the word "access" is delivered on. Last week on the Adjournment I raised the need for a direct train service from Dublin to Derry to improve access to the area. I was basically told we had air access and a road under construction and given that we had an hourly bus service a train was not needed.

I should like the Minister of State to convey to the senior Minister that the time for platitudes to the north-west must end. We have had FÁS training and some important changes to the back to education allowance, as well as innovation for some as regards support towards going back to education and investment in addressing early school leaving. We also have had improvements in basic infrastructure. However, we must recognise that the north west should not be without a train service if the rest of the country is entitled to one. We have to overcome issues that are of a cross-Border nature.

I am pleased Senator Doherty is a Member of the House because we have issues such as the DUP and Sinn Féin standing over the introduction of third level fees in the North which is disenfranchising Donegal and other Border students. We must recognise, financially, the effects the Troubles have had on Donegal specifically and the west of the Bann, in Ulster terms. We have woken up to a new dawn — there is relative peace; there is a local Administration in the Six Counties but in the nine-county Ulster there is an historical deficit of investment.

This new dawn links into the ongoing march of progress in the east, whereby other regions and counties are wealthy enough, through their business bases, to contribute in kind to ongoing infrastructural development. We in Donegal are expected to turn around with no oars the tide of historical under-investment in infrastructure. The yachts on the rest of the island can rise to that challenge. The reality of where we are coming from must be faced.

I spoke of under investment. Let us call a spade a spade. For decades we did not have an input into, for example, the A5 being upgraded or an air service linking east Donegal with Dublin via Derry. The trains were more often blown up or threatened than running. Businesses could have been described as brave or foolish to consider investing. This has all moved on. We now need a strong and real commitment to provide real jobs in our region and not have a movement of existing businesses over the Border and back again. We have a movement of people to and from locations for work on construction sites. Should the building trade slow, as is forecast, even that source of opportunity will dry up and this needs to be pre-empted for the males involved.

Results to date have not been encouraging. The Minister of State is new to the portfolio and I am aware that he knows about the recent investments that have taken place as regards jobs. I have spoken to him about locations abroad where he has met people who were employers in Donegal. I ask him to take an interest in the north west region. I ask him to commit tonight to turning the tide around with a strategic view of what needs to be done, in co-ordination with the relevant bodies. Together the north west can bounce back but only when that "together" is an all embracing all-Ireland priority and focus. I like to believe that focus will be gained under the Minister of State and Deputy Martin, the senior Minister. We talk about North-South ministerial councils and the brand new dawn. We want to see this brand new dawn yielding something that transcends borders. The Border has been blurred by many things that have occurred in recent times, but there is an east-west divide in this country that also needs to be addressed.

As regards housing, we talk about location, location, location. For business and investment it is access, access, access. I hope the Minister is able to outline what is going on and what can be done to ensure we get what we are entitled to, namely, the same chance as everywhere else on the island of Ireland to attract investment and ensure employers come to the north west, where they will have a better quality of life and potential than in many other regions. I ask the Minister to give that commitment tonight in order that the north west may recover from the effects of such awful announcements as were made this week.

8:00 pm

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his welcome and I thank Senator Keaveney for raising this matter on the Adjournment.

While it is recognised that Donegal has suffered particular difficulties in the past due to the demise of traditional industries such as agriculture, fishing and textiles, there is clear evidence that the county is successfully engaged in a transition to the new economy. Live register figures at 8,340 and 8,370 for September 2006 and 2007, respectively, are lower then any year going back to 1993. The interdepartmental group report on Donegal, which my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Micheál Martin, launched last year, identified the various infrastructural developments required to support enterprise development in the county. The report noted, not just that much progress had been made, but also that there were financial provisions available to complete major infrastructural projects, especially new roads, to equip Donegal further as an attractive location for enterprise development.

Donegal is a key target location for IDA Ireland, with the county now competing for a different type of business from labour-intensive manufacturing, on which it relied successfully in the past. The overseas investor is now seeking locations for more advanced manufacturing or office-based solutions, to a great extent depending on high skill and doing high value work. This has required a significant change of strategy by IDA Ireland with a focus on a limited number of key locations nationally.

To encourage interest in Donegal, IDA Ireland has developed a new business park in Letterkenny with modern building solutions capable of competing with other locations nationally and internationally. IDA Ireland has been working with the third level sectors in the region, at Letterkenny Institute of Technology and in Northern Ireland, to offer the necessary courses aimed at its target areas of medical technologies, international financial services and high end engineering.

Over a number of years, progress has been made in securing new investments from PacifiCare, Pramerica, SITA and Abbott Diabetes with approximately 1,200 new jobs being added in the county by overseas firms in the past five years. These companies continue to recruit and are actively seeking new staff. Pramerica Systems is expanding its services centre in Letterkenny to create 70 new jobs in software development and testing operations, call centre and financial services with added capacity to recruit a further 80 personnel.

Abbott, one of the world's largest healthcare companies, is establishing a manufacturing facility for its diabetes care products in Donegal town with the creation of 155 high quality jobs at full production. Abbott has taken possession of its plant from Hospira and recruitment of key executives is underway along with the redevelopment of the site to meet the needs of its new occupant.

SITA will expand its software operation in Letterkenny, leading to the creation of 123 high quality software development jobs. Zeus Industrial Products has made a capital investment of more than €7 million, principally in state-of-the-art premises, production machinery and equipment. There are currently 71 permanent staff members employed in the firm and recruitment is ongoing.

With regard to the Enterprise Ireland input in County Donegal, during the years 2004-06 a total of 1,156 jobs were created in the agency's client companies, as against job losses of 980, leaving a net gain of 176 jobs. As the Senator mentioned, in recent times I have met with a company from Donegal in Dubai and we are supporting it in its efforts to gain a stronger foothold in that market. In that context, in terms of trade missions, I shall continue to focus on that area and support companies that come forward through Enterprise Ireland. The following are some specific Enterprise Ireland initiatives in County Donegal. The agency supports the CEIM Enterprise Platform Programme, in partnership with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, the Institutes of Technology in Sligo and Border Action in providing a training programme for entrepreneurs wishing to set up their own businesses. This programme is now going into its fourth year.

Enterprise Ireland, in partnership with Invest Northern Ireland and the Special EU Programmes Body, commenced recruitment for Transform, a new cross-Border enterprise incubation programme, in May 2007. The programme was launched in September 2007 with a total of 43 participants, nine of whom are from the north west region. In 2006 Enterprise Ireland approved support of €650,000 for the provision of enterprise space in Carndonagh and Donegal town, as part of the community enterprise centre scheme. The agency has approved an amount of €2.54 million to extend the business development centre at Letterkenny Institute of Technology to cater for increasing demand. The building work is due to commence in 2008.

Enterprise Ireland's policy objectives for balanced regional development are reflected in the structure of its funding offer — whereby funding for existing company expansion and start-up businesses is biased towards regions. The maximum grant level is higher than in Dublin and the mid-east and a higher proportion of this funding is non-repayable. Donegal County Enterprise Board, funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, provides support to micro-enterprises in the start-up and expansion phases to promote and develop indigenous micro-enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity and entrepreneurship at local level. I will bring the Senator's other comments on the region to the attention of the Minister in due course.

Photo of Cecilia KeaveneyCecilia Keaveney (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State. One of our difficulties will be to secure matching funds for infrastructural development because we do not have the business core of other regions. Perhaps the Minister of State will bring this to the attention of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. It is a question of matching the funding locally but the rate base is not the same as that of other counties because we have not had as much business. Some 52% of the rate base in Buncrana was derived from Fruit of the Loom and when such a company is taken out of the equation it makes it very difficult for the council to have the same disposable income as an urban council or county council. I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive answer.

Photo of John McGuinnessJohn McGuinness (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I have a particular interest in the SME sector and the work of Enterprise Ireland. I understand the issues involving IDA Ireland and the infrastructure and I have a keen interest in the regions. I will make the Minister aware of the Senator's views and ensure she receives a reply and that action is taken.