Seanad debates

Thursday, 20 November 2008

1:00 pm

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Mary Wallace, to the House. This is an important motion. In the past ten years County Mayo has seen the greatest level of economic growth in the history of the State. We have not seen the creation of jobs to match this growth in Mayo, although that is not the case in other counties. It is clear there is a significant downturn, with a sizable increase in the number of people on the live register. From October 2007 to October 2008 there was a 52% increase in the number of people on the live register in Ballina, a 75.7% increase in Ballinrobe, a 29% increase in Belmullet, a 72.8% increase in Castlebar, the capital of the county, an 80% increase in Claremorris, a good market town, a 57.8% increase in Swinford and an 89.4% increase in Westport, which is one of the tourist capitals of the west.

The equivalent figures from April 2008 to October 2008 also show a significant increase: a 28% increase in Ballina, a 28% increase in Ballinrobe, a 37% increase in Castlebar, a 22% increase in Belmullet, a 33% increase in Claremorris, a 26% increase in Swinford and a 53% increase in Westport. By all accounts these figures are on the increase. County Mayo is the third largest county in the country. Various Deputies have submitted parliamentary questions in recent months regarding the number of jobs created in the county in the past ten years. IDA Ireland has only created approximately 500 jobs in the county in that time, although it is supporting several projects and companies by way of financial grants and so on.

Let us compare this with investment in County Cork, the largest county in the country. There is a significant difference in the amount of investment there. I recognise the difference made by the presence of Cork city and that the county is a good deal bigger, but perhaps the variation in investment levels is because the former Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment comes from Cork. An Adjournment debate in the House last week highlighted this point.

In the good times the people of County Mayo suffered greatly as the county has not seen the same increases in employment that occurred in other parts of the country when the economic boom came, but now that there is a downturn in the economy the live register figures indicate very significant increases in the towns mentioned. What plans does the Minister of State have to reduce these figures? What plans does the Government have for job creation throughout the county in the coming years?

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State with special responsibility for Health Promotion and Food Safety, Department of Health and Children; Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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The recent increase in the numbers on the live register is unwelcome and is an indication of the challenges that face the labour market and the economy as a whole.

The Government is taking specific measures to address these challenges and to ensure job losses are minimised as much as possible. Our priority is to create the environment that will allow those who have lost their jobs to quickly return to the labour market. The enterprise development agencies, with FÁS, are actively engaged in facilitating job opportunities in County Mayo.

In line with the national spatial strategy, IDA Ireland seeks to attract foreign direct investment into the county through the linked hubs of Ballina and Castlebar, as well as the town of Westport. IDA Ireland's sectoral emphasis in Mayo is on attracting new knowledge-intensive projects in the medical technologies, life sciences, information communications technology and international services sectors.

At present there are 19 IDA Ireland supported companies in Mayo employing slightly fewer than 3,000 people in permanent jobs and approximately 500 more in temporary and contract employment. IDA Ireland is actively working with the existing base of overseas companies in County Mayo to encourage them to grow and expand. Baxter International Inc, a world leading health care company, announced in November 2007 that it intended to invest more than €75 million over a six year period. This investment is part of a strategic programme to introduce new technologies, higher value products and the reskilling of its workforce to its manufacturing plants in Castlebar and Swinford, County Mayo.

The agency is investing significantly in the provision of planned and focused property solutions in the county by developing world-class business and technology parks in Ballina, Westport, and Castlebar. The agency has invested €3.5 million on site development and in a landscaping programme for the park in Westport. IDA Ireland is closing the sale of approximately 1.2 hectares to the ESB and is at an advanced stage of negotiations for the development of a 110 KV sub-station on this site, which will service the development of the park and significantly enhance the power provision for the region.

IDA Ireland is an active participant in the county development board and works with local groups, utility providers and other agencies to ensure that Mayo secures the appropriate infrastructure to enable the existing companies to develop and to make the area sufficiently attractive for new projects. IDA Ireland has been deeply involved with local partners in the development of regional planning guidelines and it collaborates with other stakeholders in the county to promote the infrastructure and environment for enterprise and job creation.

New indigenous companies have also been established and have created employment in the county. In April 2007, Ovagen announced 60 jobs for Ballina. An important feature of Enterprise Ireland's work in Mayo is the development of high potential start-up companies. Companies supported include Home Textiles Direct in Westport and Theta Chemicals in Ballindine. Enterprise Ireland works with 124 client companies in the county that employ 3,155 people. Funding through Enterprise Ireland was made available in 2007 to ensure that ideas, research and technology generated in Irish universities and colleges are used to keep Irish companies at the cutting edge of the knowledge economy. In the west, this will allow for the appointment of three high calibre commercial technology specialists, based in NUI Galway, to develop strong commercial links between universities and business.

Enterprise Ireland has approved support for community owned enterprise centres in ten locations in the county. These are Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Brickens, Castlebar, Charlestown, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Foxford, Killala and Kiltimagh. This helps to provide much needed workspace for the creation of new projects and businesses. In April 2007, a new community enterprise centre scheme was announced to provide €21 million of capital funding for the period between 2007 and 2009 to assist community groups in building enterprise centres.

Employment services are available at the FÁS offices in Ballina and Castlebar. FÁS funds the local employment service through the Mayo Partnership Company. This company runs the Obair offices in towns throughout the county to support the unemployed, with a particular emphasis on those who are most distant from the labour market. There are approximately 1,500 people participating in FÁS training programmes in County Mayo, with 842 participating in community employment projects. The other programmes in the region include the job initiative, local training initiatives, supported employment, specialist training providers and job clubs.

For those who have lost their jobs and those in employment, the importance of upskilling to this economy's competitiveness is vital. The skills of our workforce will need to adapt quickly to meet the challenges posed by a rapidly shifting global economic market. The participation of ever greater numbers of our population in lifelong learning is essential to ensure that this country's economy remains adaptable against the background of the kind of economic challenges that we face today. Through individually tailored training programmes run by FÁS and Skillnets, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to life-long learning for our workforce.

These are challenging times and as a small open economy, Ireland is particularly prone to the effects of a global economic downturn. However, as outlined here today, the Government continues to develop the necessary policies and initiatives to tackle the issues facing us.