Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Foreign Direct Investment
I am concerned that domestic policy decisions, the housing crisis and the planning system are leading to an uncompetitive environment in the State for the retention of foreign direct investment and damaging efforts to attract new investment. Deputy Niall Collins raised these concerns in the Dáil and has asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to address them at the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation. She has not yet agreed to appear before the committee to have that discussion.
The recently published report by American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, Growing Great Teams in Ireland: The Role of the Residential Rental Sector, clearly illustrates the severity of the housing shortage and how it could lead to Ireland being uncompetitive in the future which could, in turn, be a deterrent to foreign direct investment. The report states more than 30,000 new one-bedroom and two-bedroom rental properties are needed in Dublin by 2022 to meet the housing demand arising from the new jobs created by foreign direct investment. The Tánaiste and IDA Ireland must outline the Government's response to this finding from a jobs growth perspective. The Government can no longer sit on the sidelines and hope the housing crisis will end and house constructions will commence. All successful projects work from the bottom up. It is easy to see that the Government's refusal to launch an organised and co-ordinated social and affordable house building programme is endangering further growth and the creation of high-end jobs in Ireland.
The housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme is not a housing policy, but it is creating division in the country by pitting marginalised and working class families against each other in the competition for housing. If it is to take the report by American Chamber of Commerce Ireland seriously, the Government can no longer simply point to its projected figures and state everything will work out and that the targets will be achieved by 2022. We have had that talk from two Ministers in the past five years but nothing has actually been done. We must have a co-ordinated plan based on a bottom-up approach. We have totally neglected social housing. The Taoiseach delivered a speech at a party conference in Cavan a few days ago which was full of bravado but which included no mention of social housing and no indication of an organised programme of house building. If this matter is not addressed in a serious way, we will have chaotic problems. Rents in Dublin are 20% higher than they were at their peak in 2008. On average, a semi-detached house costs €3,000 per month to rent in Dublin 1. That is an horrific cost in an area in which many of the people who come to Ireland to work in higher end jobs are located and in which they wish to live. We have had a lot of talk about solutions but zero substance when it comes to action. Will the Minister of State indicate whether there is a definite plan in place to commence a house building programme?
I am taking this matter on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation.
It is helpful to put our current foreign direct investment footprint into perspective by pointing out that 2016 was a record year for such investment in Ireland. IDA Ireland client companies created nearly 19,000 new jobs during the year across a range of sectors, with every region of Ireland benefiting. This strong performance has continued into 2017. Investments approved by the agency in the first half of the year will lead to the creation of 11,000 jobs, compared with 9,000 for the equivalent period in 2016. It is worth noting that 52% of all jobs created in 2016 were based outside Dublin and that the mid-year results for 2017 show that 54% of all job approvals so far this year are located outside the capital. This clearly shows that IDA Ireland is committed to increasing investment in every region of the country. It remains focused on that goal, as do the Tánaiste and the Government. In addition, IDA Ireland is working towards a number of ambitious targets, including the creation of 80,000 new jobs and 900 new investments in the period from 2015 to 2019. This would bring total FDI employment in Ireland to 209,000. The year 2016 marked the second year of implementation of the current strategy and over the first two years the agency is delivering well ahead of these targets.
The Government accepts that the adequate supply of quality, affordable housing in the right locations, to buy and to rent, is a contributory factor to Ireland's overall competitiveness. The link between the cost of housing and wage expectations means that developments in the residential property sector impact on our international competitiveness and ability to compete for mobile talent. We are now one year into the implementation of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's action plan for housing and homelessness. In that time many key actions have been delivered or put in train and it is clear from a range of housing related trends that the supply response is coming on stream. All key indicators of construction activity show that residential construction is ramping up considerably. The number of planning permissions is up by almost 50% year on year and the ESRI's latest commentary in October forecast that the number of house completions would reach 19,000 this year and 24,000 in 2018. On that basis, the Rebuilding Ireland target of 25,000 homes per year by 2020 will be met and quite likely exceeded.
In the context of the recent outcome in Athenry, the Government is also taking action to implement an efficient and speedy planning process in order to avoid unreasonable delays in the future. This may include the designation of data centres as strategic infrastructure developments for planning purposes, which would help to ensure future data centre related planning applications would move more swiftly through the planning process.
Ireland's value proposition is based on a highly educated and skilled workforce, an attractive environment in which people want to live and work and a transparent corporate tax regime. For foreign direct investment in Ireland, 2016 was a record year, both in terms of the number of jobs created and the value of investments won. We are on track for more strong results in 2017, in a reflection of our continuing success in attracting capital rich foreign direct investment projects to Ireland. I will cover some of the other issues raised by the Senator when I give my second reply.
Okay. On the Apple data centre in Athenry, I want to be absolutely clear that while the company has not committed to proceed immediately, it has not abandoned the project in Galway. The company has insisted that its potential investment remains under active consideration. Given that the planning issues have now been resolved, we are optimistic that the data centre project will proceed. I assure the Senator that IDA Ireland is in active dialogue with the company and continues to do everything it can to support the project. Data centres remain an important aspect of Ireland's foreign direct investment as the strengths we can offer to this type of project, including our climate, energy supply and business environment, remain in place and are well known to potential investors. I will cover some other issues which the Senator has raised after he responds.
I appreciate the Minister of State coming to the House. I know this is not her remit. This is an issue which is not just important to me or to Opposition parties. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland is telling us that we have a serious issue. On completions, two years ago we were told that we were going to have thousands of social houses. Something like 67 houses were built. Some of the figures which Ministers trot out are off the wall. We are told that we have to be delivering 40,000 or so houses a year. I do not believe we will even deliver 15,000 this year. The Minister of State stated 18,000. In June we were told there could be 11,000 to 12,000 completions. I just cannot agree with some of the figures. It is not just me, but the American Chamber of Commerce of Ireland as well. That is why I am really concerned. It is a very serious organisation. It does not get excited too easily, but it is hearing it from the top down. I know the Minister of State is a great believer in social housing. I firmly believe that unless we start a real programme of social housing, which has to start from the bottom up building houses, we are going nowhere.
We are running out of time but I am sure this matter will arise again. I thank the Minister of State. I believe it is a case of "never the twain shall meet", but the Minister of State is only doing her job on behalf of the line Minister so I thank her for her response.