Thursday, 20 June 2019
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
IDA Ireland Site Visits
I also welcome the Minister of State. I want to raise the matter of the work IDA Ireland is doing in counties Roscommon and Galway. It is an issue the Minister of State is well aware of as he visited the IDA Ireland business park in Ballinasloe recently. IDA Ireland's quarterly results will be published later this morning and, therefore, it is timely to raise this issue, as my understanding is there have been no visits to Roscommon by IDA Ireland client companies so far this year and there have been just two visits to Ballinasloe. I met IDA Ireland officials last week and I was highly dissatisfied with the explanations as to why there are so few visits to counties Roscommon and Galway.
It appears Roscommon and Ballinasloe, in particular, have fallen off the radar when it comes to IDA Ireland promoting the region. Much more needs to be done to prioritise investment in Roscommon and Ballinasloe. IDA Ireland officials said clearly to me last week that regional urban centres are performing well and this is positive. We know Galway city is performing well, as is Parkmore, which is overcapacity. However, job creation needs to be stimulated in a wider area than this. A greater balance in job creation must be achieved. For example, the IDA Ireland business park in Roscommon town has 11 acres of available space. It is a town with significant potential, and I use the example of Harmac Medical Products, based in IDA Ireland's business park in Castlerea. It is a client company, which has been there for the past 20 years. It is an expanding medical device company, which has very much sewn roots in the Castlerea area. It has a dedicated workforce of approximately 300 people and it is in the process of expanding. This is a good argument to try to ensure we support investment and job creation in more of our rural towns. I say this with particular emphasis on Roscommon town and Ballinasloe.
This is not the first time I have raised this issue with the Minister of State. I have also raised it with the Taoiseach and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys. I am very clear that much more needs to be done. More jobs need to be created and delivered in our region. Opportunities are needed for young people to live, work and enjoy the great quality of life our region offers. A certain focus needs to be brought on this to ensure we see delivery of jobs, which we do not see at present.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue, which she has on many occasions. I visited Ballinasloe early last year to see the town at first hand. I am aware of the hard work the Senator is doing to try to attract investment to her region. It is something we are all trying to do for our own regions.
I stress that the Government is determined to support the growth of high quality and sustainable employment in all regions, including in County Roscommon. Regional development is, and will remain, a national priority, and sustained efforts are being made to foster job creation and investment all over the country. IDA Ireland, of course, plays a major role in this. Every region in Ireland has experienced foreign direct investment, FDI, employment gains in recent years and more than 132,000 people are now employed by 681 IDA Ireland client companies located outside Dublin, with 50% of all new FDI jobs created last year based in regional locations.
The agency continues to market Roscommon to potential investors. IDA Ireland works closely with Enterprise Ireland and its indigenous base of companies to enhance clusters, which are important. It is important that IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and local enterprise offices, LEOs, work together to ensure they can create employment in the regions. They work together to participate in site visits and maximise benefits for the county. From 2015 until 2017, the agency paid almost €920,000 in grants to FDI companies in Roscommon. These grants are an important means of encouraging companies to invest in Ireland, particularly in regional locations such as Roscommon.
With regard to site visits, Senator Hopkins is correct that IDA Ireland hosted three site visits to Roscommon in 2017 and 2018. While there have been no site visits to the county so far in 2019, it is worth remembering that such visits do not reflect investment potential in an area. Many of the FDI companies in the regions are existing companies, which are solidifying and growing their bases in the regions. In fact, overall employment trends in County Roscommon are positive. Nine IDA Ireland-supported companies operate in the county, employing 1,171 people, which is an increase of 3% compared to the previous year. FDI is increasing. According to the most recent FDI employment data, between 2012 and the end of 2018, the county experienced a 25% increase in FDI employment.
The Government recently launched regional action plans to further stimulate job creation and investment in the regions. In February, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched the west regional enterprise plan. This is focused on six strategic objectives that build on the region's strengths and address vulnerabilities. These include achieving further development and growth in life sciences, agritech, tourism and the creative sector, as well as strengthening the regional ecosystem with regard to skills availability and enterprise space. Jobs growth has been strong in all regions, including the west. As the Senator said, we are awaiting IDA Ireland's results for the west later this morning. There are 28,400 more people at work in the west today than at the beginning of 2015, when the then Government first launched regional jobs plans, and the unemployment rate has reduced significantly from almost 12.6% to 5.5%.
The final statistic cited by the Minister of State is important. Significant work has been done to reduce unemployment. As he said, the rate is now at 5.5%, which is positive. However, I am not satisfied, and I do not have adequate evidence that enough is being done. I will outline a few examples. IDA Ireland's business park in Ballinasloe, with which the Minister of State will be familiar, has two good, solid companies in Aptar and SurModics but the difficulty is substantial space is available on the site that is not being utilised. Voluntary groups are trying to apply for planning permission to build advance facilities. I am working closely with them to support them but surely IDA Ireland needs to do more to ensure advance facilities are built because they are good templates for attracting companies. The same example should be followed in Roscommon town. It is an excellent retail town that has improved significantly in recent years. It is well connected in terms of road and train infrastructure.
When we look at the figures for the west, the challenge is that Galway is doing well, and the Monksland site is doing well in County Roscommon but, outside of them, there are major challenges and gaps in what IDA Ireland is doing.I am aware that there are other agencies. I am familiar with the officials in the local enterprise office who do excellent work. Enterprise Ireland also works to support client companies. I am not satisfied and do not have enough evidence that all of the agencies support the region in which we live. I am talking, in particular, about the IDA Ireland business parks in Roscommon town and Ballinasloe. Will the Minister of State speak to IDA Ireland officials at the highest level to ensure there is a focus on and that jobs will be delivered in the region because we have a huge amount to offer in terms of quality of life?
It is not all about IDA Ireland jobs in every region. Some 98% of enterprises are small and medium-sized that employ over 70% of the workforce. The statistics for Enterprise Ireland companies show that 765 people are employed in 45 companies in Roscommon. Again, the trend is moving in the right direction and the figure is up 4% on the figure for the previous year. Nearly €3 million was paid out to Enterprise Ireland clients in the county between 2015 and 2017. Foreign direct investment is important, but the indigenous and small business sector is also extremely important in every county, which is why I have placed a big emphasis on same. As the Senator rightly pointed out - I know that she keeps in close contact with the local enterprise office in Roscommon - LEOs help to create jobs. For many local authorities LEOs are a very important part of the fabric of their areas because they help to create jobs locally, which is important. One finds that foreign direct investment companies opt to locate in large urban areas. One can bring as many representatives of companies as one likes to the regions to show them sites, but in the end the companies will decide where they want to locate. There are some really good companies such as Advanced Couplings Limited, Alexion Pharma, Colour Communications Europe, Harmac Medicals Limited and Jazz Pharmaceuticals, plus the ones named by the Senator. Balanced regional development is a priority for the Government. We were delighted with the figures IDA Ireland announced for last year. Some 57% of jobs were located outside Dublin. There was a higher percentage for Enterprise Ireland, at nearly 67%. Therefore, I am happy with the structure, that it is working and that we are moving in the right direction. Much of the funding under Project Ireland 2040 will be for regeneration projects in towns and large urban areas. I hope the funding drawn down under the programme by the local authority will help to sustain and increase the number of jobs created in County Roscommon also. I have noted the point made by the Senator about the number of site visits made by IDA Ireland which I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and IDA Ireland. I intend to visit the local enterprise office in Roscommon in the very near future and will let the Senator and other Oireachtas Members know what is happening.