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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Apr 1991

Vol. 407 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Marine Matter.

I rise, once again, tonight to speak about the free port in Cork which had a long and difficult birth and which is now dying an infant death because of the failure of the Government to provide tax incentives and a marketing budget to ensure that the free port is marketed worldwide. At the last count only four industries remained in the area. Indeed, one industry, tragically, went to the wall just one week ago.

This matter must be viewed against the background of a 10.4 per cent increase in unemployment in Cork city and the Cork area during the last 12 months — a frightening increase — and the provision of £50 million of taxpayers' money for the free port at Ringaskiddy. I believe that the free port has no resources and is a lame duck. It is also one of the best kept secrets in Europe given that foreign agencies and industries do not seem to be aware of its existence. Furthermore, it cannot compete with the Shannon Free Zone or the Dublin financial services centre as companies in the free port area do not qualify for the 10 per cent rate of corporation tax. I believe that the free port authority should not tolerate this charade and should put it up to the Minister to provide tax incentives and make the resources that it requires to market the port abroad available, or resign. The members are frustrated and disillusioned and we have now reached the point where it is either make or break.

I have no doubt that the Minister is going to say that the local authorities, the Industrial Development Authority, Cork County Council and Cork Corporation provide a marketing budget, but these bodies cannot finance themselves at this time. Therefore I suggest to the Minister that he should either provide tax incentives and fund the port or else do the charitable thing and disband the authority, as the free port represents a sop to the Cork area where there is a high rate of unemployment.

The promotion of Cork harbour and of Cork as an industrial location are, in the first instance, matters for the Cork Harbour Commissioners and the Industrial Development Authority. The following are the facilities available at the free port: State infrastructural services, including water, effluent and drainage systems, natural gas, electricity, roads, airport and telecommunications; skilled labour; social and recreational amenities. The free port confers specific tax advantages on qualifying companies within the area. The tax regime at the free port is a matter for the Minister for Finance.

The ongoing costs involved in marketing and promoting the free port are met by the Industrial Development Authority, Cork Harbour Commissioners and local interests. The marketing strategy is that Cork Harbour Commissioners market the portal facilities for the normal trade and traffic activities of the ferry and the deep water terminals, and the IDA have primary responsibility for the attraction of port-related industries to the free port. Ringaskiddy free port is being vigorously promoted and marketed. This is evidenced by the fact that in 1989-90 site visits to Ringaskiddy were undertaken by a total of 65 companies. Regrettably, to date, as the Deputy said, there are only four companies and one subsidiary company operating in the free port.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.5 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 25 April 1991.