Other Questions. - Job Initiative.

Cecilia Keaveney


34 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the financial implications for the Exchequer arising from the implementation of the Donegal Task Force Initiative Report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4634/01]

I received the report of the Donegal task force initiative on 1 July 1999. After considering the recommendations I presented it to Government on 14 July. On my recommendation, it was agreed that all Government Departments should examine the report and consider the investment priorities in the context of drafting the operational programmes of the National Development Plan 2000-06. The Donegal County Development Board has now undertaken the task of monitoring the implementation of the task force recommendations. Various sectoral groups, established by the board and covering such areas as inward investment, indigenous enterprise development and infrastructure are working towards a December 2001 deadline for completion of their contributions to a strategic plan.

While it is not possible to quantify in total the financial implications for the Exchequer at this stage, I can outline what has happened to date. Twenty-five retraining courses with an average duration of 28 weeks were provided by FÁS for Fruit of the Loom staff at a cost of £4.2 million. Donegal County Council established a £5 million economic development fund, of which £3 million has already been spent on land acquisition, incubation units, marketing and other initiatives. The telecommunications infrastructure is also being developed and the Department of Public Enterprise has announced 13 projects nationwide, which will receive a total of £59 million. Three of these projects involve the development of infrastructure in County Donegal. Aer Arann has been approved maximum Exchequer subvention of £3.9 million to operate a Donegal to Dublin air route from February last. The Department of Marine and Natural Resources is working on a £35 million development for Killybegs fishery harbour centre, which will take two and a half years to complete. Expenditure of over £1million was undertaken at other fishery harbours last year. An ambitious roads programme for the county has also been included in the national development plan.

The industrial development agencies, including the county enterprise boards, are committed to playing their part in the development of Donegal by maintaining the maximum number of existing jobs and attracting new investment. The task force report looked primarily at economic matters but also aspects are now being examined which will include an updated plan for the county.

I thank the Tánaiste for the many positive assertions in her reply. Could the Tánaiste confirm that the high level of funding currently enjoyed in Donegal for technology, sanitary and water services roads and rail will continue? Will she agree, notwithstanding the positive aspects, that access was a key issue in the task force report and that the IDA is actually using the lack of an N2 upgrade as a reason why job creation is not happening? This is a huge issue for the county, not just for job creation but for ease of access and for tourism. Can the Tánaiste outline the Exchequer's report that may be forthcoming to advance the development of this road to meet the standards set on the Dublin to Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Belfast routes?

Would the Tánaiste agree that Enterprise Ireland had the potential to assist Donegal in respect of buildings and marketing and in respect of relocating indigenous industries out of Dublin and into the county's smaller towns not currently the focus of the IDA? The Donegal task force report focused on job creation numbers. Can the Tánaiste confirm that job creation remains an issue that will gain full Exchequer support as necessary in the light of the many job losses?

Access was identified as an issue that acts as a barrier not just to job development but also to tourism and other aspects of the development of Donegal. It is not just a question of air access but also road access. Money has been allocated to Aer Aran and also the Government was involved with the authorities in Northern Ireland concerning the improvement of facilities at Derry airport. That was an unusual initiative for the Irish Government, given that Derry airport is outside our jurisdiction but many of the benefits resulting from Derry airport go to Donegal. Donegal is in the Objective 1 region and therefore 50% of all new greenfield jobs that IDA Ireland is charged with bringing to Ireland must be to that region. Donegal features highly in the United States and we hope one of the projects discussed the week before last will find Donegal an attractive location.

I will call the three Deputies to put a final question before a concluding reply from the Minister.

Did I hear the Tánaiste correctly on the Fruit of the Loom issue that 28 courses were provided by FÁS? Would she let me have some information on those courses and the number of people who went through them? How many people participated in those courses and is there any system in place to track what happened to them since?

The comments last week by Mr. Pádraic White, former boss of the IDA, were highly critical of the Government on its role of job creation in the north west. He said that basically lip service was all that was being provided and that no new companies were coming into the area. Announcement after announcement was being made but without effect as there were no new jobs. Will the Tánaiste comment on that?

Could the Tánaiste undertake to raise with her Cabinet colleagues the issue of the N2-A5 road again because of the discrimination against Donegal in respect of road access that it presents, running contrary to the concept of job creation and regional development? Could she also outline a little more about the strategic plan and what will happen in December 2001 given that the task force report was in 1999?

I can inform Deputy Rabbitte that there were 25 courses offered to the former workers with an average duration of 28 weeks. All the courses offered, which were held throughout the county at a cost of £4.2 million, were City and Guilds certified. The courses covered information technology, care of the elderly, community care, tele-services, child care training, return to work, career development, heavy goods vehicles, computerised accounts and payroll, hairdressing etc. This exercise is currently being replicated for the employees of the Fruit of the Loom factory in Buncrana who were made redundant most recently. On the follow-through, I understand many of the former employees are in new employment but I do not have specific details. I will forward details to the Deputy if I obtain them.

The road network is not my responsibility but it is being addressed under the national development plan roads strategy. Although the N2 will not be of the same standard as the roads to other cities, it will be a vast improvement on the existing road network to Donegal. The Deputy made a valid point that the issue of road access to Donegal should be revisited as speed to market and the international airport in the capital is important for the county's development.

I am not aware of the comments made by the former chief executive of the IDA but a number of new companies have located in County Donegal recently, of which Specific Care is one. The significant difference between the current IDA strategy for Donegal and that which pertained in the past is that a variety of companies from different sectors are locating there. In the past, there was an over-concentration on certain sectors in areas such as Donegal and the midlands and when those sectors got into difficulty, huge downturns resulted. The current strategy, albeit time-consuming, is working and I am confident there will be more good news for Donegal in the near future.