I point out that Deputy James Breen is not present. Therefore, we will take Question No. 1 but not Question No. 5.
Community Employment Schemes.
1 Mr. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the instructions that have been issued to FÁS on the way regulations are to be interpreted by them that allow community employment participants in various age groups to continue in schemes after three years’ continuous participation. [8151/04]
As part of the Government decision in 1999 to restructure community employment, future participation in community employment by an individual was capped at three years, effective from April 2000. This change was introduced to discourage repeated participation in community employment and to encourage unemployed persons to avail of training and education options where possible, which are shown to have more successful progression outcomes for individuals.
The three-year cap was amended in August 2001 to allow particularly disadvantaged persons to remain on the programme for a further period. Participants are considered for such an extension if on reaching the end of their normal entitlements on community employment they are likely to experience difficulty in getting employment. A number of community employment participants have difficulty in progressing to open labour market employment due to their age, literacy or numeracy problems, or a lack of suitable jobs available locally.
FÁS has discretion to give 20% of participants under 50 years of age extensions of up to one year to meet the needs of individuals who would clearly benefit from an extension in terms of their future employment prospects. In addition, participants over 50 may be given a further year on community employment, with provision for review at the end of that year — further discretion may be given to extend participation beyond this on a case by case basis, subject to continued annual review. In general, approximately 20% of participants on community employment may benefit from an additional year on the programme under the current flexibility guidelines.
The future structure of the community employment programme is currently under review by a group of senior officials and FÁS, and this group is expected to report to Ministers on the outcome of their deliberations very shortly. The outcome of this review will inform any future adjustments in the structure and the terms and conditions of participation on community employment.
In the run-up to the Estimates last year, when community employment and the problem of people on schemes not progressing to full-time employment was being discussed, the Minister of State constantly said there was enough flexibility within the FÁS system to deal with this. I have been in contact with FÁS on numerous occasions to try to establish the criteria they use and as far as I can establish the only criterion they use is that 20% of any age group can remain on a scheme. If five people over 55 years want to stay on a scheme then only one of them can stay on. The chances of that happening in any one scheme are minimal so for all intents and purposes that flexibility is worth nothing.
The other measures the Minister mentioned have obviously not been made clear to FÁS or else FÁS is not implementing them with the kind of flexibility which the Minister of State wants it to use, to judge from his comments today and before Christmas. It is time the Minister of State gave FÁS instructions on the flexible implementation of these guidelines.
I am particularly concerned about those aged over 55, a matter we discussed here several times before Christmas. At that time the Minister of State was confident he would be able to put a social employment scheme or something similar in place for those over 55 years and he told us we would see that in the Estimates. I appreciate the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs hijacked that measure from the Minister of State with his rural social scheme and Deputy Ó Cuív now has a slush fund from the dormant accounts for community grants. He obviously wants to steal some community workers from the enterprise and trade schemes.
This measure is not working properly. I understand the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs is to set up a totally separate mechanism to administer the rural social scheme. Under the FÁS umbrella there are community groups which administer the community employment scheme, with supervisors employed by the actual community groups and any duplication of that would be an utter waste of money. Those aged over 55 outside the farming community are in serious trouble. The Minister of State and the Government gave a commitment before last year's Estimates that there would be facilities in place for those over 55 but they have not materialised.
Will the Minister of State review this situation with reference to flexibility for those over 55 years and to make sure FÁS understands that there should be flexibility, as tight interpretation of the rules does not allow that?
The position is as outlined. If the Deputy misunderstands that FÁS does not. I am not aware of any situation in which one needs five people over 55 years in order to retain one or five people over 50. The criteria are quite clear and FÁS has the discretion to allow for 20% of participants being under 50 years and to give extensions for a further year when the individuals involved would clearly benefit from the year. There is no difficulty with that interpretation by FÁS.
Participants who are over 50 may be given a further year on CE with a provision for review at the end of that year and there is further discretion to extend participation beyond that on a case by case basis. The Deputy is clearly not aware of the policy FÁS is implementing. I am not aware of the regulations he describes but if there are areas where that is happening we will put that right.
2 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the recent annual report of the Competition Authority; her views on whether the authority’s target of prosecuting one cartel a year is adequate in view of the widespread public concerns regarding the extent to which consumers are being exploited by anti-competitive behaviour; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8148/04]
I welcome the Competition Authority's annual report for 2003, which has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and which is currently being examined. The report demonstrates the authority's wide range of activities in the areas of competition law enforcement, controlling mergers and acquisitions, undertaking studies and promoting competition generally.
Regarding the authority's expectation to prosecute one cartel per year, I understand this takes account of the authority's experience to date in investigating cartels both at national and international level. Cartels are conspiratorial by nature, making them difficult to detect and prosecute successfully. It should be borne in mind, therefore, that undertaking the prosecution of a cartel case is an arduous and time-consuming process which involves the investment of significant legal and economic resources.
For example, I am aware that the Director of Public Prosecutions has commenced the prosecution of a particular cartel, the investigation of which began more than two years ago. More than 50 summonses have been issued in 11 District Courts to companies and individuals and the authority does not view the number of defendants in this case or the length of time that it has taken to get the case to court as unusual in cartel investigations.
Achieving a successful outcome to any prosecution brought is of greater importance than the number of prosecutions initiated. As we have seen from developments in other countries, a single successful prosecution of unlawful business activity can have a very wholesome effect on potential wrongdoing by others.
In view of the harm caused by cartels to consumers, the authority has identified the pursuit of cartels as a priority and to this end it introduced a cartel immunity programme in December 2001 in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I understand the programme has been operating successfully.
Furthermore, the authority's law enforcement role is not just confined to cartel investigations. I note that the authority's annual report for 2003 shows a considerable increase in overall enforcement of competition law compared with previous years. Last year was the first in which the authority operated with the full range of its current powers and functions under the Competition Act 2002. The report shows that the authority has made a good start across the whole range of its responsibilities and I look forward to further success in the years ahead.
I am taken aback by the complacent response from the Minister of State.
The Deputy should not be taken aback.
I suppose not. If one issue resonates across the land it is the perception of rip-off Ireland. The Minister of State says the prime agent of the State, the Competition Authority, is doing a grand job, that all is well and that we can sit back because the proof of the pudding is in the eating. That is an extraordinary attitude.
The report referred to states that out of 200 complaints received 174 were closed following an initial review and only five proceeded to full investigation. In effect only one case in 40 was investigated and the vast majority of complains were dismissed without any follow-up. In the face of widespread public concern about rip-off Ireland, is the Minister of State content with that?
The chairman's foreword to the report effectively states that the enforcement target set for the authority is the same as was achieved in 1998 and 1999 despite the fact that staff numbers have been increased by vote of the House by86%, from 21 to 39, with two additional Garda detective sergeants. The budget has virtually doubled and, as the Minister of State rightly said, the legislative powers have also been beefed up to enable effective enforcement. Is the Minister of State saying that notwithstanding the new legislation, new resources and new staff, an enforcement target at that level is acceptable to him?
Yes, I am satisfied. The authority's target is based on a number of criteria it has set down for itself. As the Deputy is aware, the Competition Act 2002 came into operation in July 2002. Last year was the first full year of its operation. Based on the authority's experience from the first full year of the Act's operation, on previous and current cartel investigations, from the first year with full staff complement, from international experience of investigating cartels, from its relationship with the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the authority concluded that a target of one major cartel investigation per year was appropriate.
This is a highly complex and time-consuming exercise. The evidential standard for indictable offences is onerously high with a beyond reasonable doubt burden of proof on the prosecutor. Following investigation, the authority is required to prepare a file for the DPP after which the preparation of a book of evidence can take several months. Following a decision by the DPP to proceed with the prosecution, the authority assists and works with the DPP, the chief prosecution solicitor, legal counsel and the Garda Síochána in getting a case ready for trial.
By way of illustration of the extent and size of individual cartel investigations in the coming months, I refer to the prosecution of a case arising from a Competition Authority investigation of a cartel. This investigation commenced over two years ago. In excess of 50 summonses have been issued in 11 different court districts to companies and individuals to answer charges being brought by the DPP. The trial will involve the largest number of defendants collectively in one case in the history of the State.
How many successful prosecutions have there been?
It is not about the number of investigations; it is about the depth and effort made to break these notorious cartels.
I deliberately kept my question short but the Minister of State went on and on. He said the proof of the pudding is in the number of prosecutions. How many successful prosecutions against cartels have there been to date?
I do not have that information, but I will make it available to the Deputy.
On a short piece of paper.
Health and Safety Regulations.
3 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of workers killed in work related accidents in 2003; the reason for the delay in the bringing forward of legislation to strengthen the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989; and when legislation will be brought forward to provide for the offence of corporate manslaughter in view of the unacceptable level of workplace deaths. [8149/04]
The number of workers killed in workplace accidents in 2003 is 56, or three per 100,000 workers. While any workplace fatality is one too many, worker fatality rates have been steadily falling to the extent that the rate per 100,000 workers is now 45% lower than in 1995.
Legislative proposals to repeal and amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 are at present the subject of legal drafting by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. Drafting is at an advanced stage of development. However, it involves a detailed revision of the current legislative framework dealing with occupational health and safety and is a long and complicated process. There is ongoing consultation between officials of my Department and the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and I expect to be in a position to introduce a Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill in April.
The Law Reform Commission published a consultation paper on corporate killing in October last. The Commission recommends that a new offence of corporate killing be established which would be prosecuted on indictment, without exclusion of any entity whether incorporated or not. The offence would apply to acts or omissions of a high managerial agent, which would be treated as those of the undertaking. This is much wider than in the context of workplace safety.
To give practical effect to these recommendations, I am taking the opportunity to provide for the creation of this new offence in law in the Bill on occupational health and safety now being prepared. This will have to be subject to the final views of the Law Reform Commission when its consultation process is complete and also subject to the advice of the Attorney General. My Department is in consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and I hope it will be possible to include an appropriate provision in the new Bill.
Many people will say these deaths could have been avoided. The tiny sums of money given to the families of those who have died, particularly in construction accidents, have been an insult. There is a view that if the legislation had not been delayed, many of these accidents could have been avoided.
I wish to ask the Minister of State about construction related deaths, of which there were 19 last year and six to date this year. Studies by the Health and Safety Authority and the HSE have revealed that a significant proportion of clients, designers and project supervisors are failing to meet their statutory obligations. Proposed new construction regulations, which would place a range of new responsibilities on clients and supervisors have been approved by the Health and Safety Authority and its construction advisory committee, which included trade union representatives. The trade union movement and others are concerned that the Minister of State is planning to roll back on those proposed regulations as a result of coming under some political pressure from vested interests, including professional bodies such as the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Association of Consulting Engineers and the society of chartered supervisors. There is a belief that they wish to stonewall this legislation.
Will the Minister of State outline exactly what was discussed when he met these professional bodies on this matter? Did he make any commitments to roll back on proposed legislation? Will he state categorically that he does not intend to roll back on proposed construction regulations as approved by the Health and Safety Authority?
The level of fatalities in the construction industry, in particular, is a cause of great concern. Despite considerable effort being made by the partnership involved — management and unions in the construction sector — those fatalities continue. I am intent on introducing legislation, which will ensure people in the design, architectural and consulting engineering sectors have an important part to play in health and safety. We must have a joined-up system when it comes to health and safety involving the architectural, design and consulting engineering sectors. I recently met representatives of the organisations mentioned by the Deputy.
It is my intention to ensure we have effective legislation. We do not want legislation, which will cause bureaucratic blockages or difficulties for any sector. The objective must be to ensure that everybody involved in the construction sector should be under the health and safety legislative banner. That is my intention, and I will not roll back on anything.
I am prepared to listen to the case being put as to the type of legislation. Discussions are ongoing between the representative organisations and the management of the Health and Safety Authority to ensure we come up with the best formula which will be acceptable to everybody. I am particularly concerned about mobile structures where we have seen a number of fatalities in the past 12 months. It gives rise to serious concern and we propose to address that issue in the legislation.
4 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the action she is taking to introduce competition into the insurance market; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8152/04]
One of the key elements of the insurance reform programme the Tánaiste launched on 25 October 2002 is to investigate competition in the Irish insurance market with a view to establishing what actions are needed to improve competition.
The aim of the joint study undertaken by the Department and the Competition Authority is to identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. The bulk of the study was completed in 2003 and a preliminary report and consultation document on competition issues in the non-life insurance market was published on 18 February 2004. Following a two-month consultation period, a final report will be published which will contain recommendations based on its findings.
The insurance reform programme mentioned above contains a wide-ranging set of insurance reforms that have the potential to make the Irish market generally more attractive to insurers, thus encouraging the entry of new players into the market and leading to downward pressure on premia. Improvements in the functioning of the Irish insurance market will reduce industry costs and make the market more attractive to other firms that have not had any previous presence in Ireland. Competition has a vital role to play in ensuring that these cost reductions are fully passed on to the buyers of insurance.
Many of the other measures contained in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board's recommendations will have the effect of encouraging competition, including those relating to transparency and the provision of information to consumers. Examples of recommendations that have been implemented to promote competition include the provision of 15 days' notice at renewal time for motor insurance policies, which give consumers the opportunity to shop around; regulations that prescribe that no claims bonus documentation be provided with renewal notices to assist consumers who wish to shop around; the provision of comparative tables of insurance quotes which IFSRA now publishes on its one-stop website on a three-monthly basis; and the incorporation of the principle of acting against the public interest in the Competition Act 2002.
Codes of practice in the insurance industry, IFSRA and the IIF, now require insurers who refuse to quote for any particular risk to state their reason in writing, upon request. The Irish Insurance Federation in its code of practice has agreed a code of conduct with its member companies on anti-competitive behaviour, subject to any more formalised measures which may be adopted by IFSRA under competition law.
The Competition Authority has a duty to review all further insurance mergers in the interests of the economy, with appropriate reference to IFSRA. The process of consultation seeks to protect the interests of specific policyholder groups, since the effects of mergers may warrant consideration below issues of the market as a whole.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Over the coming months, I intend to meet representatives of potential new entrants to the market. I have made it known that I am interested in talking to any such potential entrants.
I thank the Minister of State for his response but it does not seem to address the fact that there is no competition within the marketplace. I have received an e-mail from a young man who sought insurance cover for a Fiat Punto and received a quote of between €3,500 and €5,700, which is more than the cost of the car. Owing to the lack of competition, cherry-picking is taking place in the market and young people are being persecuted by the insurance industry which does not want to take them on. Competition is badly needed.
Why have all 67 recommendations of the MIAB, which were launched with such fanfare as the answer to insurance problems, not been implemented? How many of them have been implemented and when will the rest be implemented? Costs have fallen for the insurance industry because road deaths have decreased by more than 25% in the last five years. The industry's input costs have fallen, yet that reduction has not been passed on to young drivers who are most vulnerable in this respect.
I do not accept the criticisms levelled by the Deputy. Some 32 of the 67 recommendations contained in the MIAB's report have already been implemented.
Four of them have been partly implemented and a further 21 are being actively progressed. The Deputy is well aware of the progress that is being made across the spectrum as a result of legislation introduced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, as well as by the work envisaged for the PIAB which is about to be established. There is clear evidence that premium prices are being reduced by up to 32%. While we all accept that reductions are not happening as widely or as quickly as we would wish, it is clear that significant reductions are taking place and a number of companies have reduced premia considerably.
The case the Deputy mentioned is evidence of the wide gap between what companies are quoting and it indicates that competition is becoming more effective. While the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment is satisfied that there is still a considerable way to go, we are making progress in that respect.
Would the Minister of State accept that the only way real competition can be achieved is by having a single European insurance market? Will he outline what measures have been taken by the Government to achieve that?
While there is an argument for such a market, the European and domestic situations are quite different. That is one of the issues concerning insurance companies that is being addressed currently within the ambit of European competition law. For instance, data sharing, which is allowed under European competition law, is not provided for here. That is an example of where we need to make further progress and which will bring about an improvement in competition.
Question No. 5 lapsed.
6 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of EU directives for which her Department has responsibility which have yet to be implemented; the number in respect of which the deadline for implementation has passed; if she has satisfied herself with the rate of compliance by her Department; the number of cases where legal actions have been notified or commenced by the EU Commission arising from a failure to implement a directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8064/04]
The current position in relation to the transposition of EU directives for which my Department is responsible indicates a total of 23 directives to be implemented, including seven for which the deadline for implementation, in full or in part, has passed.
Details of the directives, including, in so far as it has been decided, the proposed transposition instruments, are available on my Department's website atwww.entemp.ie/ecd/eudirectives The website also contains information on directives in respect of which infringement proceedings have been commenced.
In relation to one of the directives that has not yet been transposed and for which the deadline has passed, a letter of formal notice, under Article 226 of the treaty, has been issued by the European Commission. In the case of another three of the directives for which the deadline for implementation has also passed, reasoned opinions have been issued to the Commission.
My Department transposed 25 directives in 2003 and, to date this year, seven more have been transposed. I am satisfied that my Department is giving all due priority to the task of implementing EU directives, in light of the available resources.
The Minister of State said that, a formal notice under Article 226 was issued by the Commission in respect of one issue. What was that issue? Of the 23 directives, that have not been transposed, is it a fact that the majority relate to the health and safety sector? Why is it taking so long to transpose these directives, some of which go back to 1995, into Irish law? Is the Minister of State satisfied that sufficient attention is being paid by his Department to ensure that we are up to date?
These directives are agreed at Council of Ministers meetings, as well as being agreed by the European Parliament. The Department knows they are coming up, so why must we wait years before they take effect here? Will the Minister of State provide an assurance that the delays we have witnessed to date will not be replicated in future? As regards the seven directives for which the deadline has passed, will he indicate when specifically we can expect them to be transposed into Irish law?
The directive which has been the subject of a letter of formal notice is Directive 2000/34/EC, concerning aspects of the organisation of working time to cover sectors and activities excluded from the working time directive. While my Department has overall responsibility for employment rights legislation, the sectors covered by the directive involve three other Departments.
Significant progress was made in the transposition of directives by the Department in 2003. While I accept the valid criticism that progress had been slow up to then, a total of 25 directives were transposed in 2003, which compares favourably with 2002 when a totalof 16 directives were transposed. In addition, Ireland's position on the EU directives internal market scoreboard has shown a remarkable improvement. The latest figures published by the Commission on 12 January show that Ireland was in joint third place among EU member states. Ireland exceeded the EU target of a 1.5% deficit for the transposition of internal market directives. At the beginning of 2003 its deficit was 3.5% and ranked 13 of the 15 member states. By the end of 2003 Ireland's deficit was 1.4%. Therefore, the Department's transposition record last year contributed to a much improved performance. However, I accept further progress must be made to get up to speed and I assure the Deputy every effort is being made to do so.
I refer to the Taoiseach's statement at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis last weekend. Will the working time directive be renegotiated during the Presidency or will the directive be fully operational for all employees within the deadlines announced and agreed?
What is Ireland's negotiating position on the directive? Has the Department put forward proposals to its counterparts in Europe or have proposals been submitted to the Department in fulfilling its duties during the Presidency?
Two issues must be considered and sometimes there is a mix up in regard to both. The working time directive is being renegotiated by the European Commission because of decisions by the European Court of Justice, particularly in the Jaeger case. That is ongoing. I chaired a meeting of employment Ministers in Brussels last week during which we had a discussion on changes to the directive. There will be changes and Ireland is supportive of the general consensus in this regard.
Deputy Howlin is referring to doctors in training. The deadline for the transposition is 1 August. The Department of Health and Children is involved and it has commenced negotiations with the relevant organisations with a view to transposing the relevant provisions of the directive on time.
7 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the structure and staffing levels of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board have been agreed; when she expects that the board will be operational; if a location has been decided for the board’s office; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8076/04]
The structure and staffing levels of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board have been agreed. The PIAB, when fully operational, will have a staffing complement of 85 in addition to the chief executive officer. The PIAB will also utilise an outsourced service centre to assist injured parties in completion of their claim submissions and ensure a comprehensive, fair and independent service is provided.
As the Deputy may be aware a CEO designate has been appointed and she took up duty on 2 February. Advertisements have recently been placed in the national media for various positions in the new body. The PIAB will be based in the Tallaght area. Negotiations are nearing finality in regard to securing a premises. Furthermore, significant progress has been made in regard to procuring the required information technology systems and infrastructure which will facilitate the PIAB in commencing operations.
Is the Minister of State aware that when the legislation to establish the board was going through the House, a commitment was made that it would be fully operational as soon as possible and 1 January was mentioned? Will he give a specific date upon which the PIAB will formally process personal injuries applications?
How does the designation of Tallaght as the location for the board's offices square with the Minister for Finance's statement during his budget speech that all new agencies would be sited outside the greater Dublin area? How can that be reconciled? What is the Minister of State's view on the Tánaiste's assertion that suitably qualified people are not available outside the greater Dublin area to staff the board?
I am not aware of such a statement by the Tánaiste. It is expected the PIAB will deal with cases from June onwards.
The date has changed from January to March to April to June.
The establishment of the PIAB has been complex and has involved a great deal of work but good progress is being made. The Deputy can be assured the location of the offices in Tallaght——
Has nothing to do with the Tánaiste?
——is a good boost for the area and it is an appropriate location for a new board, which has 85 staff and complex——
——work to undertake. Consequently, the location is entirely appropriate.
Is the recruitment of staff focused on those with experience of employer liability cases or are staff with experience in all elements of the insurance market being recruited? When does the board hope to commence examination of motor insurance claims?
What measures have been taken by the Department to address fraudulent claims? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform wants to make this a criminal offence, a view which we support. What is the Department's view? What action is being taken?
My Department, particularly in the area of health and safety, has examined the possibility of improving the database that exists in the courts system to make it more transparent and to ensure improved data are available to the public on claims regimes and so on.
With regard to the PIAB, it will deal initially with employer liability cases and then move on to deal with public liability and motor accident cases. I do not have a date for the move to the latter cases.
Will it be before or after the next general election?
Liquor Licensing Laws.
8 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of prosecutions against publicans who breach price display regulations; the number of officers employed to enforce the regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8004/04]
During 2003 the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs investigated more than 55 reports into possible non-compliance with the Retail Price (Beverages in Licensed Premises) Display Order 1999. In addition, ODCA inspectors undertook 214 proactive investigations. Four premises were successfully prosecuted for breaches of the display order in 2003 and proceedings have been initiated in seven cases in 2004.
Twenty officers are employed in the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs in the general area of enforcement, including the enforcement of the 1999 order.
A total of 55 reports have been made and 214 inspections carried out. Does the Minister of State not think a high number of inspections is taking place, given that it should be standard practice to display the price of drinks? Does he agree this is enhancing the perception among the public that we are experiencing a rip off culture? Does the office need additional staff so that it is more proactive in seeking out publicans who abuse the legislation and ensuring prices are transparent?
I have not heard complaints in respect of the number of investigations under way. The requirement to display prices is generally being adhered to and where licensed premises fail to do so, they are brought to the attention of the Director of Consumer Affairs and investigated. Proceedings have been initiated in seven cases.
The problem still lies in the disinterest of consumers in ensuring prices are displayed. They should also be discerning in regard to price differences between and within licensed premises.
What is being done to make consumers more conscious of making formal complaints? The total number of investigations carried out by 20 inspectors was 269, which on average is not even one inspection per day per annum.
The inspectors have a range of duties in addition to this duty. The Deputy will be aware that the Tánaiste established a group to look at enforcement and awareness by consumers. As one drives from the west to Dublin, one sees great variations in the published prices of petrol and diesel, yet for some reason best known to themselves, consumers will go to the most expensive places, which are among the bigger stations. It is really a question of the consumers being discerning and being aware of the price differentials that exist.
Yesterday's announcement by the Tánaiste is a very welcome development which will examine further measures that can be taken to deal with price levels, which I agree are far too high.
9 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in regard to her statement of 2 March 2004, she will outline any steps she intends to take to secure alternative employment for the Donegal area, following the announcement by Unifi Europe that it is to close its spinning operations in Letterkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8073/04]
37 Mr. McGinley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the action that has been taken secure replacement jobs in Donegal following the recent spate of job losses in the county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8010/04]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 37 together.
It was with deep regret that I learned earlier this month of the decision by Unifi Europe to shut down its polymer and spinning operations, with the loss of 120 jobs. IDA Ireland is in the process of setting up a meeting with the company to discuss its future plans. FÁS has already been in contact with Unifi Europe and has outlined the full range of services available. It is proposed to hold interviews for the workers being made redundant, commencing next month.
The Tánaiste recently had meetings with delegations from IBEC north west and the Donegal County Development Board to discuss the employment situation in the area. The key to enhancing employment in the north west is the development of infrastructure in the area, in particular roads, water, electricity and gas, air access and broadband communications. Recent developments include the provision of funding for the Letterkenny water supply scheme and the approval of a feasibility study grant for the extension of the natural gas pipeline from Derry to Letterkenny.
IDA Ireland continues to strive to secure new investment for Donegal and is committed to the development of the north-west region by maintaining the maximum level of existing jobs in overseas industry and by attracting new foreign direct investment into the region. Efforts to secure investment include working with Invest Northern Ireland on a virtual cross-Border park, which will improve telecommunications infrastructure on a cross-Border basis, the development of property in the region, and the completion of the Letterkenny business park, while work by Donegal County Council to extend the Letterkenny ring road to this park is well advanced. Work has now been completed on the provision of a second IDA advance factory at the park and planning permission has been granted for a third advance facility. Planning permission has been obtained also for new factory facilities at Ballyshannon and Buncrana.
As two oral questions have been taken together, 12 minutes, rather than six have been allotted to deal with them.
The Minister of State's response seems to fall into a category. As soon as there is an announcement of job losses and redundancies, the Tánaiste is in sympathy with the people, but that is about the size of it.
The Minister of State outlined the infrastructural works, which are not his Department's affair and are part of the national plan. What specifically is the Minister who is charged with responsibility for job maintenance doing in the job black-spots? Clearly, Donegal is a jobs black-spot now. What specific action will be taken in response to the loss of 120 jobs at Unifi Europe? In recent weeks job losses have occurred in Donegal, Portlaoise, Mayo and Cork — the litany goes on.
Last year we had the highest level of redundancies in 19 years and in February 2004 redundancy notifications rose by 13% with 2,353 redundancies, one of the highest levels of increase in redundancy notifications for a very long time. Figure provided in reply to a parliamentary question show a continuing haemorrhaging of industrial jobs from our economy in the past number of years. These job losses are being masked by the uptake of public employment directly by the State.
The declining manufacturing base is a real issue. What measures will the Minister's Department take to address unemployment black-spots such as Donegal? What strategies does he want to put in place to stop the decrease in manufacturing employment, which has become a feature of the past three years?
Unifi Europe announced that owing to the market for polyester yarn remaining extremely competitive, the company is restructuring in an effort to regain competitiveness. This involves the lay off of 120 staff. The company will shut its polymer and spinning operations and consolidate its texturing operations in a modern and cost effective plant. It will now fulfil its internal POY needs through world market purchases. The company has closed a dyeing facility in Manchester.
The IDA has been working closely with this company in the past two years to try to address some of the issues facing the company. It will continue to work closely with company in meeting its business needs in the new scenario, although all the issues facing the company are in the area of competitiveness and costs. However, the IDA will endeavour to ascertain what can be marketed as soon as Unifi Europe clarifies and outlines plans for the spinning plant and building and so on.
In the wider context, both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland are involved in a very intensive programme to give support to companies facing competitive pressures from Eastern Europe and the Far East. There is an ongoing programme of upskilling, research and development, of finding new products and processes in companies throughout the country. The three State agencies, IDA, Enterprise Ireland and FÁS, are taking a proactive approach to retraining and upskilling people, and to change in the manufacturing process and products. The Deputy can be assured that pressures from lower wage economies are being addressed in a proactive way.
It is probably a coincidence that on the day the Minister is replying to questions on Donegal, one of Donegal's flagship industries, Unifi Europe in Letterkenny, has announced a further 120 job cuts on top of the 250 job cuts last year, a loss of 375 jobs in less than a year. The same scenario is being repeated all over County Donegal. Is the Minister aware that the Central Statistics Office report of the last census shows that unemployment in County Donegal is the highest in the country at 15.6%?
The resources promised for the BMW region in the national development plan are falling far behind target. The report of the three year review of the national development plan shows that investment in these areas is 41% lower than the sum promised. This is one of the reasons for the devastation on the jobs front in the west and north west, in particular in County Donegal.
Can the Minister of State give any indication or hope to the thousands of people in question? In my parish, 1,000 jobs have been lost over the past three years while only 200 have been created. That is a net loss of 800 jobs. People are looking for alternatives and leaving the county in droves.
The IDA has been able to attract new investment in emerging sectors in Donegal including international services, medical technology, software and high-end engineering. The transition to a high skill, high technology regional economy will take time to achieve.
Unfortunately, the rate of job creation has not kept pace with the rate of job loss. Job gains in IDA supported companies in Donegal were 67 in 1999, 308 in 2000, 352 in 2001 and 179 in 2002. The IDA has radically changed its policy and is committed to delivering half of all new greenfield jobs in Objective One regions in the coming years. A number of positive initiatives have resulted and they will continue to be developed in 2004. As a result of its expansion, PacifiCare Health Systems Ireland continues to actively recruit, as does Prumerica Systems Ireland. The Keith Prowse project which was announced in 2002 represented a great achievement for the Buncrana area.
I have often raised these issues with the Tánaiste's office and I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Fahy, in expressing my disappointment that she is not here to answer questions. Despite working on the ground, the agencies are not being seen to deliver. I mean no disrespect to them either when I say that the necessary jobs are not being created.
An innovative approach must be taken in Donegal. I have watched the haemorrhaging of jobs from the textile industry and there has been enough time to examine their replacement. We could diversify into marine tourism, but the Department of Marine and Natural Resources says it cannot involve itself in tourism policy. The dredging needed to allow ferry navigation cannot be carried out because the Department only dredges in respect of fisheries. It is ridiculous.
While I do not underestimate the extent to which action is being taken on job creation and the infrastructural development referred to by the Minister of State, it must be co-ordinated across Departments. If the Derry-Coleraine train service closes — and it is under threat — another link to the north-west will be gone. That is what happened in the 1960s and it must be prevented.
Someone has to sell our message. We have an international port, an airport, ferry links, third level colleges and a great environment, yet people are emigrating to find jobs. At the same time, people are receiving work permits to take up jobs which cannot be filled in certain parts of Donegal. There are two sides to the equation. I ask that some effort be made. The Minister of State spoke about a virtual park, but why can we not have a real cross-Border park also? According to the national spatial strategy, Letterkenny and Derry should be treated as a unit.
The Tánaiste is not here as she is chairing a European Council meeting in Brussels. I accept the opinion of Deputies that circumstances in Donegal are not good. Every effort must be made to prioritise the county and to ensure that agencies promote overseas visits in particular. It is my understanding that the IDA is operating in that manner. Enterprise Ireland is engaged in an intensive effort to create more opportunities and jobs in Donegal.
While infrastructure is a cause of concern, I have outlined some of the developments which are taking place in that regard. I accept Deputy Keaveney's point that there is a need for a greater degree of cross-departmental co-operation in terms of job creation measures. Certainly, I will bring that to the attention of the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach.
Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.