I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 18 together.
It was with regret that I learned of the closure announcements by Unifi Ireland and Fruit of the Loom of their manufacturing plants in County Donegal. Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. In the case of Fruit of the Loom, FÁS contacted the company and offered its full range of support services to those who will lose their jobs. In the case of Unifi, the agency, during the three separate phases of redundancies, has offered its full range of support services to those affected.
IDA Ireland is committed to the development of the north-west region and continues to strive to secure new investment for Donegal. Both IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are working closely with their existing base of companies in the region. In its efforts to secure investment, IDA Ireland is working with Invest Northern Ireland on a virtual cross-Border park which will involve joint marketing efforts and planned improved telecoms infrastructure on a cross-Border basis. Construction of the Letterkenny business park has been completed and construction by Donegal County Council to extend Letterkenny ring road to this part is well advanced. Work has now been completed on the provision of a second 25,000 sq. ft. advance factory at the park and planning permission has been granted for a third advance facility.
Planning permission has been obtained for a new facility at Ballyshannon and IDA Ireland has recently undertaken a significant amount of site development work recently there. In addition to this, further land has been purchased in Buncrana and planning permission has been obtained for a 20,000 sq. ft. factory. IDA Ireland is currently working with a local private developer in the provision of advance space within this estate.
Enterprise Ireland works with companies in Donegal and in the north west to assist them grow their sales and exports and improve innovation in order that they can compete on world markets. It is encouraging these companies to adopt new technologies and move up the value chain. Its range of supports includes strategy development, production and operations, marketing, human resources development, finance and research and development.
In 2000 the Donegal County Development Board was charged with implementation of the employment initiative task force report. The county development board, which includes the State development agencies, local interest and representative groups as well as the local authorities, was generally viewed as the most appropriate vehicle for taking forward the task force recommendations.
I understand that a review of the original 1998 task force report is currently being finalised and will be considered shortly by the Donegal County Development Board.
At the request of my predecessor, the Tánaiste, the expert group on future skills needs, which operates under the aegis of Forfás, is, in conjunction with IBEC, undertaking a detailed analysis of the education and skills requirements of the north-west region. I understand this work will be completed shortly.
In conjunction with the ongoing work of these agencies, other issues need also to be addressed to promote employment creation in the north west. These include the development of infrastructure in the area, in particular roads, water, energy — electricity and gas — air access and broadband communications. Recent developments on these fronts 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.
It is clear that the economy has been undergoing substantial change for some time now, which has impacted on both the manufacturing and service sectors. A fundamental shift in our strengths and competitive advantages has taken place and our economy is now typified by higher output and productivity together with high returns to labour in the form of wages, salaries and better living standards. Ireland has become a more prosperous and wealthy economy, converging with the broad income and prosperity levels of other member states of the EU. I doubt if anyone would have it any other way.
I assure the Deputies that the Government, along with the State development agencies, is committed to balanced regional development, particularly through the implementation of the national spatial strategy and the Government's decentralisation programme, which will see 380 civil servants moving to Gweedore, Buncrana and Donegal town. County Donegal is one of the areas to which priority is being awarded and that will continue to be the case.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.