I thank Deputies Ring, Carty, Cooper-Flynn and Cowley for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The announcement on Monday of the proposed job losses at Allergan Pharmaceuticals in Westport is a major blow to the company's workers and their families. I express my sympathy to the workers who will lose their jobs and to their families. I am conscious of the adverse effects, as outlined by the Deputies, of the lay-offs on the surrounding area. I understand that the job losses follow the company's loss of a manufacturing contract for contact lens solution products. The company stated that it is confident that it will be able to ensure the future success of the Westport facility, despite the job losses, with the introduction of further products to be manufactured in the plant. I welcome that commitment.
Allergan has a strong record over the past 27 years, as the Deputies have articulated. It has demonstrated its commitment to its workforce and the Westport area. I want to work with the company and I will meet its local management to that end. I do not yet have a date for that meeting because a range of meetings are being lined up over the next six weeks. I want to meet the company's officials and to visit the local area in due course. The Deputies can rest assured of my commitment to work with the company as part of its future development.
I assure the House that every effort will be made by FÁS and the State development agencies to find alternative employment for those who have been made redundant. FÁS has contacted the company to inform it that its full range of support services is available to those who will lose their jobs. Those include top-level agreement with the company on responsibilities and actions; intensive interviews, individually or in groups, with affected workers, which would outline the range of supports and services available; preparation of a skills analysis report by FÁS, based on identified workers' needs and local opportunities. In addition, FÁS will refer workers to training courses or other options. The agency will establish special or customised training courses where necessary and will provide ongoing support and action to keep redundant workers in touch with the labour market.
IDA Ireland continues actively to promote the Westport region to potential investors from a variety of sectors, including manufacturing and international services, through its network of overseas offices and project divisions, with every effort being made to secure new investment for the area. In addition to targeting potential new projects, IDA Ireland continues to work with the existing base of companies in the region with a view to supporting such companies with potential expansion and diversification of activities. To continue to improve its attractiveness as a location for inward investment — a key point — IDA Ireland has acquired 37 acres from Mayo County Council in Westport and plans to develop the site into a business and technology park. Phase one of the site development will involve an IDA investment of approximately €3 million, and a contractor has been appointed to go on site early this month. I see it as a key element of having an attractive package to offer a prospective investor or company, and it demonstrates the IDA's commitment to Westport that it has embarked on this initiative.
The agency has also completed development of a new business and technology park on a 16-acre site in Castlebar and has secured advance planning permission for the construction of three 19,500 sq. ft. privately financed technology buildings in the park. At Ballina, the IDA is in negotiation with Mayo County Council for the purchase of 27 acres on the Sligo Road for the development of a business and technology park which will be a key addition to the infrastructure of north Mayo.
I take the point made by the Deputies that we must bring all the agencies into play. Enterprise Ireland has already indicated the availability of its staff to visit the company for discussions regarding supporting entrepreneurship and potential start-ups and will work with IDA Ireland, the county enterprise board and FÁS in that regard. Enterprise Ireland will work with other agencies in the region to provide appropriate supports to assist those workers who have lost their jobs in finding alternative employment. The agency continues to work with its client companies in Westport and elsewhere in County Mayo to assist them to grow their sales and exports and improve innovation so that they can compete on world markets, and encourages companies to adopt new technologies to add value to their products and services.
Enterprise Ireland supports job creation through supporting entrepreneurs in setting up new high-potential start-up companies, the retention and creation of new jobs in existing companies and enhancing the innovation capability of Ireland at a national and regional level through support for research in companies and third level institutions. Since the beginning of 2003, Enterprise Ireland has approved funding of more than €2.5 million and made payments of more than €1 million for projects for client companies in County Mayo.
As part of encouraging high-potential start-up companies in the region, Enterprise Ireland has also supported a one-year incubation programme for entrepreneurs in third level colleges in the region. This business accelerator programme, known as the Enterprise platform programme, is designed to provide hands-on support and management development for entrepreneurs who wish to start their own business.
To ensure its effectiveness, Enterprise Ireland is represented on a broad range of committees in the county, including Mayo County Enterprise Board, Mayo County Enterprise Board evaluation committee, Mayo County Development Board, Mayo County Development Board job creation and economic development working group, the western regional authority and the BMW operations committee. In working with those committees, Enterprise Ireland consistently promotes the development needs of indigenous industry. I echo Deputy Cowley's point that it is the other side of the equation, although the two are linked. Many indigenous companies develop as a consequence of foreign direct investment coming to a specific region, and there can be a good, strong interrelationship between them. We need not throw one out for the sake of the other; they are not mutually exclusive.
The agency has been working with the local authorities in the west region to urge them to become involved in the development and provision of broadband infrastructure. That has been successful, with Ballina and Kiltimagh being approved for metropolitan rings, along with Galway and Roscommon. Those are now in place, and a company has been appointed to manage them. Anything that the Government can do on that directly it has done.
The existing 35 city and county enterprise boards provide a new source of support for small businesses with ten employees or fewer. The function of the boards is to develop indigenous enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity at local level. The boards support individuals, firms and community groups, provided that the projects have the capacity to achieve commercial viability. The boards exist alongside a number of other nationally and locally delivered supports for micro-enterprises, including Enterprise Ireland and local LEADER groups, which support small enterprise outside the main cities.
Since the Mayo County Enterprise Board was established, it has assisted in the establishment of 495 new small businesses in the county through the provision of approximately €3.5 million in grant-aid. Cumulatively, those enterprises have created 1,030 new full-time jobs and 242 part-time jobs in the county. The board has also provided business advice and training programmes to more than 2,000 persons involved in the operation of micro-enterprises in County Mayo, involving an expenditure by the board of more than €1.3 million.
Under the current National Development Plan 2000-2006, Mayo County Enterprise Board has delivered business training programmes specifically in the Westport area to more than 150 people and has approved €187,000 to 26 projects in the region, with an associated potential of approximately 100 jobs. To respond to what Deputies Carty, Ring, Cooper-Flynn and Cowley raised about agencies working together, they are fully committed to ensuring an equal distribution of job creation opportunities and encouraging the establishment of industry in the regions, in particular the Border, midlands and west region, which includes Westport.
When one is attracting foreign direct investment into the country, the first task is to get firms interested in Ireland. There is great global competition from such countries as Singapore and Switzerland, and issues range from tax to skills. Once we have them attracted to Ireland, the next step is to interest people in the region. The development of infrastructural packages is important, particularly in the technology and industrial parks. The IDA has a clear strategy on that front. Enterprise Ireland is developing a forward strategy in line with the enterprise strategy group to strengthen indigenous performance, particularly regarding the internationalisation of skills and marketing, so that they can sell their goods abroad and secure a toehold in foreign markets, thereby strengthening the base of the company, as well as with research and development support, which is critical for indigenous enterprise.
As I said to Deputies, Carty, Ring, Cooper-Flynn and Cowley, I am committed to visiting Mayo, subject to my tight diary, which is the only issue. In the interim, I can assure them that the State development agencies have all been contacted and will continue to work together and with local interests in promoting Westport and County Mayo for job creation and additional investment for the region.