I note that Deputies O'Donnell and Noonan are sharing time.
Do we each have five minutes?
Yes, five minutes each and the Minister of State has ten minutes to reply.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this extremely important matter for Limerick. When I raised it previously on the Adjournment on 8 October the reply I was given was extremely unsatisfactory. I got a four-page reply, only one paragraph of which dealt with Dell, while the question I raised specifically related to Dell. The reply effectively stated that the IDA had been in contact with Dell and that the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment had been kept informed. Subsequently she met Dell management. She has yet to say what was discussed. We need to be told exactly what was discussed. We understand from Dell that it is currently carrying out a global review of its operations with no specific date as to when it will be concluded. It is imperative that the Tánaiste and Minister responsible, Deputy Coughlan, should become proactive on this issue. I understand that she is involved in an IDA promotion tour in the United States. I expect she will make a point of calling to see the head of Dell, Mr. Michael Dell, to discuss the future of the company in Limerick.
During the past week Dell has laid off 450 to 500 contract temporary staff. This has caused extreme anxiety for those people and their families. Furthermore, it has created an enormous degree of uncertainty about the future of Dell and the job security of its 3,000 permanent staff. The Government has a duty here and it should have been proactive in this respect.
I raised this matter initially when I wrote to the Taoiseach, Deputy Cowen, on 12 September asking him to intervene to deal with the multinational sector, including Dell, to see what could be done. I did not receive a reply until 25 September, some two weeks later, indicating that the matter had been passed to the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, from whom I have yet to receive a response. This is grossly unacceptable to the workforce in Dell and to the people of Limerick. There appears to be a veil of silence on the part of the Government about Dell.
A statement must be made tonight on behalf of the Tánaiste confirming that the Government is doing absolutely everything to ensure that Dell continues to provide the employment in Limerick. It contributes more than 4% of expenditure to the Irish economy and 5% to GDP. The Government has let down Limerick and the employees of Dell. We have had savage cuts, a lack of connectivity, the lost of the landing slots at Heathrow, a diminishing number of transatlantic flights and the imposition of a €10 charge on flights from Shannon. No funding was provided in the budget, nor was any gateway funding provided, for the Limerick regeneration project.
I call on the Tánaiste as a matter of urgency to establish a taskforce in Limerick to deal with the growing level of unemployment. More than 9,000 people are on the live register in Limerick city alone, which represents an increase of 50% and is well above the national average. Such a taskforce should deal with creating employment and retraining. Integral to that, it should seek to provide funding for the Limerick regeneration project for the communities of Moyross, St. Mary's Park, Southill and Ballinacurra-Weston. The overall message is that we need answers about what the Government is doing to ensure that Dell remains in Limerick and continues to be a fantastic employer for the more than 3,000 people it employs there. The Government needs to provide incentives and to ensure that Dell remains in Limerick.
I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Sullivan.
That is agreed.
People in Limerick are very concerned about the future of Dell and the future of the companies that supply it, many of which have Dell as their sole customer. Naturally, employees in Dell and in the other companies to which I referred are the most concerned. The announcement last week that up to 500 contract workers were being let go has heightened the level of concern. An announcement was also made last week that Flextronics was letting 100 staff go. It subsupplies Dell, which is its only customer. Today, Banta let go 68 staff. It subsupplies Dell, its only customer. This is causing major concern.
Contract workers in Dell are let go every year as production schedules are adjusted, usually on a quarterly basis, but more workers than usual have been let go this year. This is not surprising, given the lack of confidence internationally. I do not want to make little of contract workers being let go; they are suffering and so are their families. My primary concern is the future of the Dell against the background of the worldwide review of its operations currently being undertaken, as announced by the company earlier this year.
Dell has made an enormous contribution to Limerick and there is high confidence locally not only in its products but in its management both locally and internationally. There is no similar confidence in the Tánaiste who is responsible as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, nor is there confidence in the IDA which has failed to give any assurances either to the local community or to the workers in Limerick.
The position is difficult for everyone and scaremongering will only make things worse. In the Minister of State's reply, I hope he can begin to restore some of the confidence that his senior Minister, the Tánaiste, has failed to restore up to now.
I sincerely thank Deputy Noonan for sharing his time and allowing me to put on record my position on this issue which I have raised previously.
As the Minister of State is aware, there is serious concern about Dell. It employs more than 3,000 permanent full-time workers, as well as temporary workers who are taken on and let go in the plant. The number of temporary workers laid off last week is far in excess of the norm in terms of the seasonal layoffs in Dell. As Deputy Noonan said, both Flextronics and Banta, which supply Dell, have announced that they are also letting people go. Many other companies in the region are dependent on Dell, either feeding into or out of the factory, as well as the wider economy in terms of the spending power of people employed in the company.
We know that Dell is undertaking a worldwide re-evaluation of its work. It is vital that the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, should signify on an ongoing basis to Dell and to its management the Government's full support for keeping it in Ireland, particularly in Limerick and in the midwest. People throughout the world will be fighting the battle to keep Dell jobs in various places in the United States and elsewhere. We must show that the Government is fully committed to addressing the issues under consideration. As we understand it, decisions have not yet been made. Therefore, there is time. It is vital that the Government should put its full weight and force behind protecting those jobs.
There is a great level of insecurity in the region because of the recent announcements, the situation at Shannon Airport, as outlined by Deputy O'Donnell, and a general perception that what was a very successful region is now under threat in a wide variety of ways. However, the linchpin in all of this is the Dell company, which has been such an excellent employer in the region. The region has also given to Dell. It is a highly efficient and highly cost effective plant. Through the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the company must get the message that it is vital it remains in the region. I urge the Minister of State to impress upon the Tánaiste how vital it is for her to keep up ongoing contact with the company. I agree she should take the opportunity when she is in the United States to approach the company directly again. American companies are very impressed by governments and their commitments. They are used to dealing with politicians on employment issues. It is vital for the Government to underpin the company and save the rest of the jobs in Dell and in the other companies that are so dependent on Dell. It will have major repercussions if that company is allowed to go.
This issue has been raised on a number of occasions and I thank the Deputies for raising it tonight. Obviously I understand its sensitivity with three local Deputies coming to the House to raise the issue of Dell's workforce in Limerick. The Government acknowledges the importance of Dell. IDA Ireland is in discussion with Dell on a regular basis. As I said on 8 October, discussions between IDA Ireland and any client company remain confidential. Everybody is aware that there is a global downturn and there are major challenges in the context of the world economy and our present situation. Dell, like any other company, is carrying out a review of its global operations. That is well known and has been broadly discussed. We are not trying to scaremonger. We are trying to ensure every support possible is made available to ensure that Dell regards Limerick as a strategic location.
IDA Ireland has been very successful in previous times. I do not want to rehearse speeches in recent times on investment in Limerick. Deputy O'Donnell referred to the establishment of a task force etc. We acknowledge the concerns of the people working there. We also acknowledge that temporary contract staff have been let go. That is a cyclical matter that happens from time to time. It is never easy for those who have been informed that their contracts of employment have been terminated. Dell has been a very successful employer and is a major contributor not only to the Limerick economy but also to Ireland Inc. I acknowledge the contribution Dell has made over many years at its plant in Limerick. Reference was made to Flextronics and Banta and there are major spin-offs from Dell. I assure the Deputies that the Government with IDA Ireland as a link is in discussions with Dell. However, those discussions must remain confidential as I am sure those on the opposite side of the House will understand.
Deputy O'Donnell and others raised the matter previously. The Tánaiste met management and the Deputies will understand that those discussions must remain confidential. However, as the Tánaiste would have outlined, the Government will ensure that every support possible will be made available to Dell. Equally we must ensure that Ireland is seen as a competitive location. Major companies consistently locate here. IDA Ireland is very successful in bringing international companies here. Yesterday Marriott announced 220 jobs to be created here. Ireland is still competitive. We must put our best foot forward in ensuring that companies located here at present remain here. Importantly those considering Ireland as a location in which to invest should receive the full supports of IDA Ireland, the Government and everybody involved.
I responded on this issue on 8 October to Deputy O'Donnell. I do not want to give the same reply as he has already said that was inadequate.
This is the same reply.
It is not the same reply. I have not read from my script. I am speaking not only as Minister of State with responsibility for labour affairs, but also as a Deputy in whose constituency companies have carried out worldwide reviews. I understand the concerns of the local Deputies, the Dell employees and others employed in companies supplying to or being supplied from Dell. I wish to place on the record that the Government is very conscious of the importance of Dell in Limerick and nationally. We will do everything possible. IDA Ireland is in consistent contact with the company. The Tánaiste has already met the management as has been requested from the other side of the House. It is an indication of the importance we place on this particular company. When any companies are carrying out worldwide reviews, IDA Ireland always gets involved to mitigate the impact on Ireland.
Deputy referred to other competing factors. Dell has plants throughout the world and a global review is being carried out. We should allow the company to carry out its review. We will work with the company to highlight, as the Deputies have done tonight, the importance of Dell to its 3,000 full-time employees and the seasonal temporary contract workers in Limerick. We need to allow the space and time necessary while at the same time assuring the elected representatives from Limerick that the Government and IDA Ireland are doing everything possible to mitigate any decisions that might have a negative impact on Dell in Limerick.
Human Rights Abuses.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me time to speak on this issue. The issue of extraordinary rendition has been very contentious and controversial here in the past two to three years. The Irish Human Rights Commission, under the presidency of former Senator Maurice Manning, produced a very detailed report and representatives of the commission appeared before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs to discuss the issues at which time we had a very lively debate.
International air law has a codified framework in the Convention on International Civil Aviation, commonly known as the Chicago Convention, which was signed in December 1944. Article 1 states that each state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory — in other words the land area and the territorial waters. While recent reports seem to indicate that there has been a change in Government policy, on examination I cannot see how the policy has changed. Fine Gael, as I am aware is the Government, is totally opposed to the process of extraordinary rendition. We also want to see the facility at Guantanamo Bay closed, as I am aware the Government also does. These reports state the Government has established a Cabinet committee on aspects of human rights. I understand that this committee was set up a number of months ago and perhaps the Minister might clarify that for me. It was certainly announced some time ago, but may not be set up yet. The Minister's predecessor mentioned it in some debate.
The report suggests that the Cabinet committee will examine and strengthen legal provisions to ensure the Garda and airport authorities have adequate legal powers for search and inspection of aircraft. This may involve strengthening the provisions of the Air Navigation and Transport Acts. I want the Minister to outline the Government policy in this regard. What changes, if any, have taken place? If no changes have occurred, what changes does the Government propose to take in light of this article being published? My concern is that the article has no basis and this great heralded change of direction is inaccurate. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me. I will give him the benefit of the doubt until he does.
I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Given how often it has been raised in the House and Seanad Éireann, both I and my predecessors have set out the Government's policy unequivocally, that is, we have always been totally opposed to the practice of extraordinary rendition anywhere. The policy has not changed.
The House will be aware that, last week, the Government decided to establish a Cabinet committee on aspects of international human rights. Among the areas to be considered by the committee is the implementation of our policy on extraordinary rendition. Already, the committee has reviewed the programme for Government commitments in this regard.
I have agreed to make early contact with the new US Administration to seek a clear statement of intent to the effect that,inter alia, extraordinary rendition would cease and not resume during the new President’s term of office. Commitments are also being sought in regard to the closure of Guantanamo Bay and to the prohibition of intensive interrogation techniques, such as water-boarding, that are considered internationally to constitute torture. These techniques are in clear violation of international human rights and humanitarian law.
The closure of Guantanamo Bay has been called for by the Government consistently and from an early point and is now the agreed position of the EU. The ambassador in Washington will follow up on these issues as a matter of urgency, in the first instance with the transition team of the new US Administration. There has also been contact at senior official level with the US Embassy here. In light of the stated positions of both presidential candidates, I am hopeful that we will receive an early and positive response.
The Government has received clear and specific assurances at the highest level from the US authorities that such prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission. We have no reason to doubt the existing assurances in respect of the use of Irish airports. The fact remains that none of the various investigations into allegations of extraordinary rendition has revealed any evidence or even resulted in a specific allegation that any person has been subjected to extraordinary rendition through Ireland. There is no new information or allegation linking Irish airports to extraordinary rendition. I stress that what we are looking for now is a clear overall policy statement that would commit the new Administration to ending the practice of extraordinary rendition wherever it may be occurring.
With a view to strengthening as necessary the legislative provisions, the Cabinet committee on aspects of international human rights is to review the statutory powers available to the civil and police authorities regarding the search and inspection of aircraft in the context of the obligations on the State under the Chicago convention. Relevant legislation includes the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1988, the amending Act of 1998 and sections 4 and 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1997. Garda powers of search can be deployed only where there are reasonable grounds for their use capable of withstanding scrutiny in a court of law. A number of investigations have taken place on foot of complaints, but have not produced any evidence of illegal activity.
On the wider question of the role of the Garda Síochána in the protection of human rights, I wish to highlight the centrality of human rights compliance to policing in Ireland. In accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, there is a duty on the Garda to protect life and vindicate the human rights of the individual. To this end, there is a comprehensive programme for human rights training within An Garda Síochána. New members of the Garda make a declaration of the need to have regard for human rights in carrying out policing duties.
I assure the House that, on the basis of information supplied to me by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the commitment in the programme for Government on training in the human rights area is being fully implemented. There is regular communication between the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and the Garda Commissioner. The Commissioner has assured the Minister that sufficient resources are available to implement the commitment. In addition, the Garda remains ready to take whatever action is open to it under the law in respect of any allegations of extraordinary rendition.
I repeat the total opposition of the Government to the practice of extraordinary rendition wherever it occurs and our hope that the new US Administration will address it as a matter of utmost priority.
I welcome the opportunity to raise this issue again. The Minister is familiar with the Cork docklands, which lie to the east of the city. The area has been recognised by both local authorities in the Cork region as having the potential for development. For more than six years, the authorities have promoted it and succeeded in gaining priority recognition for it in the national development plan, the spatial strategy and the Government's submission on the EU regional aid map from 2007 to 2013.
That 95% of the area is privately owned makes it different from the Dublin docklands. A commitment to physical infrastructure is necessary to trigger private investment. Cork has been designated as one of nine gateways under the national development plan. The gateway innovation fund could be used to provide funding for infrastructure in the docklands area. While gateway funding has been postponed until 2010, I request a Government commitment to funding infrastructure in the area, in particular the eastern gateway bridge proposed by Cork city and county councils. The proposal has been submitted to the Department of Finance. Of the major planning applications in the pipeline, some are being examined while others have been granted permission. A Government commitment would be a small step in the right direction.
The national development plan states:
The key challenge for Cork over the period to 2013 will be to significantly accelerate its rate of development and population growth, focusing particularly on the potential of its central area. The Docklands, in particular, has the capacity to accommodate an additional population of at least 15,000 people and significant commercial floor space but investment in physical infrastructure to trigger subsequent private investment is necessary.
This makes my case for me.
The docklands forum was established and has reported to the Government, but we are awaiting the report's publication. I recognise the difficulty regarding sites as outlined by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement. While I am sure that it applies in the case of all docklands, the issue is of particular concern in respect of the Cork docklands. I speak for many people in the area when asking that a commitment be given to provide funding for an eastern gateway bridge. This request comes from the city council, the Cork Chamber of Commerce, business interests and everyone interested in seeing the area developed, as it is Cork's future. The docklands' significant potential has been well documented and gateway funding would trigger private development.
I thank Deputy Clune for raising this issue on the Adjournment. It is widely acknowledged that the Cork docklands project advanced by Cork City Council is potentially of major significance to the city itself. From the outset, the Government has also viewed it as a project of national significance. The council is to be congratulated on articulating an ambitious vision for the regeneration of the docklands, establishing a detailed local planning framework and undertaking various infrastructural and economic studies to support the implementation of this vision.
With an area of more than 160 hectares contiguous to the city centre, the docklands offer the prospect of developing a modern, mixed use city quarter. Current plans anticipate that, over a 20-year period, the population of the docklands could increase from 500 to 22,000. This would entail the provision of more than 9,500 residential units, including almost 2,000 social and affordable units. It is estimated that the regeneration project has the potential to sustain approximately 27,000 new jobs in retail and financial services, industry, ICT, higher level educational institutions and leisure and cultural activities.
A development of this scale is the equivalent of placing a large town in a city centre location and would give Cork further critical mass in terms of its potential to act as a counterpoint to Dublin. For this reason, the regeneration of the docklands is recognised as a priority project under the national development plan and as an important element in meeting the overall objectives of the national spatial strategy regarding balanced regional development. In recognition of the potential significance of the Cork docklands project, the Government in December 2007 established the Cork Docklands Development Forum comprising representatives of relevant Departments, State agencies, local authorities and business and community interests. The forum was asked to prioritise the early consideration by, and response of, public bodies to the docklands area plan and to promote the effective co-ordination and delivery of public investment in the docklands.
The forum report submitted in early July 2008 sets out a policy and economic rationale for the regeneration project, identifies key economic and other drivers essential to the realisation of the vision for the area, identifies and costs critical public infrastructure required over the lifetime of the project, to 2027 at least, to underpin subsequent private investment, considered significant constraints and barriers to the intended redevelopment, considered how this redevelopment might be incentivised and made recommendations regarding institutional arrangements to bring the project forward.
The forum report envisages significant investment in public infrastructure, including the proposed eastern gateway bridge in opening up the south docklands for development as well as possible support for the relocation of port and other activities. While in the overall context of budgetary decisions, allocations under the gateway innovation fund have been deferred for 2009, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is conscious of the future strategic potential of the fund to drive and facilitate development and build on the local momentum in the gateways. Also, a new tax incentive scheme to facilitate the relocation of Seveso listed industrial facilities that hinder the regeneration of docklands in urban areas was announced in the budget, a significant response to the forum submission and submissions from others.
I wish also to inform the Deputy that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has discussed the matter with the Minister for Finance who is very much engaged with this project, understands the rationale behind it and is supportive of it. He is considering ways he can support the project into the future.
On a point of clarification, the Minister, Deputy Martin, referred to allocations under the gateway innovation fund for 2009. Is the allocation for 2009 or 2010? I understood the allocation was to be made available in 2010.
The allocation is being deferred for 2009.