Adjournment Debate.

Job Creation.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to raise this important matter, namely, that the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment recognise the urgent need to counteract Government neglect of County Longford in the light of increasing numbers on the live register and the loss of economic stability as a result of the announcement of the closure of Connolly Barracks and several industries in the area.

According to the latest live register figures, the number of people signing on in County Longford stands at 3,423. This represents an increase of 1,136, or 49.7%, in 12 months and a rise of 678, or 24.7%, since Deputies Cowen and Coughlan became Taoiseach and Tánaiste, respectively. Following a number of closures in County Longford, the latest body blow to our economic viability is the ill-thought-out closure of Connolly Barracks in Longford town, which has seen the removal of 180 full-time jobs and 160 reservists from the local economy. This is equivalent to the loss of two major industries at a time when Longford is getting less than its fair share of State-assisted jobs.

There is a history of Government neglect in respect of Longford. The then Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney, announced in December 2000 that the pharmaceutical giant, Cardinal Health, was to invest £100 million in Longford, in a state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology centre. The project was hailed as one which would transform the industrial make-up of County Longford and the surrounding areas. Construction work on the centre was due to start in early 2002 and it was hoped that it would be operational by 2004 and would create between 1,300 and 1,400 jobs by 2006. By 2004, however, this much heralded boost for County Longford turned out to be just another general election promise.

In recent times we have witnessed not only the closure of the barracks but also the shutting down of the court services in Granard. The courthouse and allied services brought huge economic benefits to the town and surrounding areas. Now funding for the enterprise centre in Granard has been stalled. Kimbal Electronics closed in April with the loss of 66 jobs and, shortly before that, Nexans Ireland shut down with the loss of 162 jobs. Butlers in Longford town has let one third of its staff go and staff at Glennons are on a two-day week. Employees at Fenelons in Longford have been threatened by lay-offs and the Quinn Group is curtailing its operations. In addition, enterprise starter grants have been reduced.

The Longford-Westmeath area has been shamefully disregarded in respect of the gas expansion scheme. Companies operating in Longford have again been left on the hind tit in respect to this important facility. Seven years after it was first promised inclusion under the expansion scheme, Longford is now under consideration for the final phase — phase 3.

It is frightening to think that in one year unemployment in County Longford has risen by 49.7%. Some 24% of that increase occurred in the six months since Deputy Cowen became Taoiseach. This is indicative of the lack of positive action on the part of the Government. Government policy is to blame others for the shocking rise in unemployment in County Longford and other areas throughout the country. Far too many jobs have disappeared as a result of the high cost base. Companies are leaving the country and transferring their operations to more business-friendly locations.

Stealth taxes, high fuel prices, infrastructural deficiencies and a lack of competitiveness are driving up unemployment figures at an alarming rate. We need a high level of intervention and investment by Government and State agencies in order to secure a future for the people of Longford and Westmeath. This country lacks an industrial strategy geared towards low taxes. The Government deserves criticism in respect of inflation and the lack of competitiveness.

The Government must overhaul FÁS and provide a public works scheme for the unemployed. I call on the Minister to restore competitiveness and to support business, in particular small and medium enterprises and other companies in County Longford that are currently experiencing difficulty. It is clear to everyone but the Government that this can be achieved by freezing charges such as rates and development levies; reducing utility costs for electricity, gas, water and telecommunications; investing in infrastructure, in particular broadband, road and rail; cutting back red tape; reversing the hike in VAT; suspending the pay deal, consolidating labour law and abolishing anti-employment provisions such as double pay for Sunday working in the catering sector; and, crucially, wasting no further time in recapitalising the banks so that businesses, large and small, can access credit.

The Deputy must conclude as his time has expired.

The economic profile of County Longford suffered another blow with the drastic cutback in local government funding which has seen Longford County Council lose 6.02% on last year's figure and Longford Town Council facing a shortfall of 6.93% in essential funding, which will hit at already poor infrastructural development.

Deputy Bannon has gone well over time.

Our farmers have had an extremely rough time for the past 11 years under the Fianna Fáil-led Government, with the record of support by previous and current Ministers for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food being abysmal.

I must ask the Deputy to conclude.

The suspension of installation aid will force many young farmers to emigrate to the detriment of the farming sector.

Longford is suffering from the Government's callous disregard for the economic development of the midlands. Cutback after cutback and multiple business closures are attacking the fabric of our society, with families forced to bear the brunt of this. It is time to halt this decline and to restore confidence in the economic potential of County Longford.

Deputy Bannon must conclude now.

I urge the Minister to do everything possible to attract new jobs to Longford and the midlands.

I apologise to Deputy Bannon in that I can only reply to the question submitted. I may not be able to answer all the points he made in his Second Stage speech.

The Deputy might ask them again.

The recent increase in the numbers on the live register is unwelcome. All Members will be aware that behind the statistics are individuals and families facing the prospect of unemployment. The situation not alone challenges those people who are currently unemployed but the broader labour market.

The Government is taking specific measures to address these challenges and to ensure that job losses are minimised as much as possible. Its priority is to create the environment that will allow those who have lost their jobs to quickly return to the labour market. The enterprise development agencies, along with FÁS, are actively engaged in facilitating job opportunities in Longford.

In line with the national spatial strategy, IDA Ireland actively promotes the town of Longford for new and expanded investment across a wide range of sectors. Longford is traditionally a centre of manufacturing for foreign direct investment and has been comprehensively marketed by IDA Ireland. Currently, there are eight IDA Ireland-supported companies in Longford employing approximately 905 people. IDA Ireland also continues to work with the existing company base in the area to identify new areas of opportunity and to expand their presence.

In April this year, Cameron Corporation of the US, one of the world's leading providers of oil and gas pressure control equipment, announced that it is to significantly develop and expand its existing manufacturing and research and development facility in Longford town, with the potential to create an additional 140 high quality jobs in engineering and support activities during the next five years. In addition, €15 million will be invested in new buildings and equipment. The company currently employs 241 people in Longford. IDA Ireland is an active participant in the county development board and collaborates with other stakeholders in the county to promote the infrastructure and environment for enterprise and job creation.

New indigenous companies have created new employment in the county. In August 2008, Kiernan Milling in Granard announced plans to extend its factory and will employ an additional 45 people. Turner Printing installed a fully automatic computer-to-plate system as part of its current modernisation programme. This has allowed it to bring the highest print quality to customers in Ireland and has contributed to recent overseas success. Industrial land recently procured by Turner Printing in the town will contribute significantly to future development. Butler Manufacturing Services, which is involved in the design and manufacture of waste water treatment products, recently expanded its factory to 25,000 sq ft for a major research and development programme.

It has also let one-third of its staff go.

The Minister without interruption, please.

In 2007, the Midlands and West Enterprise Programme, MWEP, was launched to support high growth entrepreneurs incubate their business ideas. The programme is run jointly between Athlone Institute of Technology and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. Ten new entrepreneurs, a number of whom are from Longford, commenced incubating their businesses at Athlone Institute of Technology in April of this year, with the aim of developing sustainable export oriented businesses.

FÁS is providing a range of proactive job-related services, supports and programmes to assist individuals to return to the labour market. The €9.5 million allocation for FÁS announced in last month's budget, is specifically to fund additional initiatives to help those who have been made redundant.

Is that in Longford?

Employment services are available from FÁS employment services offices in Longford town and clinics in Granard and Ballymahon. It is expected that in 2008 1,763 people will participate on FÁS programmes in County Longford.

The community employment programme continues to be a major provider of work places for the unemployed. In County Longford, 18 organisations employ 289 people in a variety of community employment work projects. In 2007, more than 200 people availed of assistance from the Job Club in Longford town, either through formal job club sessions or through one-to-one guidance. The supported employment programme assists the integration of persons with a disability into employment. Currently, 20 people from County Longford are on the programme and 78 are availing of courses in newer occupations such as, care assistants for nursing homes and hospitals, forestry operatives for the growing forestry industry, beauticians and child care assistants.

For those who have lost their jobs and those in employment, the importance of upskilling in the context of the economy's competitiveness is vital. Our workforce will need to be able to adapt quickly to meet the challenges posed by a rapidly shifting global economic market. The Government is continuing to develop the necessary policies and initiatives to tackle the issues currently facing us.

In regard to Connolly Barracks, Longford, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, has assured me that there should not be any economic impact on the local communities as most of the personnel serving in these installations live in the areas and will continue to do so in the future, thereby minimising impact. The economic impact of the closure could benefit the area as the barracks is redeveloped. Were Deputy Bannon to visit Ballincollig, Cork, it might change his view in regard to what can be done in an area following redevelopment of old barracks. This was the experience of the last consolidation process where barracks were redeveloped, thus providing housing, offices and retail facilities for local communities and creating job opportunities.

I understand that Longford barracks was re-opened specifically to provide for the requirement for Border duties. On the northern side of the Border, the chain of British military bases has been removed. Clearly, the reduction in paramilitary activity and the benefits arising from the Good Friday Agreement were going to have some effect on current deployment.

I must ask the Minister of State to conclude.

I am informed that most personnel in the barracks understand the need for this action and welcome the benefit in terms of military training and development to which the consolidation process will give rise.