I am delighted to be able to speak on the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) (Amendment) Bill 2012. The purpose of the Bill is to extend the remit of Science Foundation Ireland to enable it to fund applied research in addition to its existing remit to fund oriented basic research. Oriented basic research is an internationally-recognised category of research and is defined as research that is "carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge likely to form the basis of the solution to recognised or expected current or future problems or possibilities". Applied research on the other hand is research directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective.
It is timely that we evaluate the situation with Science Foundation Ireland. The Bill also makes provision for a new function: to enable the foundation to promote and support awareness and understanding of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation transferred responsibility for delivery of the Discover Science and Engineering programme from Forfás to the foundation on an administrative basis with effect from 1 March 2012.
The Bill also provides for certain amendments to existing legislation relating to Forfás, Shannon Development and Enterprise Ireland. These are unrelated to the proposed changes to the remit of Science Foundation Ireland. The amendment relating to Shannon is a necessary amendment to the Industrial Development Acts to provide for new arrangements for the promotion of enterprise opportunities in the mid-west region.
Shannon Development, Enterprise Ireland and all those other agencies have had an important role in the development of our country as a science-based economy. Obviously, time changes everything and there is a need to adapt. I see that as important. Listening to some eminent speakers from UCG at a function in Galway some years ago, we were told clearly that there were worries about the numbers and suitability of Irish graduates. I was told the same by eminent American industrialists when I had lunch with the American Ambassador in his residence a year ago that they were concerned about the quality and quantity of graduates applying for positions with the new FDI companies that are coming here. A year ago I was shocked to hear an American company had to bring its graduates with it and that it had to recruit from other countries in Europe.
I am not knocking Irish graduates but the focus must be changed. We were told quite starkly that this is happening and while we welcome the development of employment, and companies announcing their arrival here on a reasonably regular basis, it is a pity we cannot employ our own graduates because they do not have the appropriate qualifications. We must see if we can adapt to ensure our universities and institutes of technology are up there with the best. One particular issue is very important. At least 40% of direct investment comes from San Francisco but there is no direct flight. We must work on that. There are other areas we must look at to kick start the economy again.
Getting out to the RDS to see the BT Young Scientist exhibition is one of the highlights of my year.
Like, I am sure, my colleagues or the large numbers of the public who go, I am amazed and aghast at the standard, initiatives, sheer thinking, skills, imagination, business intuition and nous for business of the stands there. Unfortunately, one would need a week to see them all. One is normally attracted to those from one's own county but I am not taking from any of the other counties. The standard this year, and the enthusiasm and interest, was something to behold. I salute all of those young entrepreneurs, their múinteoirí scoile who help, nurture and lead them along and, of course, their parents and families in supporting them and getting them to that point. I hope many of them will be our brightest and best and movers and shakers over the decades to come because they have it and they are well able. They have a different mindset from that of when we were going to school and different ideas on modern technology and everything, but even they have some simple solutions to ongoing problems.
I also would have to salute the South Tipperary County Enterprise Board for the gallant work it has done over the years on a shoestring in comparison with what other agencies use. I was a member of that board for a while. It is a retrograde step to have them dangling at the end of a string for the past 18 months as to their future. I do not agree with them being subsumed into the local authorities because there are horses for courses. Let us face it, there is Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. I was a member of a local authority for a good number of years and so was the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and many of us here in this House. The local authorities, like or lump it, are seen as a regulatory authority. One goes there for planning. One must deal with the local authority for a range of issues such as local development plans in which they have a regulatory role, environmental issues and control, and the veterinarian area to look after animal welfare. Unfortunately, they were never seen as having a stimulative or supportive role; I wish they were. It is a retrograde step to put the enterprise boards under their remit. While they are under the auspices of the local authorities, they have done a great job independently and they should be allowed to continue.
The same applies now with the development companies. Some of them had poor starts. The one in Tipperary had Leader I ten, 15 or 20 years ago. Merely because of some problem with one group in some part of the country, the Minister is going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Minister has decided he wants to bring them all in under the auspices of the local authorities. It is wrong. It is a retrograde step for the reasons I mentioned. I am not saying that they should flout any laws or adopt light-touch regulation. People can go to their mentors and the staff in the offices who have the understanding. I salute the ones in Tipperary, both north and south, although I have more dealings with those in south Tipperary. Those staff adopt a bottom-up approach. They are not bogged down in regulations on such areas as planning and the environment. They must adhere to them but they are separate. They are a breath of fresh air and they can invigorate struggling small companies or new fledgling ones. It is another retrograde step.
I do not know what is the rush on the part of the Government to do this. We have seen what happened with SUSI and medical cards and everything that has been centralised. This is the same, bringing these in under those local authorities that are regulatory bodies and that are not seen as stimulative or job-creating bodies. Unfortunately, that is the legacy. That is not the local authorities' role. Their role has been regulatory.
The sole traders, who have the ideas and vision, need the support of the country enterprise boards if they go to them. Many of them never go near anybody. There are sole traders with limited education. These were merely persons with good ideas who had the vision, passion, enthusiasm and courage. They put their own savings into the development of their product or business and into achieving a great deal and employing. I am like a bad record saying here that if all of them were not even supported but deregulated in some ways to cut out bureaucracy, and were allowed take on one extra employee, we would halve the unemployment figures in the morning, whether it be in science and technology or whether it be in the ordinary trades in which they would be involved.
I must return to the thorny issue of the banks. This Bill and the Bills we are passing and promoting in this House are intended to help, but there is no money or support from the banks. The only interest of the banks, which are crucifying the people through both the previous Government and this Government in relation to the cost of the bailout, seems to be in improving their own balance sheets. They are not lending to small business. The relationship some of the sole traders I knew, and even I in my business, had with the bank manager was great. We knew them. Above all, they knew us. They knew our capabilities. They knew our drive and our passion and they took us at our word, which was our bond. Now there are mainly whiz-kids. The managers who I knew are gone. There are new men moved in and around and, invariably, there are some of the mná na hÉireann. I am not being sexist or anything else, but some of these staff do not have a clue about business. They could learn a great deal in public relations skills as well, in how to deal with customers. This applies right across the board. We need real presence and effort from Government to light a fire under the backsides of these bankers and tell them to come out and stand with, support and get to know the business people and entrepreneurs. It is badly needed.
I want to give a mention to the Tipperary Institute, the Limerick Institute of Technology, LIT, and the Waterford Institute of Technology. They have done much creative work. They have had many good leaders setting up in those areas over the years and they have provided many teaching courses and produced graduates. I welcome the amalgamation of LIT and Tipperary Institute that is under way. It can be mutually beneficial but there is a need for fair recognition of Tipperary Institute in that. Alongside LIT, we must think of the vision of the former county manager, Mr. Edmond O'Connor, and others who purchased a fantastic site in Clonmel on the N24 that was meant to be an high-technology industrial park. There are certain business persons interested and that must be supported. That vision must never be lost because it is ideally located. We have the entrepreneurs, we have the young people with the skills sets in the community, and they must be promoted and supported in every way. We must ensure those talents they have gained through their correct schooling, from national school right up to third and fourth levels, are supported, nurtured and, above all, encouraged in these times so that they do not shy away from it.
Anybody looking from the outside at a business and making a career choice sees the considerable difficulties in financing the economy, ordinary people being persecuted by the banks, and as I referred to in the past, the significant amount of State terrorism of those in business. Every letter one receives from the Revenue Commissioners has a jail term at the bottom of it. We do not treat the drug barons and their like with the same indignation. While I uphold the regulations of this country and the laws of this land, it is frightening to see the banks' behaviour towards indigenous and small businesses. It is simply appalling. With Revenue, the problem is the staff are being pushed and squeezed to keep the books balanced. Everybody knows the funds are drying up because the more austerity there is, the less money in people's pockets and the less spending, with the knock-on effect being less taxes.
It is time the staff in Revenue were brought out into business and shown what is happening on the ground. It is time that they were told to cop-on in their practice of charging draconian interest rates and penalties. We note every so often the defaulters in every county as listed in the Sunday newspapers and on local radio. In the main, these are not tax dodgers. They are decent people who set up businesses, worked hard, employed many, paid their taxes and fell on tough times. One will find that two thirds of the sum is interest and penalties. Recently I have been negotiating on behalf of a taxpayer in County Limerick with Revenue and it does not have an understanding. The staff have not got it because they went from college into Revenue, never worked in the real world and do not understand.
All those officials should be re-educated as to the difficulties of running a business, promoting a business, having a business idea and having the vision, passion and energy to put in the effort and the long hours. They should be sent out compulsorily for a week each year, as we do with interns in here, to understand the basic raison d'être of what makes a business tick. They do not understand it and in many cases they do not want to know.
Then they pass on their demands to the sheriff - a lovely title. Some years ago the sheriff's agents arrived at the office of a good friend of mine at 1 o'clock and told him they would be back at 3 o'clock for €15,000 - I might be wrong with the sum. The first customer to come in after dinner discovered that the unfortunate businessman had taken his life. I salute the county coroner in Tipperary who described that as State terrorism. It is nothing short of State terrorism and it goes on every day.
It is going on at the moment in County Limerick and I am dealing with the sheriff. He arrived to a customer after negotiations following which his agent got back to the sheriff and back to the Revenue and signed an agreement. He went away with a payment and got agreement to have another payment of €10,000 by the end of June. He took away a logbook from a machine. It is highly irregular and illegal. He then signed an agreement with the farmer and arrived back three weeks later even though that agreement still stood with Garda vehicles with blue lights flashing and haulier trucks. They wreaked havoc on a family business of 40 years and seized the machines. Worst of all they had to be sent to an auction house in Dublin and were advertised on the Internet with no VAT. They proceeded to sell them last Saturday for less than half the amount for which they were advertised by the sheriff. We now find that the person who agreed to buy them could not pay the deposit and so they are for sale again this Saturday.
What is going on is a scandal and until someone in Government deals with this how will we establish a proper ethos of entrepreneurs developing businesses using their genius, prowess, energy and enthusiasm to work the country out of its economic slumber? The Revenue might claim it has no control over the sheriff and how he engages the Garda and takes over. However, at some time someone will be seriously injured because of the trauma visited on decent businesspeople. I accept there are difficulties in paying the tax and reaching settlements. However, there must be mutual respect. If a written agreement is entered into by an agent of the Government, it must be respected. It is not just toilet paper and something that someone signs for convenience on the day.
There is much to learn here. We need to re-evaluate where we are and what we are doing, and then by all means we can pass this kind of legislation. Last week I criticised that the Companies Bill ran to 1,400 pages. We need to get our basics right and allow our businesspeople and entrepreneurs to breathe and above all to sleep in their beds. They should be free from the constant harassment of the banks and their agents, who act with total impunity. They send out third-force militias to beat up customers and break in to remove machinery - steal it. I have evidence of that happening. I will attend a meeting this evening in Gorey Garda station with the chief superintendent and superintendent about the behaviour of some of these thugs who have left people for dead on the road. We now find that the DPP has decided not to prosecute anybody. The State terrorism and how the banks have a licence to do whatever they want to do beggars belief.
These Bills mean nothing if we cannot get our fundamentals right. I do not blame the people who write them. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is doing an excellent job and is doing his best. We need to get the fundamentals right and stop these Dracula-type vultures from sucking the blood from the ordinary people of Ireland. We need to stop threatening people and beating the spirit of entrepreneurship, enthusiasm and business orientation out of the people. The same will happen with the Bill we debated last night regarding homeowners and owners of second properties. It is draconian. We need to shout halt and re-evaluate, and listen to what Uachtarán na hÉireann has said, for which I salute him. I knew he was never going to be silent anyway, but it is important that ordinary people - workers, small businesspeople, ratepayers, taxpayers, young and old have some voice because unfortunately the previous and present governments have abandoned them to austerity and the troika.
We must also listen to the former head of the troika who said there was a menu of options on the table and we took the one of austerity. I do not know whom or what we are protecting here, but we are not helping the entrepreneurs and ensuring that business is promoted. Much as these Bills are welcome, they will not be worth the paper on which they are written if we do not get the fundamentals right and allow our people to regain their freedom to work, and use their enthusiasm, business prowess and simple courage to develop this country again. To hell with the bankers, chancers, speculators and officialdom in Ireland who are gone mad.