Other Questions

Trade Missions

Thomas Pringle


6. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will provide an update on his four-day Promote Ireland St. Patrick's Day trade mission to France; the extent to which rural Ireland was promoted as a possible destination for IDA Ireland sponsored companies during the four-day itinerary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12080/15]

This question relates to the Minister's recent trade mission to France on the recent St. Patrick's Day break and to what extent rural Ireland has been promoted as part of that mission.

I led a four-day Promote Ireland St. Patrick’s Day trade mission to France from 14 March to 18 March during which I was involved in meetings and events on behalf of several State agencies including IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Bord Bia.

France is a particularly important market for the development of Ireland's regional economy. Irish food and drink exports to France are worth €750 million. It is our second largest export market in this sector and a particularly important market for seafood, beef and lamb. The programme included a promotion of Irish food and drink products of particular importance to our rural economy.

Almost 500,000 French tourists come to Ireland each year. The mission included special promotion of Ireland as a destination with a heavy emphasis on rural and regional destinations, which have always been particular favourites of French tourists.

There were four deal announcements for Enterprise Ireland, including one for Combilift in Monaghan. A reception held in the Irish embassy was attended by 17 Enterprise Ireland client companies, seven of which are regionally based. France is Ireland’s fourth largest source of inward investment. During my visit, I held two meetings with existing IDA Ireland client companies. On St. Patrick’s Day, I hosted an event attended by 15 IDA Ireland client companies along with executives from several target companies. These existing clients between them employ in excess of 3,000 people in operations located throughout Ireland with a strong regional presence, particularly in counties Waterford, Galway and Louth.

It was an important opportunity to showcase IDA Ireland's new five-year strategy which has set out ambitious regional targets at its heart. The strategy includes an increased focus on Europe which has accounted for 20% of investments won by IDA since 2010. In light of this, IDA Ireland has invested additional resources across its offices in Paris, London and Frankfurt.

To what extent does the Minister expect to see growth in investment by France and exports there this year? Will there be growth in tourists from France this year?

It is expected there will be an extra 5%, or 25,000, visitors coming from France this year. At the recent trade mission, we met with key agents who will drive and promote this business.

The ambition for food exports is for double-digit growth into the French market. It is a strong market and a good outlet for seafood exports, in particular, with good margins. IDA Ireland is seeking to increase investment from the European market over the next five years. It has not set a specific target but, overall, its aim is a 40% uplift in the total number of projects won from the European arena, an ambitious target. Trade missions are a part of it but the very dedicated staff in these offices abroad continue to develop these leads and deliver them over time. Despite its economic difficulties, the French market is very good for Irish companies which are well received there.

Research Funding Applications

Clare Daly


7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the steps he plans to take in response to the unprecedented move by over 900 scientists expressing concern regarding the Government's research policy and over-concentration on commercial research. [11965/15]

This is essentially the same question that was asked earlier by Deputy Calleary. I listened to the Minister’s answer then and I hope he is not going to give the same answer to me now. When he said those looking for funding will always look for more means he is entirely missing the point. Practically the entire scientific community has publicly said the Government’s approach to research funding is wrong. It did not say the Government is not putting enough money into research. It is asking the Government to rebalance its distribution. This is a very serious scenario and I am surprised at how dismissive the Minister has been of the opinions of the scientific community.

Policy is focused on building excellence in scientific research and maximising its impact on jobs, as well as in economic and social progress. Neither I nor the Government make any apology for putting an extra emphasis on research that can help create more jobs. The Government introduced several policy initiatives targeted at accelerating the economic and societal return on our investment in this area. Among these was the implementation of the proposals of the research prioritisation group. It narrowed down to 14 priority areas around which the majority of competitive funding should be targeted. There will be a two gateway approach, namely excellence in science and relevance to what can be delivered. We also have invested considerably in improving that capacity to deliver. We have established a new group in Enterprise Ireland, Knowledge Transfer Ireland, which is seeking to take commercial research and bring it to the point where it can be spun out in licences or new start-ups.

We are also investing heavily in commercialisation funds. Close to €100 million is being put into that phase to take and bring forward good ideas in order that they will have an impact on research.

As I said in my earlier reply, we have sustained the budget within Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, which funds roughly €150 million of the total of €700 million. From its very inception, the mandate of SFI has been oriented towards basic research, but it must have relevance to Irish society. That is the approach we are taking. The letter objects to oriented research which is at the core of SFI's mandate. Excellent science and relevance have been in harness from the outset of the strategy. As I sought to illustrate in the earlier answers, it is having an impact. We are recognised as being good at undertaking research and making an impact. I point the Deputy to the 12 research centres which are detailed in really important documents. I can refer the Deputy to them.

I will let the Minister back in as his time is up.

I am well aware of the Government's approach, but the point the Minister seems to be diminishing is that it is the core of the Government's strategy that is being objected to by the entire scientific community. While the Government is funding basic research, as the Minister notes, it is funding oriented basic research. Best practice tells us that this will not be good enough in the long run. I think the scientists used the very good example of how a cure for diabetes had been discovered. If one undertakes targeted, oriented basic research, one is examining one aspect only, but if scientists are given free rein to take a wide berth, they can come up with something new which can be applied in a different field. The statistics show that what the scientists are saying is correct. PhD numbers are down and our university ratings are falling. The numbers involved in the scientific area in Trinity College Dublin are down by 50%. We are losing out on the best people precisely because of that approach. On a visit to Ireland the UK Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse was on record as saying we had it the wrong way around and that it was unbalanced. It is not that we are doing everything wrong, but it is unbalanced and we need to co-ordinate the strategy better.

We are opening up the strategy to scrutiny by inviting submissions. If the Deputy reads the scientists' submission, much of their criticism is not directed at SFI's approach but at matters such as pressure on teaching time and other general issues. The founding principle of SFI was to promote oriented research; therefore, it must be connected. There is no point in undertaking ivory tower research that has no relevance to the Irish scene. SFI applies two tests. One is excellent science that is internationally peer reviewed, while the second is relevance. It is up to those bidding for money to demonstrate relevance.

It is instructive that really important areas crucial to our future are being developed. They include big data, software development, pharmaceuticals, the marine, infant health and advanced materials. We are strong in those areas and building on their strengths. If the Deputy would like to submit her own views, we would be happy to take them, but these are examples of excellent science.

Outside the research centres, there are many principal investigators undertaking basic research. What is very interesting is that we have more researchers in industry than we had five years ago. There has been a big increase in the number of people involved in industry who are taking on researchers within their companies to drive their businesses, which is very important for employment creation.

There is a contradiction in what the Minister is saying. On the one hand, he is saying he is open to listening, but his comments in response to questions have been really dismissive of what the entire scientific community is saying. At the heart of this is the fact that scientists are not businesspeople or entrepreneurs. Of course, we hope the outcome of their research will lead to job creation, as it often does.

Why is the Government listening to the chief scientific adviser in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation? There should be an independent scientific adviser to the Government directing in areas of health and education if we are to prioritise societal gain and, ultimately, long-term jobs through it. That is the approach used in Denmark, Germany and Austria, which are ahead of us. This would be better in the long term both in terms of job creation and a societal impact. If the Minister is really saying he is interested in and listening to what the scientists are saying, he should call them in and possibly adapt some of his responses to take account of what they are saying, which is that the long-term benefits would be more preferable in that regard.

I asked the Minister earlier to outline the consultation process and who had been invited to participate, but he did not do so. I also think it is significant that the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, is not here to take this question because he is also attached to the Department of Education and Skills. The fact that the Minister took this question might be proof of what the 900 scientists are taking about.

The Minister of State is attending a funeral; that is the reason why I am taking this question. The consultation period continues to be open.

Who is involved in it?

To return to Deputy Clare Daly's points, the areas we have prioritised are food for health, micro-electronics, bio-refining and bioenergy, IT innovation, applied nanotechnology, composite materials, manufacturing research, energy efficiency, international energy research, learning technologies, financial services, cloud computing, data analytics and pharmaceutical manufacturing. It is not a narrow list but includes many areas that offer potential opportunities. We have 12 excellent research centres in specific areas. They have been competitively chosen by means of an international peer review, not by some individual. The Deputy can read about them because the information on them is very conveniently published. Their ambitions and the research they are conducting are set out. By any description, the research being conducted by the Tyndall National Institute, the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training or INSIGHT, and the Centre for Data Analytics is basic research that will have a fundamental impact on our capacity to grow various sectors.

Choices must be made when funds are being allocated. There will always be a debate about basic versus oriented and applied research. There has been more emphasis in recent times on applied research, but we are delivering internationally benchmarked good results from our research investment. The review must look at the hard numbers and opinions and weigh them up. That is what we are doing. We are engaged in a wide consultation process in which everyone is welcome to participate.

The relevant Deputy is not present to take Question No. 8.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Scientific Research

Denis Naughten


9. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the steps he is taking to ensure Science Foundation Ireland continues to fund basic fundamental scientific research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11963/15]

This is round three in dealing with this issue. We will take the Minister's response as read. He has said it is no good having ivory tower research - research for the sake of it. That is the fundamental flaw. I put it to him that he needs to take off his economics hat and look at the other aspects because scientific research is not just about producing a clear economic return. It is about building capacity and human capital that can attract new investment to the economy.

I agree. If the Deputy looks at SFI's strategic plan, he will see that they are precisely the things with which it is concerned. It must build human capital within the universities and see to it that 60% of it will transfer to the enterprise base in order that with this capability we can grow the industry base. The 12 science centres are part of the budgeting. They are funding more basic research by principal investigators. This involves building world-class centres of scale and ambition in which the science is internationally robust and they can build connections to our small and medium enterprises, about which Deputy PeadarTóibín was talking earlier.

It is really important that we have the spectrum. While some people will say that what is all-important is the basic research, others will say it is commercialisation. We are making sure we fund the whole spectrum and are trying to improve the connections. We have put in Knowledge Transfer Ireland, improved the IP protocols and built the technology gateways in our institutes of education. We have built the scientific research centres and have a suite of projects.

Returning to Deputy Daly's point, it would be the very same in any other European country. Other countries are struggling with the sort of spectrum they should build and how to do it best. It is hotly contested and I make no apologies for saying jobs are my priority at the moment as we are a job-needy economy. Others will say the priority is basic research and we are trying to strike the balance. We have really good people driving the system and it is working. We are doing well against international measures in excellence of science and in application.

The problem is that all the funding going into basic research is for, as the Minister put it, oriented research. Funding is not being made available for blue-sky research. This is an issue I have raised with the Minister over the last decade or more in government and in opposition. There is a fundamental weakness in Government policy as it should not put all its eggs in one basket as regards applied research.

Taking hurling as an analogy, it is as if the Minister said we will put all the investment into Kilkenny, Cork and Clare hurling from under age right through to the senior teams, but we will forget about the likes of Waterford, Limerick, Offaly and the weaker counties and let them fend for themselves. The Government is putting the investment into basic research, but it is doing so in specialisations that already exist and that is the fundamental flaw.

In the particular correspondence that was signed by 900 scientists, the most damning indictment was that it clearly stated that we are now producing----

Sorry Deputy, you are over time. I will let you back in again. There is a time limit.

Science Foundation Ireland spends €150 million out of the €724 million in research. This oriented research, funded from the enterprise sector and the enterprise policy dimension, is less than a quarter of the overall research spend. As the Deputy knows, the Higher Education Authority allocates substantial moneys to individuals to undertake research in their own fields and they are entirely free in the application of that time.

We have competitive calls for our €150 million budget, which is designed to have maximum impact on the Irish economy and on society. For example, who could not say that advanced materials bioengineering research being carried out at Amber is not an area? Amber's research area is 2D materials and composites, biomaterials, medical devices, semi-conductor and memory devices, polymer nano-composites and membranes. To me, that means all the connected, smart products, the internet of things - that is what they are at and that is the fundamental direction in which we are going.

Thank you, Minister.

These are some of the best scientists we have - Professor Fergal O'Brien, Professor Michael Morris and so on. They are tied into----

Sorry, Minister, there is a time limit. There are also Deputies waiting in the Chamber to ask questions.

What we are doing is impactful and it is proving its impact. It is a competitive call----

Sorry, Minister, the time is up.

The problem is that the next big innovation in the world will probably be when a geologist, a microbiologist and maybe - God forbid - an economist sit down together over a cup of coffee and come up with some big new idea. If they do not have the basic skills they are not going to develop that. We are producing science graduates who have not done real experimental work during their undergraduate years. It is like trying to train doctors and license them as GPs without their having first-hand experience of treating patients. While the approach the Minister is taking will deliver in the short term - I have no difficulty with that and believe substantial investment needs to go into it- if he puts all his eggs into oriented research, whether it be basic or applied, he will end up without the fundamental building blocks to sustain this growth into the future.

We are not putting all our eggs in one basket; €150 million is going into this out of the approximately €725 million that is spent on research. The HEA funds much more than we do and its funds provide the blue-sky freedom to individual researchers to study their own things and do whatever collaborations they wish - indeed those people can collaborate with our centres and data. They are all located in universities and there is a web of them around the country. An academic can plug into our insight and we have developed in a way that there are hubs and spokes, so there can be flexible interaction with these centres.

As the Deputy is aware, Science Foundation Ireland is investing in head-hunting stars who can come to Irish colleges and become a nucleus around which new thinking can occur. We are funding that from our Department, bringing in those stars who can build excellence around them. There is a lot that is exciting happening in this area but it is based on selection. The best projects win. It is not just saying that everyone gets €X and they all go off and we hope that something comes back. We stoutly defend the approach and evolve it all the time.

Question No. 10 replied to with Written Answers.

Economic Competitiveness

Seán Kyne


11. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in recognition of the improvement in Ireland's ranking in terms of international competitiveness, his plans to further improve our ranking in the year ahead. [12082/15]

In light of Ireland's improved international competitiveness rankings, what plans does the Minister have to continue that progression in the years ahead?

The Government has undertaken significant structural reforms to improve competitiveness. We have reformed wage setting mechanisms, improved access to finance for business and reduced the administrative burdens on business. Our cost base has improved making Irish firms more competitive internationally and Ireland a more attractive location for overseas firms. Improved competitiveness has facilitated indigenous startups and supported record levels of net job creation by Enterprise Ireland and IDA and jobs growth across the regions.

By making Ireland more competitive we have facilitated job creation, exports and enterprise. Since 2011, Ireland’s international competitiveness rankings have improved. We have moved from 24th to 15th in the International Institute for Management Development, IMD, world competitiveness yearbook and from 29th to 25th in the World Economic Forum global competitiveness report. In addition, we are 13th out of 189 in the World Bank’s report on doing business.

This improvement in international competitiveness has been hard won through structural reforms, pay restraint and productivity increases. We must however continue to do more to ensure our competitiveness gains are not eroded as the economy grows. Through the Action Plan for Jobs, the Government is maintaining its focus on measures aimed at improving our competitiveness position and creating a supportive environment for enterprise and sustainable full employment. The 2015 action plan places a particular focus on improving cost competitiveness, supporting competitive regions, aligning skills with enterprise needs and using research and innovation to secure future competitiveness.

The plan has set an ambitious strategic goal to further improve our international competitiveness ranking. Specific measures are being taken in the year ahead to reduce the administrative burden for over half a million business interactions by, for example, greater use of ICT, revoking outdated legislation, and greater awareness and promotion of health and safety best practice. Improvements to be delivered in 2015 include the roll-out of new company law which is reducing the administrative burden of company registration and filing systems, the new workplace commission, trusted partners for the issuing of work permits, and the integrated licensing applications service.

The National Competitiveness Council and the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Jobs will also continue to consider specific initiatives to improve our competitiveness. I am confident that the actions we are taking across the Government through the Action Plan for Jobs will support further improvements in our international competitiveness rankings.

I thank the Minister for his reply and acknowledge that he has a strong record both in opposition and as Minister in terms of highlighting the importance of competitiveness.

The National Competitiveness Council has highlighted a number of areas about which it has concerns, including property costs, quality broadband provision and energy costs. What concerns does the Minister have about the cost of property and the shortage of rental property evident in some markets? How important are energy market integration and the European Single Market in increasing energy cost competitiveness in Ireland vis-à-vis our competitors in the United States? Energy costs in Europe are much higher than in the United States.

Absolutely all of these factors are crucial. As the Deputy knows, the Government has a construction strategy to address the area of property. After the crash, there have been a number of difficulties in funding new developments. On broadband provision, a call will be issued later in the year to provide for the areas of the country that cannot be reached by commercial operators. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, is working on that issue.

Energy poses particular problems. There is investment in strengthening the grid, but we have a fuel mix that creates competitiveness difficulties. Recently there have been improvements owing to the decline in oil prices. We have been showing improvements in our energy cost competitiveness in recent times. As the Deputy will see, the National Competitiveness Council has put on top of its list objectives such as enhancing the skills base, broadening the tax base, developing the enterprise base and improving access to finance. There is a range of areas in which we can hope to improve and on which we are working to make improvements.

I thank the Minister for the reply. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland obviously have a strong record in job creation, not least in my constituency. The Minister was there on Monday in regard to IDT911. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will be reporting to the Minister on their meetings in the United States and other areas regarding concerns they and those jurisdictions have about competitiveness in Ireland. Will the Minister comment on this?

As the Deputy knows, IDA Ireland has just produced its strategy for the next five years. It is based on consultation in all of our markets. I participated in some of the meetings. The biggest issue is talent and it is in that respect that every country will stand or fall. There is a worldwide war for talent. Ireland is one of the top countries in terms of the availability of skills. That is a really important factor that keeps us right. We have to be very attentive to our capacity to respond to changing skill needs and building scientific capability and STEM subjects. Deputy Denis Naughten wrote an excellent report on these issues some years ago.

It was not listened to; that is the problem.

That is the biggest clarion call. As we develop the ETBs, the apprenticeship model and interaction between colleges and enterprise, these will be really important areas of work.

The Minister is not doing a bad job himself either

Public Procurement Contracts

Peadar Tóibín


12. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if the measures in An Action Plan for Jobs 2015 dealing with small and medium enterprise and micro-enterprise access to public procurement of goods and services contracts are sufficiently ambitious to increase both sectors' share of these public contracts within the lifetime of the plan. [12097/15]

Public procurement presents one of the biggest opportunities for SMEs in the State. An Action Plan for Jobs states the ambitions of the Government are merely to increase SME awareness and identify further measures to assist public sector procurement. In other words, in the Government's fourth year in office, its ambition is to look into the matter. I sat with a previous Minister responsible for the OPW in his office and asked him why the Government was rolling up all contracts and making it more difficult for SMEs. All we had was a shrug. Do small businesses not deserve more than a shrug with regard to public procurement?

They are getting more than a shrug; they are getting contracts. Public procurement provides an opportunity in the domestic market for Irish enterprises, with annual expenditure by the Government sector of €8 billion on goods and services. Policy responsibility for public procurement rests with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. However, my Department and its agencies work closely with the Office of Government Procurement which comes within the remit of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to support SMEs in gaining access to public procurement opportunities. In this regard, Action Plan for Jobs 2015 contains a number of actions aimed at helping SMEs to prepare better for public procurement opportunities as they arise. For example, Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland which come within the remit of my Department are building on their work to date to increase SME awareness of forthcoming public procurement opportunities. The Office of Government Procurement will publish pipelines of procurement activities to inform SMEs of forthcoming procurement opportunities.

Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland will continue to work to grow the capacity and capability of Irish enterprises to tender for public procurement contracts through the delivery of targeted training programmes such as Go-2-Tender, Advanced Go-2-Tender, consortia-building initiatives and nationwide Meet the Buyer events, many of which I have attended. The Meet the Buyer events, run in conjunction with the Office of Government Procurement, provide suppliers with an opportunity to meet public sector buyers and outline their products to them. Other events provide opportunities for suppliers to network and build consortia.

The measures in Action Plan for Jobs 2015 relating to public procurement build on the work undertaken in previous years in this area. Last year the Office of Government Procurement reviewed and updated its guidelines and procedures in an effort to make it easier for SMEs to participate in public procurement. In addition, the Office of Government Procurement chairs a working group which includes small business representatives and officials from my Department and agencies and acts as a key mechanism for engaging with SME representative bodies and identifying further measures to improve access to public procurement.

Earlier this month the Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Simon Harris, published a report on public procurement expenditure for 2013 that gives an understanding of the breadth of public service procurement spending and its importance to Irish business. The report indicates that, of the €2.74 billion in procurement expenditure that was analysed, 93% remained within the State, while 66% of procurement expenditure was directly with SMEs. This compares very favourably with expenditure in the order of 10% with SMEs in the United Kingdom. My Department will continue to work with the Office of Government Procurement and other stakeholders to assist SMEs and micro enterprises to build their capacity to access public procurement opportunities.

An Action Plan for Jobs 2015 states with regard to public procurement and SMEs that its ambitions include increasing awareness and looking into further methods to improve it. The Minister of State has said €2.4 billion in public procurement was analysed and referred to expenditure of €8 billion. The truth of the matter is that the Office of Public Procurement simply does not know how much public procurement is through small Irish SMEs. The figure is not available, which is shocking. There is obviously a gulf between our ambition for public procurement and that of the Government. There is a gulf between the ambitions of the Small Firms Association and the Irish School Art Supply Federation which has very clearly highlighted the need to reduce the significant blockages in the State. For example, why will the Minister not commit in An Action Plan for Jobs to use the criterion of the most economically advantageous tender? That would take into account value for money, quality after-sales service, social values and whole-economy benefits. Why will the Government not consider this?

We are considering all the time how we can improve opportunities for SMEs and micro-enterprises in order that they can engage with the Office of Public Procurement to win public contracts. The evidence from the 2013 figures which represent the first analysis of its kind undertaken shows that the performance of SMEs in winning public contracts is very strong. By comparison with the position in the United Kingdom, it is particularly strong. I am quite surprised that no Government before the current one took the opportunity to examine in a comprehensive way the performance of SMEs in public procurement. We are doing so and will have annual reports. We will be examining the trends. Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and the Government are very committed to making sure we can facilitate as many SMEs and micro-enterprises as possible to win public contracts so as to sustain and support Irish business and grow the number of Irish jobs.

The enterprise agencies should be focusing on the key issue, that is, getting rid of blockages. There are tenders rolled up into massive tenders that preclude small businesses from competing. There are articles within contracts that state tendering companies must have a massive turnover and profit and be heavily insured. This also precludes small businesses. The State is measuring which tenders are the cheapest. The fact of the matter is that a local tender could have a far greater impact on the economy. This means the creation of more jobs, addressing regional imbalances and fostering innovation. These are real opportunities within the grasp of the Government. As there are only 12 months, at most, remaining in the Government's term in office, I urge it to move beyond increasing awareness of tenders to look further into the matter.

I find in my day-to-day work as a constituency Deputy that it is often the case there is a misunderstanding by SMEs and micro-enterprises about the way in which they might approach public tendering processes. This is why it is so important that our State agencies work with business representative organisations to break down any of those barriers and misconceptions. It is misleading of the Deputy to suggest there is some kind of widespread difficulty with SMEs accessing the public procurement system. It is not the case and the evidence going back to 2013 that we have analysed shows strongly that the figures are high. In terms of the analysis carried out, some 66% of public procurement is directly with SMEs. I would like to see it grow and to see SMEs in this country continue to build their capacity to engage with the Office of Government Procurement and avail of other opportunities in terms of major public projects. It is happening and I believe we would all like it to grow.

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Dara Calleary


13. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will provide an update on the implementation of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12094/15]

As we are about to suspend the sitting, I ask the Minister to just give the reply to question No. 13.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014 came into effect on 31 October 2014, which was the implementation day for the new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. Since its establishment, the commission has been working to develop its first strategy statement for 2015-18, a copy of which I will lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with the Act when it is finalised. This work is in parallel with the statutory work in regard to the dissolution of the legacy organisations - the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency - as well as the practical issue of integrating the two bodies. The commission has also undertaken some important work in the competition and consumer area since it was established, including reporting on the findings of the first consumer detriment study ever undertaken in Ireland; issuing guidance for SMEs on public procurement and how they can participate in consortium bids while respecting competition law requirements; launching a gift voucher awareness campaign both before and after Christmas; and, most recently, issuing interesting results, which I am sure the Deputy will have seen, of a survey on motor insurance comparisons.

In respect of the grocery goods provisions of the Act, a set of draft regulations were issued on 22 December 2014 for public consultation with a deadline at the end of February 2015. However, some respondents requested an extension of the deadline into March 2015 for submissions. The content of the submissions received are currently being fully considered before the final regulations are promulgated as soon as possible in 2015.

Since the enactment of the legislation a small number of technical issues arose that needed to be addressed to provide certainty in the interpretation of the media merger provisions. This was achieved through provisions inserted into the Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 which was enacted on 23 December 2014. As the Deputy is aware, under the Competition and Consumer Protection Act, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources assumed responsibility for the public interest test on media mergers and a final decision on such mergers rests with him.

Will the Minister update the House on the number of staff that are being attached and the division within that staff between the competition side and the consumer protection side of things? There is no doubt that the work on insurance this week was excellent. What will be the follow-up to that work? Who requested more time in respect of the groceries order issue? It is not as if it was bounced upon people that there was going to be a consultation.

I will have to get the staff breakdowns for the Deputy. I do not have the exact numbers. As the Deputy is aware, we expanded the size of the commission and the former director of the National Consumer Agency is now a commissioner. The organisations merged with their existing complements and I would not have expected a huge shift in that since. We are already seeing that having the two elements of the marketplace in the same location is delivering more practical responses and solutions. I will get the figures for the Deputy.

I will also get the Deputy the information on who requested the time extension in respect of the groceries order issue. I do not have that information with me. It was clearly one of the participants. The order will introduce new obligations and new monitoring arrangements. The extension is for just one month and is therefore not being greatly delayed.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.
Sitting suspended at 10.55 a.m. and resumed at noon.