Priority Questions

Labour Market

Billy Kelleher

Question:

66. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she has a long term plan in place to deal with skills shortages in various sectors; her views on whether the current employment permits system is fit for purpose for sourcing non-EU labour; and the strategies in place to deal with labour shortages. [30833/18]

Has the Minister's Department a long-term plan in place to deal with the skills shortages in various sectors? Is the current employment permit system fit for the purpose of sourcing non-EU labour? What are the strategies in place to deal with labour shortages across the economy?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

Access to a high-quality, innovative and adaptable talent pool is critical for the sustainable growth of the Irish economy and keeping Ireland competitive. While skills policy is primarily a matter for the Department of Education and Skills, my Department supports the work of the expert group on future skills needs, EGFSN, which plays a key role in identifying the future skills needs of enterprise. Recently completed work and ongoing work being undertaken by the EGFSN focuses on the food and drink sector, design, high-level ICT, Brexit-related skills needs and digitalisation.

As part of the new national skills architecture, the work of the EGFSN feeds into the National Skills Council, NSC. Together with additional skills and labour market intelligence provided by the regional skills fora and SOLAS, the council, of which the Secretary General of my Department is a member, provides a mechanism for mediating demands on resources in a manner that facilitates the prioritisation of investment in identified skills needs and enhancing the responses by education and training providers to delivery of those needs.

The work of the EGFSN informs my Department's employment permit policy. Employment permits are part of the response to addressing skills needs likely to continue into the medium term. Employment permit policy has focused on facilitating the recruitment of highly skilled personnel from outside the European Economic Area, EEA, where skills needs cannot be met by normal recruitment or training.

The system for determining eligibility for employment permits is flexible and responsive to change, with the list of eligible occupations reviewed on a biannual basis. It is not, however, intended as a long-term substitute for upskilling the State's resident workforce or sourcing skills from within the EEA. In undertaking any adjustment in the orientation of the system, the interests of the 219,300 people on the live register in Ireland and the 17.5 million unemployed in the EU 28 must be remembered.

As we have been approaching full employment, I have requested my Department to conduct a review of economic migration policies underpinning the current permits system to ensure our policies fully support Ireland's emerging labour market needs. This review is scheduled for completion in the coming weeks. As the review was under way, I became acutely aware of the emerging labour shortages being experienced in the agriculture and hospitality sectors, and I asked that these sectors be prioritised. This resulted in a pilot scheme being developed to allow workers for specific occupations in the agriculture sector to be sourced from outside the EEA. The temporary scheme provides for 500 permits for the horticulture sector, 250 for the meat industry and 50 for the dairy sector. Other recent changes to the regulations removed certain chef grades from the ineligible occupation list.

The strategies in place to ensure Ireland's skills needs are met include the overarching National Skills Strategy 2025 and the Action Plan for Education 2016-2019 and its associated annual implementation plans, in addition to strategies focused on apprenticeships and traineeships, ICT skills, STEM and foreign languages.

I thank the Minister for the reply. There is no doubt, based on the assessments made by the Department and stakeholders in industry, and by those who analyse the broader economy, that there are massive labour and skills shortages across huge swathes of the economy. The construction sector will have considerable difficulties meeting the demand that will be placed on it in the years ahead in terms of infrastructural development and meeting the housing needs of the population. This difficulty is coupled with a shortage of skills in transport, the hospitality sector, agriculture, which the Minister mentioned, and other key areas of the economy. Therefore, we have a major problem.

The expert group on future skills needs assesses the economy based on a five-year horizon. Training some of the people takes longer than that so we need to look beyond five, seven, ten or 12 years in assessing what the economy needs. The most damning point is that there are only four civil servants working in the expert group in the Department to assess what the economy needs. This is in the context of a labour shortage of considerable proportions. We have failed to assess the demand and, more important, we have failed to assess and meet the need.

There are nine regional skills fora across the country. They are engaging with industry to ascertain the needs.

With regard to the work permits, which are the responsibility of my Department, I need evidence before we can issue them for certain sectors. In the area of agriculture, the horticulture sector was issued with 500 permits. The meat-processing sector got 250 permits and the dairy sector got 50. The allocation was evidence-based. The sectors sent the information to the relevant Department, which in their case was the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and a case was then made to my Department. I absolutely recognise that there were pressures in that area. If there are pressures in other areas, I encourage them to feed into the relevant Department. What I described happened in the hospitality sector also. The matter was raised with me.

We need evidence. A priority for me is to address the needs of the 219,300 on the live register. We have to take account of the fact that there are 17.5 million people unemployed across the European Union. These are areas that we need to address.

I accept all that but the harsh reality is that the economy does need labour. There are considerable shortages in certain areas, including construction, agriculture, hospitality and transport. There are now shortages across the health care sector.

There are labour shortages across huge swathes of the economy. If one wishes to highlight an indictment or failure of policy one need only look at the apprenticeship programmes. There are simply not enough people either applying for or expressing an interest in key areas of the crafts and trades. That alone indicates there has been a failure of policy in terms of assessing the demand and putting in place policies that would alleviate the pressures that will invariably arise. Take the example of construction. We have a housing requirement of approximately 35,000 new houses per year but before we start building any houses there are already labour shortages in the construction industry. That is how far behind we are. We also do not have a pool of labour available from Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and elsewhere in eastern Europe, as we had previously, because their economies have converged with the European economies.

We are developing apprenticeship schemes in all areas of the economy and there have been a huge number of calls in respect of different sectors. In fact, I am familiar with a number of cases where industry has come together with the education sector to develop the apprenticeship courses that are required. They start off with traineeships and then develop into full apprenticeships. These have been very beneficial. I am acutely aware that industry needs a pool of highly talented people to continue to fill the demands on the workforce. We have an expanding and growing economy and there are a number of different initiatives across the board in terms of upskilling, reskilling and apprenticeship schemes. We are working hard to develop and roll them out nationally. As I said, I was aware of the ones that have been addressed but there are further pressures, for example, in the healthcare sector as the Deputy mentioned. I recently met with representatives of the nursing homes and I told them to put their case to the Department of Health and show the evidence. I am happy to look at it in order to ease those pressures.

Brexit Issues

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

67. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the plans being put in place for a hard Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30826/18]

My question is about the plans being put in place for a hard Brexit. That is a real possibility now after what has happened in the past week and especially last weekend with the British Cabinet in disarray. Is the Minister developing contingency plans for a situation where the landbridge through Britain becomes unusable for Irish lorries travelling to and from the Continent? Businesses need answers on this issue. It is a crucial issue that is arising with all the stakeholders I have met, as many retailers and exporters rely on this route. Also, why was a portion of my question sent to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for a reply?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. On his question about why a portion of his question was sent to another Department, I cannot answer that and I do not know. I presume it was a decision made in the Ceann Comhairle's office.

Co-ordination of the whole-of-Government response to Brexit is being taken forward through the cross-departmental co-ordination structures chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and my Department is central to those efforts. Contingency planning for a no-deal or worst case outcome, bringing together the detailed work being undertaken by individual Ministers and their Departments on issues within their policy remit, is now well advanced. Its focus is on the immediate economic, regulatory and operational challenges which would result from such an outcome.

This work is therefore providing baseline scenarios for the impact of Brexit across all sectors, which can then be adapted as appropriate in light of developments in the EU-UK negotiations, including in regard to transition arrangements and the future relationship. However, the Government is already acting to get Ireland Brexit ready and this is a priority for my Department and the enterprise agencies. Our objective is to support firms to adapt to the challenges and opportunities Brexit presents by ensuring we have fit-for-purpose policies. Our strategy is to minimise risks and to maximise opportunities by ensuring the growth and resilience of Irish enterprise post Brexit working across four pillars which are: helping firms to compete; enabling firms to innovate; supporting firms to trade; negotiating for the best possible outcome.

Several important steps have been already taken to prepare our economy, including through a range of measures announced in budgets 2017 and 2018, as well as commitments set out in the Action Plan for Jobs, 2017 and 2018, and the targets included in the trade, tourism and investment strategy. My Department has secured an additional €6 million which will enable the Department and its agencies to recruit up to 100 additional staff focused on helping Irish exporters grow their international sales, diversify their markets and secure new investments in Ireland.

The enterprise agencies are at the forefront in working with firms to ensure they are equipped to deal with Brexit and to enhance their performances in an increasingly competitive global trading environment through lean programmes, skills development and reducing business costs. This is being achieved through the provision of information, advice, training and other supports.

The Minister will be well aware that exports worth €26 billion were destined for the other 26 countries in the EU, excluding Britain, last year. Getting these goods to the Continent could become an issue if a hard Brexit occurs. Currently, it takes approximately ten hours for a truck to travel from Dublin through Britain to Calais. If this route becomes unusable, due to restrictions, checks or massive queues at the Channel tunnel, the alternative direct route to Zeebrugge in Belgium can take 38 hours. Any additional time in transit will cost businesses money and every hour counts in the transport of perishable goods. What contingency plan has the Minister prepared to date in this regard? Has she explored using bonded warehousing in Britain and is that part of the negotiations? In addition, could IDA land be used to set up large warehousing depots in Ireland to replace similar ones the Irish companies currently use in Britain?

EI and InterTradeIreland Brexit advisory clinics focus on priority areas for contingency action in financial and currency management, strategic sourcing, customs, transport and logistics. There is also a customs and logistics component of EI's Brexit: Act On Initiative, which involves the provision of independent consultants to client companies for two half-day sessions. This is designed to help them decide on specific actions over a short period to address the risks and opportunities of Brexit. The Revenue Commissioners have extensive engagement with industry and are providing advice on long-term planning around skills for customs post Brexit. Industry representative bodies are also playing their part. Customs awareness and clearance training is being offered by the Irish Exporters Association, Freight Transport Association Ireland and the Irish International Freight Association. Private sector providers are also active in this space. A great deal of work is taking place in that regard. Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and the local enterprise offices are providing many supports to businesses. They are asking the businesses to identify the risks that Brexit presents and to mitigate those risks.

I thank the Minister. However, I am still deeply concerned that the Department does not have more plans to date on the specific issue I raised. If the country is not prepared for a hard Brexit there will be a devastating effect on Irish businesses, exporters and farmers. Unfortunately, I believe that is where we are heading. Businesses need to know what structures will be in place. We can no longer wait for the Tories and their partners in the DUP to come up with a solution. The state of that government is very worrying and is making a hard Brexit more likely. It is clear the Tories are so fractured they will be unable to come up with a solution by next October or March. Has the Minister considered increasing air and shipping capacity in the short term should a hard Brexit occur, by which I mean the State taking a role in providing extra capacity at a reasonable cost for businesses should the landbridge become unusable? In addition, is there an internal report entitled "Disorderly Brexit Contingency: executive summary paper" and, if so, what does it contain?

As I said, contingency planning across Government for a range of Brexit scenarios is well advanced. Co-ordination of the whole-of-Government response to Brexit is being taken forward through the cross-departmental co-ordination structures chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Contingency planning for a no-deal or worst case outcome is well advanced and is focused on the immediate economic, regulatory and operational challenges which would result from such an outcome.

The Brexit negotiations are ongoing and, therefore, there is still a lot of uncertainty around for what we need to prepare. However, there are certain changes for which the Government can prepare, including getting our ports and airports ready for what may be a changed trading relationship with the UK at the end of March next year or the expiry of the transitional period in December 2020. In this regard, additional customers officers, veterinary inspectors and infrastructure will be required at our ports. This work is well advanced and the Government will be in a position to take the necessary decision if and when required. In the meantime, we are advising business to prepare for the worst outcome, while the Government negotiates for the best.

Economic Competitiveness

Billy Kelleher

Question:

68. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the actions being taken to reduce the costs of doing business here and reverse Irish competitiveness deficiencies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30834/18]

What actions are being taken to reduce the cost of doing business in Ireland and to reverse Irish competitiveness deficiencies? I ask this question in light of the alarm bells being sounded in terms of how the economy is progressing and the inefficiencies creeping into the cost of doing business and the impact this is having on our competitiveness.

I thank the Deputy for his question. Ireland’s overall competitiveness performance remains positive. Our improved fiscal position and increased cost competitiveness have contributed to Ireland’s improved international competitiveness. This improvement is reflected in a range of metrics, notably economic growth, increased employment, falling unemployment and a strong trade performance. In particular, our overall strong competitive position is reflected in the strong performance of the labour market across sectors and regions. The results from the Labour Force Survey in respect of quarter 1 2018 shows employment totalled 2,220,500, up 2.9% or 62,100, from the same quarter in 2017 with employment increasing in 11 of 14 economic sectors over the year. Notwithstanding this strong position, addressing Ireland’s cost competitiveness remains a key economic priority for Government. We continue to monitor Ireland's cost base and to analyse the factors that are crucial to improving our cost competitiveness.

The Costs of Doing Business in Ireland 2018 report, published by the National Competitiveness Council on 1 June, found that the cost base for enterprise is internationally competitive across a range of metrics, including the cost of starting a business, communications costs and average income taxes. However, the council also highlighted that Ireland remains a relatively high cost location and cost pressures are evident in residential property, credit, labour and business service costs. 

A range of initiatives set out in the Action Plan for Jobs 2018 are in train across Departments to enhance our cost competitiveness and productivity, improve the ease of doing business, reduce the administrative burden and drive greater efficiencies across the enterprise base. Through the action plan for education and pathways to work the Government is working to ensure the pipeline of talent can meet the demand for labour to reduce labour cost pressure. The ongoing work of the Personal Injuries Commission, the implementation of the report on the cost of motor insurance and the complementary work of the cost of insurance working group should help to reduce insurance costs for businesses.

Rebuilding Ireland - action plan for housing and homelessness - presents a wide-ranging set of commitments to address housing supply and while many of these will take time, the Government is implementing and driving change.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Enterprise 2025 Renewed, which I launched in March, placed an increased emphasis on enhancing our competitiveness position by developing our Irish-owned enterprises. We are placing a spotlight on innovation and on skills. Enterprise Ireland also places a strong emphasis on competitiveness.  It supports exporting enterprises with initiatives in Lean, research, development and innovation and management development. The agency helps enterprises to take a strategic approach to understanding and responding to potential implications arising from Brexit and assists them to enter into new markets and diversify their export base. The local enterprise offices offer a suite of supports to enhance the competitiveness of small and micro enterprises. Initiatives include mentoring, innovation vouchers, Lean Start and access to a Brexit diagnostic and guidance.

In terms of ensuring our cost competitiveness, there is a role for the public and private sectors alike to proactively manage the controllable portion of their respective cost bases, drive productivity and continue to take action to minimise costs.

There is no doubt that trade is improving and that we have increased growth, rising employment and decreasing unemployment but this is camouflaging major deficiencies within the broader economy. For example, insurance costs, childcare costs, housing costs, rental costs and so on are feeding into and underpinning uncompetitiveness in the broader economy. While we have a successful economy, we need to learn from previous times. Growth, a good trade surplus, rising employment and decreasing unemployment are key components of a good economy but if we allow uncompetitiveness to feed into the broader economy it will be undermined quickly. This can happen rapidly. Has it been brought to the Minister's attention that to attract foreign direct investment, FDI, and a skilled labour pool into the country we need to address the issue of housing and shortage of quality rental accommodation?

I am conscious of the issues relating to competitiveness. We are at full employment, the public finances are stabilised and Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe but we cannot become complacent. We need to ensure that companies are competitive and that their productivity levels are high. The foreign companies here invested in research and development and innovation and their productivity levels are probably a lot higher than those of indigenous companies. We need to focus on indigenous companies and to encourage them to invest in research and development. This work is being done the local employment offices, LEOs.

The issues surrounding competitiveness are problems of a fast growing economy. We know what happened in the past and I am conscious of the need to ensure it does not happen again. As a Government, we are taking action to address areas of concern. In the area of housing, we have the Rebuilding Ireland plan, which is taking time but it is working.

American Chamber of Commerce Ireland carried out a review of the housing shortage and found that there would be a requirement for 30,000 one and two-bedroom apartments in the greater Dublin area between now and 2022 to address the issue of facilitating accommodation for companies and FDI. Leaving aside indigenous housing need, we need to increase supply for FDI. Regardless of how one assesses the economy and the performance of the economy, if we do not have quality accommodation we will quickly find ourselves at a huge disadvantage of terms of our competitors not only in the European Union but in the UK when it leaves the EU on 29 March next year, and from other areas of the world as well. It would be a shameful indictment if we could not address the housing needs of our own people and, equally, if we undermine the broader economy we will not be able to assist anybody because of a housing shortage.

Rebuilding Ireland is working. The total number of new homes built in 2017 increased significantly to 14,500, an increase of 46% on the previous year. This figure continues to rise. The CSO confirms that 75% more homes came on the market at the end of 2017 than at the end of 2015. In the first quarter of 2018, approximately 3,500 homes were built. This report is in regard to Dublin but, as the Deputy will be aware, I am anxious of the need for regional spread. There is a huge opportunity for companies, multinationals and FDI to move outside of Dublin to the regions, where there is a great quality of life, more housing available and good education systems. We have a lot to offer in this country. While I accept that there are pressures on Dublin, there are huge opportunities in the regions. I am committed to ensuring that the regions get their fair share of any FDI coming into the country.

IDA Ireland Portfolio

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

69. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if consideration has been given to using part of the land bank held by the IDA to provide for housing, child care facilities or other community facilities in view of the number of new companies locating here and the lack of housing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30601/18]

This question is about the land bank held by the IDA. Has the Minister consulted the IDA on the use of some of that land for the provision of housing and childcare and other community facilities in light of the increased number of companies locating in Ireland and the current lack of housing throughout the State?

The Government is fully committed to increasing the supply of affordable and quality housing and in this regard published the Rebuilding Ireland action plan, which includes financing measures, new construction and rental sector improvements.  These steps will ensure that Irish people are better able to buy and rent suitable homes.  They will also serve to reinforce our national infrastructure in terms of its capacity to accommodate FDI.

Significant progress has already been made on the Rebuilding Ireland plan. The CSO has confirmed that more than 18,000 new homes were made available for use last year, of which 2,500 were vacant homes brought back in to use, 1,000 were unfinished homes and 14,500 were newly built homes occupied for the first time.

There was a 45% increase in new builds year on year and we expect further strong growth this year again. The Government has also taken other actions to increase the supply of housing, such as removing the capital gains tax incentive to retain residential land and increasing the penalties relating to land hoarding.

The Government rightly intends to use the broader State landbank for the development of further housing and community facilities. In 2017, the Government identified 30 publicly-owned sites. The Deputy can view these on the Rebuilding Ireland housing land map. Last week, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, attended the housing summit and asked local authorities to consider, in terms of the delivery of housing, State-owned sites in their areas that are strategically important for them. The Minister will be working with those authorities on the active management and utilisation of the wider public landbank to contribute to key housing and planning policies such as securing more compact and sustainable growth. This may include engagement with IDA Ireland and other State bodies.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. Obviously, I am disappointed that the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, has not spoken to IDA Ireland about this matter. There is an opportunity to use some of this landbank. I do not need to explain to the Minister of State the current situation regarding housing. We are all aware of what is happening. At constituency clinics, Deputies are inundated with questions on the matter. The Taoiseach said this morning that every time he has a meeting with a company, a key issue that arises is the lack of affordable housing for people coming here looking for jobs. Some 10,000 people across the State are homeless and hundreds of thousands of people are paying rents they cannot afford. Rents are at an all-time high. Hundreds of thousands of others have their hopes of buying or renting homes dashed because of house price increases.

Based on these well-worn statistics and considering that IDA Ireland has more than 2,700 acres lying vacant, would it not be fair and just to carry out an audit to see if some of this land could be used for housing or essential services? I agree that foreign direct investment is a very important part of our economy and I fully support it, but so too is housing our people.

As regard specific lands owned by the IDA Ireland - I have met its representatives on a number of occasions particularly in the south-east - it remains important that the agency has a supply of available sites that can be offered to firms considering making job-rich investments in Ireland. Regarding contacts with IDA Ireland, based on my knowledge of the region I represent, there is no doubt that IDA Ireland works closely with city and county councils to ensure that its property acquisitions are in line with local area, county and city development plans. IDA Ireland-owned sites are never left intentionally idle or vacant. In fact, from my experience the opposite is the case. IDA Ireland is doing everything it possibly can to showcase these properties to investors and to convince them to locate there.

There are pressures on sites and so on, but there are two issues that arise. The Deputy rightly mentioned contacts with IDA Ireland. I firmly believe that the regional and local areas are aware of the landbanks that are available and the housing needs in those areas. They consistently communicate with IDA Ireland. The Government has an objective to develop foreign direct investment and locate big companies outside Dublin and the major cities, in areas where IDA Ireland has landbanks. It would be regressive if some of the locally-held IDA Ireland land was not available if foreign companies came to regions looking to set up there.

I understand how the landbanks work and the strategic need for them. I am just asking for an audit of them. Some of the land might be able to be used for the social and affordable housing, community facilities and crèches we will need. The Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 will come before the Dáil this evening. We will be supporting the Bill for some of the reasons the Minister of State has outlined and to ensure we do whatever we can to bring foreign direct investment into the country.

I appreciate that the availability of an adequate supply of marketable serviced land and buildings in advance of demand is a key element in IDA Ireland's ability to compete for mobile foreign direct investment and it is very successful in that. However, the housing crisis is very severe. Recently, Amazon announced 1,000 extra jobs for Dublin. Those jobs are very welcome. Although this is great news, the reality is that daft.ie today is showing only 2,813 properties available to rent in all of County Dublin. Where will these workers live? Prices look set to continue to rise. People are being forced out of their homes by massive rents and the Government's reliance on the market is not working. Despite all the numbers the Minister of State might quote, it is simply not working for people looking for rental properties. The Government must do much more to provide places for citizens to live. It is time to carry out an audit of land that could be used for other purposes.

The national regeneration development agency will have a role in respect of land for social and affordable housing delivery. The idea is to bring together relevant Departments and agencies in order to unlock the potential for State landbanks and to ensure the best allocation for funding.

I return to the development plans set in all areas and regions. They deal with landbanks that are available from all agencies. If the Deputy logs on to the web page, he can select by county, town, land address and hectares available. I can send him the details for his area and all the areas in Ireland, which shows the land available. Contrary to what the indications are it may look substantial but it would be a failure on our behalf with the economy growing and the long-term development of our economy that we would not have substantial landbanks available for multinational foreign direct investment companies and other companies that might want to set up in regional areas. They Deputy is correct that there is a balance in making landbanks available for housing and making landbanks available for jobs in particular areas of the country.

Brexit Issues

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

70. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the efforts being made to encourage benefits to accrue to other cities, including opportunities for information technology and other technical supports, software development and accounting services, particularly stressing the lower cost of accommodation in cities other than the capital, in the context of indications that Dublin will benefit from Brexit by way of financial services and other service sector employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30936/18]

We have heard much about the fears and threats of Brexit. My question relates to getting some of the benefits of Brexit to cities outside Dublin. The evidence seems to be that, particularly in the financial service area but in other service areas as well, Dublin has already got companies that are relocating and that there will be others. I encourage to Government to ensure that some of that benefit goes to cities outside Dublin. The housing issue that was just discussed is part of that because accommodation is cheaper in the other cities.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. All three Ministers in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation are from the regions. I assure the Deputy that the Department is very focused on spreading investment across the country. This includes jobs and investment that could potentially arise as a result of Brexit.

Creating more jobs in the regions is a particular priority for IDA Ireland and my Department. That is why additional financial resources have been secured to support the strategic response to Brexit by our enterprise agencies, including IDA Ireland. This is aimed at both capitalising on the opportunities and addressing the challenges associated with the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. These resources have already allowed for new posts to be created and for an increase in marketing and communication activities.

While, as the Deputy has pointed out, lower accommodation costs are a selling point for cities outside the capital, attracting foreign direct investment to regional areas is not without its challenges. This is largely because there is a global trend to base foreign direct investment in large urban areas. For example, they want to be near transport hubs or in close proximity to third level institutions. Companies also often want to be located near competitors or clusters of other similar enterprises, which means they are more likely to decide to on an urban area. If they are near others in their sector they can get more workers for their companies. This can make securing investment a little bit more difficult. At the same time quality of life is also important.

Despite all that, real progress has been made in the level of foreign direct investment outside the main urban areas. In 2017 alone 70% of all jobs created were outside the Dublin region, including 45% of all jobs created by IDA Ireland. Similarly, 65% of all Enterprise Ireland client employment is outside Dublin. In recent times, there has been a great deal of investment in the regions - for example, in Longford, Sligo and Dundalk. We are working hard, across Government, to ensure further projects are secured in regional areas throughout the remainder of 2018 and beyond.

Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, visited Athlone.

I stress that the IDA does its utmost to encourage clients to locate in areas that are most in need of investment and highlights the benefits of expanding or locating in all counties to its client base. It is encouraging that in the first quarter of 2018 there were 135 site visits and about half of those were outside the greater Dublin area.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The IDA will continue to showcase regional areas to potential investors and we are determined that the benefits of FDI will be felt, as best as possible, all across the country. We have to remember, however, that the ultimate decision as to where to invest is always taken by overseas firms themselves.

The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, will be aware of a report published last week. It was an economic advisory report carried out by EY-DKM for Limerick City and County Council. The report specifically said Limerick was an attractive destination for FDI in light of Brexit. It went on to suggest potential activities, including accounting, business support services, payroll, HR, technical support desks, including IT technical support, software development and other research and development innovation. It talks about back-office support and so on.

I am making a case for Limerick. I know it best. There are two Members present who might make a case for Waterford or Cork. I ask the Minister and Ministers of State if they will ensure the IDA is aware of this report when it is encouraging people to come to Ireland and that it does not put all the eggs into the Dublin basket.

We debated the national planning framework in the House last Friday. It proposes a 50% growth of the cities outside of Dublin. That will only happen if these kinds of proactive measures are taken to ensure this kind of work goes to other cities besides Dublin.

The mid-west is one of the fastest growing regions in the country. Limerick has attracted a lot of FDI in recent times. More investment there is imminent. The Deputy has talked about the IDA. The IDA is well aware of the document the Deputy mentioned. I refer to the Patrick's Street development proposed for Limerick city centre. It is a fantastic initiative funded by the European Investment Bank and the local authorities. It is a great area to develop further investment in the region particularly in the tech sector. Much of the recent investment in Limerick has been in city centre locations but there is also Raheen Business Park and there will be more development there. There is a lot happening out there. The Deputy should be aware that FDI only forms one part of the investment in regional locations. Indigenous enterprise is also important and is responsible for most of the employment growth in the country outside of Dublin; 98% of enterprises are SMEs and comprise approximately 70% of the workforce. The LEOs are playing an important role. It is a combination of factors. I understand why the Deputy has raised the issue. Limerick is a beautiful city. It is a great city and a great place to invest. There is a university there and also LIT and Mary Immaculate College while Shannon Airport is nearby. There are also all of the tourist attractions. All of those factors make it an attractive place for its quality of life and for people to invest in.

I recognise the importance of indigenous industry but my question is specifically on benefitting from Brexit which means we are primarily talking about FDI. I want to ensure the Government proactively pushes cities other than Dublin. I have nothing against Dublin but if we are going to achieve the kinds of numbers in the national planning framework up to 2040, we have to see that kind of investment in the other cities. I urge that it be a priority for Government.

The Deputy is correct. There is an old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink". That is part of the problem we have. The IDA has put all the incentives it has at the disposal of companies that want to invest in the regions but at the end of the day it is the property people of these companies that might invest in Ireland who decide where their company should be. I listed the factors that contribute to such a decision at the beginning of my reply. As a result of the Brexit scenario, 40 companies across the various sectors the Deputy spoke about - the financial, life sciences, technology and engineering sectors - have all chosen Ireland. I expect more of these companies to come to Ireland because we are English-speaking and we have the fastest growing economy in Europe. We also have a reputation for having a good, young, educated workforce. I expect to see more of that because of the rollercoaster effect. The IDA is targeting that. We certainly will convey the Deputy's concerns about it to the IDA. I see more investment coming into the regions because of the quality of life they offer, the talent in them, the universities, other third level institutions and the various infrastructure such as transport hubs. All of these are important, as Ireland's road network reduces the time it takes to get to Dublin. It is only takes two to two and a half hours to get to Dublin from the mid-west. That is considered quite close for most companies that want to invest in a region.