Other Questions

Economic Growth

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

71. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if an independent report into the economic benefits a united Ireland economy would bring to the island of Ireland will be considered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30603/18]

Will the Department commission an independent report into the economic benefits a united Ireland economy would bring to the whole of the island? I find it hard to believe that despite partition occurring almost 100 years ago there are no Government reports or analysis on the economic benefits or challenges that reunification of the island would bring. Will Fine Gael, the united Ireland party, commission such an independent report into the economic benefits of a united Ireland?

The economies of Ireland and Northern Ireland are closely connected. An open border has allowed industries of all types to develop in both jurisdictions without constraints. I have had the privilege on a number of occasions during the past year of meeting with some of the enterprises that operate smoothly and successfully on an all-Ireland basis. We know how important the ease of this cross-Border trade is to enterprises based here in Ireland and the Deputy is well aware of Ireland's negotiating position in this regard.

The benefits of free and open trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland are readily apparent to my Department and we have been working, for example through the many InterTradeIreland initiatives, to promote even greater cross-fertilisation of ideas, expertise and sector-specific skills between enterprises and third-level institutes across the island of Ireland. I have no plans to commission research on a united Ireland economy as a speculative approach to such a scenario would not serve the immediate concerns of enterprise policy.

I can point to the informative research my Department has undertaken to inform how we best support enterprises that face particular challenges from Brexit. For example, my Department supported the analysis undertaken by InterTradeIreland for its report on cross-Border trade and supply chain linkages which was published earlier this year. The analysis highlighted the significance of cross-border trade, for example finding that Northern Ireland accounts for between 10% and 12% of total exports from Ireland to the UK as a whole and accounted for 7% to 8% of imports. The report also found that a significant share of cross-Border trade is accounted for by firms that trade simultaneously in both directions. These two-way traders comprise approximately 18% of firms but accounted for more than 60% of exports and more than 70% of imports. Trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland sees 177,000 lorries and 250,000 vans cross the Border every month, ferrying goods from one side to the other. It is very much a case of success for one of us being success for the other.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

InterTradeIreland is one of the six North-South implementation bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. Its mission is to support businesses through innovation and trade initiatives to take advantage of North-South co-operative opportunities, driving competitiveness, jobs and growth. It has a key role to play in protecting North-South trade in the context of Brexit, as the body is uniquely well-positioned when it comes to understanding the needs of businesses on both sides of the Border. My Department provided additional funding last year and again this year to allow InterTradeIreland undertake a range of initiatives aimed at assisting Irish SMEs to prepare for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. This work includes the provision of factual advice, information materials and supports for capability building and the provision of other specialist expertise for companies.

I thank the Minister for her response. I am disappointed she will not commission a report. I appreciate the work she and her Department have done on Brexit so far but this is a separate issue. I have asked this question a number of times. It is an important issue. I find it astonishing that no such Government data are available to us. The Modeling Irish Unification study by Dr. Kurt Hübner was published in 2015. It found the political and economic reunification of Ireland could deliver a €35.6 billion boost in GDP for the island in the first eight years. As the demographics change in the North and as the disaster of Brexit becomes more of a reality, the debate about the reunification of Ireland will continue to intensify. Data on the economic benefits will form a central part of that debate on a united Ireland. There is a responsibility on the Government to provide such data. The Minister will probably come to regret her failure to commission a report. Are there any internal reports or analysis on this topic that can be made available? Has the Department looked into it?

I emphasise the Government is fully committed to the Good Friday Agreement, the principle of consent and the institutions that were established at that time. The need to address economic business development matters on the whole island was recognised and resulted in the establishment of InterTradeIreland, the cross-Border trade and development body.

InterTrade Ireland is one of the six North-South implementation bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement. Its mission is to support businesses, through innovation and trade initiatives, to take advantage of North South co-operative opportunities, driving competitiveness, jobs and growth. InterTrade Ireland has been doing wonderful work in supporting businesses on a cross-Border basis. The Deputy mentioned the Dr. Kurt Hübner report. I am aware of the report and my understanding is that it undertakes some economic analysis of issues arising in the event of the potential unification of Ireland I am also aware that the report's conclusions are based on an economic model and a significant number of assumptions so it would be very difficult to say whether the conclusions of the report on the potential growth boost to the Irish economy would be borne out in practice. There is a significant range of different legal, administrative, regulatory and financial systems in place and Northern Ireland is part of the much larger United Kingdom economy. However, regardless of the political structures in place on the island there is an overwhelming economic case to be made for more economic agreement and I absolutely support and encourage more cross-Border initiatives.

I commend InterTrade Ireland on its work. I have met the staff at their offices in Newry. I encourage the Minister to consider the proposal I have put to her. We cannot rely on private reports for our data. We need Government data. Last year the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation spent more than €1.3 million on 19 reports and to date this year it has spent €650,000 on reports ranging from Brexit to IT security to geocoding. Therefore, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask that a report on the economic benefits of a united Ireland be commissioned. As this is a core objective of Sinn Féin and I assume of Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party and Fine Gael the united Ireland party, this would be money well spent and provide a very valuable insight into the benefits and challenges that reunification would bring.

The reports to which the Deputy refers help inform us to support our enterprise base and help it grow. I prefer to talk about the benefits of a strong all-island partnership. The national development plan contains a full chapter on that. It is a question of building partnership. It is not a question of barriers or using language that inflames. I am from the Border area and I can tell the Deputy that jobs in Fermanagh, Armagh and Tyrone benefit people in Cavan, Monaghan and across the Border area. Jobs in Derry benefit people in Donegal. We trade across the Border every day. I want to see that continue and I want to encourage more of that. I want to develop regional clusters because in the area from which I come there is a very strong engineering tradition and I want to see how we can work together better. We will achieve far more if we collaborate. That is the most important thing.

Brexit Supports

Lisa Chambers

Question:

72. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the uptake of Brexit be prepared grant supports provided by Enterprise Ireland to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30643/18]

Will the Minister of State at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, update us on the uptake of the Brexit be prepared support grants provided by Enterprise Ireland to its client base? Will he make a statement on the matter?

On Friday last, my colleague the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, published new Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, research commissioned by my Department on the potential impacts of Brexit on our trade relationships with the UK, and it was stated then, and I say it again, that the Government is committed to ensuring the continued growth and resilience of Irish enterprise after Brexit by helping firms to remain competitive.

In the immediate term, the focus of the Department and its agencies is to promote firm level awareness of, and level of preparedness for, Brexit. Enterprise Ireland's be prepared grant is one of a number of supports provided through the Department's agencies. It was introduced in June 2017, and is a grant support of up to €5,000 for SME clients in preparing a plan to mitigate risks and optimise opportunities arising from Brexit. To date 113 companies have been approved for support under this initiative. However, it is important to highlight that the be prepared grant is one of a suite of initiatives designed to help companies plan for Brexit and complement the range of existing Enterprise Ireland supports to make companies more competitive and resilient in export markets.

So far in 2018, EI has supported 639 Brexit exposed clients. These supports included 50 innovation grants, 108 competitiveness grants and 100 market diversification supports. In addition, 180 Brexit exposed clients have participated on trade missions in the first six months of the year.

In terms of Brexit advisory services, EI's seventh Brexit preparedness clinic, which I attended, took place in the Aviva Stadium on 21 June with more than 110 companies attending, 67 of which were EI clients. Four more clinics are planned over the next six months. To date, 2,328 Brexit scorecards have been completed, 999 by EI clients, 231 by local enterprise office, LEO, clients and 1,098 by non-clients. The number of 'act on' consultancy assignments completed is 41 and a strong pipeline is in place.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

A range of sectoral round table client discussions have been also convened and are planned, including in financial services. The LEOs are also providing a range of supports including, in the year to date, 186 clients have availed of Technical Assistance for Micro-Enterprises TAME programme and 137 have availed of 'lean for micro' Brexit-related supports. Similarly, InterTrade Ireland is also providing a range of supports with, for example, 149 'start to plan' vouchers with a value of up to €2,000 approved to date.   In conclusion Deputy, I would emphasis that the be-prepared grant is but one of a number of supports that are helping businesses to plan their Brexit response and I will ensure we step up our work with impacted firms as the potential shape of Brexit becomes clearer in the coming months.

Behind the Minister of State's comprehensive reply there is poor uptake of the various schemes available to companies, for example, 2% of Enterprise Ireland's, EI, clients. EI was established for export. Only 2% of the exporting companies supported by EI have applied for the be prepared grant.

There are 250,000 small businesses in this country and just 2,311 have filled out the Brexit small and medium enterprise, SME, scorecard to self assess their exposure to Brexit. We have a lot of work to do. It does not just fall to Government but to stakeholders in broader society, the business interest advocacy groups, chambers of commerce and others, but government must lead on this.

The local enterprise offices provide a range of support, including in the year to date 185 clients have availed of what they call the technical assistance to micro-enterprises. I acknowledge what the Deputy says but we have a booklet, which is on our website, entitled Building Stronger Businesses Getting Brexit Ready. The Department and its agencies work intensively with Irish companies to deal with the challenges and opportunities arising from Brexit. There are strategies to maintain and grow in the UK market. The take-up was not as big as we thought it would be in the many companies we have met dealing into the UK market. Let us give companies credit. Many Irish companies are confident and competent that they can deal with whatever Brexit throws at them and they do not necessarily need to take up any assistance from EI or otherwise. We would not be too sure what companies they would be. We can only go by the companies that come to us with all that we make available to them. One of the major initiatives we had was the €300 million Brexit loan scheme to enable companies fund a Brexit response strategy. I urge companies to look at the summary of Brexit supports available from the Department. It goes through loan schemes, tourism, hospitality and everything one can think of. There is an onus on companies to come to the Department if they want help and want to know the schemes that are available. We are working intensively with Irish companies to maintain business and to grow in the UK market.

The last thing we need to do is scaremonger business but at the same time we need to make sure there is access to information and that businesses are prepared for eventualities. There is one certain eventuality: on 29 March next year the UK will cease to be a member of the European Union. That is a certainty. What comes after that is grave uncertainty.

We have to support businesses by means of access to information, grant schemes and the scorecards. We must ensure that a sector by sector detailed analysis is done of the impact that various scales of Brexit could have. If the rules of the World Trade Organization, WTO, are reverted to in the event of a hard Brexit, for example, what impact would that have and what tariffs could be placed on Irish products entering the UK? I refer also to the softer, linear type of Brexit that might evolve during the discussions in the coming months in the context of what was announced at Chequers last Friday and what might transpire towards the end of the Council meeting in October or November. There is much work to be done and we are depending on the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.

I will address Deputy Kelleher's question by saying that the Copenhagen Economics report did that. An interesting statement was made this morning by Mr. Simon McKeever, the CEO of the Irish Exporters Association. He acknowledged that much work is being done by the Government. As the Minister stated earlier, we are reasonably prepared, considering the complexities that face us and the unknowns. We do not have to go into great detail regarding what is happening in Great Britain.

We are doing everything we can with small and medium-sized companies and Enterprise Ireland. We have the market discovery fund, at which everybody should look, that offers three levels of grants. The first is up to €35,000, the second is greater than €35,000 but less than €75,000 and the third is greater than €75,000 but less than €150,000. The fund was launched in January in order to encourage companies to expand. We are confident and not only are we urging companies to be resilient, we are also urging them to expand into the English market and into new markets. We are providing finance to allow them to do that. All the help we are giving companies and everything we are making available can be seen on the website. We are doing everything possible. For example, we launched the credit guarantee scheme earlier today. As Brexit looms - or perhaps does not since we are not too sure of what is happening - the Department is well prepared to deal with whatever outcome it may have for companies in Ireland trading into the UK or elsewhere.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement Data

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

73. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the reform of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE; when she plans to publish the report into the failings of the ODCE in the investigation of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30602/18]

I am seeking an update on the reform of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and when the Minister will be publishing her report on the failings of the ODCE in the Sean Fitzpatrick investigation.

Organisational reforms in the ODCE were commenced in 2012 by the current Director of Corporate Enforcement upon his appointment in order to enhance the capability of the office to investigate complex breaches of company law and to ensure a more efficient and effective use of its resources.  These reforms include reorganising the structure of the office and recruiting additional expertise, including seven forensic accountants, a digital forensic specialist, two enforcement portfolio managers and an enforcement lawyer. In addition, a forensic accountant was identified from a recruitment campaign run by the Public Appointments Service, PAS, and is expected to be appointed shortly.  Similarly an enforcement lawyer has been identified and an assignment date is expected shortly.

As senior level vacancies have arisen, there has been a reconfiguration of the skill sets, competencies, roles and responsibilities associated with those posts to better reflect the organisation's current needs. The investigative procedures used by the office have been fundamentally amended so that members of An Garda Síochána take the lead in all criminal investigations. A greater culture of risk management has also been fostered within the office. A key action in the Government's package of measures to strengthen Ireland's response to white collar crime centres on the establishment of the ODCE as an agency.

Work on the development of the legislative framework for the establishment of the ODCE as an agency is well advanced.  It is expected that the general scheme of a Bill to give effect to this decision will be forthcoming in the third quarter of 2018, with publication of the final Bill expected by the end of the fourth quarter. Changing the structure of the ODCE from an office to a statutory agency will provide greater autonomy to the agency and ensure it is better equipped to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law. Sourcing of expertise and specialist staff, such as forensic accountants, will be enhanced under the agency model. The ODCE has played, and continues to play, a vital role in facilitating compliance and enforcement of company law.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The ODCE has been successful in several recent high-profile white-collar crime prosecutions. In 2014, two individuals were convicted for the giving of unlawful financial assistance by Anglo Irish Bank for the purchase of its own shares and in 2016 and one individual was convicted of fraudulent trading on foot of a plea of guilty. Also in 2016, another individual was convicted for failing to maintain a licensed bank's register of loans to directors on foot of a plea of guilty. In 2017, a person was arrested and charged with fraudulent trading based on an invoice discounting fraud, entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced, in March 2018, to 18 months in prison, with the final six months suspended. The person was also disqualified from being a director for a period of five years. In June 2018, a person entered a plea of guilty on ten counts of offering unlawful financial assistance, relating to loans provided to property developers by Anglo Irish Bank.

Over the past ten years the ODCE has referred files in respect of a number of investigations to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, on foot of which the latter has directed a total of 214 charges on indictment.

The Director of Corporate Enforcement delivered his report to the Minister's office this time last year. I appreciate that she is the third Minister in that office in a short period but surely a summary of the report is finalised by now and could be published. On the new agency, will the reformed ODCE have a significantly larger budget? It is worrying to think that the ODCE is currently only allocated €5 million per year. That amount is equivalent to the budget allocated to the famous spin unit the Taoiseach established. It is over €1 million less than what was provided at the height of the recession in 2010. The new agency must be well resourced in the context of its budget, staffing and powers to ensure that white-collar crime is investigated thoroughly, particularly as many people at present do not believe that it is.

On the report into the shortcomings identified by Judge Alymer, my Department sought the advice of the Attorney General on this document. My Department is considering that advice and it is important that the account is in line with fair procedures, due process and natural justice. I intend to publish the account very shortly.

On the funding of the ODCE, the funding allocation in 2017 was €4.895 million and in 2018 it is €5.057 million. Organisational reforms undertaken by the ODCE since 2012, together with the ongoing recruitment of staff with a variety of specific skills and expertise I outlined, mean that it is well resourced to tackle increasingly complex breaches of company law. As of 10 July, the number of Department staff in place in the ODCE is 38 - that is actual staff and not full time equivalents. In addition, seven gardaí are assigned to the ODCE and, over recent years, 11 professional staff have been recruited to the office to enhance its capability to deal with increasingly complex investigations. I am satisfied that the ODCE has sufficient resources to enable it to carry the important work it does.

Will the Minister confirm when the companies (enforcement) Bill will be published and come before the Dáil, and is it a priority for the Minister? I refer also to whether she is satisfied in respect of the mistakes made in the past, mistakes that unfortunately we in the Opposition are still not fully aware of due to the report not being published. Is the Minister also looking at white-collar crime agencies internationally and will she give us an insight into her plan for the new agency that is proposed?

To which Bill did Deputy Quinlivan refer?

The companies (enforcement) Bill.

Work is under way on these Bills and I expect that the legislation in question will be forthcoming in the near future. We are doing much work to tackle white-collar crime and it is important that this work is done. We have taken a range of measures and the Government is committed to ensuring that this new ODCE agency will be created in keeping with international best practice, including its internal controls, staffing, budget, etc. We want to ensure that we tackle white-collar crime. We have a number of Bills to facilitate that and we want to ensure that they are enacted as quickly as possible.

Consumer Protection

Billy Kelleher

Question:

74. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she is satisfied with national consumer legislation in place to protect consumers from false advertising from online blogger influencers. [30637/18]

Is the Minister satisfied with the national consumer protection legislation in place to protect consumers from false advertising from online blogger influencers. Observing how retail has evolved in recent years, there is a need to look at how we protect consumers when we have people who have a huge social media following. I refer to big bloggers who are key influencers in people's purchasing habits. Is there legislation in place to protect that?

 The Consumer Protection Act 2007 - specifically sections 43, 46, 47, 55 and 56 - implements the directive on unfair commercial practices gives consumers protection from false advertising by online bloggers and influencers.

A study undertaken on behalf of the European Commission as part of the recent fitness check of EU consumer protection law concluded that the directive’s principles-based approach, combined with its blacklist of prohibited practices, had provided an effective framework for consumer protection from unfair and misleading commercial practices.

The directive was also sufficiently future-proofed and technologically neutral to allow it to address new products, media and sales methods.

A parallel review of Directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights identified a need for additional information requirements for contracts concluded on online marketplaces such as eBay, Facebook and YouTube. The recently published proposal for a directive on the better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection law includes a provision that places a direct obligation on online marketplaces to indicate whether a third party offering goods, services or digital content is a trader. If, as expected and supported by my Department, this provision is adopted at EU level, it will further assist in clarifying the commercial status of online influencers and countering misinformation on that status. If the Deputy has concerns that some of the practices of online influencers may not be adequately dealt with by these provisions, I would be glad to receive details of any such practice from him.  That is important; it is what public representatives should do.

The system of industry self-regulation of advertising administered by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland also has an important role to play in protecting consumers from false and misleading advertising.  The authority's code of standards for advertising and marketing includes a number of provisions relevant to the activities of online influencers. Its complaints committee has considered a number of complaints related to these activities.

This was brought about because of a complaint which was upheld by the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland. The complainant said the blogger had photoshopped and filtered her face while advertising a Rimmel foundation. I am not quite sure whether the Minister of State uses Rimmel foundation. I do not. The important point, however, is that people who are key influencers of purchasing habits are able to circumvent laws and advertise in a false and misleading way which undermines the integrity of the system. Is the Minister of State satisfied that we have enough powers in the area of consumer protection to ensure online bloggers and influencers are obligated by statute to comply with the standards we expect from retail stores on the high street or in any other form of advertising to consumers across the economy?

The European Union carried out a fitness check of the Consumer Protection Act to ensure it complied with EU consumer protection law and concluded that the approach we had taken was very effective, particularly in providing protection from unfair and misleading commercial practices. The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission which enforces the Act has only received three calls since 2016 from consumers about the activities of online influencers. It, of course, provided those callers with the relevant consumer protection advice. There have been no prosecutions or enforcement actions to date for breach of the provisions by online influencers. The law is in place and adequately served by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. It is kept under review all of the time, particularly as a result of the fitness check carried out by the European Commission. It did not recommend any addition to the unfair commercial practices directive to cover the relevant activities of online influencers.

To be helpful to the Minister of State, the foundation in question keeps ones skin moisturised for up to 25 hours, providing a flawless foundation and finish all day for work and play. I asked the question to ascertain whether the Minister of State was satisfied-----

The Deputy had better tell the House that he has no interest in it.

I will take some of it.

I have buckets of it in my car. If the Minister of State is satisfied, that is fine. However, bloggers and key influencers hold huge sway over how people view a product. We should consistently observe this issue and keep on top of it to ensure that, as online purchasing becomes more prevalent, those participating will be obligated to ensure a product is advertised accurately. Otherwise one might buy a product that does not actually offer the consumer 25 hours of lasting freshness for work and play.

If the Deputy has concerns about malpractices online, he should report them to me straightaway and I would be delighted to deal with them. The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, ASAI, was not mentioned, but it has a very important role to play. It is an independent body which is financed by the advertising industry. Consumers can also refer complaints to it. In 2017, 2,100 complaints were referred to it, of which 75 were upheld. The authority's complaints committee has also considered three complaints from online influencers since 2017. One of these complaints is the one to which the Deputy has referred, involving images of beauty bloggers which had been photoshopped and filtered. The complaint was upheld. This shows that the authority is on top of its brief. In the other two cases the committee issued a statement which read: "Members of the ASAI are required to abide by the code and not to publish or continue to publish any advertising which contravenes the code rule". Between the ASAI, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission and the fitness check carried out by the European Commission, we are satisfied that we are on top of the issue. Of course, we read from time to time in newspapers about complaints against advertisements which have been upheld by the ASAI and the advertisements have been removed.

Brexit Supports

Brendan Smith

Question:

75. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to introduce additional support measures for small and medium enterprises in the sectors in the Border region that will be most adversely impacted on by Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30640/18]

As the Minister is fully aware, the economy of Cavan-Monaghan is very heavily dependent on the agrifood, engineering and construction products sectors. In turn, these sectors are very heavily dependent on exports to Northern Ireland and the British market. They are experiencing huge uncertainty because of Brexit and very anxious that all possible assistance will be provided to ensure existing levels of employment can be maintained and increased and to create much needed jobs in the region.

The work carried out by the Government on preparedness at all levels and all outcomes is well advanced, focusing, in particular, on trade with Britain. Brexit presents the most significant economic challenge of the past 50 years for businesses in all parts of the country and my Department and its agencies are working hard to ensure firms that potentially will be impacted on are taking the necessary steps to prepare and mitigate risks and take advantage of potential opportunities. I am conscious that further efforts are needed to ensure companies in the Border region are resilient to economic shocks, including Brexit. To that end, I am committed to ensuring Enterprise Ireland, the local enterprise offices and InterTrade Ireland will continue to work with companies in the region to drive innovation, competitiveness, internationalisation and Brexit preparedness.

My objective is to sustain the progress made in job creation and economic recovery. On the broader employment aspect, while the Border region had a relatively low unemployment rate of 4.4% in quarter one of 2018, I am conscious that more can and must be done. The north-east and north-west regional action plan for jobs will also boost enterprise and job creation across the Border region. In 2017 the number of Enterprise Ireland jobs increased by 7% in the north west and by 5% in the north east, while the number of IDA Ireland jobs grew by 4% across the region as a whole.

I am very conscious of the potential exposure of the northwest and north-east regions to Brexit and the deep links with local economies on both sides of the Border. The north west and north east already have special status in terms of state aid rules.  My officials are continuing to engage with colleagues in the European Commission as part of a state aids technical working group on how best to ensure we can support the transformation needed at firm level to diversify trade to third countries and protect rural economies. This group which also includes colleagues from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and Enterprise Ireland will meet again later this month in Brussels.   

A major initiative which my Department recently introduced for all firms impacted on by Brexit the €300 million Brexit working capital loan scheme, under which accessible finance is made available to businesses on favourable terms. Clearly, firms in the Border area are more likely to be impacted on by Brexit and should seek to avail of this funding. I am pleased that 12 firms have already applied for working capital, at an interest rate of 4% under the scheme. I am also working with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, on proposals for a longer term finance scheme in order that firms can invest for the future and increase productivity and incomes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.  

More generally, the agencies supported by my Department are continuing to offer a comprehensive range of supports and guidance to firms in the Border area, as well as elsewhere. The six LEOs in the Border region also provide additional Brexit supports which are focused on capability building, market diversification, driving increased competitiveness and promoting innovation in orderthat LEO client companies can better cope with the challenges arising on foot of Brexit and explore opportunities presented. In addition, the LEOs work with their Northern Ireland counterparts under the EU Co-Innovate Programme.

In summary, I am committed to supporting the agencies within my remit to continue to respond to the needs of companies affected by Brexit to protect jobs and build resilience across the country.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I have referred on a number of occasions to the importance we attach to a good economy in our neighbouring counties of Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh. I welcome the fact that the Minister referred to this cross-Border interdependence earlier. I mentioned the three sectors upon which our local economy in Cavan-Monaghan is heavily dependent. The economy in the area comprising Armagh, Tyrone and Fermanagh is heavily dependent on those three sectors as well. We have a huge interest in ensuring that there are vibrant sectors north and south of the Border.

Due to the impasse at Stormont and the unfortunate fact that we do not have an Executive or a functioning assembly in Northern Ireland, what contacts are there at Department and agency level with the Northern Ireland authorities? We all have a joint interest in ensuring that the proper supports are put in place to deal with the adverse impacts of Brexit. Can the Minister give an assurance that work is ongoing at official Department level, and between our agencies here and agencies north of the Border? I know it is not easy at ministerial level as a result of the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive.

I thank the Deputy. I absolutely agree with him. As Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, Deputy Brendan Smith has been doing a huge amount of work to highlight the difficulties for the Border region that Brexit presents. I know that he recently brought parliamentarians to Cavan in order that they could see at first hand the impact that Brexit could have. The Deputy is also a member of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The work of that committee is now more important than ever in building bridges and maintaining good relations.

InterTradeIreland continues to work on a cross-Border basis. I am happy to go to the North and talk to businesses there at every opportunity. I attended the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry breakfast in Belfast some time ago, at which I spoke to businesses in Northern Ireland, discussing the impacts of Brexit and the need to strengthen those links. I met the Joint Business Council in Newry recently. That body is affiliated to IBEC. Again, it is about cementing those links and working more closely than ever in the face of Brexit.

I welcome that engagement. It is very important because so many of our companies have sister companies north of the Border. Thankfully, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, there has been a huge development of business on an all-Ireland basis. We want that to continue.

Have the Department or the relevant agencies carried out studies on the impact of Brexit on a geographical area? I know that one of the universities will be publishing material in August which shows the very adverse impact that Brexit will have on the Cavan-Monaghan area, as opposed to the east coast of this country. If the Department or the agencies have not done such studies, I think it is very important to do so. It would show that we need even more supports in our specific geographic area than those which have been put in place to date because of our dependence on the Northern Ireland economy and the British market. As we all know, many of the international corporations that we are so proud of today started off as one-person operations. The first export market they had from Cavan or Monaghan was to our neighbours north of the Border and then to Britain. It is very important that this market is protected as much as possible. We know of the difficulties with currency fluctuations as well.

A number of reports on the impact of Brexit right across the island have been carried out. Obviously, like Deputy Brendan Smith, I am particularly conscious of the Border region. Companies that have sister companies in Northern Ireland - the Deputy and I both know who they are - are working closely with Enterprise Ireland. There are a lot of supports available from Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs. I wish to use this opportunity to encourage companies to engage with the LEOs, Enterprise Ireland and InterTradeIreland. There are a range of supports out there that they can avail of, and it is important that they do so. I want to see that happening, but sometimes it is hard for companies to do it. They say that they are not exactly sure. I would advise them to prepare for the worst and we will negotiate for the best. That is the best advice I can give them; to go to their LEOs, see what is available and use the supports.

Question No. 76 replied to with Written Answers.

Brexit Supports

Niamh Smyth

Question:

77. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of applications for the Brexit loan scheme announced in budget 2018 from counties Cavan and Monaghan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30089/18]

I wish to ask the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of applications for the Brexit loan scheme announced in the 2018 budget, particularly for counties Cavan and Monaghan, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

The Brexit loan scheme is a loan guarantee scheme for eligible businesses with up to 499 employees that need relatively short-term credit to address working capital challenges brought about by Brexit. It enables eligible Irish businesses to overcome temporary cashflow issues that might otherwise have adverse effects in the long term.

The purpose of the scheme is to support businesses responding to their Brexit challenges through innovating, changing or adapting to a Brexit or post-Brexit environment. These responses may include strengthening their product offerings, developing new markets to diversify their trade footprint, changing their organisational structure or developing new capabilities.

The scheme is open to State agency clients and to businesses that do not have any relationship with State agencies. Sole traders may also apply.

The scheme features a two-stage application process. First, businesses must apply to the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, to confirm their eligibility for the scheme. This application process requires businesses to use guidelines provided on the SBCI website to determine if they are eligible, and if so to complete the eligibility form. As part of the process, businesses must submit business plans demonstrating the means by which they intend to innovate, change or adapt to meet the challenges posed by Brexit. Guidance on completing a business plan is available on the SBCI website. The SBCI assesses the applications and successful applicants receive an eligibility reference number.

Successful applicants can then apply for a loan under the scheme with one of the participating finance providers. Participating finance providers are the Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Allied Irish Bank, AIB. Approval of loans under the Brexit loan scheme is subject to the finance providers’ credit policies and procedures. As part of its efforts to promote the scheme, the SBCI has participated in numerous Brexit-related events, including a recent event in Cootehill, County Cavan.

The scheme was launched on 28 March this year and to date there have been 12 applications in total from Cavan and Monaghan, with six coming from each county.

I suppose the Minister will find it worrying that we only have six applications from both counties at this stage. I appreciate that she is trying to take action that will identify where concerns exist and where measures need to be taken, and that she is putting measures in place to galvanise the businesses and enterprises in Cavan-Monaghan and protect them against a hard Brexit, which it certainly looks like we are facing. The €300 million Brexit loan scheme for SMEs was announced to much fanfare in the 2018 budget. Can the Minister inform the House how many businesses have applied for the SBCI to confirm their eligibility for the scheme? The Minister referred to it in her opening remarks. How many businesses received an eligibility reference number? How many submitted a business plan for the application process and how many loans have been approved nationally, particularly from the Border counties of Cavan and Monaghan?

As already stated, there have been 151 applications to the SBCI. Some 132 applications have been deemed eligible to seek loans under the scheme. They can proceed to one of the participating finance providers, which as I said are Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and AIB. Approval of loans is subject to the finance providers' own credit policies and procedures. To date, ten loans have been progressed to sanction at finance provider level. These loans total €2.49 million of lending under the Brexit loan scheme.

Those figures are extremely low. I am sure the Minister would have to agree with that. We have learned that just 122 of Enterprise Ireland's more than 5,000 client companies - that is, just 2% of the total - have availed of the agency's Be Prepared Brexit grant. The figures the Minister read into the record will not instil any confidence that people are actually engaging with the packages that are being provided.

Perhaps they do not have the wherewithal. As we know, people involved in business are consumed with the job of running the business. It would appear from the figures the Minister has read out, and from replies to parliamentary questions submitted by my colleague, Deputy Billy Kelleher, that the uptake is alarmingly low at 2%, that is, 122 of enterprise Ireland's more than 5,000 clients. These are staggeringly alarming low figures. What is the Minister doing to address this? My concern about Border counties is the same as that of the Minister and Deputy Brendan Smith. How will we grasp their troubles by the neck and get them involved and get them to take up the packages being made available?

A range of suites is available to businesses.

But they are not taking them up.

Can I say, without interruption, that businesses are engaging with Enterprise Ireland and local enterprise offices? To be fair, it is incumbent on all of us in the House to let people know. This is a simple brochure and it outlines all of the supports that are available. We should use every opportunity. In fairness to Enterprise Ireland, there are advertisements on the radio every day. We can only do so much. Once again, I use this forum to encourage businesses to engage with Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and the local enterprise offices. So far in 2018, Enterprise Ireland has supported 639 Brexit exposed clients. These supports included 50 innovation grants, 180 competitiveness grants and 100 market diversification supports. In addition, 180 Brexit exposed clients participated on trade missions in the first six months of the year. With regard to Brexit advisory services, Enterprise Ireland's seventh Brexit advisory clinic took place in the Aviva Stadium on 21 June, with more than 110 companies attending, 67 of which were Enterprise Ireland clients. I ask everybody to please use the opportunity. There are loads of supports and I ask companies to engage. That is the message I want them to hear. The help is there. They should engage with Enterprise Ireland, local enterprise offices or InterTradeIreland.

We have about two minutes left and I will give an opportunity to Deputy Durkan, who has waited here, providing he does not take the 30 seconds. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, to go straight into the response to the Deputy's question.

Research Funding

Bernard Durkan

Question:

78. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she has received indications on the utilisation of innovation leading to increased job creation throughout the country; if the workforce continues to possess the adequate and necessary expertise to maximise opportunities for the economy now and in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30619/18]

I thank the Deputy for his interesting question. Investment in research, development and innovation increases economic productivity and competitiveness, improves quality of life and health and has positive social and environmental outcomes. There is no question that with the advancements in technology over the next ten, 15 or 20 years every country will have to invest substantially in innovation, research and development.

In recent years, the Department has undertaken a number of evaluations and studies to assess the impact of expenditure on research. An example is that in 2016 the Department published a review of capital expenditure on research, development and innovation as part of a comprehensive review of expenditure initiated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The review found that between 2006 and 2014 the main source of employment increases were firms with research and development expenditure greater than €100,000 per annum. The average annual growth of these firms between 2006 and 2014 ranged between 2% and 3.9%. Another study undertaken by the Department on economic and enterprise impacts from public investment in research and development in Ireland, also published in 2016, found that among agency firms in manufacturing and services, research and development activity is a characteristic of those firms that contributed most to employment growth between 2000 and 2014. The companies dealt with by Science Foundation Ireland, with regard to research and development, created 31,000 direct and indirect jobs. The funding we make available through Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council has contributed to high technology jobs in innovation, research and development.

Higher and further education institutions are providing more science, mathematics and ICT graduates. Since a focus has been placed on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the education and training system, Ireland has done exceptionally well on the European barometer of creating PhD's per percentage of population.

To answer the question very briefly, all of the evidence and statistics prove that investing in innovation, technology and research and development makes these companies more sustainable and creates more jobs.

Deputy Durkan may ask one supplementary question.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Will he indicate the extent to which the manufacturing and service sectors have been able to avail of advanced technology and research? Do we have the expertise and skills necessary to maximise the impact for the benefit of the economy at large?

It is interesting that in the Deputy's region of Kildare 15 companies supported by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland are involved in research and development. These include Dawn Farm Foods, Green Isle Foods, Hewlett-Packard and Pfizer Ireland.

Through Enterprise Ireland, the Department, Science Foundation Ireland and the enterprise boards, there is a driving influence in research and innovation under Horizon 2020. Recently, we launched a disruptive technology fund, which is worth €500 million. The idea is to replace existing technology through research, development and innovation. It is important to note we can only go on European statistics. Ireland has gone from No. 9 to No. 8 in the list of top European countries for investing in research and development and for getting a good PhD. On the innovation scoreboard we have 17 dedicated research centres, which are highly regarded throughout Europe and the world for investment in those centres creating jobs. Through Science Foundation Ireland we have created approximately 31,000 jobs.

I thank the Members for their co-operation.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.