Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Economic Competitiveness

Billy Kelleher

Question:

1. 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. [42974/18]

What actions are being taken to reduce the cost of doing business in Ireland and to reverse Irish competitiveness deficiencies? Will the Minister make a statement on the matter? The reason I ask the question is we consistently accept we are an expensive place to do business in terms of the regulatory burdens placed on business and equally the costs that are built in across the broader economy, including finance, insurance, credit, childcare, housing and all those key areas. What is the Minister doing to address these issues which are a barrier to business?

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. Ireland’s overall competitiveness performance remains positive. Our improved fiscal position and increased cost competitiveness have all 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. Notwithstanding this strong position, addressing Ireland’s cost competitiveness remains a key economic priority for Government and we continue to monitor Ireland's cost base and analyse the factors that are crucial to improving our cost competitiveness.

Recent reports published by the National Competitiveness Council found that the cost base for enterprise is internationally competitive across a range of metrics, for example, the cost of starting a business, communications costs and average income taxes. The council also highlighted that Ireland remains a relatively high-cost location and cost pressures are evident in residential property, credit, energy, labour and business service costs.

A range of initiatives in the Action Plan for Jobs 2018 are in train across Government 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. My Department has reviewed the policies underpinning the current employment permits regime to ensure it is fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, whether they are skills or labour shortages in certain sectors. The work of the Personal Injuries Commission, whose second and final report were published in September 2018 by my Department, 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.

I launched the €300 million Brexit loan scheme in March 2018 which supports the working capital needs of companies on which Brexit has, has had or will have an impact. My Department, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Department of Finance, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and the European Investment Fund, is developing the €300 million future growth loan scheme as announced in budget 2019 to allow businesses to borrow for up to ten years to support capital investment.

Enterprise 2025 Renewed also places increased emphasis on enhancing our competitiveness position by developing Irish-owned enterprises. We are placing a spotlight on innovation and skills. Enterprise Ireland also places strong emphasis on competitiveness. It supports exporting enterprises with initiatives in Lean, research and development and innovation, as well as management development.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In addition to the wide range of existing supports provided by my Department and agencies, budget 2019 allocated additional funding for my Department to boost business productivity such as a doubling of the allocation for the retail online pilot scheme to €1.25 million. An additional €2.75 million was also awarded to Enterprise Ireland for its SME regional innovation and technology clusters programme. The budget provides an extra €8 million for my Department’s Brexit response and global footprint.

In 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.

The reason I raise this issue is it is a concern. There is no point in us highlighting the positives if we fail to accept that there are significant pressures such as the cost of finance, childcare, property, labour, insurance, transport, energy and other business services. Equally, I can identify many areas in which we are doing exceptionally well in terms of competitiveness. Overall, however, there are significant pressures within the economy. While there is rapid expansion for the next few years, these costs can often be camouflaged. Owing to increased cash flow to businesses, it can hide these costs for a while, but it is inevitable that it will have a major impact in the time ahead. The time to undermine these pressures is now, rather than in several years when it will be too late. The key issues have to be addressed, namely, the cost of finance, housing, transport, insurance, business services and energy, as well as the cost of childcare which I accept is outside the Minister's remit. The Government as a whole must take responsibility and act on these issues.

We are conscious of the issue of competitiveness. Enormous progress has been made in recent years. We have stabilised the public finances. We also have the fastest growing economy in Europe and are now almost at full employment. We should be proud of the progress we have made. However, the Government is determined to ensure there will be no complacency. We are acutely aware of the vulnerabilities in the domestic economy such as low productivity levels in indigenous firms, with growing uncertainty in the global economy and Brexit. We must ensure the economy is well positioned to adapt to a low carbon future, as well as the revolution in digitisation and automation. Otherwise, we could see negative economic and employment impacts in the future. The Government has recognised the need for a concrete and co-ordinated plan to address these challenges and opportunities. That is why in July it agreed to the development of the future jobs initiative which will be a whole-of-government approach, with concrete and ambitious actions to enhance productivity, create quality and sustainable jobs and build a resilient and innovative economy. It will ensure we will be well positioned to adapt to technological and other transformational changes that the economy will face in the years ahead.

One of the key issues we are not addressing is the cost of credit. Again, it requires a whole-of-government approach, as well as an approach by the Central Bank and the European Central Bank. I cannot comprehend how in the eurozone economy with the free movement of goods and services Ireland has the highest interest rates in Europe for small and medium-sized businesses. The pillar banks are gouging the economy. They are in our pockets every day of the week. This issue must be addressed. The average interest rate across the eurozone for small and medium-sized businesses is 1.77%. In Ireland it is 3.25%. The banks are pillaging us, but we do not seem to be doing anything about it. It is inherently wrong that we are at a complete disadvantage with our European colleagues and competitors because the pillar banks are gouging the economy. AIB and Bank of Ireland were on life support and saved by decisions of this Parliament. They are now pillaging us as a nation.

The supply and demand for credit have improved significantly since the height of the crisis. However, the cost of credit, while falling, continues to remain relatively high. It is vital that it be reduced to align Ireland with rates in competitor countries. The divergence between Irish and eurozone interest rates for enterprise is particularly noticeable in the case of loans up to €250,000. The interest rate for new business loans in Ireland was double the eurozone average rate throughout 2017. On 28 March 2018 I opened the Brexit loan scheme for applications to allow for the roll-out of a €300 million fund in working capital for eligible Irish businesses which will be impacted on by Brexit. The scheme will be delivered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland through the commercial lenders, the three pillar banks. It will make €300 million available to eligible businesses, with up to 499 employees, at an interest rate of 4% or less. That is an attractive rate for an overdraft facility. In addition, we have a €300 million long-term future growth loan scheme which will lend to businesses, with terms up to eight to ten years. Currently, the pillar banks will only lend for up to seven years. We have identified this gap in the market. We will be passing the legislation required and launching the scheme in early January next year.

Brexit Supports

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

2. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her views on the effectiveness of the Brexit business supports currently available such as the Be Prepared grant, the market discovery fund and the Brexit loan scheme; her further views on the low uptake of these supports; her plans to increase the uptake; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42761/18]

My colleague, Deputy Michael Quinlivan, sends his apologies as he could not make it this morning. Will the Minister outline the effectiveness of the Brexit business supports available such as the market discovery fund and the Brexit loan scheme? Is she concerned about the low uptake of these supports? What are her plans to increase the uptake and will she will make a statement on the matter?

The agencies within my remit have an extensive range of supports available to enable companies to prepare for Brexit. For 2019 I am allocating an extra €8 million to the enterprise agencies and regulatory bodies under my Department for various Brexit supports, as well as to continue driving export diversification. I am allocating an additional €5 million for the local enterprise offices, which will include a specific measure for customs training for importers and exporters. I am providing an additional €1 million for InterTradeIreland to step up business preparedness actions.

On the effectiveness of the supports, a recent survey of 2,400 Enterprise Ireland clients found that 85% were taking Brexit-related actions. The figure is up from 38% this time last year, a positive indication that companies are undertaking Brexit preparedness actions. It is important to note that companies are choosing from the full suite of supports available from the agencies. Among Enterprise Ireland clients, in the first six months of this year alone, 43% of the 1,600 most exposed firms received grant aid. Similarly, the number of firms using the Enterprise Ireland Brexit scorecard is at nearly 3,000. Enterprise Ireland is working to ensure businesses will start to take Brexit-related actions and avail of supports which suit their requirements to help them to be more competitive, innovative or grow exports. In that regard, I am happy with the cumulative uptake of such supports.

The focus is on increasing the numbers that have completed Brexit scenario planning. For those with a plan, the focus is on working through implementation actions and building capability in the areas of customs and tariffs, the supply chain, regulation and standards and employee movement issues. In addition, I have recently met the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and the three participating pillar banks to discuss the €300 million Brexit working capital loan scheme. To date, 224 firms have been approved by the SBCI in the agrifood, retail and distribution, manufacturing, hospitality and transport sectors. To date, 38 loans to the value of €8.5 million have been sanctioned at bank level. As part of budget 2019, I also announced a new €300 million future growth loan scheme, to come into effect from early 2019, to provide loans for up to ten years.

We continue to engage with businesses to step up the preparedness of companies using a range of communications channels — print, social media, online toolkits, radio and advisory clinics. The next Enterprise Ireland Brexit advisory clinic will be held in Dundalk.

I thank the Minister for her response but information that Sinn Féin has received shows a very poor uptake of Brexit business supports to date. A response to a parliamentary question shows that, up to last month, just ten SMEs had availed of the Brexit loan, drawing down just €2.49 million, which is less than 1% of the total €300 million pot. In addition, we have been told that just 88 market discovery fund grants were given out and only 127 Be Prepared grants were approved. Has the Minister examined the reasons for the poor uptake? If so, what are they? Is the poor uptake due to too much red tape or the criteria being too strict? Has the Minister any plans to reform the process to ensure businesses can gain access to the funding in order to prepare for Brexit?

With regard to the Brexit loan scheme, as of 12 October 2018, of the 262 applications received, 224 had been approved by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland as being eligible and 38 had progressed to sanction at bank level, to a value of €8.5 million. There is, therefore, a good stream of applications coming in and they are being dealt with. I am glad the figure has increased in the past month from €6.5 million to €8.5 million. The system is working and people are applying for the funding. At the same time, businesses have to consider whether they need the money. They obviously have to tie their decisions on the funding in with their plans, including expansion plans.

With regard to Enterprise Ireland's Brexit scorecard, almost 3,000 scorecards have been completed. This included 204 local enterprise office clients as at 15 October. Enterprise Ireland has approved 137 Be Prepared grants and 113 projects have been approved under the Enterprise Ireland market discovery fund, which is available to companies seeking to diversify into new markets. Eight Enterprise Ireland advisory clinics have been run, with approximately 590 people in attendance.

A total of 2,350 SMEs have engaged directly with the Brexit advisory service of InterTradeIreland, a cross-Border agency that supports businesses. There have been 619 applications for its Brexit Start to Plan vouchers, of which 514 have been approved and 105 are pending. Good work is being done by the agencies.

In the budget last week, a new loan scheme for businesses, the future growth loan scheme, was announced. Why would we announce and introduce such a scheme when the current one is clearly not working? The current one, worth €300 million and announced in budget 2018, has helped only a tiny handful of businesses. I acknowledge the Minister said there are applications outstanding and that there are more approvals in the pipeline but, according to what we have learned, the fund has assisted only ten SMEs, which availed of less than 1% of the total pot. Is the Minister going to address the shortcomings in the current scheme or just hope the new scheme, which is the old one rebranded or renamed, will take the bad look off the old one?

With the prospect of a hard Brexit now more likely, has the Government engaged with the European authorities to seek European funding for a contingency fund for businesses that could be accessed in the event of a hard Brexit?

On the last question, the European Union has rescue and restructuring schemes in place for worst-case scenarios. We have engaged with and work very closely with the European Union.

With regard to the Brexit loan schemes, the first, announced last March, has a fund of €300 million. Grants are for a working capital facility for up to three years, which involves very short-term stuff. The loan rate is very competitive. The long-term Brexit loan is for identifying a need in the market in respect of which people can borrow for a longer term. They can borrow from €50,000 up to €3 million. Up to €500,000 can be unsecured, which is very significant. One can borrow for up to eight or ten years. Therefore, it is really for longer-term planning. It is to protect a business against future shocks. Businesses must consider carefully whether they want to take up the offer of finance. The Government is providing an array of supports to businesses through Departments and agencies but ultimately businesses have to decide themselves whether they want to avail of the supports. The job of the Government is to ensure the necessary supports are in place for businesses that need them. That is what we are doing. We engage regularly with businesses. We meet staff from representative organisations and hear their concerns. If there are issues, we deal with them.

Personal Injuries Commission

Billy Kelleher

Question:

3. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the timeline for the implementation of each of the 14 recommendations made by the Personal Injuries Commission regarding personal injury awards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42975/18]

My question asks the Minister about the timeline for the implementation of each of the 14 recommendations made by the Personal Injuries Commission regarding personal injury awards. The reason I am raising this is that the issue is generating considerable pressure in our economy. In some areas, insurance is more expensive than rates. That is not sustainable. It is undermining business and competitiveness. It is inherently wrong that the scammers and those who abuse the system are very often the ones who are paid out while businesses are left picking up the tabs.

The Government believes it is important that consumers and businesses can obtain insurance cover at a reasonable and fair price. The cost of insurance is an issue of concern for consumers, businesses and community groups.

The Minister for Finance established the cost of insurance working group in 2016 to examine the factors contributing to the increasing cost of insurance and identify what measures can be introduced to help reduce this cost while maintaining a financially stable insurance sector. The Personal Injuries Commission was established following a recommendation in the cost of insurance working group's report on the cost of motor insurance, published in January 2017. I was pleased to submit the second and final report of the Personal Injuries Commission to the Government on 18 September 2018. The publication of this report now concludes the challenging work programme of the Personal Injuries Commission since its establishment in January 2017. The report makes ten recommendations, the implementation of which will be a matter for each of the bodies responsible. These recommendations are in addition to the four made in the first report. In this regard, I have written to relevant Government colleagues — the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Health — and other organisations, including the Garda Commissioner, Insurance Ireland, the Law Society, the Council of the Bar of Ireland and the Law Reform Commission, seeking co-operation in advancing the implementation of the recommendations relevant to them.

As the Personal Injuries Commission was established following a recommendation in the cost of insurance working group's report on the cost of motor insurance, it is intended that progress on implementation will be monitored through the cost of insurance working group's quarterly progress reports, published by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy. The cumulative effects of the implementation of all the recommendations from the two reports of the Personal Injuries Commission, alongside the reports of the cost of insurance working group, should increase stability in the pricing of insurance for consumers and businesses and improved availability of insurance generally.

The table sets out the timelines for the implementation of the recommendations from the first report. While the recommendations of the second report are not time-bound due to their nature, it is expected that they will be acted upon by the bodies responsible as soon as possible.

Recommendations from the First Report of the Personal Injuries Commission

Recommendation

A Standardised Approach to examination of and reporting on soft-tissue injuries should be adopted.

Suggested timeframe for implementation

To allow for the changeover in examination and reporting procedures it is suggested that a timeframe of by mid-2018 is appropriate

1. The Quebec Task Force (QTF) Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) grading should be used going forward by all medical professionals reporting on relevant injuries.

2. The Neck Disability Index (NDI) and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) should be included going forward as part of personal injury medical reporting examinations.

3. Additional tests should be at the discretion of the examining medical professional.

4. The template form included in Appendix 6 of the Report should be used by examining medical professionals in all relevant cases.

4 a) Insurers should ensure that all cases commissioned by them from medical examiners going forward are completed in line with the template form

4 b) PIAB should redesign their Form B going forward to reflect the recommended standardised template.

4 c) Court Rules changes should be considered which would require reports to be produced using the standardised format.

4 d) The use of standardised Medical reports should be included in any pre-action protocol developed for personal injury claims.

Action Points

5. Relevant medical professional bodies to publish, as soon as possible, guidelines in respect of training for use by medical professionals.

Recommendation

Training and Accreditation of medical professionals who complete personal injury medical reports should be promoted. This should become ‘Best Practice’ and training should be introduced at the CPD level.

Suggested timeframe for implementation

By end 2018

1. All those involved in commissioning reports should ensure the use of accredited medical professionals for completion of their personal injury medical reports, when the relevant training and accreditation programmes are in place.

2. Members of the PIAB panel completing personal injury medical reports should in respect of completion of relevant injury medical reports, when the relevant training and accreditation programmes are in place, be accredited accordingly.

3. The Accreditation requirement should be included in any pre-action protocol developed for personal injury claims.

Action Points

4. The quality of the training should be monitored from implementation in the same manner applicable to existing CPD programmes.

5. The CPD training could be delivered by individual medical professional bodies to their members or by independent training providers to medical professional bodies and medical practitioners.

Recommendation

Link future publications of the Book of Quantum to the newly standardised examination and reporting injury categories i.e. ‘whiplash’ soft-tissue injuries / QTF WAD scales. The Cost of Insurance Working Group report of January 2017 recommends that the next review of the Book of Quantum should take account of the output of the work of the PIC. This recommendation highlights the output of the initial PIC report in terms of its potential impact on this next review.

Suggested timeframe for implementation

2019 when the next Book of Quantum is due for publication

Action Points

1. PIAB to consider in the context of the next Book of Quantum.

Recommendation

Relevant injury data should be collated and published by appropriate bodies

Suggested timeframe for implementation

By end 2018

1. PIAB to produce information going forward relating to the incidence of ’whiplash’ soft-tissue injuries.

Action Points

2. Other relevant bodies to publish data relating to the incidence of ‘whiplash’ soft-tissue injuries. There may be merit that such data available from insurers forms part of the National Claims Information Database which is being developed by the Central Bank of Ireland and which needs consideration by the relevant parties involved.

Suggested timeframe for implementation

By end 2018.

I thank the Minister. The cost of insurance working group made some recommendations. We must monitor consistently the implementation of all recommendations along with the Personal Injuries Commission. Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns published a report recently that outlined the great difficulties we have vis-à-vis competitors within the European Union, including our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom. I refer to another cost that is borne by policyholders, including motor insurance policyholders, across the broader economy.

We must accept that we need a stable insurance market which is financially viable and robustly competitive. We must consider how to address claims, the book of quantum, cost awards, fraud and other barriers to an effective and efficient insurance market. There has been lethargy in dealing with some of those key areas. I hope there will be more emphasis on ensuring that the recommendations are implemented.

The Deputy is correct that the cost of insurance is a big issue for businesses. The Government is acutely aware of that, which is why we are acting to address it. My Department has brought forward the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Bill which will strengthen the powers of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board in order that it can process more claims, which will lower costs. I look forward to progressing the Bill through the Dáil as soon as possible and working on it with Deputy Kelleher and my colleagues. That is just one element of our approach. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is progressing the cost of insurance working group and legislation on the national claims information database. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is progressing the Judicial Council Bill. A suite of measures is being progressed by the Government to reduce the cost of insurance for businesses and consumers.

The insurance industry has brought forward proposals for a dedicated Garda Síochána fraud squad. The issue has been under discussion for a long time and a fraud squad should be established as quickly as possible.

I recently brought forward the Civil Liability and Courts (Amendment) Bill which the Minister endorsed in the House. I acknowledge that it may require amendment to progress through the legislative process. It seeks to address the issue of fraudsters and scammers being rewarded in society which is anathema to ordinary decency and undermines people's confidence in our system. People who get up, work hard and pay their bills and taxes take out insurance to ensure that those injured on their premises, in their business or while using their service are compensated, yet when those people are abused by scammers or fraudsters nothing ever happens to the perpetrators. They walk out of court scot free. We must face up to it being morally and ethically wrong for a state to allow that to happen without any consequences for the people who abuse the decency of others on a regular basis.

I agree that fraudsters and scammers should not benefit in any way from their activities. What they are doing is wrong. I have met representatives of the insurance industry and businesses on the issue. The suite of measures being taken by the Government will reduce the cost of insurance.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is considering a dedicated Garda unit to deal with fraudsters and I hope that he can progress it. He is progressing the Judicial Council Bill which will set up a statutory judicial council such that we can start to consider the level of awards, which will make a difference. Action needs to be taken on several issues which we are progressing as a matter of urgency.

Regional Development Initiatives

Mattie McGrath

Question:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the measures she is taking to address the high levels of employment deprivation in Tipperary town; the efforts being made to attract business to Tipperary town and west County Tipperary; if she will establish a task force for employment for Tipperary town and its environs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [43005/18]

I ask the Minister the situation regarding visits and efforts by her Department, Enterprise Ireland and others to create jobs in Tipperary town and stimulate growth there. The town has been neglected for decades. Many promises were made by the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, among others. The recent announcement of jobs elsewhere only adds to the anguish of those in Tipperary town, where there are no jobs. What plans does the Minister have to support the community in west Tipperary, particularly Tipperary town and its environs?

The Government is committed to securing and growing quality employment in all parts of the country and I am firmly focused on delivering on A Programme for a Partnership Government target of creating 200,000 new jobs by 2020, with 135,000 of those jobs to be located outside Dublin. In addition to job creation and retention, it is important to ensure that the jobs created are of good quality and sustainable in the long term.

My Department and its enterprise agencies play a key role in supporting the creation of quality, sustainable jobs in the regions, including Tipperary. There are currently 11 IDA Ireland client companies in County Tipperary, employing a total of 3,665 people. Foreign direct investment employment in County Tipperary increased by almost 9% from 2016 to 2017, with 297 net new jobs created. IDA Ireland continues to support its clients in growing their businesses and footprints in County Tipperary. Prominent IDA client companies there include Abbott Ireland, Boston Scientific and Merck Sharp and Dohme, which together employ 2,500 people. IDA Ireland also owns sites in County Tipperary which are being actively marketed to its clients.

In 2017, 5,907 people were employed in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies in County Tipperary, representing an 8% increase on 2016. Underpinning Enterprise Ireland’s 2017 employment results are a range of activities and supports which help 123 companies in County Tipperary to innovate and remain competitive in international markets. In the period 2015-17, Enterprise Ireland supported client companies based in Tipperary with €9.7 million in funding. Under the regional enterprise development fund, Enterprise Ireland has approved funding for the development of a state-of-the-art national bioeconomy innovation and piloting facility encompassing flexible, modular, pilot-scale multipurpose chemical and biological infrastructure at Lisheen mine.

The local enterprise office, LEO, in Tipperary is the first stop shop for advice, guidance, financial assistance and soft supports such as training and mentoring for anyone wishing to start or grow a business in the area. In 2017, 297 LEO client companies in Tipperary employed 1,595 people. The Tipperary LEO created 467 new jobs with a net increase of 262 jobs. It provided training to 1,695 participants and 319 people availed of mentoring sessions.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Since 2015, the regional action plan for jobs initiative has been a central pillar of the Government's ambition to support the creation of 135,000 new jobs outside Dublin by 2020. A key objective of each of the eight regional plans is to have a further 10% to 15% at work in each region by 2020, with the unemployment rate in each region not to be more than one percentage point above the national average. Tipperary forms part of the south-east regional action plan for jobs implementation committee and also has strong functional and collaborative links with the mid-west region.

The plans have helped to facilitate a strong foundation of collaboration among business, industry, local authorities, enterprise agencies and other key stakeholders in the regions. A united desire for a collective effort towards regional economic development has emerged since the plans were launched. This is a more strategic approach to development than establishing task forces for specific areas.

In order to continue to support enterprise growth and job creation in the regions and in towns and counties such as Tipperary, in April 2018 I initiated a refresh and refocus of all the regional action plans for jobs to ensure their effectiveness, relevance and impact to 2020. Yesterday, I met the chairs of implementation committees. I am satisfied they are on track to deliver ambitious and impactful revised action plans by the end of the year.

The Minister read out statistics relating to County Tipperary. I specifically asked about Tipperary town and west Tipperary but she avoided that completely. If it were not for the Tipperary Co-operative, Brodeen Fabrications, a multitude of small businesses there and the voluntary sector, Tipperary town would be closed down. The Government is doing nothing for it. It adds insult to injury when the Minister reads out that list. We welcome the foreign direct investment jobs in Clonmel and elsewhere in the county and the new things happening at Lisheen mines. Although the Minister might not be aware of the geography, I thought the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, might be able to tell her that this is about Tipperary town and its environs in west Tipperary, where there are no jobs, no supports and, apart from one recent endeavour, no business from IDA Ireland. The people there need assistance. They are a very proud and enterprising people who are very active in the voluntary sector but they need supports. The Pobal index indicates that in recent years some areas of Tipperary town had unemployment rates of over 30%. The unemployment rate for young people there is shocking. The young people of the town go to its great schools, move on to university and never return to the town as there is nothing to keep them there. The Minister missed the point completely while reading out her prepared script. This is about Tipperary town and west Tipperary, as the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, well knows. I hope the Minister visits it very soon to see the situation on the ground for herself.

The live register in Tipperary town has decreased by 48% since 2011. I am very conscious that certain towns across the country are not doing as well as others. Tipperary town is not unique. Other towns across the country have engaged and come together and identified a suite of Government supports for towns in need of support. Those supports have been made available because the Government wants to try to help those towns. That is why Project Ireland 2040 introduced a new €1 billion rural regeneration and development fund which is being administered by the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and shows the commitment of the Government to strengthening our rural economies and local communities.

For the period 2019 to 2022, a sum of €315 million has been allocated. The fund will provide investment to support suitable rural renewal projects in towns such as Tipperary, with a population of less than 10,000, including outlying areas. I hope good quality applications have been submitted for projects in Tipperary town. That is what towns need to do. The agencies, chamber of commerce and businesses in a town need to come together to identify their strengths and submit an application for funding. The money is available.

The Tipperary town brand is unique worldwide. It has, however, been neglected by this and several previous Governments. The town needs support. As the Minister will be aware, some of the most accurate indicators of deprivation are the census of population statistics and the Pobal deprivation index. Variables used in the compilation of the index include demographic growth, dependency ratios, educational attainment levels of parents, the single parent rate, overcrowding, social class, occupation and unemployment rates. Tipperary is a black spot. People there are taking to the streets this Saturday for a jobs march. It has been neglected. It is time such black spots were separated. There are other towns throughout the country which are in the same position, but there is none which has been as badly neglected as Tipperary. It was neglected by successive Governments, including the one in which I was involved in 2007. We would have nothing were it not for Tipperary Co-op, Brodeen Engineering and many other small businesses and shops. I refer also to the inspiration and massive voluntary effort made decades ago by Canon Hayes. It includes examples such as the Canon Hayes Recreation Centre and the MooreHaven Centre. Community enterprises are doing well, but the Minister and her Department are missing the point about towns such as this which need and must receive support.

I assure the Deputy the supports are available. Those involved in the town need to work together and come forward with applications.

There is lots of money available, but they need to come forward with applications.

I ask the Deputy to work with and encourage them to build on their strengths.

The applications have been refused.

The Deputy knows what Tipperary needs. Those involved do not need to work in isolation but in collaboration. We just need to look over the border into County Limerick for an example. Limerick city has achieved wonderful success through collaboration between the university, the education sector, State agencies, the local authority-----

With all respect, I am talking about Tipperary town. The Minister should not be wandering.

I am giving an example to show what has been achieved-----

I do not need a geography lesson.

Please, Deputy, I am giving an example to show what has worked and continues to work-----

(Interruptions).

It is the Minister's prerogative.

I am just trying to be helpful. Those involved in Tipperary town need to work collaboratively.

Will the Minister come and visit?

There are many opportunities to apply and draw down funding from the various schemes, including the regional enterprise development fund. Those involved on the site of the former Lisheen Mines were very successful in making an application. It was excellent and they received funding. It is leading and cutting edge stuff.

It is not in Tipperary town. Will the Minister come and visit?

Please, Deputy. I am moving to the next question.

Question No. 5 replied to with Written Answers.