Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Brexit Preparations

Billy Kelleher

Question:

1. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she has submitted a request or is preparing to submit a request at EU level to revise state aid rules as set out in EU Regulation No. 1407/2013 to protect exposed enterprises and exporters from Brexit; the status of progress being made at EU level to increase state aid thresholds to support enterprises in the event of a hard no-deal Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11388/19]

In the context of the hard Brexit that we may be facing on 29 March and the need for the State to be able to respond immediately in the event of a catastrophic impact on businesses that export to the UK market, has the Government made a formal request to the EU to revise state aid rules?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. My Department, with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, has been working closely with the Commission and DG Competition since November 2017 through the Irish-EU technical working group on state aid. The objective of the group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with state aid rules. This includes exploring all opportunities under EU Regulation No. 1407/2013, the de minimis regulation. Much has been achieved by this working group, including the development of the future growth loan scheme under the general block exemption regulation and the expansion of Ireland's rescue and restructuring scheme to include temporary liquidity aid and increase its budget to €200 million. We have fully utilised the provisions of the state aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit-impacted businesses in 2018.

The group is working closely with DG Agriculture and Rural Development to explore the range of opportunities under the agriculture and forestry state aid guidelines. As part of that, state aid approval was received in February for capital investment by Enterprise Ireland in an Irish cheese producing company, Carbery Food Ingredients Limited, to help it towards financing a €65 million diversification project to mitigate the impacts of Brexit. The future growth loan scheme, along with the Brexit loan scheme, which was launched in 2018 and is operated under the de minimis regulation, and the temporary restructuring support will provide a stabilisation package for enterprises impacted by Brexit with a view to allowing them to transform and grow.

On 24 January, I met the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, at my Department. The meeting focused on the severe challenges that Irish businesses would face as a result of Brexit and the need for appropriate and timely State supports. It was agreed that Irish officials would continue to work closely with the Commissioner's team in addressing any state aid issues that may arise, including the de minimis regulation, to ensure a rapid and appropriate response as the ultimate shape of Brexit and its firm-level implications become known. The Commissioner emphasised that the Commission stood ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms. My officials have since met DG Competition as part of the technical working group and we are looking at a number of areas, including opportunities under the de minimis regulation.

We appreciate all of the efforts that have been made to date in terms of business supports and encouraging people to Brexit proof themselves, but the larger issue is that all of the loans mentioned fall within current state aid rules as they stand. What is being proposed is not outside the norm of state aid obligations. We must have a system in place that will allow for an immediate increase in the ceilings permitted for business lending. During the 2008 crash, for example, we moved the ceiling from €200,000 to €500,000. That had an impact on companies that were very exposed to the financial crash. We may experience a similar situation with companies that are wholly dependent on the UK market. Two developments could happen: a rapid devaluation of sterling and the closure of the market due to tariffs. These companies cannot wait months for us to renegotiate state aid rules. The rules must be flexible enough for us to act immediately. Will the Minister ask the European Commission to allow these changes to be made in advance of a crisis?

In November 2017, the Commission approved a rescue and restructuring scheme for Ireland for undertakings in difficulty, with an undertaking considered to be in difficulty when, without intervention by the State, it will almost certainly be condemned to going out of business in the short or medium term. They are viable but vulnerable companies. The scheme was put in place and, in May 2018, extended to include temporary restructuring support for enterprises with acute liquidity needs. In February, the Commission approved an amendment to the scheme's budget size from €20 million to €200 million. To date, no enterprise has sought rescue and restructuring aid for temporary restructuring support, but we stand ready.

I was pleased when we received confirmation a week or so ago that Carbery Food Ingredients Limited could get funding of almost €6 million. Enterprise Ireland can now provide supports of almost €6 million to that company, giving it the investment it will need for its €65 million project. The Carbery example is a significant transformation for a food company in that it is moving away from the UK market.

We are all trying to support businesses. However, what is important is not the amount of money that is available in the pot but the amount that can be made available to an individual company out of it.

If there is a rapid devaluation of sterling, Irish companies that are wholly dependent on the UK market will be in an immediate crisis situation in the first week of April. We should not have to go to the EU to renegotiate the state aid rules, outside of what is there already, to be able to inject liquidity into those companies to provide cashflow in the short to medium term. The issue is not the amount of money that is available but the amount that can be given to individual companies. I ask the Minister to consider that issue because it is critical.

The rescue and restructuring fund, with a pot of €200 million, is already in place and applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If something untoward occurs and companies need assistance, that fund will be there to support them. We are still engaging with the Commission to secure further flexibility in any schemes that we may have to roll out. We are very happy that we have made good progress with the EU Commissioner for Competition, Ms Vestager. When I met her at the end of January she said very clearly that she stands ready to help us. My officials are working very closely with a group of officials in the Commission and have made good progress.

Deputy Kelleher is right to point out that companies may be exposed to currency fluctuations. We have been asking them to hedge their currency exposure and EI has been working very closely with some of the food companies in particular that are very exposed because of Brexit. A number of supports have been provided. The dairy industry in particular has been working very closely with the Government and has announced an investment of between €700 million and €800 million.

Oireachtas Joint Committee Recommendations

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

2. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the actions she has taken to date in response to the findings and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation’s cost of doing business report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11342/19]

What action has the Department taken in response to the findings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation's Report on the Cost of Doing Business? I am specifically interested in what the Department has done to help Irish businesses to deal with the serious problem of insurance costs. Massive insurance premia and the refusal of insurers to cover some sectors entirely is resulting in businesses closing down and people losing their jobs. What is the Department doing to address this escalating problem for businesses?

I thank Deputy Quinlivan for his question. Any proposals that can contribute to keeping the costs of doing business down are to be welcomed, including those contained in the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the costs of doing business. In terms of maintaining our cost competitiveness, both the public and private sectors must proactively manage the controllable portion of their respective cost bases, drive productivity and continue to take action to minimise costs.

There are a number of areas addressed by the committee's report that come under the remit of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, including employment permits, the work of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB, access to affordable finance for SMEs and supports for business productivity. The Department is taking action on a number of issues relevant to the recommendations set out in the report. We have reviewed the policies underpinning the current employment permits regime to ensure that it is fully supportive of Ireland’s emerging labour market needs, including skills and labour shortages in certain sectors. The Ministers for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Justice and Equality announced yesterday that the spouses and partners of highly skilled workers coming here from outside the EEA will now have immediate access to the labour market, effective from 26 March. We have also amended the employment permits regulations to allow for the granting of general employment permits to certain chef grades, which has been welcomed by the hospitality sector.

The work of the Personal Injuries Commission, whose second and final report was 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 all should help to reduce insurance costs for businesses. We were pleased to bring through the Oireachtas the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019, which was signed into law by the President on 25 February 2019. We propose to commence that Act shortly. This is important legislation as it enhances the role of the PIAB to benefit users of the service and society more generally and it forms an integral part of the Government’s response to facilitate cost savings.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

We are committed to ensuring that SMEs have access to appropriate and affordable finance and the Department supports ongoing key SME access to finance initiatives including the credit guarantee scheme, the Brexit loan scheme, the future growth loan scheme and the microenterprise loan fund scheme. All these schemes have been developed to meet the specific needs of SMEs and to provide them with finance at lower costs and on better terms and conditions than available on the marketplace.

In addition to the wide range of existing supports provided by the Department and agencies, budget 2019 allocated additional funding for the Department to boost business productivity, for example, a doubling of 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 and €5 million to the local enterprise offices, LEOs, to support a broad range of indigenous microenterprises to prepare for the challenges and opportunities associated with Brexit. Budget 2019 provides €8 million extra for the Department’s Brexit response and the expansion of our global footprint.

It is also important to be aware of the role that the National Competitiveness Council, NCC, plays in relation to competitiveness. The NCC is an independent advisory body that reports to the Taoiseach and the Government, through the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, on key competitiveness issues facing the Irish economy and offers recommendations on policy actions required to enhance Ireland’s competitiveness position. The reports published by the NCC, which include the Costs of Doing Business Report, Ireland’s Competitiveness Scorecard and Ireland’s Competitiveness Challenge effectively monitor the cost of doing business in Ireland.

We are in a really absurd situation here. Opposition parties, business groups and citizens have been pleading for years with the Government to do something about the rotten insurance system in this State but the Government refuses point blank to do anything serious about it. The insurance system in Ireland is broken. It is bleeding ordinary motorists dry with ridiculously high premiums that are not seen anywhere else in the world. The situation is so bad that businesses are closing down because their insurance premiums are increasing by 300% and 400% in some cases. This is pure greed on the part of insurance companies but they are being allowed to get away with it by this Government. It is ridiculous that when asked about the cost of insurance, all the Government does is cite the cost of insurance working group. We need action, including new laws and we need to challenge the insurance industry on its behaviour. We certainly do not need endless reports. Has the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation met insurance companies to find out why some of them are refusing to insure entire sectors, as we are seeing with play centres across the country?

We are all aware of the negative impact of high insurance costs on consumers and business. Consumers are entitled to a fair and reasonable price for insurance. Of course, motor insurance falls under the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, while responsibility for the insurance industry more generally is a matter for the Minister for Finance. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has no direct responsibility for insurance. As I said earlier, however, much work has been done by my Department and the Department of Finance on the PIAB. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act was signed into law in February. Anecdotal evidence suggests that insurance premia have fallen in recent times, including motor, home and business insurance. Insurance is just one of the many costs faced by businesses, which also include rates. The Government is working on the issue. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy D'Arcy, has been engaged on the matter for some time, as has my Department. The measures that we have put in place will assist business owners.

The Government is not as active as it should be in addressing the cost of insurance. Businesses and their employees are losing out but there seems to be no urgency on the part of the Department of Finance to take the radical action needed. It is up to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to stand up for Irish businesses on this critical issue. Commenting on the latest update from the cost of insurance working group, the Alliance for Insurance Reform said the following:

This the time for real action because the insurance crisis is affecting Irish charities, sports clubs, festivals, voluntary groups, playgrounds, local authorities and businesses right now. Playing with the statistics looks like moving the deck chairs around the Titanic.

These damning comments stem from the alliance's frustration at the Government's lack of urgency, particularly on the part of the Departments of Finance and Business, Enterprise and Innovation. The latter needs to take the lead role on this issue because jobs are being lost and businesses are closing down. This must be a priority for the Department.

I commend the work done by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation and in particular, its report on the cost of doing business. It is a positive indication of the commitment of the members of that committee that it produced a report containing 50 recommendations. Not all of the recommendations relate to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation but we have taken action on those that do. We are very conscious of the high costs of doing business in certain areas. Indeed, Deputy Eamon Ryan has also submitted a question on the costs of doing business in this country. Insurance costs contribute to the overall costs of doing business here, including labour costs, rates and so on. It is very important that we highlight problems in the insurance sector, as has been done by the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, and others. The legislation to which I referred earlier will contribute to bringing down the cost of insurance. As I said already, if one compares the cost of insurance in 2017 with 2018 and 2019, one will see that it is falling. We hope that it will fall further as a result of the various measures that the Government has put in place.

Regional Action Plan for Jobs

Billy Kelleher

Question:

3. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the regional spread of additional jobs added over 2018. [11389/19]

I wish to ask the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation about the regional spread of additional jobs added over 2018. We have raised this issue a couple of times. There is no point in us saying there is a regional balance in job creation through IDA Ireland as more than half of the new jobs created are in the Dublin area, while the rest of the country is being neglected. Perhaps the Minister might elaborate on what she intends to do to address the regional imbalance.

Since the launch of the regional Action Plan for Jobs in 2015 there has been an increase of 266,900 people in employment across the State, with 166,400 people at the end of 2018 in the regions outside Dublin entering employment in that period. Overall, the recently published 2018 quarter 4 CSO labour force survey employment figures are very positive. The survey shows that employment continues to grow strongly, with 50,500 jobs created in the year from the fourth quarter of 2017 to quarter 4 in 2018. That brings total employment to 2,281,300, the highest number at work ever recorded. During this period, the number employed increased, while the unemployment rate decreased in all regions. While the number in employment increased in six of the eight regions in the last year, the exceptions are the mid-west and the Border region. We remain committed to achieving an overall jobs uplift of between 10% and 15% in each region by 2020 and bringing or maintaining unemployment levels in each region to within at least one percentage point of the State average.

Unemployment has fallen in every region since the launch of the regional Action Plan for Jobs. Only two regions, the midlands and the south east, are outside the unemployment target set for 2020. Earlier this month I announced very good results from the local enterprise offices throughout the State. Overall, they supported the creation of 3,656 net new jobs in 2018. All regions saw increases in IDA Ireland employment during 2018, with the midlands region experiencing the highest growth, at 14%. Two thirds, or 64%, of new Enterprise Ireland jobs created in 2018 were outside Dublin. The north west saw the largest level of increases, at 9%. In April 2018 I asked all of the regional Action Plan for Jobs implementation committees to start a process to refresh and refocus all regional plans to ensure their relevance and impact to 2020 in order that they could continue to deliver jobs across the country in every region.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It will also help the plans to be robust to address the challenges we face, including Brexit. The outcome of the refresh process is nine new regional enterprise plans to 2020 which build on the very strong progress made in employment creation under the regional Action Plan for Jobs for the period 2015 to 2017. I am in the process of launching the new plans, with eight plans launched to date.

We can quote statistics all day long, but when one drills down into the macro statistics, we have to accept that there are pockets in Ireland that have not benefited. In Deputy Eugene Murphy's constituency of Roscommon, for example, some 900 people leave the county every morning to travel to work in Dublin. There is a huge regional imbalance. I put it to the Minister that 51% of the jobs created last year were in the greater Dublin area and that 45% of GDP is generated in that area. There is a huge disparity between rural Ireland and Dublin. When one city generates 45% of GDP, there is a major problem. It is a problem for rural parts of Ireland and equally a problem for Dublin because it is congested and spilling in on top of itself. We need to have system in which there is a genuine focus on shifting job creation from the Dublin area to the peripheral areas. That is not happening at the speed and with the timing needed to ensure rural Ireland will get its fair share in the upturn which we all accept is happening.

I am absolutely committed to increasing employment in the regions. The jobs plan is working. Job creation in the regions is my number one priority. In 2018 more jobs were created in IDA Ireland client companies outside Dublin than at any point in the past 17 years. Every region of the country saw foreign direct investment driven job gains. There are now more than 132,000 people employed in IDA Ireland client firms outside the capital. This represents nearly 60% of all IDA Ireland supported employment. That is just one example. More than 215,000 people are now employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies, while 60% of all new jobs created by Enterprise Ireland client companies in 2018 were outside Dublin. Two thirds of all Enterprise Ireland supported employment is now outside Dublin.

The Deputy made reference to the west. Deputy Eugene Murphy is sitting beside him. The western region includes counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. I have visited the region in which there has been huge investment under the regional enterprise development fund. Huge work has also been done by the local regional steering committee.

I can throw out statistics across all day long, but the simple fact from the CSO labour force survey for quarter 4 of 2018 is that 51% of the jobs created were in Dublin. I am referring to gains. In the Border region there was a 0% gain. There was also a 0% gain in the mid-west. That is the harsh reality of life in rural Ireland, as I do not need to tell the Minister who is a Deputy for a Border county. She knows it intimately. The reality is that Dublin is attracting all of the inward investment. As I said, 51% of the jobs created last year were in Dublin, while 45% of GDP was also generated there. That is an unsustainable policy to continue to adapt. If we do not do something quickly and radical, we will have a situation where Dublin will become a dysfunctional city because it will not be able to sustain itself. It does not have the infrastructure or transport capacity required. There are housing problems, as well as a lack of services, including education services. We need to refocus for the benefit of Dublin and rural areas to ensure a regional balance.

I agree that we need a strong city and regions. That is why I launched the regional enterprise plans. There are nine plans in total and I have travelled around the country to work with local stakeholders, including the local authorities, local enterprise offices, the agencies, the regional skills fora and Enterprise Ireland which are all coming together. The chairmen have put forward some really good plans. There is, therefore, a lot of good things happening in the regions. I was in The Hive in Carrick-on-Shannon in which 80 people are employed. This is a locally driven enterprise centre with plans to increase employment to 150. I was in the Food Hub in Drumshanbo which is the home of Drumshanbo Gin which is exported all over the world. All of these projects have been supported from the regional enterprise development fund in my Department. It is additional to all of the other funds that find their way into rural Ireland in which there is a huge amount of investment. I could start to list all of the areas and funding received. For example, the mid-east region has received €32 million. The mid-west region has received €50 million-----

The Minister will not have time to read the list.

There is huge investment. We need local people who are working very well together to come up with the good ideas and we will give them the money. That is the way to support job creation.

As Deputy Michael McGrath is at the Business Committee meeting, we shall move on to Question No. 5 tabled by Deputy Eamon Ryan.

Retail Sector

Eamon Ryan

Question:

5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if her attention has been drawn to the recent closures of long-standing small retailers in central Dublin and other cities and towns; the measures she has considered to support such local businesses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11397/19]

Recently when I was walking down Grafton Street, I realised another shop had closed, one that was part of our culture and heritage and the streetscape. I am referring to Fitzpatrick's shoe shop in which I used to buy my shoes. In Temple Bar the Eager Beaver shop which I have been into during the years and is a brilliant business is also shutting down. Walton's music shop was closed last year. This is not just happening in Dublin. My colleague Senator Grace O'Sullivan recently lamented the closure of the Sam McCauley chemist shop in Waterford. Liam Ruiséal's bookshop and Sheehan's greengrocer shop in Cork are also closing. A friend has told me that the number of butchers in Galway has gone from 15 to three. The Limerick Leader is running a big story about Cruise's Street and how it is an example of how the high street is not working. Is the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation monitoring this change in the retail sector? What is she doing about it and what can we do to support small Irish retailers?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

My Department established and convenes the retail consultation forum to enable key issues affecting the retail sector to be discussed - it is a very important forum - with a view to identifying practical actions which could be taken by the Government or the industry to support sustainable jobs growth in the sector. The retail sector is the largest private sector employer in the country and 90% Irish owned. It supports jobs in every city, town and village and the Department very much understands its importance.

A Framework for Town Centre Renewal was developed in 2017 by a working group of the retail consultation forum, setting out a practical step by step action plan for stakeholders to work collaboratively to enhance their local town or village. The framework also encourages towns and villages to establish digital platforms in response to the changing retail environment. At a collaborative level, using the framework, town groups can work together to improve footfall and customer experience in town centres through various measures such as enhancing accessibility, public spaces and tackling vacant property.

The framework also serves as a support document for towns and villages applying for funding streams under Project 2040. These include the €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund and the €1 billion rural regeneration fund which can be leveraged to support the regeneration and viability of town centres.

Digitalisation has increased the scope for competition in the retail sector, as reflected in the growth in online shopping and changing consumer preferences in how people shop in town centres. Sustaining physical retail outlets requires adaptation and many retailers now offer multiple sales channels to sell their goods from physical stores to social media, mobile apps and websites. Last September, we launched a new pilot online retail scheme to be delivered by Enterprise Ireland with a total fund of €1.25 million. The online retail scheme will support retail businesses of 20 employees or more which are ready to grow their business strategically online. At least 50% of the total number of grants awarded under the scheme will be prioritised for retail SMEs with their headquarters outside of County Dublin, subject to applications meeting the minimum standards. On 1 March 2019, 11 successful applicants from the first call were announced in Skibbereen and we look forward to announcing a second call later this year.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In addition, I highlight local enterprise offices, LEOs, as the first-stop-shop front line service assisting in delivering business growth and jobs for the small and microenterprise sector in Dublin and all across the country, including the retail sector. LEOs actively promote the trading online voucher scheme, TOVS, on behalf of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The scheme offers matched financial assistance of up to €2,500, along with training and advice, to micro companies of ten employees or fewer that want to establish an online presence for the first time or that wish to expand a basic existing website to incorporate a more substantive online trading capacity. From the start of the scheme in July 2014 to date, over 5,000 micro companies have availed of the scheme. Other soft supports offered by LEOs, such as training and mentoring, are applicable to the retail sector and this includes retailers employing more than ten people.

I have a fear that if we simply watch as the switch to online happens, we will end up with derelict high streets. It is happening already to varying degrees and different towns are affected in different ways. We will end up with only multinational and large retailers and no small indigenous retailers. According to Retail Ireland, the four crippling factors are labour costs, rates, insurance and rent. We cannot control all of those but the Government has levers on some. Could it look at differentiated rates? A real craft business, like the baker, butcher, candlestick maker or repairs service, could have a different rates base. Alternatively, rates could be based on volume of turnover and not just on the retail asset valuation. Currently, high streets like Grafton Street in Dublin are starting to have only mobile phone shops on them as those are the only retailers that can afford the rates and rents applying. What can we do specifically to support small retailers or, in the alternative, to create more mixed streets rather than the retail streets they have been historically?

I outlined to the Deputy the urban and rural regeneration schemes. I take the example of Ennis in my county where Parnell Street was like the streets the Deputy referred to. It was rundown and not that many people shopped there. Clare County Council applied for funding under the urban regeneration scheme and received more than €1.3 million to regenerate and reinvigorate Parnell Street in Ennis. As someone who comes from rural Ireland, I acknowledge what is happening in our towns and villages and how large multiples are taking over in our larger towns. As the Deputy pointed out, online shopping has increased and consumer habits are changing a great deal. That is why it is important for us to encourage existing retailers to go online. Governments can put all the supports they like in place to assist retailers and encourage shoppers, but in the end, it is the consumer who makes the choice. That has to be said. It is important, however, that we ensure that we re-energise rural Ireland. That is why I outlined the schemes the Government has put in place and will continue to put in place through my Department and that of the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring.

I support the application of the urban and rural regeneration schemes to the centres of our towns. This is critical. Many of our 19th century towns are dying on their feet. We cannot turn back to the 19th century, but we should make sure it is not just laissez-faire with everyone shopping in the multi-storey, out-of-town shopping centre while main streets die. We need to get people back living on those streets as that will help local retailers. Those people will walk to the local shop. If the Minister of State does not have the figures, he might ask his Department to follow up with a written reply on how much of the funding allocated so far under the urban and rural regeneration schemes has been allocated for schemes like the one on Parnell Street in Ennis. I would allocate the entire fund to that one project alone. If we do not, the centres of our towns and cities will die. We should prioritise that for investment. I am keen to know how much of the total funding thus far has been applied to that purpose. It is the best form of spending as it helps local business and will get people back living in the centres of our towns and cities.

I am delighted the Deputy acknowledges the importance of the rural and urban regeneration schemes. They are very important, together with the town and village renewal scheme. Another example of urban renewal scheme is in Clare's second largest town, namely Shannon. Clare County Council applied, somewhat hastily, for funding under the urban regeneration scheme to put a heart into Shannon. As the Deputy knows, it is a new town and does not have a streetscape like other Irish towns. There is just a shopping centre in the centre of the town. The Deputy focused on town centres. It is really important to have a heart and life in the centre so people can live in town centres and in the areas outside that as well. Clare County Council did not get the funding for which it applied as the project did not live up to what the urban regeneration scheme should be as it was for a theatre. However, we received €100,000 for the project. Since then Clare County Council has met the senior development planners in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, they are developing a plan and are consulting with the locals to focus on the economic prosperity and assets of the region.

I thank the Minister of State.

A project will be designed with in-house and outside consultants. The project will be put into category 1 and the application will be made by the end of the year under the urban regeneration scheme.

I call Deputy Ryan for a final question. A lot of Members are waiting and we have to observe time.

I hope they will get money for that.

We must observe the time limits.

County Clare is a good example. Friends of mine live in Scarriff and Kilrush and these are examples I give the Minister of State of towns that are dying on their feet. Scarriff is down to a single main street retailer. The risk is that this will happen in every single Irish town, that we will be left with one multiple outlet. While these are good businesses, typically run by local families, and I do not doubt them, one cannot have a 19th century street with just one shop. What will we do with the rest of the street? It may mean putting families back into the centre, which might lead to a second shop opening because those families will walk to the shops rather than drive. That is the reality of what has happened. The Minister of State can point to the example of one project in Shannon but I can point to ten examples of towns in Clare which are dying on their feet. It is happening right across the country. A more proactive engagement on the part of the Government is required, not just with the fund under discussion, but by way of a range of policies to change the rates structure and help with rents for smaller businesses and local Irish retailers. They need support.

The Deputy mentioned two towns. Scarriff received funding under the village renewal scheme while Kilrush received funding of €1.7 million recently for the Vandeleur gardens project, which will build a showcase for craft shops etc. Clare County Council also has plans to regenerate Frances Street in Kilrush. The rural enterprise scheme also has an important contribution in re-energising our towns and villages. That is why the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, has put many projects in place under the urban regeneration scheme with millions of euro invested in counties. I have outlined the Ennis project to the Deputy but there are other places around the country which got money also. I will try to get the figures on the urban and rural renewal schemes for the Deputy. We have been trying to create an environment so we can sustain our rural towns and villages. There is no doubt that they will change given the way in which digitalisation is changing the way we do business, but the fact that we have a Minister who is working to enhance our towns and villages is a sign of the Government's commitment to them.

We will go back to Question No. 4. Deputy Mattie McGrath was held up at a committee but has now arrived.

IDA Ireland Site Visits

Mattie McGrath

Question:

4. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the visits by the IDA to County Tipperary and each county from 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11390/19]

How many visits has the IDA made to County Tipperary in comparison with other counties from 2016 to date? According to the findings of the South East Economic Monitor, IDA supported jobs are among the highest paid in the country, with 75% of all such jobs having incomes in excess of €35,000. While 8.8% of the population resides in the south-east, just 5.4% of all IDA supported employment was there until recently. That is 61% of the fair share.

Increasing the level of foreign direct investment in regional Ireland, including in County Tipperary, has been a priority of mine since I was first appointed Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. As an elected representative of Cavan-Monaghan, I know how important it is to create new jobs and economic opportunities in regional areas. That is why I am committed to achieving the best possible spread of FDI across the country and to working with our enterprise agencies to generate employment and investment outside our main cities.

We are making good progress in this regard. More jobs were created in IDA client companies outside Dublin in 2018 than at any point in the last 17 years. Every region in the country saw FDI-driven job gains and there are now over 132,000 people employed in IDA client firms outside the capital, representing nearly 60% of all IDA supported employment. It is important to note this represents the highest number of people employed in IDA-supported companies outside of Dublin in the history of the organisation. These positive results clearly show that Government policy is working and demonstrate the huge strides that have been made in terms of boosting FDI related job creation across Ireland.

As for Tipperary in particular, we want to grow its stock of FDI in 2019, just as we want to increase investment in every other county in the country. Tipperary is already home to ten IDA client firms, which collectively employ more than 3,700 people. This client base includes well known firms such as Abbott Ireland, Boston Scientific and Merck, Sharp and Dohme. Last year saw a net total of 55 new FDI jobs created in Tipperary.

A key focus for the agency in the county in 2019 is supporting further job growth in companies already present there.  Experience, gained over decades of FDI in Ireland, shows us that overseas companies already in situ are the most likely to generate new employment opportunities. The IDA's staff work closely with client companies to explore the potential for further such job creation and they are certainly doing that with client firms in Tipperary as well.

The agency is also working hard to secure new investors and overseas firms for Tipperary. Site visits are an important part of this. There were eight such visits to sites in Tipperary in each of 2016 and 2017, with five visits taking place last year.

I very much welcome the fact that there is foreign direct investment in Clonmel and south Tipperary. They are great companies providing great employment and spin-off activity. As I said, 2017 was a very good year for the IDA in the south east, with a significant deficit reduced by almost 200 jobs. The number of IDA-supported jobs increased by 10.9% in the south east, an impressive performance against a mere 5.3% increase nationally. However, since 2011 the south east has only accounted for 5% of the net jobs created nationally. While there are foreign direct investment jobs in Clonmel, Tipperary town and west Tipperary have none. The Minister referred to eight visits each year. Were any of those visits to Tipperary town? Other Deputies here have promised that big things were going to happen with the IDA, but we now know a certain premises in Tipperary town is not even on the list. It is worrying that while there are jobs in the county town of Clonmel and some in Cashel, they are not in Carrick-on-Suir, Tipperary town or Cahir. We need a balanced spread to those areas. Dublin is getting the lion's share of everything and Tipperary is not getting the spin-off.

There are no incentives for a company to locate in Dublin. The incentives apply when companies locate outside Dublin. I wish to have a strong city but I also wish to have strong regions because both are necessary. It should not be a case of Dublin against the rest of the country. I am from rural Ireland too and we want jobs in the regions. That is certainly a priority for me. However, experience shows that FDI-driven job creation is more likely to come from firms already in the country. Moreover, we must remember that site visits are only a preliminary step in encouraging investors to locate in Ireland. The final decision as to an investment location tends to come much later and always rests with the firm concerned.

Negative comments about an area are very unhelpful when attracting FDI. We must focus on the strengths and potential. The regional enterprise plans are focusing on the positives while addressing the weaknesses. I was in Tipperary recently to launch the regional enterprise plan. We cannot forget that FDI only forms one part of our enterprise base. Indigenous firms are responsible for a significant portion of employment.

I know the Minister's constituency quite well. It is similar to Tipperary with regard to employment. Worryingly, of the 3,530 jobs announced in the IDA's 2018 mid-year performance update relating to 21 publicly announced projects, out of a total of 139 projects, no project was expected to generate employment in the south east. A year and a half ago, statistics from the EUROSTAT yearbook report demonstrated that over 50% of Ireland's GDP, the total value of everything produced in the country, is generated in Dublin. This is despite the fact that approximately 60% of the population live outside Dublin city and county. The figures point to the disproportionate levels of economic activity that are concentrated in Dublin. I did not say there were any incentives for companies to come to Dublin, but everything is coming to Dublin. We must shift the balance. Otherwise we will choke the environment, given the housing crisis and everything else. It is clear that the rest of the country, particularly rural Ireland, is being left to stagnate while Dublin is bursting at the seams. Something must be done about it, especially for places such as Tipperary town and west Tipperary.

Companies supported by Enterprise Ireland employ 5,921 people in Tipperary, and 136 new jobs were created in Tipperary in 2018. The local enterprise office also had a very good year with 160 new jobs created in Tipperary in 2018. As I said, I recently launched the regional enterprise plan at Lisheen Mine. I was pleased to allocate funding of over €4.6 million to the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation in the old Lisheen Mine. It is a wonderful facility. When I was there I also visited the AgriChemWhey project to see what it is doing. It is building a first-of-a-kind industrial scale biorefinery. It is a flagship project that is focused on the development of an integrated biorefinery for the conversion of residues from the food processing industry to high-value sustainable foods and products. That is a €30 million project funded under Horizon 2020. In addition, Tipperary town received €600,000 under the regeneration project. There is a great deal happening there. The regional enterprise plans have a ground-up approach and there is a special focus in the plan for the mid-west on Tipperary. I realise there have been problems there and we want to address those problems to ensure that jobs are created throughout the county. As I said, Tipperary town gets a special mention.

Before we move to the next question, please do not to take advantage of me if I am too flexible with regard to time, as Deputies are waiting to ask their questions. I am sure Deputy Ó Cuív will set the standard.