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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Vol. 982 No. 6

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Work Permits Eligibility

Martin Heydon


46. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the process for changes to the work permits system in view of labour shortages in certain sectors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20608/19]

I ask the Minister about the process for changes to the work permits system in view of labour shortages in certain sectors. This obviously is a problem linked with recovery. Following on from the work done by this and the previous Government in terms of the Action Plan for Jobs and getting people back into the workplace, we now see these new challenges where sectors are short of necessary skilled workers. Can the Minister outline what steps the Department has taken to date, what sectors it has worked with and what process the sectors which identify a shortage must go through to make a case to the Minister?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am very well aware of the skills shortages currently being experienced in some sectors of the economy. The issue is all the more pressing given the strong economic growth being experienced and high demand being placed on a number of sectors to respond to a range of needs across the economy.

Ireland operates a managed employment permits system maximising the benefits of economic migration and minimising the risk of disrupting Ireland's labour market. The system is intended to act as a conduit for key skills which are required to develop enterprise in the State for the benefit of our economy, while simultaneously protecting the balance of the labour market.

It is important to consider that while we are moving towards full employment with 5.4% unemployment, we still have 194,700 people in Ireland and 15.9 million in the EU who are unemployed.

The system is, by design, vacancy led and driven by the changing needs of the labour market, expanding and contracting in tandem with its inherent fluctuations. Only where specific skills prove difficult to source within the State and wider EEA may an employment permit be sought by an employer to hire a non-EEA national. In order to ensure that the employment permits schemes are responsive to changes in economic circumstances and labour market conditions, the system is managed through the operation of the critical skills occupations list and the ineligible occupations list for the purpose of granting an employment permit.

These lists are subject to twice-yearly evidence based review which involves consideration of the research and analysis undertaken by the skills and labour market research unit of SOLAS, the expert group on future skills needs, the National Skills Council and input by relevant Departments in addition to a public consultation process. Submissions to the review process are also considered by the economic migration policy interdepartmental group chaired by my Department and with membership drawn from senior officials of key Departments and SOLAS.

The report, Review of Economic Migration Policy, which I published last September, included the recommendation that in order to make changes to the occupation lists, there would need to be a clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA and not to other factors, such as salary and-or employment conditions.

Recent changes to the occupations lists include removing a number of occupations in construction and road haulage from the ineligible list and moving a number of occupations in construction and high-performance sports to the critical skills occupation list. These changes were made in response to the needs of sectors in addressing real labour shortages.

I thank the Minister for her response and acknowledge the changes, particularly in the construction and road haulage sectors, areas that are critical in logistics to the broader roll-out of business around the country.

I raise with the Minister another area where there is a significant skills shortage, namely, the breeding and the training sectors in the equine industry and it is the very specific role of skilled work-riders. The equine industry is worth close to €2 billion to the overall economy. It provides 16,000 jobs throughout the length and breadth of this country, many of which are in rural areas where there is not any alternative.

Through Horse Racing Ireland, HRI, I am aware the industry is making a strong case through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to be moved off the ineligible list in light of the difficulty in accessing work-riders across the EU. When one considers the spin-off jobs from the equine industry, including veterinary, horse laundries, transportation, grooms and stable hands, which as I said, are spread throughout the country, it is a key area on which I hope we can see progress. Can the Minister outline when the Department will next look at a new round of sectors or when sectors will have an opportunity to apply again?

I thank the Deputy who has raised this matter on a number of occasions. Work-riders are currently not eligible for employment permits. A submission was made by Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association to the most recent review of the occupation list and this was considered on the available evidence.

The horse racing industry is recognised as a significant economic sporting sector. Evidence suggests that there are good efforts in the industry to provide training and career progression opportunities in this employment. It is acknowledged that the unique physical criteria applying to individuals in this role may be challenging to source within the EEA. However, there is currently insufficient data available on this occupation to suggest shortages. Based on the evidence available, no change was proposed for this occupation at this time. However, it is proposed that the sector provide more information, in particular, detailed evidence of efforts to recruit from within the EEA, for consideration during the next review. This could include, for example, evidence of engagement with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the European Employment Services - the other employment network.

In order to have an occupation considered for either being added to the critical skills list or being removed from the ineligible list, there would need to be clear demonstration that recruitment difficulties are solely due to shortages across the EEA and not to other factors such as salary and-or employment conditions. The views of the lead policy Department for the sector, in this case, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, are an important part of the decision-making process and I recommend engagement with the Department in advance of any further action.

I accept the Minister's response. I am aware that HRI continues to engage through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to provide that additional necessary data. The key word in the Minister's response when she referenced the racing and breeding sectors was "industry". That is what it is. I acknowledge it is a sport, but it is a sport that employs a great many people and is worth a considerable amount to the rural economy in terms of economic turnover. That is why this skills-specific shortage is a key element. I completely accept the Minister's point. It has to be where there is that clear demonstrable shortage. No doubt the industry will prove that point in the future.

In general, I welcome the role the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation plays. I understand the balance involved in making sure that while we still have people who are unemployment, there is not any displacement but when one looks at the sectors the Department has dealt with already, such as construction, there is clear evidence that we need to get workers in. Where we get people in, including into the road haulage sector and, hopefully, work-riders in the future, they can help to sustain and to improve existing jobs in those areas.

The important point is that the sector needs to show it cannot get the workers in Ireland and in Europe and make the case to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I assure the Deputy that when that case is made, we will not be found wanting in terms of reviewing it positively.

The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, was in Deputy Heydon's county today where he announced 80 jobs in Open Sky, an IT solutions company, in Naas. It is an innovative company. It actually supplies the software to the work permits section of my Department.

The current processing time for employment permits is three weeks for trusted partner applications, which made up 71% of all applications in 2018, and 11 weeks for standard applications, which made up 29% of applications in 2019.

I welcome all jobs to Kildare. I am sure the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, is particularly happy about jobs going to Naas.

It is north Kildare this time.

North Kildare this time. We like to share them. I thank the Minister.

Question No. 47 replied to with Written Answers.

Brexit Preparations

Thomas P. Broughan


48. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her main concerns regarding the Brexit readiness of businesses here; if she is concerned in relation to a particular sector; if so, the measures she is undertaking to ensure the sectors increase preparedness; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20356/19]

I am aware the Minister already answered a question of Brexit readiness. I commend our officials who are preparing the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready materials and sending out updates and communicating as much as possible with the public and business about the steps needed to get us Brexit ready. Is the Minister happy with the level of uptake of these materials and of the various schemes by businesses? The Minister sent us on details of InterTradeIreland, the local enterprise offices, LEOs, and the Brexit loan schemes. How do these numbers fit in with the overall number of companies that will be affected?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. My Department is engaged in ongoing research to assess the extent of Brexit preparation among Irish businesses. Over the last two years, my Department has worked to raise awareness of the key Brexit challenges which include supply chain, tariffs, customs, regulatory standards, working capital and movement of labour, goods and services to build business preparedness levels and to put a comprehensive set of supports in place for business.

My Department's ongoing engagement with businesses indicates that the proportion of businesses preparing for Brexit is increasing, particularly among those businesses identified as most exposed to Brexit-related impacts and that awareness of the key Brexit challenges is increasing.

Earlier this year my Department published a Quick Brexit Guide for business to answer many of the questions that Irish businesses may have and to provide information on the practical steps they can take to deal with Brexit.

In addition to these events, Enterprise Ireland has rolled out a series of Brexit advisory clinics to help businesses across the country and has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, as well as an online Brexit SME Scorecard to help Irish businesses self-assess their exposure to Brexit and a Be Prepared grant to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit.

In addition, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs, have developed an online customs insights course.

InterTradeIreland, ITI, works with SMEs on an all-island basis. As part of this service, ITI has organised a series of awareness-raising events focused on improving knowledge of customs processes and procedures and identifying actions that can be taken in areas such as logistics and supply chain management. InterTradeIreland also offers a Brexit planning voucher worth up to €2,250 and an implementation voucher, which offers 50% financial support of up to £5,000 towards implementing critical changes in relation to Brexit matters.

The Brexit loan scheme makes available relatively short-term working capital to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. Similarly, the future growth loan scheme, which was launched at the end of March, makes available longer-term capital to support investment in a post-Brexit environment.

While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the delays to Brexit may have led businesses to defer their immediate planning. However, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses. I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help.

Effectively, the postponement towards October has had an impact in making people less anxious to get ready by availing of the various schemes. Recently, InterTradeIreland did a survey of companies in Belfast and there were some dismal reports about investment plans being postponed. People were very worried about what would happen at the Border, regarding employment, etc.

The Minister gave me a very thorough list a number of months ago of the various supports, including the Brexit loan scheme for which 479 applications have been received, of which 430 have been approved; the Enterprise Ireland Brexit Scorecard, of which 4,500 have been completed; the Be Prepared grant for which 168 applications have been received; the Market Discovery Fund in respect of which there are 251 projects; and 13 Brexit advisory clinics, one of which was attended by 1,000 people. I noticed the LEOs, in which Deputies have a strong interest in their constituencies and throughout the regions, had 419 clients for the micro schemes. I mention the InterTradeIreland Brexit advisory service.

What kind of take-up do the figures the Minister gave represent in terms of all the companies which could have applied for each of those schemes?

We have identified a number of categories of businesses that are particularly exposed to Brexit-related difficulties, including businesses in the agrifood sector, in the Border region and engaged in export and import to, from and through the UK. The Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public information campaign included workshop events throughout the country aimed primarily at businesses and people most affected by Brexit. Enterprise Ireland has also launched a eurozone strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK. We continue to go on trade missions to the Far East and across the globe. We bring companies with us so that they can find and diversify into new markets on a global basis. Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs help businesses look at customs for the first time, to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes. InterTradeIreland works with the SMEs and an all-island basis.

The Deputy mentioned companies in Belfast. I recently visited companies there through the Confederation of British Industry, CBI, and it is clear they are very concerned about Brexit. I took the opportunity in budget 2019 to increase the funding to InterTradeIreland by a further €1 million, which represented a 17% increase in its budget. InterTradeIreland does not just help companies south of the Border but it helps companies north of the Border as well and it was very much welcomed by it. It has been able to move on to issue implementation vouchers of up to £5,000.

The Minister said recently that there has been much-enhanced take-up of the two voucher schemes. She should be commended on launching those financial supports and encouraging the cross-Border traders. There seems to be grave anxiety among companies in Belfast, which is evident from the survey done by InterTradeIreland.

I think the Minister for Finance has sanctioned an extra 400 Revenue staff for customs and so on. Has there been any contact between the Minister and her UK counterpart on a possible customs arrangement? We sometimes hear in the media that the UK thinks technological solutions will enable a no-border situation and the backstop, which we must maintain. Has the Minister and her Department been involved in any discussions or have any proposals been put to her by the comparable Department in the UK as to trade between here and the UK?

As the Deputy knows, all negotiations on Brexit issues are done through the EU. I had the opportunity last year to meet Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Trade in the UK, and he talked about technological solutions. I was not very clear about how they would work. For somebody who lives on the Border, I am still not clear how they are going to work.

Businesses, both large and small, should undertake to register with Revenue for a customs number; make contact with their own UK suppliers; check to see if their suppliers use the UK as a landbridge; review their supply chain; check if their business relies on products or services that are certified for compliance with EU standards by a UK body; engage with any trade representative body of which they are a member; and avail of the Government's range of advisory and financial supports. There is more information at Businesses need to be aware of the risks that Brexit poses to them and to mitigate against those risks. There is a responsibility on businesses to engage with the supports that are there.

As the Deputy stated, there are a lot of supports and the staff in my Department have worked extremely hard to put a full suite of supports in place, including the Brexit working capital loan facility, the Brexit loan scheme and the future growth loan scheme.

Although Brexit as an issue may not be as immediate as it was leading up to 29 March this year, I encourage businesses to engage in this process and be ready.

Brexit Supports

Niamh Smyth


49. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the uptake of the Brexit loan scheme; the number of applications applied for and granted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20360/19]

As a representative of a Border constituency, Cavan-Monaghan, I know there is much concern about Brexit and what the future holds or does not hold for people in the Border area. I am interested in the figures the Minister may have for the Brexit loan scheme, although I know she touched on this in responding to previous questions today. Will the Minister provide clarity on the uptake of this scheme, particularly for the Border area? I would be interested in hearing those figures.

I thank the Deputy for her question. As I have said on a many occasions, Brexit of any kind means change and we must prepare for this unprecedented challenge. A no-deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome and that is why we welcome the agreement of the European Council to an extension of the Article 50 process until 31 October 2019, which prevented a no-deal outcome on 12 April and provides the UK with more time to ensure an orderly withdrawal. However, notwithstanding that the Article 50 process has been extended, it is critical that we continue to prepare for all potential Brexit scenarios.

My Department and its agencies have, over the past two years, put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory services to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. These measures aim to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and the practical preparatory actions to be taken over the coming weeks and months. The €300 million Brexit loan scheme provides relatively short-term working capital of between one and three years to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. The scheme is open to eligible businesses from all regions of the country, including those in the Border counties. Businesses can confirm their eligibility with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, SBCI, and if deemed eligible can apply to one of the participating finance providers for a loan under the scheme. The scheme was launched in March 2018 and as at close of business on 3 May, there were 608 eligibility applications received, of which 550 had been approved, with 124 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €27.76 million. The SBCI website also has details of the Government's new future growth loan scheme and the credit guarantee scheme, which may also be suitable depending on individual business needs.

I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available but I encourage all businesses to continue to put necessary plans in place. There are a number of essential actions that businesses can now take if they have not already done so, such as registering with the Revenue Commissioners for their customs or economic operators' registration and identification number, reviewing their supply chains and contacting their UK suppliers and checking the certification of UK imports. While the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses, I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help. The existing supports, schemes and advice are in place to ensure that businesses are prepared for any Brexit scenario. The full range of supports is available on the website.

The Minister knows that many of our agrifood and agricultural sectors have been feeling the repercussions in Cavan-Monaghan almost from the day of the announcement of the Brexit referendum result. The mushroom industry was very badly affected in the Cavan-Monaghan area.

The Minister mentioned the €300 million in the Brexit small and medium enterprise working capital loan scheme. That would be wonderful but as the Minister alluded to, the drawdown is only approximately 10% of the total fund if we go on the figures released. In other words, only one in five applications is being sanctioned for finance. I reiterate the point about Cavan-Monaghan. Will the Minister drill down into the detail in terms of the number of applications being made and the success rate for firms in Cavan-Monaghan? Why has uptake, at 10% of the fund total, been so abysmal?

I do not agree that the uptake has been abysmal. It is important to remember the Brexit loan scheme, whether it is the working capital facility or the long-term loan scheme I launched last month, comprises loans which businesses have to repay. I can understand a natural reluctance on the part of some businesses to take on debt until the full details of the Brexit challenge become clearer. The loan scheme is in place so businesses can avail of it when they need it. I encourage them to put in their applications and have them ready in case they need this assistance.

I meet representatives of businesses regularly and I am particularly familiar with the mushroom sector. I was delighted that in preparing the region for Brexit, I prioritised a number of significant investments in the Border region. A sum of €5 million has been provided, for example, for a new bio-economy research centre in Monaghan, which has the potential to create 200 high-quality jobs. That relates to research in the mushroom industry and right across the food sector, and it is very important that this is in the area.

Is a reluctance to apply for the scheme really the problem if only 10% of the total fund has been drawn down? It is a very low figure. The Government allocated €300 million for the future growth loan scheme, a long-term scheme for farmers, fishermen and food businesses that was announced in October 2017. It has taken 18 months for the scheme to open. Does the Minister agree the Government has been very slow in reacting to the Brexit fiasco? I question the Minister's comments about a natural reluctance among businesses to apply for this funding. Should we instead blame bureaucracy, which is deterring business people from engaging with this?

The Minister and other senior Ministers came to Cootehill not long ago to announce the Regional Enterprise Plan to 2020: North-East. It is a nice, glossy document that was launched with much fanfare but the chair of the implementation committee, Mr. Richard Hanlon, made stark comments on the day on infrastructural plans that the Government may have to put in place. He mentioned strategy and so on and asked what would be the practical outcomes. There was also mention of the north west to north east road links. All that road infrastructure will be very important if the Government is serious about Brexit-proofing the Border counties.

There have been approximately 600 applications to the Brexit loan scheme, with 550 approved-----

The drawdown is 10%.

I worked in the banking sector for many years and I know businesses are often reluctant to borrow money because it must be repaid. If the Deputy can describe any cases of businesses having difficulty with this, she should bring them to me. I have had no complaints about this loan scheme so if the Deputy has such an example, she should give it to me and I will follow it up without any problem.

With respect to preparations for Brexit specifically on the Border, a design team has been appointed for a new IDA Ireland building in Monaghan. With the support of the Department of Rural and Community Development, we will build a new enterprise centre in Castleblayney that is vital for job creation in the town, given that the current enterprise centre is at capacity. A new regional development manager has been appointed by IDA Ireland to specifically focus on Cavan, Monaghan and Louth, and Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim have their own specific IDA Ireland person as well. Only yesterday, I announced €2 million in funding for a disruptive technology project at Bio-Marine Ingredients Ireland at Lough Egish food park in Monaghan, which is working with the National University of Ireland, Galway, Teagasc and the Marine Institute on groundbreaking research for the aquaculture sector. This project is the first of its kind in Europe and it is great to see it happening in the Border region. All these investments in the Border region, which I know the Deputy welcomes, will support the area in the face of Brexit.

Enterprise Support Schemes

Pat Deering


50. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the regional enterprise plans; her views on the way in which these will benefit County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20593/19]

What is the status of the regional enterprise plans and how will my county of Carlow be affected? Carlow suffered quite a bit in recent years from unemployment as we lost the sugar industry and the Braun plant, which was a major employer in the area. We have been playing catch-up to a large extent in recent years. Will the Minister give an update on the regional enterprise plans?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter.

During February and March of this year, I launched nine new regional enterprise plans to 2020, which build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. I am pleased to say that implementation has commenced in all regions. Shaped from the bottom up by regional stakeholders and overseen by my Department, the new regional enterprise plans complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the top down, and there is strong alignment with Ireland's national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and Future Jobs Ireland 2019.

The principle behind the regional enterprise plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region's enterprise development potential and add value to the core work of the enterprise agencies. These stakeholders include local authorities, the local enterprise offices, the enterprise agencies, the regional skills forum, tourism boards, private sector enterprise champions, higher and further education institutions, business representative bodies and others. County Carlow is part of the new regional enterprise plan for the south-east region, which also includes counties Kilkenny, Wexford, Tipperary and Waterford. The regional steering committee for the plan, chaired by Frank O'Regan, formerly of Bausch & Lomb, Waterford, has already met to commence the plan's implementation.

There are five strategic objectives in the south-east plan, with a focus on County Carlow as part of the south-east region. These include building enterprise resilience; marketing the region; a regional engagement strategy on key infrastructure priorities; ensuring the south east is a learning region; and tourism growth. Actions in the plan that are of significance to Carlow in particular include industry led enterprise clustering; building on collaboration between industry, higher education institutes, including IT Carlow, and others to solve enterprise challenges; and supporting skills development and greater adoption of science, technology, engineering, arts and maths, STEAM, subjects, through making the south east a learning region.

The unemployment rate in the south-east region has decreased from 11.7% in quarter 1 of 2015 to 7.7% in quarter 4 of 2018. Despite this very significant progress, more needs to be done through the regional enterprise plan to reduce the unemployment rate to within 1% of the national average. The collaborative actions in this plan, along with the ongoing core activities of the enterprise agencies and local enterprise offices, LEOs, and the new initiatives in Future Jobs Ireland, will support this.

I thank the Minister for her comprehensive reply. I think she acknowledges that the south east and Carlow have suffered quite a bit and have been playing catch-up compared with other areas in the country. I also acknowledge and agree with her point that education is a key driver in the region. It is disappointing that the technological university for the south east project has slowed down, if I may put it that way. I am hopeful that progress will be made in the area very shortly. It is essential that the project moves on at pace in the coming period. It is not for want of political pressure that it has slowed down but it needs to move on now. I encourage those who are involved in the project to move it on in order that we may have the process in place by the academic year beginning September.

From time to time, people in Carlow feel, because of the county's geographic location in the northern part of the south east, that it tends to lose out. The northern part is in no man's land to a certain extent - in limbo perhaps. Should it be considered as being in the south east, the midlands region, the wider Dublin region or somewhere else? From time to time, there is a feeling in Carlow that it is not getting its fair crack of the whip in this regard. We have also seen the slow progress being made on the IDA Ireland advanced facility in recent times. It was supposed to be developed in 2019, which is not looking likely at this stage. Perhaps the Minister could give us an update on that as well. Its development would be a key indicator of progress going forward.

The Deputy has raised this issue with me on a number of occasions. As part of its €150 million regional property programme, IDA Ireland is directly investing in a building programme to help ensure that property solutions are in place for overseas companies. I understand that IDA Ireland has now completed the acquisition of a suitable site for the Carlow advanced technology building, ATB, and has appointed a design team, which is working on the detailed plans for the building. Planning permission is expected to be lodged in the coming months. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2019 or early 2020, subject to planning permission being granted. I know that this issue is very important and that the Deputy has worked very hard on it. I am pleased it has been resolved with the successful acquisition of land in Carlow. The agency has assured me, subject of course to planning permission, that the facility will now proceed according to schedule. I look forward to visiting the building once it is complete and I have every confidence that it will be a significant asset to Carlow in attracting further multinational investment into the town and the wider region.

I thank the Minister for her answer. I am glad to hear that the acquisition has been completed. I was concerned this would not happen for a long time as the dates were being pushed out further and further. This will be a key driver and major confidence boost for the local economy. In the past, we have seen the development of similar advanced technology buildings and we ended up with the building in Carlow town of a top-class Merck Sharp & Dohme facility, which is now extending into a second building. When complete, it will employ more than 800 people directly and another 300 or 400 indirectly in the next two years. We need something similar to be developed once this facility is built. Obviously, planning permission is required first but I encourage the Minister to apply pressure to make sure this does not drag on any longer. She indicated deadlines and dates in her response. These must be very firm. We have seen them drag on through no fault of the Minister. At this stage, this is a kind of pet project. Every other Question Time I put this question on the Minister's agenda, as she knows. It is very important to the local area and I encourage her to ensure that it does not drag on any further and that the deadlines she has indicated will be those that will actually deliver the project on time. I look forward to welcoming the Minister-----

I call the Minister to respond. I must fit in two further questions.

-----in 2020, before the next general election, to turn the sod on this facility.

As the Deputy knows, the agency did not own the land in Carlow and had to acquire a site through the open market. This was a lengthy and complicated process that resulted in the overall completion objective for the facility being delayed. I will certainly keep a close eye on the timelines I have given the Deputy and I have no doubt he will keep an even closer eye on them. I look forward to the completion of the facility. The Deputy has been raising this matter with me since I became Minister about a year and a half ago.

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Remit

Thomas P. Broughan


51. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to bring forward the legislated powers of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to issue fines for breaches of European and Irish competition law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20355/19]

Many of us have read the recent report of the National Competitiveness Council, titled Costs of Doing Business in Ireland 2018. Professor Peter Clinch of the council spoke recently to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. The report makes for fairly dismal reading. Regarding the ECN+ directive to empower competition authorities of member states to be more effective enforcers of the Internal Market, Competition and Consumer Protection Commission chairperson, Isolde Goggin, recently asked that additional powers be given to the CCPC. Are we in the process of doing so? Will these powers be brought forward or have some of them already been brought into effect?

I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this very important issue. One of the principal statutory functions of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is to investigate breaches of EU and Irish competition law, that is, Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and sections 4 and 5 of the Competition Act 2002. At the conclusion of an investigation into a suspected breach of Irish or EU competition law, the CCPC may form the view that an infringement of either section 4 or section 5 of the Competition Act 2002 or, if relevant, Article 101 or Article 102 has occurred.

EU Directive 2019/1 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018, to empower the competition authorities of the member states to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, was published in the EU's Official Journal on 14 January 2019. The directive, known as the ECN+ directive, must be transposed by 4 February 2021. It will give the CCPC additional enforcement powers and will herald the introduction of non-criminal fines for breaches of EU competition law.

I am also aware that the Law Reform Commission made recommendations for additional powers for regulatory bodies in its report on regulatory powers and corporate offences in November 2018. We are considering the recommendations of this report, including those related to administrative financial sanctions, in the context of the transposition of the ECN+ directive.

I believe it will be necessary to transpose the directive by primary legislation, given the necessity of the introduction of a new system of financial sanctions for non-criminal breaches of EU law.

I emphasise that further additional powers are under consideration alongside the transposition of the directive. The transposition of the directive will result in the strengthening of the tools at the disposal of the CCPC for future competition law enforcement in Ireland.

The Cost of Doing Business in Ireland report has some findings that need to be addressed soon. The Minister of State referred to legislation coming into effect in 2021 but more urgency is required. To give an example, the report states that Ireland is the fifth most expensive economy of all 28 EU countries. Our prices are generally 13% above the EU average. Delving into some of the various sectors, we have some of the highest childcare costs in Europe and a lack of competition in beef processing, for example. The CCPC has been asked to investigate that. We have also had umpteen discussions here concerning high costs in the insurance industry and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has published a report on the issue. Regarding construction costs for commercial building, only London is more expensive than Dublin. We are a very costly economy across a whole plethora of activities and ordinary citizens have to bear those costs.

We agree the CCPC needs more powers. Up to now in civil cases, all the CCPC could do was fine bodies for infractions. I refer in particular to companies in a dominant position. The only power the CCPC had involved getting an injunction in the courts to stop such behaviour. It had no powers to impose fines and we are conscious the CCPC needs that power as well as the ability to enforce clawbacks. I have worked with Deputy Broughan before. He knows preparation for legislation can be complex.

We have until February 2021 to do this and I guarantee that the legislation will be in place before then. There will be an opportunity for people to look at all options in respect of this legislation. It is important to point that out. Primary legislation is the best way forward. We saw how it worked well for the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and that was something that came from Europe as well. This is the best way to look at this issue. We must have robust legislation in this area and we need to prepare well to bring in such legislation. That is why it is going to take considerable time. The Oireachtas will, however, have an opportunity to comment and work on the legislation.

I and various other Deputies have spoken about being Brexit-ready. Is it not critical that we control costs in the context of a post-Brexit economy? The Minister of State will, I am sure, agree that costs matter. His colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and others were looking at the role the courts may play in respect of insurance costs and other kinds of costs. In the case of business expenses, I have again heard remarks made on all sides of the House regarding interest rates and why our membership of the European Union cannot benefit us in the financial sector. Why do businesses and families have to pay such higher rates here, particularly in areas such as insurance and energy costs? I refer to all the areas affecting businesses and households. People feel we should go about tackling this legislation for the CCPC and implement it as urgently as possible.

I thank Deputy Broughan again for raising this matter. It is, of course, of primary importance to the Government that the costs of doing business here are kept down. It is important for Ireland to be competitive, especially in the context of an approaching Brexit. That is why we have brought in a number of initiatives, in particular in respect of Brexit, such as low-cost loans. The Deputy rightly pointed out the issue of insurance costs, which has been raised frequently in the House. Much work is being done on this issue by the Government. We will have seen today that the European Commission will be carrying out a further investigation. I and the Government will not be commenting on that for the moment because the European Commission is independent. All this means that it is important in the extreme for Ireland, and all our businesses, to be competitive. We must bring costs down as much as possible to make that happen. That is why we are giving the CCPC these extra powers to bring us on a par with our European partners.

I want to accommodate Deputy Durkan, so I call Deputy Quinlivan.

I think much work will be done and Deputy Broughan will have an input into that.

Members are losing out because Ministers and others are going on too long. I ask Deputy Quinlivan to forfeit the 30-second introduction to his question and I ask the Minister to respond immediately.

Ticket Touting

Maurice Quinlivan


52. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the reason no legislation to tackle the issue of ticket touting has progressed through Dáil Éireann; if she will honour the commitment given to an organisation (details supplied) regarding having ticket touting legislation in place for the Euro 2020 games to be held here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20602/19]

As I indicated in a recent reply to the Deputy, my Department is currently working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, OPC, on the preparation of amendments to the Prohibition of Above-cost Ticket Touting Bill 2017. While good progress is being made on these amendments and it is my aim to finalise them as soon as possible, it is not possible to provide a precise timeframe for their completion. I would very much like to see the Bill progress more quickly, but this has not been possible for a number of reasons. As the Deputy will be aware, the OPC had to prioritise Brexit-related legislation in the first quarter of this year.

A case submitted to the Court of Justice of the European Free Trade Association, EFTA, States, or EFTA Court, earlier this year raised issues regarding the compatibility with EU law of the prohibition on unauthorised ticket resale in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006. Given the potential implications of the case for our proposed legislation, the Government decided that Ireland should submit written observations to the court and the preparation of these observations required a considerable commitment of time by the officials dealing with the Bill.

During the trilogue negotiations on a proposed directive on the better enforcement and modernisation of EU consumer protection legislation, agreement was reached on an amendment from the European Parliament prohibiting the sale of tickets acquired through the use of bot software. As one of the amendments to the ticket touting Bill approved by Government related to the use of bots to purchase tickets, the examination of, and discussions on, this provision also took up a considerable amount of time. As its adoption could have constrained our ability to introduce domestic legislation on ticket resale, I am glad to be able to report that, along with a number of other member states, we were successful in having a provision included in the directive which recognises the right of member states to introduce additional national measures, including measures regulating the resale price of tickets.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As I also indicated, it will be necessary to submit the amended Bill to the European Commission in accordance with Directive (EU) 2015/1535 on the procedure for the provision of information on technical regulations and rules on information society services. The directive requires member states to postpone the adoption of legislation within its scope for three months from the date of its submission to the Commission.

I intend to honour the commitment given to the organisation referred to in the details submitted by the Deputy. Officials of my Department have been in contact with that organisation regarding the timeframe for the enactment of provisions relating to the sale of tickets for the Euro 2020 championship. The organisation has indicated that it is satisfied with the proposed timeframe.

Deputy Quinlivan has one supplementary question. I ask him to make the best of it.

The Minister is not dealing with the issue. This has now turned into something bigger than it should have been. I presented a Bill to the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation this time last year. We went through that but the Government decided to block it. It would not issue a money message. The Minister has dragged her feet on the issue and, as a result, consumers are being ripped off. She is now responsible for that. Ticket touting has been raised in this House for decades. Deputy Naughten introduced the first Bill in the 1990s. It is utter madness that this has been going for more than 20 years and we are still here talking about the issue due to the inaction of the Government. It is really frustrating for people. When she was introducing the other Bill in this area, the Minister stated that significant amendments would be needed. Will that Bill be ready and in place for those Euro 2020 games Ireland will be hosting? The Minister told us previously that she would be making substantial amendments to that Bill. When can we get sight of those? Will she outline what those amendments are going to be? We have not seen anything yet.

I am committed to progressing this Bill. It is an important issue for consumers and fans. As I stated previously, I do not want to see them getting ripped off anymore. There have been delays in drafting the amendments because the drafting of Brexit-related legislation had to take priority. The Deputy will understand why that is the case. While this is an important issue for fans, I am sure Deputy Quinlivan will agree that Brexit legislation had to take precedence. Regardless of who takes the Bill forward, we are required to submit the Bill to the European Commission. There is absolutely no way around that. It is easy to throw something together for a Private Members' Bill but legislation has to be properly drafted and it needs to be able to stand up to legal scrutiny. The Government cannot enact flawed legislation. If it was easy and straightforward, this would have been done a long time ago. As I stated, I am absolutely committed to progressing this legislation and UEFA has indicated that it will be satisfied, provided it is enacted by the end of this year. I look forward to the co-operation of the House to get the legislation passed whenever it is drafted.

Project Ireland 2040

Bernard Durkan


53. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when the next round of the Project Ireland 2040 disruptive technologies innovation fund will open for applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20581/19]

I am anxious to facilitate Deputy Durkan. I ask him to forfeit his 30 seconds.

I ask the Minister to begin her response. All of it will be in the Official Record. There will be a short supplementary question.

My Department launched the €500 million disruptive technologies innovation fund in June 2018. Information on the fund and how to apply was provided by my Department with the support of Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI. Expressions of interest were sought for funding commencing in 2019.

In December 2018, I was delighted to announce the 27 projects that were approved in principle for funding under the first call for proposals.

Each project is a collaborative partnership to develop, deploy and commercialise disruptive technologies to transform business and each is focused on industrial research.

These projects can be funded for up to three years and will ultimately create the jobs of the future. These projects, representing the health, food, ICT and manufacturing sectors in Ireland, will receive over €70 million in Government funding between now and 2021. That they involve partners right across the country shows that excellence in collaborative research, development and innovation transcends county borders and that every part of Ireland is capable of participation in one of the most unique funds Ireland has developed. In fact, 18 of the successful projects involve partners based outside the capital. The projects, all of which are required to include at least one SME, are co-funded by the enterprise partners in each consortium.

The disruptive technologies innovation fund is a competitive offer and all applications for funding under this first call were subject to the same assessment and selection criteria with an international panel scoring the eligible proposals to assist us in our deliberations.

It is my intention that a second call for proposals will issue in June.

Does the Minister remain satisfied that the process is working well and to the advantage of Irish business? Can she give an indication of when the next tranche might be launched?

I hope to launch the next tranche in June. The projects which have been funded to date have been very successful. For example, I was at the Tyndall research centre only two weeks ago where I saw that a hand-held MRI machine was in development. That is something for the future. I also saw a tiny camera. It was smaller even than the head of a pin. The project will allow cameras to enter the body to look at the heart. What is going on out there is amazing, including in the area of photonics. It is important to make the public aware of these projects. For example, a needle has been developed which administers an injection painlessly. I said it would be very useful for the dentist's office. There is a great deal of excitement around what is happening in technology in Ireland. Over €1 billion worth of applications for the disruptive technology came forward and we made a point of writing back to every applicant to explain where their applications may have failed and whether there was any other funding on which the applicants could draw. We want to capture and maintain that real interest in new technology.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.