Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Personal Injuries Commission

Robert Troy

Question:

6. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the timeline for implementation of each of the 14 recommendations made by the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC, with regard to personal injury awards. [41110/19]

The cost of insurance is crippling small businesses. It is causing some of them to close down. The response from the Government to date has been lethargic, to say the least. I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to outline to the House the level of priority that is being given to the implementation of the PIC's 14 recommendations by the Government as a whole and, in particular, by him in light of his responsibilities. We must ensure we tackle these runaway costs in a way that results in reduced premiums and sustains the viability of businesses into the future.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I are conscious of the serious impact of high insurance costs on businesses. It is important that consumers and businesses can obtain insurance cover at a reasonable and fair price. Apart from motor insurance, which falls under the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, policy responsibility for insurance is a matter for the Minister for Finance. We have no direct policy responsibility for insurance. Officials from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and other Departments and agencies, including the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which falls under our remit, are members of the cost of insurance working group, which is chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for financial services, Deputy D'Arcy.

The work of the group is complemented by the work of the PIC. We were pleased to submit the commission's second and final report to the Government on 18 September 2018. The publication of this report concluded the commission's challenging work programme since its establishment in January 2017 on foot of a recommendation in the working group's report on motor insurance. The first report of the commission, which was published in December 2017, made four recommendations, two of which are ongoing and one of which is partially complete. The final recommendation, which relates to the Book of Quantum, has been superseded by the commission's recommendation that the Minister for Justice and Equality should ask the judicial council, when it has been established, to compile judicial guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury.

The second and final report made a further ten recommendations. While they are not timebound, we expect they will be implemented by the relevant bodies as soon as possible. Following the publication of this report, we wrote to relevant Government colleagues and organisations to look for co-operation in advancing the implementation of the recommendations that are relevant to them. Progress on the implementation of the recommendations is reported on through the cost of insurance working group progress reports, the most recent of which was published in July 2019. Four of the commission's recommendations relate directly to recommendations in the reports. Of the remaining six, one is complete and two relate to the development of judicial guidelines. These recommendations, along with the remaining three recommendations, are under consideration by the relevant organisations.

The passage of the Judicial Council Bill through the Houses of the Oireachtas in July 2019 provides for the establishment of the personal injuries guidelines committee, whose function will be to develop the relevant personal injury guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. We believe that the cumulative effects of the implementation of the recommendations from the two reports of the personal injuries commission, along with the reports of the cost of insurance working group, should bring greater consistency and predictability-----

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

-----to awards, faster resolution of claims and ultimately, a reduction in insurance premiums. This will benefit consumers, businesses and society as a whole.

We all know that the cost of personal injury awards is totally out of sync in Ireland. A recent report showed that the average award for minor tissue whiplash injury is €17,338 in Ireland, whereas they are €3,798 in the UK. In Australia, one is unlikely to qualify for compensation. In Sweden, less severe whiplash and injuries do not receive compensation.

This week I was contacted by someone in the hospitality sector. The person's insurance has increased from €41,000 to €105,000. He is genuinely considering closing the doors, with the loss of 31 jobs. A report which is actionable and has no timeline for when those actions are to be taken is, quite simply, pathetic. The Government as a whole has responsibility to tackle this industry.

I have a number of questions. When will the Judicial Council be established by the Government? Who will compile the guidelines for general damages relating to personal injuries? Why did it take the Government until August this year to request that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, undertake a study on how the public liability insurance market operates? When will the findings of that study be published?

I agree with Deputy Troy about the cost of insurance for businesses and drivers. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I heard all of the stories from businesses around the country during our travels. It is a major issue.

Deputy Troy asked about the Judicial Council. The Act is now law and we expect the council to be established by the end of 2019. As the Deputy knows, the Bill was passed in July and will establish the Personal Injuries Commission. While the Government cannot interfere with its deliberations, I hope the Judiciary will understand the importance of the issue and prioritise it.

It is important that we bring down the cost of insurance and that there is greater consistency and predictability of awards. A faster resolution of claims and, ultimately, a reduction in insurance premiums are key for us as we drive forward. That is why this will benefit consumers and society as a whole. The work must carry on and the Judicial Council will be an important template for the reduction in insurance costs.

Hearing stories and taking action are two different things. The Minister of State used words like "hope", "envisage" and "anticipate", but he has provided no clear timelines for when real and meaningful change will take place that will result in a reduction in the cost of premiums and in the number of businesses closing down. The Government has yet to establish a national claims information database, tackle insurance fraud - there are no significant penalties for fraudsters - establish the Judicial Council to compile guidelines for general damages, establish a publicly funded anti-fraud unit in An Garda Síochána, set up a business insurance premium index to track prices over time or take any action on stabilising personal injuries claims. I accept that not all of these matters are the responsibility of the Minister of State; in fact, they are the responsibility of other Departments. However, we need a whole-of-government response to this issue ,which is killing businesses. I again ask why it took the Department until August of this year to request that the CCPC undertake a study? When will it be published? For God's sake, please work to tighter timeframes.

The study will be published as soon as possible. The CCPC has received extra resources.

On the other issues the Deputy mentioned, we have published guidelines for the reporting of allegations of fraud, including insurance crimes, for An Garda Síochána. A new insurance fraud category in the Garda PULSE system has been live since November 2018. The Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and Insurance Ireland's anti-fraud forum meet on a regular basis to discuss and act upon current and ongoing issues. The Central Bank Act 2018 commenced on 28 January 2019. The availability of information collected under the legislation allows policymakers to have a better understanding of the factors which influence the cost of insurance. A lot is happening. There is a whole-of-government approach.

The recommendation is that if people shop around, they will find cheaper insurance is available. I am constantly speaking to people. There are significant discrepancies in the cost of insurance. It is an issue on which we are working in order to ensure that we bring down the cost of premiums.

Last Saturday I received a telephone call from a business person who employs 106 people in the hospitality sector, comprising a supermarket and small play area for children, in a rural town in Ireland. Last year his insurance cost €19,000, with an excess of €500 for any claim. This year it is €49,000 and the excess has increased to €20,000 for a claim. People are at their wits' end. If this continues, businesses such as this will close. We have been talking about this for the past three and half years. The time has come for the Government or someone else to step in and reduce the cost of premiums.

We have heard today of a claim taken by the parents of a young child who fell in a crèche and was awarded €32,000. The crèche concerned will be lucky to survive. The Minister of State mentioned getting quotes from other companies. If one is dealing with a broker, when it requests a quote for a company nobody else can touch it until the broker gets back to the business concerned.

The study is being investigated by the CCPC. We are working extremely hard on a whole-of-government approach to ensure that the cost of insurance is reduced to affordable levels for companies. We are all aware of the stories the Deputy has told - I have heard them on a regular basis. It is very difficult for companies to survive, but we are working to address the issue. When the new Personal Injuries Commission comes into place it will make a big difference. We have advertised for people to be part of it and it will happen before the end of the year.

IDA Ireland Site Visits

Robert Troy

Question:

7. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the most recent update on regional IDA site visits per county and vacant IDA properties nationwide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41111/19]

I ask the Minister to provide the House with the most recent update on regional IDA visits per county and the number of vacant IDA properties which are available nationwide. What actions are being taken to try to attract business into these vacant IDA properties? What concrete actions are being taken to attract businesses to regions which currently do not have foreign direct investment.?

Regional development remains a key priority for me and my Department. We understand the importance of achieving the best possible spread of employment and investment across the country, and my Department and its agencies have been working hard towards that goal. That will remain the case in 2020 and beyond. It is, therefore, highly positive that significant progress has already been made towards that objective. For example, 58% of all IDA client-supported employment is now situated outside of Dublin. This figure represents the highest level of regional employment in the history of the agency and reflects the significant energy and resources invested into supporting regional development. We will be seeking to increase that number again in 2020.

As I have previously made clear, the availability of marketable serviced land and buildings in advance of demand is a key element in the IDA's ability to compete for mobile foreign direct investment. Not only does such a supply of properties help the agency to secure high quality jobs but it also allows projects to begin at an earlier date by diminishing difficulties associated with land acquisition, planning and construction. It therefore remains an important means by which the IDA can encourage and attract new investors to regional Ireland. If such properties were not available to potential investors, it would decrease the likelihood that regional areas would be selected by overseas firms ahead of urban locations.

The IDA currently owns 27 properties across Ireland. Of these, 14 are occupied by agency clients with the remainder available for prospective or existing clients.

As regards site visits, they do remain an important means by which the IDA can showcase regional locations to prospective investors. At the same time, we must recognise that the final decision as to where to invest always rests with the firm concerned. It is also the case, no matter what efforts we make to underline the undoubted benefits of regional locations, that certain overseas companies will only consider investing in larger urban areas for various commercial or operational reasons.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Details on the number of site visits to individual counties, from 2018 until the second quarter of this year, are set out in the table. Information on site visits in quarter three of 2019 are not yet available.

County     

2018      

Q1 and Q2 2019  

Carlow

8

6

Cavan

2

4

Clare

13

17

Cork    

61

40

Donegal    

8

2

Dublin

269

146

Galway    

54

26

Kerry

10

2

Kildare

8

4

Kilkenny

5

7

Laois

10

3

Leitrim    

6

1

Limerick

35

34

Longford

5

1

Louth    

20

19

Mayo    

10

2

Meath    

6

2

Monaghan  

3

2

Offaly

5

2

Roscommon

3

1

Sligo    

15

17

Tipperary

5

5

Waterford

21

11

Westmeath  

22

11

Wexford

3

2

Wicklow

1

5

Total

607

372  

I do not doubt the Minister's personal commitment to regional development. She is from a Border county herself and understands first-hand the importance of regional development. When she talks about 58% of IDA visits being outside Dublin, she does not take out Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, along with the bigger urban areas, after which the figures are very different. IDA visits to regional areas are down to about 20%. I do not think that is good enough. I think there is still overconcentration on the larger urban areas. Being parochial, the IDA park in Marlinstown in Mullingar is a state of the art business park. It is 80 km, or 50 minutes, from Dublin city, port and airport. That lies vacant. We need to accelerate our efforts to attract inward investment to the regions so that we can ensure that people have an alternative-----

I call the Minister.

-----apart from getting into a car and spending an hour or an hour and a half commuting to work.

IDA Ireland had a record year last year and its half-year results this year are outstanding. More than 132,000 people are employed in 681 IDA client companies located outside Dublin. Some 56% of all new foreign direct investment jobs created last year were based in regional locations. I will give Deputy Troy some data on his own county. There are 21 IDA client companies in County Westmeath, employing 3,466 people. That represents an increase of 16% over last year, with 493 new jobs added. In 2009, when Fianna Fáil was in government, there were 1,983 people employed in IDA companies in Westmeath. That figure has nearly doubled by today, due to the policies and focus this Government is putting on job creation in the regions. In July 2018, Neueda Technologies, a privately owned IT training, development and consulting services company, headquartered in Belfast, announced plans to establish a software engineering hub in Athlone, County Westmeath, employing 200 staff over four years. There are a number of different companies involved. There are six IDA client companies based in County Longford, employing 900 people.

I thank the Minister.

County Longford has seen a 20% increase in IDA client supported job creation in 2018.

I call Deputy Troy. Please try to adhere to the time.

I forgot to mention Center Parcs.

Oh god. The last man who claimed Center Parcs is no longer a Member of this House.

I am talking about creating jobs in Center Parcs.

The Minister has to be careful of what she tries to claim.

I am not claiming anything.

The fact of the matter is that attracting foreign direct investment is not just a hallmark of this Government but also of previous Governments. The 12.5% corporation tax is a unique asset for attracting foreign direct investment, but there are areas which are not benefiting. Athlone is doing quite well and we welcome that. It is lucky to have the Athlone Institute of Technology, a magnet to attract foreign direct investment towards the area. I cited the example of Mullingar Business Park, which was purchased by the IDA and predominantly lies empty. What will the Minister do for it? The IDA team does great work and no one detracts from that but there are areas which are blackspots and they need to be addressed. Some 93 out of 300 IDA properties remain vacant and that needs to be addressed.

I call the Minister.

I want to highlight that the Minister needs to address that.

The Deputy's colleagues are waiting.

Every part of this island and every region deserves a fair crack of the whip.

The spokespersons and the Minister have no right to continue and to take up an extra minute every time. There are others here. Everybody has the same entitlement.

IDA Ireland has been doing wonderful work. It certainly has a strong focus on the regions. There are of course areas where we want to see improvement. We launched the regional enterprise development plans to identify the positives and build on them, but also to identify the gaps and how to improve where we need to improve. That is why we have €60 million in the regional enterprise development fund that is currently being spent right across the country. Site visits are only one part of it but if a place does not have something to show IDA, it will struggle to get visits. IDA had the best year in 17 years for regional job creation. More people are employed in the regions than ever before. IDA works to try to get companies out of the city. The city is an attractive place for companies because there is clustering and a pool of talent. I do not agree that we have not had significant improvements in regional job creation, because we have.

Regional Enterprise Development Fund

Martin Heydon

Question:

8. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when successful projects under the 2019 regional enterprise development fund will be announced; if shovel ready projects will be prioritised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41114/19]

When does the Minister expect to be in a position to make announcements about the 2019 regional enterprise development fund? Will shovel-ready projects be prioritised? The Minister will be aware of the importance I place on the very exciting project that we are developing in Kildare, the Athy food, drinks and skills hub. The Minister came to visit the launch at the Athy Model School. It is a co-working zone, a flagship project for the County Kildare Community Network and a very exciting project for south Kildare.

My Department's regional enterprise development fund, REDF, is a competitive fund. It has been introduced to co-finance the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative enterprise projects that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the regions to help to sustain and add to employment at county, regional and national level. The scheme is also aimed at supporting the development of initiatives that help to strengthen the capacity of regions to adjust and cope with the potential effects of external economic changes that may impact on a region's or sector's performance. The fund, administered on my Department's behalf by Enterprise Ireland, complements in particular the work underway by regional stakeholders all around the country in the implementation of my Department's regional enterprise plans, and more generally, the objectives of Future Jobs Ireland and Project Ireland 2040.

Under the REDF to date, just less than €60 million in total funding has been approved across 42 collaborative projects over two completed calls in 2017 and 2018. Projects have been supported in every region. On 24 June 2019, I announced a further call of €45 million, which is call 3 of the regional enterprise development fund. This call continues to support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects. The third call closed on 25 September 2019 and I intend for the successful projects to be announced before the end of the year. As part of the competitive evaluation of projects, proposals that are ready to be implemented will be prioritised. Call 3 of the REDF has sought projects under three streams: strategic change projects capable of attracting funding of up to €5 million; smaller scale regional strengthening projects that may attract from €100,000 to €500,000; and industry-led enterprise clustering initiatives that can attract funding of €50,000 to €350,000.

I thank the Minister for her reply. It is good to know that there will be a decision on the fund by the end of the year. Obviously, I will make my pitch for Athy. The Minister has been in south Kildare several times. The first time she came to see the employment challenges we face was when we had the negative news of Coca-Cola pulling out of Athy. County Kildare Community Network, with the support of Coca-Cola which wanted to leave behind a lasting legacy in Athy, have put a €500,000 commitment towards this project. It will address the employment void in the area and the lack of food incubation space in the county. The development of the Athy food skills hub has been done in collaboration with Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board, Maynooth University and the Institute of Technology, Carlow. We want to address issues of youth and long-term unemployment in the area, as well as supporting interns to stay and work in the area, industry employees in need of upskilling and the farming community. South Kildare has a vibrant and strong rural community, which wants to add value to its agrifood product. We have the AgTech fund for entrepreneurs, as well as Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland clients wishing to relocate to the area, along with commuters, because it is an accessible part of the country. These are key benefits of this project for the area.

I was delighted to visit Athy with the Deputy several months ago. Prior to that, I was there at the time, unfortunately, the Coca-Cola plant reduced its staff there.

I was down there recently for the launch of the Athy food hub project. I saw at first hand the plans to convert the historical old model school building into a food innovation hub. It is a great project supported by Kildare County Council. I know Coca-Cola has made a significant financial contribution towards the project. It will be a fantastic asset for Athy. It is exactly the sort of project the Government should support. It will bring a historic landmark building back into productive use. The Athy project is ready to go. As part of the scheme's criteria, I specifically asked Enterprise Ireland, which will assess these projects, to prioritise shovel-ready projects. It is a competitive process and Enterprise Ireland will assess all the applications. I plan to make announcements at the end of the year.

I am glad the Minister recognises this project is shovel-ready. We are ready to spend any money the Government can give us in south Kildare. The model school and Athy food hub project is an exciting project in that regard.

I acknowledge the role played by Kildare County Council by putting €2.5 million of its own money, as well as gifting the building of the model school. It needs much work but it is a fantastic process. Jacqui McNabb in the Kildare local enterprise office has done huge work on this application. It has identified 60 zones to be strategic economic drivers for our area.

Driver No. 1 is a skills hub with a 16-station learning and demonstration kitchen to be completed as part of a learning and nurturing environment. A key component of the mid-east regional plan is that it involves the likes of the Boyne Valley food hub for collaboration and its expertise. Driver No. 2 is the timeshare incubator kitchen for culinary entrepreneurs in the area. Driver No. 3 is high specification food production units and commercial kitchens. We have the AgTech start-up accelerator hub for entrepreneurs in the area. This draws on the good local rural area. There will be a co-working zone and a community food discovery centre employing business development managers and food specialists. This is an exciting project which I hope we can support.

Much work is going on in Kildare County Council. Jacqui McNabb in the Kildare local enterprise office is supportive of this project and has done much work on it. What is good about this project is collaboration. That is what we are trying to encourage across the country. It is collaboration between the local enterprise office, the local education providers, the local authorities and industry. When that comes together, that strengthens these kinds of applications.

I never saw a good application yet that did not get funding. This is independently assessed by experts in Enterprise Ireland. I will be announcing them by the end of the year.

Given the record in the mid-east for funding, I am sure south Kildare will do well again. It got €3.497 million in the past two rounds, while the Boyne Valley food innovation district got €1.5 million.

Brexit Supports

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to introduce additional measures to assist small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, in the Border region to deal with the adverse impacts of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41084/19]

Brendan Smith

Question:

10. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to introduce specific programmes to assist small and medium-sized enterprises in the Border region, which are heavily dependent on Britain as an export market, to deal with the adverse impacts of Brexit and help protect employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41085/19]

We have discussed previously the adverse impacts Brexit, be it no-deal or otherwise, will have on our particular economy in the Border region. As the Minister knows, our economy is interdependent with our neighbours in Northern Ireland. The sectors critically important to our local economy in Cavan and Monaghan are equally important in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh.

I welcome the funding provided in the budget for a no-deal Brexit. As my colleague, Deputy Troy, said earlier, we want to know the details of how this will be shared between equity loans or grants. Will the Minister ensure the sectors most vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit are given particular attention and a specific scheme of grant aid?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 10 together.

Since 2016, my Department has worked with the enterprise development agencies, businesses and representative bodies to ensure we have the appropriate mix of supports for businesses to prepare and manage through whatever Brexit we may face over the coming period.

The most immediate consequences of a hard Brexit are likely to be currency movements, supply chain constraints, delays, duties and tariffs. In the first instance, this will put a strain on the working capital position of businesses. I am progressing legislation to increase the amount which Microfinance Ireland can lend from €25,000 up to €50,000, which increases support to any microenterprise employing ten workers or fewer. This is open to everyone from hairdressers to hauliers. This will support an additional 1,000 enterprises with short-term loans.

For higher working capital challenges, the €300 million Brexit loan scheme provides loans of up to €1.5 million at a rate of 4% or less and approval is valid for four months. I advise businesses to secure approval now to be ready for any scenario. The overdraft facility can be in place but will only be paid for when it is used.

For longer-term loan requirements, the future growth loan scheme is another €300 million for investment by SMEs, primary agriculture and seafood business. Both Government schemes are administered by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and delivered through the banks.

The joint Skillnet and Enterprise Ireland clear customs scheme was launched on 7 August to help customs agents, intermediaries and affected Irish businesses deal with additional customs requirements. This is a free customs training programme delivered nationwide by Skillnet, coupled with €3 million funding that I allocated to Enterprise Ireland for a support payment of up to €6,000 per employee to help with extra costs to manage customs compliance. Two weeks ago, I saw first-hand one of these courses in Cavan.

The large suite of supports available also include the Brexit scorecard, grant aid, consultancy, mentoring, advisory clinics, agile innovation fund, operational excellence offer and market discovery fund. These supports help companies consider various risks such as supply chain vulnerabilities and act to mitigate against them. All of these supports are critical for businesses in the highly vulnerable Border areas and for exporters who are heavily exposed to the UK market in sectors such as construction, engineering and food.

I recently collaborated with the accountancy bodies on four Brexit briefing events between July and September, covering several counties in the Border regions that are likely to be most impacted by Brexit. The events took place in July in Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal and in September in Louth with over 500 people in attendance. These Brexit events covered a broad range of important topics to help businesses prepare for Brexit such as supply chain, cashflow and accreditation. The events provided an opportunity for me to speak directly to companies impacted by Brexit in the Border region.

I acknowledge Deputy Brendan Smith’s work on Brexit as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. I am from the Clones area and Deputy Brendan Smith’s home is not far from Belturbet, Bawnboy and Ballyconnell, towns which bore the brunt of the Troubles when a hard border was in place. We do not want to go back to those days. That is why everything the Government is doing is focused on ensuring we do not have a hard border on this island. In recent months, Deputy Brendan Smith has brought delegations and parliamentarians to the Border region to highlight the impact Brexit would have.

It is important to acknowledge that the joined-up approach to Brexit we have seen to date in this Parliament is in stark contrast to what we have seen at Westminster.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to ensure smaller enterprises will receive support. It is very important that these enterprises have the capacity and capability to draw down whatever support is necessary. When programmes of assistance are available, often it is the most needy who are not in a position to draw down that support. It is extremely important that we address that issue.

In the context of Mr. Johnson's proposals, Manufacturing Northern Ireland made the point recently that 99% of manufacturing businesses in Northern Ireland were small and medium enterprises. Only 1% of manufacturing businesses in Northern Ireland are large. As the economy of the Border counties is similar, it is extremely important that assistance be targeted at small and medium enterprises.

I mentioned, as did the Minister, the importance of the agrifood sector, the construction products sector, engineering and tourism to the Border economy. The economies are inter-dependent. The message must be got across both to the Northern Ireland and British authorities and within the agencies in this state that we need businesses, North and South, working together. The companies in Clones or Ballyconnell that export to Fermanagh, Tyrone or Armagh do not regard it as an export but as local trade. We have to factor in to all decision-making the inter-dependence of the economies, North and South.

The Deputy is absolutely right. Nobody knows better than he and I do the links between businesses north and south of the Border. That is the reason I allocated additional funding in budget 2019 to InterTradeIreland, which has planning vouchers worth up to €2,250 of which companies can avail easily to help them to employ somebody to identify and mitigate the risks presented by Brexit. As part of the €110 million Brexit package announcement yesterday, a further €2 million will be allocated to InterTradeIreland because the Deputy and I both know that people losing their jobs north of the Border can mean people losing theirs south of the Border and vice versa. That is the reason we need joined-up thinking and InterTradeIreland has been doing great work. Even though there is no Executive in Northern Ireland - matching funding is normally provided - once again we stepped up to the mark and are providing InterTradeIreland with the additional funding it will need to ensure all support possible will be given to businesses in the Border region because I know that we are very exposed owing to our geographical location close to the Border with Northern Ireland.

I thank the Minister. The absence of the Assembly and the Executive in Northern Ireland is deplorable at this time when the North-South Ministerial Council should be meeting and preparing an all-Ireland approach to Brexit. Unfortunately, that is the position. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that there is good and active co-operation between the authorities here and Northern Ireland Departments and agencies? I am sure business people from Fermanagh and Tyrone speak to the Minister, as they do to me, about their concerns regarding a non-functioning Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland. They are anxious that there be the utmost co-operation between the authorities here and in Northern Ireland to ensure the concerns of businesses, North and South, will be addressed and that the inter-dependence of businesses will be kept on the agenda at all times.

The Deputy is absolutely right. There is contact at official level between my Department and officials in the Department in Northern Ireland on the question of how we can co-operate. We want to make sure we can assist in every way possible because Brexit will throw up many challenges. Obviously, there is co-operation on a governmental basis also. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, visits the North on a regular basis. I take any opportunity I get to travel to the North, as I know the Deputy does also. I have spoken on a number of occasions to the Confederation of British Industry and outlined what we are doing here. On one of those occasions it told me that it was very pleased to hear what was happening here because it is looking to the Dublin Government to find out the next steps to be taken. Brexit will be catastrophic for businesses in Northern Ireland if they cannot have their goods exported south of the Border without tariffs and checks. We want the position to remain as it is. It is so important that the free movement of people and goods continue. In terms of the agreement, the common travel area is protected. It is important that people know that they can travel seamlessly across the Border.

Question No. 11 in the name of Deputy Burke will be taken by Deputy McLoughlin.

Job Creation

Peter Burke

Question:

11. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps the enterprise agencies are taking to support job creation in counties Westmeath and Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41007/19]

Unfortunately, Deputy Burke cannot be here. He has asked me to ask the Minister about the steps enterprise agencies are taking to support job creation in counties Westmeath and Longford and to make a statement on the matter. I have a similar question, No. 14, in respect of the position in County Sligo.

The Deputy has to look after his home turf.

My Department and its agencies are working towards ambitious targets to support job creation, while ensuring employment and investment are distributed as evenly as possible across the country, thus ensuring every region can achieve its potential. Counties Longford and Westmeath have experienced significant growth in both employment and investment in recent years, with 19,400 more people in employment in the midlands from Q1 in 2015 to Q2 in 2019.

In February this year I launched a new Midlands regional enterprise plan to 2020 to cover counties Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath. It builds on the success of the previous midlands action plan for jobs by setting out a number of strategic objectives aimed at realising the enterprise and jobs potential in the midlands region. The enterprise agencies within my remit play a key role in achieving these objectives, with a comprehensive range of supports provided for companies by Enterprise Ireland, the local enterprise offices and IDA Ireland.

In Deputy McLoughlin's region, as Minister, I have made regional enterprise development one of my key priorities. That is why I led the development of the regional enterprise plans, which are enterprise focused strategies that are the result of a refresh and refocus of the regional action plans for jobs to ensure their relevance and impact to 2020. The refreshed north-west regional enterprise plan to 2020 was launched on 25 February 2019.

In 2018 companies supported by Enterprise Ireland in Sligo employed 1,917 people, a 7% increase on the 2017 employment figure. Enterprise Ireland is actively working with companies in Sligo with global ambitions to drive competitiveness, innovation and market diversification. In 2018 there were record growth levels in employment in every region which saw 61% of employment growth occurring outside Dublin, bringing total employment in Enterprise Ireland-supported companies in the regions to 64%, another record high.

Enterprise Ireland also works with the institutes of technology to support entrepreneurship in the regions. A total of seven new companies in IT Sligo recently participated in the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme. It is expected that they will progress to either Enterprise Ireland or local enterprise offices for further support and development.

I thank the Minister. I acknowledge the reply to Deputy Burke's question, but I want to highlight the wonderful work done by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in my area and that of the Minister who has been in Sligo on numerous occasions. The most recent occasion was to announce jobs in Sligo and surrounding areas. We have been very successful in that regard. There has been a good team effort on the part of Sligo County Council, IT Sligo - the Minister recently mentioned the work being done in it - and the chambers of commerce in the region. I also acknowledge the wonderful work being done by Mr. John Nugent, regional manager, and Carole Brenan in Enterprise Ireland. They are the people who are assisting and working extremely hard to create jobs in Sligo and surrounding areas. The Minister might like to make a statement on it.

We spoke earlier about the unique position of County Westmeath in attracting foreign direct investment.

Thankfully, we have the M4 and the M6 and a good educational institution. I ask the Minister to keep the black spot of Mullingar on her radar. The 68-acre IDA Ireland Business and Technology Park in Mullingar was purchased over ten years ago, yet there is still only one business located in it. There is a huge opportunity in the area owing to its proximity to Dublin and access to a quality workforce. However, the Government needs to make an extra effort to prioritise it for foreign direct investment.

I am particularly familiar with that business park because Deputy Burke had me visit the site. I will make sure IDA Ireland takes the Deputy's points into consideration when arranging site visits.

I refer to Deputy McLoughlin's question. All politics is local. A landing space was opened in Sligo in November 2018 through a partnership between IDA Ireland, IT Sligo and Sligo County Council. An open plan, turnkey office space has been provided in Sligo for companies that wish to quickly and effectively establish operations in the north-west region. County Sligo has also benefited from IDA Ireland's regional property programme through the construction of an advanced technology building in 2017. The facility was leased to Abbott which led to the creation of valuable new jobs in the area.

That is wonderful news, for which we are very thankful. As the Minister knows, a new site is being developed at Oakfield, where IDA Ireland has acquired quite an amount of land. New buildings, roads and everything else are being worked on. I appeal to the Minister to develop more jobs in the Sligo area because we now have the facilities and will have more in Oakfield in the near future. She has visited the site and I have highlighted the need for more jobs in the region.

I am aware of the wonderful facilities in Sligo. There are some fine facilities across the country thanks to investment in recent years. The regional enterprise development plan has identified these strengths and how we can build on them, while IDA Ireland takes account of all the spaces available. It is working closely with the local authorities and local enterprise offices in attracting investment into the regions. It is developing a new strategy. I can assure the Deputy that regional development will be one of its priorities in the new strategy.

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