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Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation debate -
Tuesday, 21 Mar 2017

ConnectIreland's 'Succeed in Ireland' Programme: Discussion

I remind members, visitors and those in the Visitors Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or left in flight mode for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when left in silent mode.

I welcome Mr. Richard Scannell and Ms Áine Maher from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the meeting to discuss ConnectIreland's Succeed in Ireland's programme.

Before we commence, in accordance with procedure, I am required to read out the following. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Before I invite our guests to address the committee I must highlight the following. Members have been advised that the witnesses are attending for the purpose of establishing facts and giving the committee a factual account of the matter, and that they cannot be required to offer an opinion on a matter of Government or ministerial policy. As Chair, it is my role to ensure that questions directed at the witnesses do not breach this principle. Members have also been advised that, if necessary, the witnesses will also be available when the delegation from ConnectIreland has finished making their contribution to provide any necessary clarification in so far as they are in a position to do so in terms of matters that are the responsibility of the Department.

I remind our guests that their presentations should be of no more than five minutes in duration. The presentations submitted by today's attendees have been circulated to members. I invite Mr. Richard Scannell to begin the presentations to the committee.

Mr. Richard Scannell

I thank the Chairman, Deputies and Senators, on behalf of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, for the invitation to speak here today about the Succeed in Ireland initiative.

Can I have a copy of Mr. Scannell's statement?

I thank the Chairman.

Does anyone else need a copy? No.

Mr. Richard Scannell

As the committee is aware the Minister is regrettably unable to be here this morning as she has to attend a Government meeting. Before setting out some information and details regarding the initiative, I will briefly introduce myself and my colleague, Ms Áine Maher. We are part of the inward investment team in the innovation and investment division of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. We work closely with IDA Ireland on issues, be they budgetary, administrative or financial, concerning the agency and more broadly on the implementation of effective foreign direct investment policy in Ireland. This includes the Succeed in Ireland initiative, which is the subject of the committee's deliberations today.

The Succeed in Ireland programme was borne out of the 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum. The concept behind the initiative was, in essence, to engage individual members of the Irish diaspora in helping to attract new foreign direct investment to Ireland in return for a financial award. The Government asked the IDA to oversee Succeed in Ireland, and following a tender in August 2011, ConnectIreland, a subsidiary of the Taxback Group, was appointed to implement the initiative. The programme was subsequently launched as part of the 2012 Action Plan for Jobs, with a target of creating 5,000 new employment positions in Ireland. It has been in operation since then and has contributed to the Government's efforts to win more foreign direct investment and jobs for the people of Ireland. According to the IDA, which is responsible for its oversight, 535 positions have been created through the initiative. As a financial reward is due in respect of each job that has been verified as having been created on the ground, ConnectIreland has received payments to date totalling €2.11 million from IDA Ireland. This figure does not include an additional €150,000 which ConnectIreland received from the IDA for marketing support. I should point out that the figure of 535, representing the total number of jobs created to date by the initiative, may yet increase. This is because jobs generated by approved projects under the programme will continue to be counted up until March 2020. Moreover, the verification process for any such jobs will continue to operate until March 2022.

As regards the conclusion of the contract underpinning the programme, it was originally due to end in March 2016. However, in advance of that date, ConnectIreland and the IDA agreed to extend it for a further 12-month period. The express purpose of that extension, which was mutually agreed by both parties, was to effect an orderly wind-down of the original agreement signed in 2012. The original agreement is now set to conclude on 26 March, this coming Sunday. The IDA has advised the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that granting a further extension to the agreement, which would allow the programme to continue beyond 26 March, would legally not be permissible. This is because of public procurement law which provides that in this instance a new tender would be necessary before a further contract could be entered into.

At its meeting in November 2016, the board of IDA considered the future of Succeed in Ireland and whether a new tender should be issued in 2017 for its continuation. The board made the decision not to re-tender and the agency informed the Department of this immediately thereafter. The fact the IDA board opted against retendering in November 2016 does not necessarily mean - this is an important point to make - that a definitive decision has been taken in respect of the long-term future of the initiative. There is nothing to prevent, for example, the IDA from deciding to proceed with a tender for a further Succeed in Ireland programme at a later stage. The IDA has decided instead not to pursue that route at this point. The conclusion of the contract will also allow us to take stock of the programme and the contribution it has made to employment generation in the State.

We will be aided in this process by a review which, on the instructions of the Minister, will be commissioned by our Department in due course. In short, this review will allow for a full and comprehensive assessment of the costs and impact of Succeed in Ireland. Once completed, it will improve our understanding of how the initiative has functioned, its strengths and weaknesses and, crucially, how we could improve it for the future. As made clear by the Minister it is important that this review be undertaken before a determination is made on the ultimate future of the programme. The committee should be aware that the terms of reference for this review have not yet been finalised. A decision on the start date and authorship will be taken in due course following the conclusion of the current Succeed in Ireland contract. Confirmation of details concerning the review, once finalised, can be supplied to the committee in due course.

I want now to turn briefly to the well-publicised differences that have arisen between ConnectIreland and the IDA regarding the operation of the initiative. While this is unfortunate, it is the case that the contract between the parties provides for a procedure to resolve any such differences. This dispute resolution mechanism has been triggered and I understand the two sides have been engaged in efforts, pursuant to that contractual provision, to find a solution.

That process remains ongoing, and the Minister is hopeful that a mutually acceptable outcome can be reached for both parties. As the committee will appreciate, I am unfortunately precluded from commenting any further on the substance of this dispute or anything in connection with it in the event that I inadvertently prejudice the position of either of the parties in any future proceedings.

The Minister has asked me to emphasise that the attraction of further foreign direct investment to Ireland will remain an absolute priority of hers in the time ahead. The Government, together with the IDA, is continuing to do its utmost to attract more overseas companies to expand or locate here and to create new employment opportunities. ConnectIreland, through its operation of the Succeed in Ireland programme, has made a useful contribution to the collective efforts made in recent years to win more FDI for Ireland. The Minister is grateful for this contribution. We look forward to undertaking a review of the programme to be in a better position to make a determination as to how to proceed with Succeed in Ireland.

I am now happy to answer any questions the committee may have. I may not, however, be able to address certain operational or legal queries in connection with the programme for reasons I have just described. I trust the committee understands why that is the case.

I thank Mr. Scannell. I now open the floor to questions. Deputy Quinlivan indicated first. I reiterate that members and witnesses will be cognisant of what I said at the beginning of the meeting and will work within the parameters set out.

I thank Mr. Scannell for his presentation. I have a number of questions about the review. Why have the terms of reference for the review not been finalised yet? What is the reason for this delay? When will the terms of reference be finalised? How long is the review scheduled to take? Will it be made public? Why close the initiative when the review is ongoing? Why not operate at least until the review is complete? Would it not be more efficient to review the initiative before the contract ends, or has the Department already decided to end the Succeed in Ireland initiative and is the review just a cover-up?

There were quite a lot of questions there, so if Mr. Scannell did not note them all, he can-----

Mr. Richard Scannell

A decision will be taken on the terms of reference of the review - on the authorship, as I said - in due course. I am not in a position, unfortunately, to provide any more details on that. As I said, the idea is to wait until the contract concludes, after which a decision will be taken on the review and how it will be conducted. Why is the review not being undertaken while the contract is ongoing? I think the decision was that it would be better to wait until the conclusion of the contract to be better able to assess and get a better understanding of the results of the programme. Generally, it is more difficult to undertake a review of something that is ongoing.

I am disappointed by Mr. Scannell's response. I do not accept that the Department cannot do a review while the matter is ongoing. That has been done in the case of every project I have ever been involved in or worked with. Companies do reviews all the time. It is unacceptable that Mr. Scannell cannot tell us when the review will take place. Why have the terms of reference not been finalised already? It is just unacceptable.

I wish to raise my disappointment with the IDA for not turning up before the committee. I know the IDA sent us a letter but I do not accept what is in the letter. We could have asked representatives of the IDA questions without breaching what they were worried about, so I am disappointed.

Mr. Scannell did not answer any of my questions properly. There is concern that this project will finish on Sunday, which is five or six days away.

The fact that IDA and Enterprise Ireland have failed to turn up is extremely disrespectful to our committee and, by extension, the Houses of the Oireachtas. They are State-funded organisations, they are funded by the Exchequer, and Enterprise Ireland sending us a one-liner that it has no one available absolutely beggars belief. It is a large organisation and was invited here on a number of occasions, such as during the Brexit exercise we undertook. It came before the committee on that occasion, as did the IDA, and I wish to put that on the record. It is simply not good enough. This is coming off the back of St. Patrick's Day and the diplomatic offensive in which this country has traditionally engaged over the years in reaching out to the diaspora. The core business of ConnectIreland is exactly that: connecting with our diaspora to try to promote economic activity in the country. I ask that we write to these two organisations again.

We should demand that they come before us so we can register with them our disapproval and the fact that it is disrespectful to the Houses of the Oireachtas and, by extension, to the people of Ireland. We are here to represent the people. We should set a date for them to come back in. Failing that, and given I am not sure we have powers of compellability, we should ask the Committee of Public Accounts, which would obviously have an overlapping role in this regard because the organisations are funded by the Exchequer, to examine the situation. The Committee of Public Accounts might be able to exercise its powers of compellability. This is simply not good enough.

If I may interject, we cannot demand but we can certainly request, and we can state quite clearly the disappointment of the committee that both organisations did not attend. I expect that would be unanimous from us all and there is no issue in doing that. However, we cannot compel them to attend.

I understand that. However, if they become a no-show again, perhaps we might consult the Committee of Public Accounts in respect of the matter. I am just saying that.

We will look at that.

I thank Mr. Scannell for the presentation. I find it incredible that the Department is still drafting the terms of the review. Deputy Quinlivan was right in how he reacted to the answer. I raised this matter in a priority parliamentary question a number of weeks ago, as Mr. Scannell will be aware, and the answer I got from the Minister was wholly unsatisfactory. A number of weeks have now elapsed yet the Department is coming in here and saying that the review is still being drafted, that we will have it in due course and that a decision will ultimately be taken, but we do not know who is taking the decision. It appears that IDA Ireland is happy to let the clock run out on this. I am at a loss to know who exactly has the responsibility for driving this review. Is anybody within the Department, from the Minister down, concerned that the current initiative will cease on 26 March, that we will then go into a period of drift and that the momentum that has been built and the connections that have been made could potentially come to naught? This is despite all the work that has been done and the money spent. Mr. Scannell outlined the amount of money that has been paid to ConnectIreland to date.

I find what is happening incredible. Is this is what the Department is serving up to us at this point, namely, that the review is being drafted? As Mr. Scannell indicated, the initial contract ran out last year and an extension was agreed for a further year. I find this wholly incredible. Can Mr. Scannell tell us what the term "due course" means and who will actually make the decision on the review? As we know, there is a dispute between the two organisations. If we are to wait for IDA Ireland to make a decision, I think we will be left waiting. Will the Minister or the Government make a decision on the matter? Is that the nature of the decision-making process?

Mr. Richard Scannell

As regards the review, a decision will be taken by the Department - by the Minister - following the conclusion of the contract. That is all I am in a position to inform the committee of at the moment. The review will be undertaken after the contract concludes.

Generally, on the question of what happens to the programme after its conclusion, when the contracts were originally agreed, it was never envisaged that the contract would run in perpetuity. The contract was for a set period. It was extended for the maximum amount of time and a further extension was granted to effect an orderly wind-down of the contract. That is now coming to an end. It was not envisaged, unfortunately, that this would run for ever. It was to run for a set period and the decision has now been made to undertake a review so that we know where we stand, exactly what the programme has contributed and what are the results. A longer-term decision will then be made as to its future.

Mr. Scannell said in his opening statement:

... the board of IDA considered [at its meeting] the future of Succeed in Ireland and whether a new tender should be issued in 2017 for its continuation. The board made the decision, however, not to retender ...

He also indicated that the board ultimately made a decision not to proceed. Can Mr. Scannell outline what IDA Ireland told the Department in terms of its reasons for not wanting to retender and not wanting to continue with the programme? What did it say to the Department?

Mr. Richard Scannell

As the Deputy will appreciate, I cannot speak on behalf-----

I understand that. However, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is obviously party to a conversation and a decision that its board took.

Mr. Richard Scannell

My understanding is that the board in making its decision took note of legal advice it had received about the agency's capacity to undertake a tender given that there was an ongoing legal dispute with ConnectIreland. I understand that was a factor. Other than that I am also aware that the board and IDA Ireland more generally would have looked at the results that have been achieved to date in terms of the job numbers achieved by Succeed in Ireland against its targets. Those are factors that would come into consideration.

Did IDA Ireland indicate to the Department that it was not satisfied with the outcomes in terms of the targets?

Mr. Richard Scannell

IDA Ireland has indicated that to us, to the Department, that Succeed in Ireland has not been meeting its targets.

It seems to me that ConnectIreland has very much delivered on its targets. I know there is a dispute about the number of jobs to be verified versus the number of jobs that ConnectIreland would claim are actually on the ground at the moment and they are evolving over the next period of time. That is very much at the heart of what we are discussing here today.

I place on record my appreciation of the work of ConnectIreland particularly in rural areas. I was instrumental in developing, with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the agencies, the regional Action Plan for Jobs approach. Based on the results ConnectIreland has delivered, the jobs on the ground are mainly outside the main cities and urban centres, areas that on the basis of current IDA Ireland policy will never attract an enormous number of foreign direct investment jobs in particular sectors.

It is bizarre and reckless to engage in a review at this point. I agree with colleagues that if we were to have a review, that review should have taken place much earlier than now and the evidence from that review could then have informed Government policy as to the approach to ConnectIreland and the Succeed in Ireland initiative generally.

Clearly the protagonists, if I can use that description, are in a process at the moment. ConnectIreland, for obvious reasons, would favour a bridging contract arrangement being provided. I will not ask Mr. Scannell to comment specifically on whether he thinks a bridging contract should be awarded to ConnectIreland to allow the initiative to proceed in the context of the review that is now being undertaken. Does Mr. Scannell believe from a policy perspective that it is feasible for a bridging arrangement to be agreed in a short period of time because, obviously ConnectIreland is staring down the barrel of a gun with the conclusion of its contract and all that flows from that? From a policy perspective, and in the context of public procurement and tendering guidelines, is it feasible for the Minister to award a bridging contract to the organisation, staying within the confines of legal parameters?

Mr. Richard Scannell

It is difficult for me to say whether it is in the interest of policy. As we understand it, the legal advice that has been received provides that because of public procurement law, unfortunately no further extension can be granted. That basically precludes any bridging contract or any such device to allow prolongation of the initiative. An extension is effectively off the table; there would have to be a new tender before the programme could continue on the basis of a renewed contract.

Is Mr. Scannell saying that the definitive position of the Department is that no bridging contract is feasible or permissible under law?

Mr. Richard Scannell

The legal advice is that a further extension of the contract will not be permissible. Correct.

Based on what Mr. Scannell has said, would it not be normal procedure within the Department that the tendering process would take place and that the new contractor would take up its position on the 27th day of the month after the other contract ceased on the 26th?

Mr. Richard Scannell

In this instance, responsibility for bringing forward a new contract of initiative lies with IDA Ireland. As I explained, in November 2016 the board of IDA Ireland decided not to retender. The Department accepted IDA Ireland's decision. There was no question of taking an alternative course.

Mr. Scannell said that the dispute resolution mechanism has been triggered and I understand that the two sides have been engaged in efforts so that mechanism was written in when this came about. Mr. Scannell says that this plan was extended on numerous occasions. I am an ex-emigrant - I was out of the country from 2010 to 2013 - and I was well aware of this when I was in Australia, when there was much talk about it among the diaspora to kick-start the economy and get investment in. There was a mechanism in place if there was a dispute or conflict and there was an extension given. Am I correct in assuming that there was a process written in for how an extension would be granted or was there a review at the time which resulted in that extension? If so, was there a review mechanism with a timeline written into it, rather than what is being highlighted here, namely, carrying out a review at the last minute?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I would prefer not to get into the nitty-gritty of the contract. The contract is operated by IDA Ireland with ConnectIreland, not by our Department and ConnectIreland. My understanding is that the original contract was on the basis of a one-year pilot programme. This was extended and, if I am not mistaken, it was extended on another occasion.

Was a review mechanism put into place to allow that extension to happen or did they just extend it? Was it just rolled over or did a review kick in and then a decision was made to extend based on that?

Mr. Richard Scannell

As I understand it, there was no review, as such, undertaken at that stage. A decision was taken to extend within the parameters of the contract.

On what criteria was that based?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I would have to come back on that.

As far as I am aware, any review or roll-over is purely a matter for IDA Ireland and the Department would not be involved. Is that correct?

Mr. Richard Scannell

Yes, it is an operational matter for IDA Ireland.

Can we ask on the basis of what criteria that roll-over - or the decision in respect of it - took place?

Yes. We can include that when we write to IDA Ireland.

I am reluctant to thank Mr. Scannell for his presentation. I do not mean that disrespectfully but he has told us absolutely nothing in relation to the key issues here. Like my colleague, Deputy Niall Collins, I have to express my huge disappointment at IDA Ireland's decision not to attend, Enterprise Ireland's decision not to attend and the Minister's decision not to attend. To be frank, something very strange is going on here when no one wants to turn up and when the people who do are extremely restricted in what they can say. I find it odd.

I do not mean to be flippant but my first question is do the people here now report to IDA Ireland? If they do not - and I take it that they do not - then perhaps they could tell us why the Department accepted IDA Ireland's decision not to retender.

One thing in particular puzzles me. My understanding was that the wind-down period - that last 12 months - was to allow for a retender to take place. We have not been given any credible reason why that retendering did not take place. This seems to be a very cynical exercise designed to wind down time and then say that there was nothing that could be done. We are up against it now with a date set for next Sunday.

I live in rural Ireland. I think ConnectIreland has done a huge service to the country. The Department's statement refers to the absolute priority to attract further foreign direct investment to Ireland. How does the Department reconcile that with the fact that it is going to close ConnectIreland on Sunday? I am absolutely stunned. There is something really odd about this.

It is completely unacceptable that IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland decided to duck the issue today in the hope that time would run out. I hope I speak for every committee member when I say that we are not going to allow this to happen. It is beyond reasonable and beyond what the taxpayer should tolerate. ConnectIreland delivered jobs to rural Ireland which the IDA will not because it only works with projects of 30 employees and upwards. Many of the ConnectIreland projects involve smaller job numbers. There is a gap there. We are facing into Brexit and this committee has spent much time dealing with the challenges of Brexit. At the very time it is about to hit us, the Department is shutting down one of the key elements in our army to fight back for jobs. Will the Department please tell us it has something more to say?

In fairness to Mr. Richard Scannell and Ms Áine Maher, they are representing the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation while IDA Ireland is not here to answer. I agree wholeheartedly with the Senator that it is regrettable that IDA Ireland is not here. We saw the letter issued from IDA Ireland which said it would consider it regrettable if the committee proceeded with a hearing on Succeed in Ireland. It is regrettable the IDA is not here. In fairness to Mr. Richard Scannell and Ms Áine Maher, they are left trying to pick up the pieces.

Mr. Richard Scannell

Just to clarify on several of the points raised, no decision has been made to shut down ConnectIreland. That is not what is happening here. The two parties, to be fair, entered into a contract which had a conclusion date. The contract was not intended to run forever and it is ending. That is effectively what has happened. No decision has been made in that respect.

In terms of accepting the decision of the IDA, the Minister and the Department have great respect for the work IDA Ireland has done. It has a stellar track record in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland, creating jobs and investment across the country. There is no reason in this instance to second-guess the judgment of the IDA. The purpose of the 12-month extension, as I understand it, which was agreed in March 2016, was not to allow for a further tendering. In fact, the express terms of that extension, if I recall correctly, were to effect an orderly wind down of the agreement, to effectively bring the original contract to a conclusion and not to allow for the re-tender.

My interest here is that Taxback is based in Kilkenny and is a well-respected employer, as is ConnectIreland, not just in the constituency but throughout the world. Taxback has been extremely successful in the work it does and, likewise, with ConnectIreland.

I want to put on record that the level of arrogance shown by the IDA by not turning up is something I have not seen in this House for quite some time. The manner in which the opening statement was given and the lack of content in addressing the issue is further shocking from the Department.

How much does it cost IDA Ireland to create a job?

Mr. Richard Scannell

There is one measurement of the cost of a sustained job. The latest figures we have are something in the region of €10,500 per job to the Exchequer.

The Department has been working with the IDA and ConnectIreland. How much does it cost them to create a job?

Mr. Richard Scannell

ConnectIreland will speak to the committee about its costs when it testifies afterwards.

Mr. Richard Scannell should know. He is from the Department.

Mr. Richard Scannell


If Mr. Richard Scannell is in control of policy and strategy, he would know the figures. At least, he should. Can he tell me how much it costs ConnectIreland to create a job?

Mr. Richard Scannell

The figures provided are that the costs to the Exchequer, as opposed to the costs to ConnectIreland, of jobs created by the Succeed in Ireland initiative are in the region of €4,000.

That is ConnectIreland’s €4,000 versus the Department’s €10,500. The Department claims it has created 535 jobs. How much would ConnectIreland say it has created in the engagement the Department has had with the IDA and ConnectIreland?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I think it is in the region of 2,000 jobs but ConnectIreland will speak for itself shortly, however.

That is fine. I am just trying to get the picture here. Mr. Scannell has outlined his understanding.

Mr. Richard Scannell


While he gives us the figure of 535, he can say that between 535 and 2,000 jobs have been created. These are jobs that have cost less and have been spread evenly throughout Ireland, not just in the main centres. As Mr. Scannell has said himself, they have contributed to the Government's efforts to win foreign direct investment. Mr. Scannell is not questioning the fact that they have made a significant contribution. How long does it take to build up a relationship between IDA Ireland and a foreign direct investor? Does it happen instantly, over a week or over a year? What is the lead-in time for it?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I believe IDA Ireland is better placed to answer that.

No. I am asking about the Department's strategy and policy. How long does it take for a company to engage and set up in Ireland from the get-go to its appearance on the scene here?

Mr. Richard Scannell

It differs from company to company.

Could we have a ballpark figure?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I would be hesitant to give a ballpark figure.

Would it be a week or six months?

Mr. Richard Scannell

It is a more long-term process.

Is it more than six months?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I think so, yes.

If one is dealing with the Chinese, Asian or the European markets, or markets further afield, it actually takes a significant length of time, sometimes running into years, for a company to be comfortable enough to come here to set up. That is a fact.

Mr. Richard Scannell

It is. As I said in the statement, the number of jobs created by Succeed in Ireland may yet increase. We are not saying that-----

I am happy with that. As a former Minister of State, like Deputy Nash, I understand that it takes up to two years. I have seen how the process has to be built on. The Department is now going to close down ConnectIreland by this decision. It may not be a decision to close it down but it is a decision that will result in the closing down of an organisation that has helped to create up to 2,000 jobs and that has possibly more in the pipeline because of the two years it takes to convince a company to set up in Ireland. What is the Department's strategy to deal with those companies in negotiation with ConnectIreland and committed to considering Ireland? What will the Department say to them?

Mr. Richard Scannell

Again, IDA Ireland would be better placed to answer than myself. As I understand it, the leads that have been submitted to ConnectIreland through the programme will transfer to IDA Ireland on the conclusion of the contract.

Would it be fair to say the Department is going to steal its intellectual property?

Mr. Richard Scannell

No, that would not be fair to say.

It is what is going to happen.

Mr. Richard Scannell

No. There is a contract in place between the two sides. As I understand it, it provides that the leads will be transferred to IDA Ireland.

So the Department is going to take over the work of ConnectIreland. Will the employees be kept on? Will ConnectIreland be paid for its intellectual property rights in terms of the company and its activity?

Mr. Richard Scannell

All I can say is that the contract is coming to an end, as per its terms.

I am asking about a matter beyond that contract. The Department is the body setting out the strategy and policy in regard to this. I simply want to find out how many people are going to be unemployed after the decision is made and whether it is the Department's intention to save the jobs, pay ConnectIreland for the intellectual property rights and deal with the outstanding issues because this affects the profile of Ireland abroad. It will have a major negative impact at a time when we are attempting to build up our response to Brexit. It is a fair question.

It is a fair question but I respect the fact that Mr. Scannell probably cannot answer it. It is a question for IDA Ireland. We can state all this to IDA Ireland in the letter. We will allow Mr. Scannell to contribute; he might have something to add.

Does the Chairman not agree that the Department is responsible for the policy and the strategy? I am simply asking Mr. Scannell, in the context of that policy and strategy, for his response to what I have said.

I do agree but still feel it is regrettable that IDA Ireland would not present itself here today to answer these questions.

Mr. Richard Scannell

In terms of the job losses, I understand that IDA Ireland, like other Government agencies, enters into contracts with service providers all the time. Those contracts are sometimes for set periods and sometimes they conclude.

So Mr. Scannell will not answer the question. I have a final question. IDA Ireland has paid over €2 million to this company for the magnificent work it has undertaken abroad and in respect of the creation of jobs at home. Presumably, that comes through Mr. Scannell's Department. That is a type of investment because it is constantly working with ConnectIreland. Would the Department consider that to be value in terms of what this company did? Mr. Scannell said it contributed to the Government's efforts and that it made a valuable contribution.

Mr. Richard Scannell

It is not for me to offer an opinion on Government policy but what I can say is that the Minister is grateful for the contribution ConnectIreland has made.

That leads me to my last question.

I thought that was the Deputy's last question.

If, as Mr. Scannell says, it is Government policy, then we really should be speaking to the Minister.

The Minister was invited to appear. Mr. Scannell and Ms Maher are representing the Minister.

They are representing the Minister.

That would be my understanding of it. They are representing the Minister and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

The Minister has done a great disservice to the two representatives from the Department.

I have to leave but I want to ask a question.

I will allow Deputy Bríd Smith to come in now.

I thank the Chairman. I apologise for being obliged to leave but I have other business. I agree with other speakers that there is an extraordinary atmosphere and a chill factor in respect of this issue. There is a legal process going on but representatives of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the Minister are not here and two civil servants have been left to take the rap for everything that has been thrown at them. That is what they are paid for and what they are employed to do but it is clear that other key people are missing from the room-----

That is a very good point.

-----and that absence is worrying. That contrasts starkly with the kerfuffle and glamour around the formation of this project - involving the Taoiseach, the Minister at the time, Deputy Richard Bruton, Michael Flatley dancing around the place, the talk of foreign direct investment coming into the country, etc. - and the fact that this organisation will be shut down next Sunday. What position does the Government see the 78,000 connectors around the globe being left in? I will pre-empt the answer to my question by saying that I am a member of this committee because I am interested in the creation of real jobs. However, I have no way of knowing that the jobs that ConnectIreland or IDA Ireland bring to this country are well paid and that the workers who take them up are looked after. From time to time, companies attracted here by way of foreign direct investment are brought to my attention by those who work for them. I am interested in this committee discussing ways to save jobs at Bus Éireann and An Post and how we can attract nurses back to the country. We never seem to discuss those issues, however. We are always discussing foreign direct investment and where it is leading us. I regret that very much but nevertheless it is important that I ask what the Department believes will happen with the 78,000 global connectors affected by this contract being brought to an end. I will watch the proceedings later.

Does Mr. Scannell wish to answer that question? Deputy McGuinness asked a similar question.

Mr. Richard Scannell

I do not want to get into the contract but my understanding is that the connectors are the property, as it were, of ConnectIreland.

Deputy Niall Collins wishes to come back in.

Yes. First, in his opening statement Mr. Scannell said the Government asked IDA Ireland to oversee the programme. I presume that, by extension, it was the Department which asked IDA Ireland to oversee it. Mr. Scannell said the contract was extended for a year to facilitate an orderly wind-down. Can he explain the reason he allowed the extension of one year and why we have had drift and no succession planning?

Second, Senator Gerald Nash mentioned a bridging arrangement and said IDA Ireland had presented legal advice to the effect that the contract could not be extended and would have to be retendered for. How long does it take to retender? IDA Ireland does not want this initiative to continue, but, given its record on job creation and in addressing the urban-rural gap, not to mention the difference in cost between the jobs created by ConnectIreland, at €4,000 each, and those created by IDA Ireland which cost €10,000, why does the Department not step in and have an arrangement with ConnectIreland? That would keep it going and ensure there was no interregnum.

What is the Department's view on the operation of the system whereby connectors are red flagged, which is crucial to the operation of the programme? IDA Ireland states the initiative has not been a success, but it has been. IDA Ireland has given the operation of the red flagging system as one reason the initiative has not been a success.

Will the Deputy explain what red flagging is?

In red flagging ConnectIreland connects with a potential employer or investor in Ireland. It has to clear the contact with IDA Ireland to ensure the latter is not already in consultation with the company. It has been reported that the system has experienced difficulties. In some cases, ConnectIreland received feedback that IDA Ireland was talking to target clients, but these clients stated they had had no communication whatsoever from IDA Ireland.

Mr. Richard Scannell

The Deputy asked about succession planning. The intention was not for the contract to run continually but for a set period. When the board of IDA Ireland decided not to retender, it was natural for it to come to a conclusion. That is why there was no succession planning. I do not know how long it takes to retender as I am not well versed in procurement procedures, but I think it takes some four or five months. I can come back to the Deputy with a more authoritative answer.

Why has the Department not looked at this in the past 12 months? As I am sure the Government wants the programme to succeed, why was another tender not set up?

Mr. Richard Scannell

For two reasons, the first of which is that IDA Ireland decided not to retender. As to whether another agency could retender-----

Why did the Department not advertise a tender? IDA Ireland does not have to continue the programme, but the Department could do so.

Mr. Richard Scannell

The Minister and the Department want to undertake a review of the programme in order that we can understand its results and contribution before making a decision on how to proceed.

The tender will lapse on 26 March. Tthe review is not yet up and running and we have no clarity on when it will be. It beggars belief. The Government and everybody else see the initiative as a success, but the Department has allowed drift to happen for 12 months and it will continue after 26 March. We do not know where we are going. Does the Department understand the concerns we are expressing?

Mr. Richard Scannell

Once the review is undertaken, we will have a more thorough understanding of the results of the programme. It is difficult to make a decision in a vacuum. It would be better to have the facts available to the Minister before she decides on how to proceed.

As red lighting is an operational issue between IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland, I am not in a position to comment on it.

I want to reiterate what Deputy Collins said. It would have been very useful and helpful today if we had been informed of what was written into the original process when it came to the review. I assume there is factual information. I cannot understand why that could not have been presented to the committee today as part of an appendix or whatever. To me, it lays down the precedents of what reviews took place before and what the rationale was for the roll-over. From that, we could draw our own conclusions on the lack of interaction we had today and maybe highlight some of the conclusions that could be arrived at or rebutted. We are operating in a complete vacuum. That factual information should have been presented today.

It is a very fair point and I agree with Deputy Neville. It is unfortunate that the committee was not privy to that information. Are there any further questions?

I have two quick ones. Referring back to Mr. Scannell's statement, he spoke about the fact that the IDA has advised the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that granting a further extension to the agreement would not be legally permissible. Has the Department seen that legal advice?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I believe we have seen that legal advice. It outlines that a further extension to the contract would be a breach of procurement legislation.

The second question relates to a point of clarification on an earlier answer the witness gave me. I wish for him to be as specific as possible. Is he saying that in the 12-month contract that is just concluding there was no mention whatsoever of re-tendering?

Mr. Richard Scannell

In the latest extension?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I would have to review that, to be honest. My understanding is that the express purpose of that contract, which is literally in the contract, was to effect an orderly wind-down and not necessarily to retender. That may be addressed somewhere in the contract.

My understanding is that one of the express purposes of the 12-month extension was to allow for a retender to happen. Unfortunately, after nearly an hour of questioning, I do not think any of us have an understanding as to why that re-tendering has not taken place.

Deputy Neville made the point that we were not privy to those terms of reference and it is therefore very hard to comment on them.

Mr. Richard Scannell

I can address that very briefly. As to why there is no re-tender, it is because the IDA decided not to re-tender. As to whether someone else would re-tender, we are going to await the outcome of the review before any future decision is taken.

Does the witness not see the problem there? The Department is in charge but it is saying that the IDA decided. Who is taking responsibility here?

Mr. Richard Scannell

It is an operational matter for the IDA. The Department does not necessarily direct the IDA on how to undertake its duties with regard to all the different contracts it has with different contractors.

I hear that, but the witness has stated that the Department policy is to have an absolute priority of attracting further foreign investments. One of the key levers to doing that is finishing on Sunday, yet the witness has stated that his Department had nothing to say when the IDA indicated that it was not going to do that any more. I find that baffling.

I wish to return to the first question I asked the witness about the terms of reference and whether they had been finalised. The witness said he did not know and that it would be done in due course. Can we get a commitment that the committee will be given the terms of reference as soon as they are established? In the interim, is the Department prepared to intervene and ensure that ConnectIreland continues after Monday while the review goes on?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I am not sure what sort of commitment I can provide but I am sure that the terms of reference can be provided once they are finalised. I will communicate that-----

As I previously raised, the concern I have is that the witness does not know. He said "due course". We do not even know when that is going to be done.

Mr. Richard Scannell

Unfortunately, I am not in a position to give a date, but the review will be undertaken.

So there is no commitment from the Department to ensure ConnectIreland will be working on the Tuesday or Wednesday of next week?

Mr. Richard Scannell


As a committee, we will write to the Department and look to be consulted on the terms of reference. I believe we have no choice but to do that.

Regarding the terms of reference, who is the Department consulting? Has it sat down with ConnectIreland, for example, on the terms of reference of the review as a Department and not as the IDA? Has the Department itself sat down with ConnectIreland to flesh out what would be workable and useful terms of reference?

Mr. Richard Scannell

Discussions have not yet been held with ConnectIreland on the terms of reference.

Does Mr. Scannell believe they should be held?

Mr. Richard Scannell

That is not for me to say.

Who within the Department is authoring the terms of reference?

Mr. Richard Scannell

One could say that about many departmental documents. Ultimately, the terms of reference will be drafted. A decision will be taken by the Minister on the final terms.

Is Mr. Scannell telling us the Minister decides on the terms of reference?

Mr. Richard Scannell

A decision has not yet been made but I expect so.

Has the Department met ConnectIreland-----

Mr. Richard Scannell


------to discuss the ending of the contract on Sunday and the possibility of extending it? Has that issue been discussed with ConnectIreland?

Mr. Richard Scannell

The Minister met ConnectIreland previously.

Is the contract with IDA Ireland?

Mr. Richard Scannell


In the light of what has happened this morning at this committee, the question must be asked as to whether the contract can be taken up by the Department on a temporary basis while the review is ongoing. That would mean IDA Ireland would not face the legal difficulties it might otherwise expect to have with ConnectIreland. Can the suggestion be taken back to the Department that it continues to work with ConnectIreland in the interests of Ireland?

Mr. Richard Scannell

I am on uncertain legal ground here. I am not sure what we are allowed to do in respect of the contract. My understanding is that once it concludes, no extension is possible. I am not sure whether that would be feasible.

Does Mr. Scannell understand the point I am making?

We can decide that as a committee later and write to the Department today and put that request to it as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Scannell represents the Minister and the Department. Because the contract ends on Sunday I am asking him to go back to the Department and the Minister to ask that they take the content of the contract and work with it until the review is completed. No procurement laws would be broken. IDA Ireland would not be procuring this but rather the Department by way of an emergency measure.

Mr. Richard Scannell

The Deputy will appreciate that before the Government can award contracts to any party, there are processes and procedures to be followed. That would apply in this instance also.

Does Mr. Scannell take Deputy John McGuinness's point that he could mention it to the Department today?

Mr. Richard Scannell

Yes, we can relay it.

If we were in France, the answer would be, "Yes, we are going to protect our jobs." Ireland is different; it does not seem to care.

I thank the delegates for coming to engage with the committee

Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 12.35 p.m.

I welcome Mr. Terry Clune, founder and chairman, and Ms Joanna Murphy, chief executive, ConnectIreland; and Mr. James Moran, general manager, and Mr. Abdul Salam, chief executive officer, SLM Connect, to the meeting to discuss ConnectIreland's Succeed in Ireland programme.

Before we commence, in accordance with procedure I am required to read out the following. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Before I invite the witnesses to address the committee, I must highlight that the committee has already been advised that the contractual dispute between IDA Ireland and ConnectIreland is a matter between those two parties and the committee cannot, therefore, inquire into the matter in dispute. I understand ConnectIreland has already indicated orally that it will not raise the matters in dispute in the course of its meeting with the committee. Although we have not had sight of the contract, our understanding is that it also contains provisions relating to confidentiality. Can I assume that ConnectIreland will not volunteer information to the committee that pertains to specific matters in dispute between it and IDA Ireland or that breaches any confidentiality requirement, contractual or otherwise? Can I ask for an assurance from ConnectIreland that if members ask questions of it that present a difficulty in this regard that will be clearly signalled by it?

I remind our guests that the presentation should be of no more than five minutes' duration. The presentation has been circulated to committee members. I invite Ms Joanna Murphy to make her presentation.

Ms Joanna Murphy

I thank the Chairman and the committee. It is a tremendous privilege for ConnectIreland to come to the Houses of the Oireachtas to present a successful job creation initiative, primarily for rural Ireland, of which we are very proud. Before reading my presentation, I wish to offer our sincere condolences to those in Sinn Féin on the loss of their colleague last night.

The purpose of ConnectIreland's appearance before the committee is to appeal for a bridging contract to allow us to continue to operate the Succeed in Ireland initiative, preferably with the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The contract for Succeed in Ireland is due to expire on Sunday next. Recently, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, confirmed in the Dáil that she has asked her Department for a review to be conducted on the initiative after it is terminated. ConnectIreland welcomes the review but we respectfully request that it is independent, that it is carried out by third party and that it includes the experience of ConnectIreland in implementing this programme, overseen by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. We have received tremendous support from tens of thousands of loyal members of the Irish diaspora who continue to introduce valuable leads every day, thereby benefiting rural Ireland. We wish only to continue the work that we do until that review has been concluded and recommendations arrived at. We see no advantage in the discontinuation of this vital job creation programme before the review is complete.

ConnectIreland is a not-for-profit patriotic initiative founded by Terry Clune to operate the Succeed in Ireland initiative to bring jobs to Ireland in the wake of the recent financial crisis. The initiative is an idea which came from the Global Irish Economic Forum in 2011. It utilises Ireland's relationship with its diaspora and global connections to persuade companies to move to Ireland. The way it works is simple: people - connectors - who know someone planning to move a company into Europe will get in touch with ConnectIreland which will then provide a wide range of supports to that company to help it decide to choose Ireland. For passing on the lead, the connector will receive a reward of €1,500 for every job created. ConnectIreland has operated under the auspices of Industrial Development Agency, IDA, Ireland.

ConnectIreland has proved very successful in bringing small companies to Ireland. We have also been very successful in bringing jobs to rural Ireland, not just Dublin. We have brought 82 new-name, greenfield projects to Ireland, with a heavy rural emphasis. We have had 2,351 jobs approved by IDA Ireland's management investment committee, scaling over three years, with 1,046 jobs already on the ground. There have been 527 verified by IDA Ireland. There are almost 80,000 connectors, loyal members of the Irish diaspora who continue to introduce companies to us every day. They understand the initiative and support its ambitions. They are an army of volunteers working for Ireland. I take this opportunity to introduce Mr. James Moran, a connector in the first instance but now also running a company called SLM Connect in Gweedore, Donegal, and his colleague, chief executive of SLM Connect worldwide, Mr. Abdul Salam, who has graciously taken time to travel from Manchester today. Mr. Moran has travelled from Donegal to tell the committee why they chose Gweedore and why relationships with the Irish diaspora are so important.

Beyond what IDA Ireland has approved, we are working with 957 additional companies.

I direct Deputies and Senators to the list which shows the companies with which we are currently engaged and the relationships that will be lost on Sunday should we not be able to continue. We encourage them to relocate to Ireland. Should the programme be discontinued, the relationship and trust ConnectIreland has built with them will be lost. There is no cost to the taxpayer unless jobs have been created. At €4,000 per job created, of which we share €1,500 with our connectors, the initiative is 250% cheaper per job than the cost for IDA Ireland. We consider this to be something of which we are very proud. IDA Ireland's track record in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland is exemplary, but as a new company, we are working with the diaspora to deliver jobs at a much lower cost to the taxpayer, of which we are very proud. Our connectors are based in 147 countries worldwide.

IDA Ireland is not renewing the contract which is due to expire on Sunday. We have had some significant challenges in implementing the programme, none of which was getting a lead from the diaspora in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland. We are committed to resolving these issues. This is more important than structural difficulties. We are here because we want to continue to create jobs in Ireland which needs as many channels to job creation as possible. Closing down ConnectIreland is not in Ireland's national interests. Shutting down the Succeed in Ireland initiative will have an enormously negative impact on job creation in Ireland. Our global network will be lost and all jof the jobs in the pipeline will be put at risk. It will be extremely damaging to Ireland's reputation for thousands of investors. We will be missing huge opportunities for dozens of small towns in Ireland. In the context of Brexit, does this make sense? We see the continuing volatility of the jobs market and global uncertainty on the political landscape which confirm the need to have all possible job creation measures. This will be another killer blow to rural Ireland. We need the initiative to be extended to facilitate a review, of which we would be part, and until such a time as a path forward can be found for the initiative. We plead with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to step in to save jobs in rural Ireland and provide cross-departmental support for ConnectIreland. ConnectIreland has been the recipient of huge support from various Departments which we acknowledge and also from Irish embassies and consuls, as well as from significant Irish organisations such as the GAA.

I thank the committee for its time.

I thank Ms Murphy for the presentation which was appreciated. I am perplexed by the decision of IDA Ireland not to renew the contract. I cannot get my head around the reasoning for it. From speaking to ConnectIreland in the past and seeing the jobs it has delivered in areas where IDA Ireland is not going to deliver them, especially in rural Ireland and the more remote parts of the State - IDA Ireland would not even make a site visit, never mind bring jobs there - I cannot understand why IDA Ireland is not renewing the contract. What are the connectors saying? They must be absolutely perplexed about what is happening. Have there been instances where jobs sourced through the Succeed in Ireland programme have been claimed by IDA Ireland?

Ms Joanna Murphy

Our connectors, an army of diaspora volunteers, are as perplexed as we are. Our initiative was designed to be collaborative, to bring small companies to Ireland, to complement the work of IDA Ireland and to add value. The jobs that have come through our initiative are additional and there is no State subvention required. We are paid on a success-only basis.

We, like our connectors and this army of companies, are utterly perplexed. I do not know what we will say to them on Monday if we cannot resolve this today.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to answer the Deputy's second question, bearing in mind what the Chairman said earlier.

Thank you. I appreciate that.

It is incredible that this contract is being allowed to run out when it is clear from ConnectIreland's opening statement that it is paid on a no foal, no fee basis. In addition, it is filling the gap, particularly in rural Ireland. In the past two weeks, a closure in Nenagh was announced. Brexit was one of the reasons cited. Brexit was mentioned a number of times in the earlier session and we have done our own exercise in relation to this.

Will the representatives of the Department tell us how the red lighting or the red flagging system works? What has their experience been of its operation?

Ms Joanna Murphy

When one of our connectors introduces a company to ConnectIreland, the first thing we do is check that there is nobody else working on that particular lead. As I said earlier, our goal is to add value. What we do is additional. We submit the lead to IDA Ireland and it tells us if it has been in dialogue with that company on a specific project within the past six months. I cannot comment further on that subject other than to say that we were surprised at the volume of companies that were red-lighted to ConnectIreland.

I deduce from what the witness has said that ConnectIreland connected with companies or potential investors in Ireland and sought to further that contact with them only to be stopped by the IDA. The reason given by the IDA is that it had already been in contact with those people. However, ConnectIreland subsequently found out from those people that the IDA had not been in contact with them at all. Is my understanding correct?

Ms Joanna Murphy

I thank the Deputy for his question. His understanding is correct. We cannot comment on that particular topic.

For ConnectIreland, today is about a continuation. It is about the positives that have come out of this initiative at a time of deep economic uncertainty in Ireland. We are now facing into uncertainty once more, which is why we have brought with us an example of the type of relations that Ireland needs to use. Having come back from a world painted green last weekend, we all know the latent energy and power that is in our Irish diaspora.

With the indulgence of the committee members, I will introduce Mr. James Moran, who has an interesting story to tell of why Gweedore has a special place in his heart. I will then introduce Mr. Abdul Salam to talk about why he chose Gweedore over Scotland or Wales.

Mr. James Moran

I thank the committee for allowing me to share our story. I was born in Manchester and raised in Donegal. After my leaving certificate, I went to university in the UK and stayed there for a number of years. I subsequently worked in Dublin and, in recent years, in the US.

In 2015, I was working for a US technology company in Manchester. It shared a building with Mr. Salam's company, SLM Connect, which is a contact centre or call centre organisation. I got to know Mr. Salam on a personal level. One day while chatting, he said that he wished to expand his operation outside Manchester, possibly to Wales or Scotland. I put my green hat on and threw Ireland into the picture. He was happy to consider that. I was aware of the ConnectIreland initiative through a friend of mine back home. I became an approved connector.

When the management of SLM and ConnectIreland subsequently spoke, that set the seed for encouraging the company to set up in County Donegal. After a few months, when the project was progressing well, Mr. Salam asked me to consider joining the company to look after its Irish operation. I jumped at the chance for personal reasons. My mother has been on her own in County Donegal since my father passed away a few years ago. Her five children are scattered all over the world, as many Irish families are. I have a sister in the United States and another in New Zealand. I jumped at the chance to go back home to look after my mother. She would probably be adamant that it is still a case of her looking after me and she is probably right.

Our operation in County Donegal is off the ground. We employ 36 people and are looking to increase that number to 125. Our facility can probably hold approximately 150. We are hoping to have 50 employees by Easter and 125 within two years. It has been a great experience. It is good to be back home. We have been very impressed by the calibre of people we have managed to get. It is probable that approximately 50% of our staff have third level degrees. I am sure they did not envisage working in a call centre or a contact centre when they were in college, but to be fair, they appreciate and are grateful for their jobs. A few Deputies have hammered home the point that rural jobs are much more important. People in County Donegal really appreciate their jobs and are committed to making this operation a success. A significant cohort of our staff had been among the long-term unemployed. Just as I wanted to move back home to be closer to my mother, many people in County Donegal are tied to the area because of family commitments. They want to stay in the county in order that they can remain part of the fabric of the community. The great ConnectIreland initiative is helping us to provide 125 jobs in Gaoth Dobhair in the first phase. Mr. Salam and I are quite keen to increase the number of jobs provided by the company to between 300 and 500 in the second phase, which might be closer to Letterkenny or one of the other bigger towns in County Donegal. I reiterate that all of this has been made possible by the ConnectIreland initiative which has enabled me to get in touch with officials to take the project onwards and upwards.

Ms Joanna Murphy

With the agreement of the committee, it might be useful at this stage if Mr. Salam were to give colour to the issue we are discussing - the need for employment in very remote parts of Ireland. I ask him to outline why he has chosen Gaoth Dobhair rather than one of the competing markets. What was it about this location that appealed to him when he was planning the expansion of his company?

Mr. Abdul Salam

We looked at a number of possible options, including Scotland and Wales, but after careful consideration, we felt Ireland would be a great location for the next step of our development. We received huge support from ConnectIreland and Mr. Moran. The culture and community within Gaoth Dobhair were the deciding factor when we decided to establish an Irish-based footprint.

I understand Deputy Niall Collins has a further question.

Will the representatives of ConnectIreland confirm for us that two numbers given to us by the departmental officials in their presentation earlier in the meeting are correct? It was suggested the cost of a ConnectIreland-created job was approximately €4,000, whereas the cost of an IDA Ireland-created job was more than €10,000. According to the Department, ConnectIreland claims to have created over 2,000 jobs, but the official figure from IDA Ireland suggests ConnectIreland has created just 535. Will the ConnectIreland officials clarify the position?

Ms Joanna Murphy

I will reply to the Deputy's first question by confirming that the cost of each ConnectIreland job is €4,000, of which we share €1,500 with our connector. I understand from IDA Ireland's recent figures that the figure of €10,500 has been well documented.

The reason we can do that is because of the enormous goodwill that ConnectIreland has received. I will ask my colleague, Mr. Clune to give examples of what ConnectIreland's goodwill has generated.

Mr. Terry Clune

There is an enormous community of participants in ConnectIreland, and we now have 78,000 connectors. Some of the connectors are recent graduates and others are very senior business people. We have been very lucky that Mr. Michael O'Leary from Ryanair has given ConnectIreland significant coverage across Ryanair's in-flight magazine in the past two years.

People really understand what we are looking for. It is not a difficult ask. What we ask people to do is simply to keep their eyes and ears open for Ireland. During St. Patrick's week the Tricolour was out in force. There is massive loyalty to Ireland and this initiative gives people something useful they can do, a simple channel through which they can keep their eyes open and if they hear of a company that is expanding to Europe, they should let us know and we in ConnectIreland will take it from there. This concept has been working very successfully.

In terms of the numbers, SLM Connect's numbers are not included in the IDA's 527 verified list. The IDA has not verified them. We hope that as part of a review, the verification process or how long it takes to verify the jobs would be looked at and reviewed. Equally, and we cannot discuss it here unfortunately, the red lighting issue would be a key aspect of what we would like to be able to review and ensure that issues and opportunities are not lost for Ireland. We have a significant number of red lighted companies. We would hope that in a review of the project with the Department and IDA that we would be able to overcome that issue in the future and that those companies would no longer be blocked to Ireland.

I have a final question. We pressed the previous witnesses quite hard on what I have described as the drift in the past 12 months. The contract of ConnectIreland was extended for a 12 month period. Will the witnesses comment on the level of engagement with the IDA and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in terms of ensuring that the programme continues in some shape or form, whether it be by ConnectIreland, which is my first choice or in its absence some other entity that would be equally competent?

Ms Joanna Murphy

I thank Deputy Collins for the question. I welcome the comments of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation earlier today. Unfortunately we cannot agree on one particular item. The contract extension was set down in order to facilitate a new tender. What was communicated to ConnectIreland was that within the second six months, which was described as "blue ocean", there would be an opportunity for the tender to be reissued. We in ConnectIreland would have bid for the contract as part of a competitive call and would hope that our work was sufficient to win such a contract. A public information notice was issued on 23 September 2015, with a budget earmarked. To our disappointment that was never progressed and we were left in a state of dismay when we found out the week before Christmas that it was the intention to dismantle all the good work that has been done. That is the difference we have with the Department. That was not our understanding of the extension. The point was quite expressly made to us that there was a need for ConnectIreland to stop promoting to facilitate a new tender.

Who told or assured ConnectIreland that a new tender would be advertised in the second six months of the 12 month period of extension? Was it the IDA or the Department?

Ms Joanna Murphy

We were told by the IDA that the decision would be made by the board of IDA, but that it saw absolutely no issue in the republication of that contract. We waited and we still continued to engage with companies in that six month period. We have companies contacting us every single day and we have not withdrawn any support from them. We continue to support those companies and our connectors with them.

Is it the case that IDA Ireland told ConnectIreland one thing and went away and did the complete opposite? We now find ourselves in the situation we are in today. Did the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation have an input or was it trying to be hands off on this?

Ms Joanna Murphy

It appears, not being privy to that particular relationship, that there is a certain handing off of the responsibility but nobody seems to want to get engaged on the topic of a re-tender. We have spoken to the Minister in the past. We have written to the Minister asking for intervention, for somebody to assist in that regard.

We have not had any action or output, as yet, on that. We are here to resolve matters and not to look back. It is important to put on the record that ConnectIreland of itself is an innovation. It is a disruptive FDI, if I can use that expression. It is doing something different. We have been internationally award-winning and that is not to celebrate ourselves but to celebrate the likes of Mr. James Moran, who has done all of the work. We would not exist were it not for the great leads that come in. We accept that there can be gaps and challenges in innovation and all we want to do is resolve. We just have not had any engagement in that respect, unfortunately.

I want to interject briefly with a question of my own and a "Yes" or "No" answer will suffice. Ms Murphy said that ConnectIreland heard the news before Christmas. Have the witnesses met the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation since they heard that news?

Ms Joanna Murphy

No, we have not.

I welcome the witnesses to this meeting. I first heard of ConnectIreland when I emigrated in February 2010. In terms of marketability, ConnectIreland appealed to the ordinary emigrant on the ground as opposed to the key decision-makers in established industries across the world. That was the strategy and key focus at the time, in terms of getting companies to set up in Ireland but also to re-establish our reputation. The organisation was trying to do that from the ground up; it was a bottom-up approach. When I went to Australia, I was working in recruitment and every Irish emigrant knew about ConnectIreland within 24 to 48 hours of arriving. It was a way for emigrants to reconnect with Ireland because most of us were forced to leave. We never thought we would have to go. Our country educated us to the hilt, we thought we had endless opportunities and then bang, we had to go, like the generations before us. We were the first emigrants who were highly educated and we were able to speak in business language with key decision-makers in order to attract businesses back to Ireland. We were the ordinary punters on the ground at the time and that was the strategy behind it. Indeed, that is where ConnectIreland worked. I know that the company was spoken about by The Ireland Funds Australia and other network groups. I wanted to put that on record from my experience on the ground, as a modern emigrant. That is the way we saw it. There was an incentive there. The question was always asked, it was spoken about around the tables - can we get companies back? We wanted to help the country. We wanted to give something back and to have that connection, unlike previous generations who, through no fault of their own, did not have that opportunity. Indeed, as a country, we were not as commercially aware back then as we are now.

I have a number of questions for the witnesses. They mentioned interactions, spoke about prospective clients interacting with either IDA Ireland or ConnectIreland and referred to a six-month timeframe in that context. I ask them to define what is meant by interaction. Does it mean a conversation, a phone call or documented interaction? Second, was ConnectIreland privy to any information regarding the review mechanism or the roll-over mechanism? Do the witnesses know what criteria were used in the decision to roll over and continue the contract? I asked the previous speakers the same question but they did not have that information. In terms of the review, were there key performance indicator targets that ConnectIreland had to achieve and did that have an impact on the roll-over time period?

Ms Joanna Murphy

The Deputy's point about what it was like to be an emigrant in Australia reminded me of the type of benevolence of which ConnectIreland has been the recipient. Every year at the All Ireland Hurling and Football Championship finals, the GAA affords us an opportunity to reach the four corners of the world with a video message about getting involved in ConnectIreland. The GAA became so heavily involved because it is a community benefactor and ConnectIreland is, ultimately, a community organisation, supported by city and county councils across Ireland.

It was also because it had difficulty in fielding football teams at that time and it wanted to reach out to young men and women from Ireland across the world to tell them they could do something too. One of our ambassadors is Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, who members will be well aware of as he is almost a president of Ireland. He is more than 90 years of age now and he never travels outside of the country without a box of ConnectIreland brochures under his arm. He insists on it because he wants to do something useful. He wants to talk about job creation and the value of our diaspora. We receive that type of contact and support from a mind-numbing number of people. I recognise what the Deputy described as it is what we feel and see every day in ConnectIreland.

We welcome the review but we were hoping to be part of the review and that perhaps somebody might ask us what we thought was good about the programme after operating it exclusively from when it began to where it is now. Certainly, we believe there are areas that can be improved but we would also like to celebrate the success of the initiative.

The Deputy also asked about the roll-over and key performance indicators. There was no key performance indicator, as such. We had what we have now, which is monthly operational meetings. We are delighted and proud that we have another three announcements today. They involve three companies, two of which are outside of Dublin, and 35 jobs. They are small, sustainable and valuable jobs for Ireland. That is, and has been, our success.

I believe Deputy Neville's question related to when you connect with somebody over the six months. Is it a telephone call-----

I asked what defines interaction.

Ms Joanna Murphy

What defines interaction is active dialogue on a specific project.

Is it face-to-face or by email? How does the witness prove it? Is it documented? I was a recruitment consultant and when somebody sent in a curriculum vitae, it was in an e-mail. That depicted that it was one's candidate or client. Was there a formal process in place between ConnectIreland and the IDA to ascribe a client?

Ms Joanna Murphy

There was a formal process in place but, with all due respect, we cannot go into that right now, unfortunately. I am sorry about that.

The other question I had was about the review. Does the witness have knowledge of what the review criteria were for the organisation, to allow it the time to roll over?

Ms Joanna Murphy

The contract expressly provided for extension.

The witness cannot elaborate any further on the criteria.

Ms Joanna Murphy

We knew it was envisaged. Of course, we welcome a competitive call and a tender. We would have been, and are, very willing to enter into such a process.

I refer to the previous roll-overs. There was obviously some type of review, or something happened, and the decision was made to roll over and that ConnectIreland would continue. Is the witness aware of or can she outline the criteria that were used to make that decision? I asked the previous witnesses and they were unable to tell me. We have asked that a letter be written to the Department on that. If the witness is aware of them and can share them, that is fine. If she cannot, I understand that.

Mr. Terry Clune

The main review and roll-over was 12 months ago. There was also a review after the first year, and I expect that was to make sure the initiative was working and growing as expected. After the first year it was automatically renewed. Then, up to 12 months ago, ConnectIreland and the IDA discussed renewing it for one further year with a view to winding down that agreement, on the basis that in the last six months there would be a further tender issued by the IDA. The only thing that has not happened is that last piece. That is what we have been promised all along-----

Were there minutes for those meetings?

Mr. Terry Clune

That is a good and valuable question. We would love to know that.

To clarify, was that a meeting between ConnectIreland and the IDA?

Mr. Terry Clune


That is a question we can ask.

Mr. Terry Clune

Perhaps I could also comment on the Deputy's experience in Australia. Although the IDA says that we only have 527 jobs verified, the largest successful company we have got into the initiative came from Australia. One of the Deputy's friends when he was there might have been the connector, although I am not sure.

It was not me.

Then Deputy Neville would not be a Deputy.

No. I would still be a Deputy.

Mr. Terry Clune

That particular company is based in Shannon. It has more than 400 staff working in Shannon right now.

Mr. Terry Clune

That is one company. The IDA has verified its figures. I know that 527 jobs in total have been created for all of our 82 projects. One company alone has more than 400 staff working right now, which is indisputable and shows the success of the initiative. It is hard to attract foreign direct investment from overseas and getting a result from Australia is very unusual.

Mr. Terry Clune

Our largest project has come from Australia.

I thank all of the witnesses for their presentations and time and apologise for missing the first session.

I will approach this topic with my Committee of Public Accounts hat on. I hope my stance does not break up the positive tone of the presentations. I ask the witnesses not to take it personally if I assess the figures in an analytical way.

The IDA's metric claims that ConnectIreland has fulfilled 10% of the contract. Either witness can answer my question. Why would anyone renew under that basis? No other State contractor would be renewed with a 10% success rate. As per ConnectIreland's figures, it seems the company has had a 50% success rate over five years. Again, generally speaking, we would not renew State contracts with a 50% success rate either.

Mr. Terry Clune

Can I answer the question?

Mr. Terry Clune

The Deputy is right. My day job is running a financial services company. We employ 1,200 people around the world. If one of our salespeople achieved 10% of target, we would not renew his or her contract.

In terms of the Australian company, the vast majority of its jobs are not counted in Ireland. The IDA has chosen not to do so for a plethora of reasons and we have no opportunity to argue against the organisation. It has chosen not to include all of the jobs.

The jobs that our colleague, Mr. Moran, has brought to Ireland, which are as he explained in Gweedore, County Donegal, are not included. Unfortunately, we are very limited in terms of what we can say in response to the Deputy's question.

Are the figures a matter of dispute?

Mr. Terry Clune

Extraordinarily, yes.

Ms Joanna Murphy

The IDA has said that it has verified 527 jobs.

Ms Joanna Murphy

That is true and correct but it is not, however, the whole truth. The IDA would also say, if its representatives were here, that it recognises that there are many hundreds more jobs that have not been verified yet. It is explicitly clear on that point.

In respect of the 527 verified jobs, ConnectIreland knows that this is not the case because we have a relationship with these companies such as our colleagues here from SLM Connect. Let us imagine it was the case that only 527 jobs had been created, and we say the figure is much larger. There is still a return to the Exchequer in respect of the 527 jobs generated by an initiative that required no State subvention and which was based only on success. The figure is enormous. What is wrong with creating jobs on a success-only basis? What is wrong with rewarding the Irish diaspora for doing so? They reach areas of Ireland where, understandably, the IDA is concerned with attracting very big companies. The organisation does very big business on behalf of Ireland and does it well. What is wrong with a success-only initiative? Why would anyone bring the initiative to a halt in the context of a creative Ireland, a looming Brexit and a new US Administration? Why would anyone stop a channel to job creation that does not cost the taxpayer unless it succeeds?

I want to parse a variety of different matters throughout my own questioning. Perhaps I will reach the same conclusion posed by Ms Murphy's question.

In terms of what Mr. Clune has said, why are the jobs not counted? I know the witnesses are subject to legal process. If they cannot encroach on any of this matter, then by all means they should say so. Will Mr. Clune give us a broad outline of where the conflict lies? Does the IDA use the same metrics for its own job creation as it does for ConnectIreland?

Ms Joanna Murphy

I hope the Deputy does not mind me answering.

Ms Joanna Murphy

I would not expect Mr. Clune, as the chairman and founder of ConnectIreland, to have the line, item and details on the operation of the contract.

Ms Joanna Murphy

I am happy to answer the question. The IDA has not verified the jobs yet. This process is ongoing and evolving. For the committee's benefit I have brought along a form. Obviously when IDA celebrates its jobs number every year, it uses the annual employment survey to do so. By way of illustration, and I hope nobody minds, there are two boxes on the form on which employers can write the number of their employees.

If they do not know the exact number, an estimate is sufficient. As I said, there are two boxes to be completed. The employer then signs the form and returns it to the IDA. This is the ConnectIreland verification process, which members will note runs to two pages. It is a 26-stage process which involves redacted bank statements, contracts of employment and post-six months' probation information, which in the digital age involves a physical visit to Gweedore by one man based in Wilton Place in Dublin. This is an enormously impractical verification process that can be improved. In regard to the review, we would suggest to the people carrying out that review that the verification process be simplified. We have very good ideas as to how that might be done. I hope that clarifies the position for the Deputy.

It does. Was the verification process outlined in the original contract which ConnectIreland signed?

Ms Joanna Murphy

No, it was not. I am loth to speak on behalf of anyone other than ConnectIreland but it is fair to say that the Department and IDA also recognise that the verification process is extraordinarily laborious. In many cases our client companies get no material benefit. In most cases, they do not get grant aid. They do not come here for that reason, rather they come here because Kinvara is the centre of the world. To ask a company to step through a process from which they obtain no material benefit is not right. With all due respect, these are busy people, scaling companies. Regardless of how much they like ConnectIreland they have a job to do. It is too much to expect of them.

In Ms Murphy's opinion the verification process is too laborious.

Ms Joanna Murphy


In regard to red lighting, it was stated earlier that ConnectIreland submits a lead and it is then effectively red-lighted. Perhaps Ms Murphy would define "lead". Is a "lead" a person within a company or the company itself? Am I correct that if ConnectIreland has a lead in a company and the IDA also has a lead in the same company it is then that the red lighting process kicks in or is it that both agencies are chasing the same individual?

Ms Joanna Murphy

The red lighting process is extraordinarily complex. ConnectIreland is different in that its ambassadors are connected and they have business networks and relationships with the particular companies, which enable them to tell ConnectIreland whether there has been active dialogue in their experience. Unfortunately, I cannot take this conversation any further because it is a topic that is currently under dispute. ConnectIreland never envisaged working on any companies where the IDA already had traction and was making progress. That is not our intention. We only ever intended bringing new companies on board, particularly companies that fall outside the target sector. It is important to point out that in terms of the work that we do, we are an additional and complementary service that assists smaller companies. There is a gap in this area which we are only too happy to fill. We are not competing with other agencies for the same companies. That is not the correct characterisation of ConnectIreland. We seek only to bring new leads to Ireland, of which our connectors become aware through their own business dealings and spread around the globe.

I had proposed to ask Ms Murphy a few more questions about the red lighting process but with due deference and respect to the ongoing process I will park them for now. I was very interested in the information provided regarding the cost per job. Ms Murphy stated that the cost in this regard via the ConnectIreland process is €4,000 versus €10,000 via the IDA process, which chimes with an article I read in the media some time ago - possibly, The Sunday Business Post - that ConnectIreland is effectively seeking millions of euro from the IDA.

Ms Joanna Murphy

I thank the Deputy for his question and for highlighting this issue. ConnectIreland is concerned only with ensuring that its connectors are treated fairly and appropriately. We have run, with great pride and, I hope, with some dignity, this Government-backed programme. Up to December last, Mr. Moran, through his connection, had brought 125 jobs to Gweedore, which is a beautiful part of the world on the edge of Ireland. ConnectIreland is focused on ensuring that Mr. Moran, and all other connectors that have done as Ireland has asked them to do, are duly recognised. I hope I have answered Deputy Rock's question.

Mr. Terry Clune

At the moment, Mr. Moran is not being recognised by the IDA. The reward that he is entitled to under the Government programme is not forthcoming.

This is part of the financial element we are seeking on behalf of our connectors, so "Yes" is the answer. If there is a dispute, it is over whether this is a successful initiative. It is a success-only model. If we get no jobs in, it costs the State zero. I do not know of any similar initiative or any contract under which the Government works in such a format, but this is what we proposed at the start, purely as a patriotic initiative, to help attract jobs into the country. It is as simple as that and it is working. We have built a network of 78,000 people around the world, and as of Sunday we will ask these people to stop sending us leads. This does not make sense to me. Why-----

We need to move on because-----

The Chairman has a few more names on her list, to be fair.

In fairness, there are very patient people who have been here from the very start. I call Senator Gavan.

I compliment all the witnesses on their presentations today, both ConnectIreland and, in particular, SLM because its example strikes me as very pertinent. I just wonder how many villages in rural Ireland will not get their SLMs as a result of the fact that it appears the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is prepared to see ConnectIreland lapse this Sunday. When we hear the figure of 957 companies in the pipeline, any of us who knows how the IDA works - and I used to work with the IDA regularly in a previous life - knows there is no way in heaven the IDA will be able to take on that pipeline in any way. Let us be absolutely honest about that. I find it very disturbing. We have all worked collegiately on Brexit and produced a report last week. I must put on the record that I am absolutely bewildered that the Department could consider letting ConnectIreland lapse in the way it proposed to do so. I hope all of us, despite our ideological differences, can agree that we cannot allow this to happen and I appeal to my colleagues in Fine Gael, in particular, to use their influence to ensure that something happens before Sunday because the real victims will be the people in rural Ireland.

I have two questions. It is important to get a perspective on this. Why did Mr. Clune set up this initiative in the first place? I think he has put up €5 million. Given what he has experienced, would he do it again?

Mr. Terry Clune

As to why it was set up, the Taoiseach in 2011 was seeking ideas as to how we might attract more jobs into the country. I participated in a business talk in Kilkenny, where I live, and said to those present that we should use our contacts around the world. A lady stood up to say she was a distant relative, going back 120 years, of the Coca-Cola family, who had left Callan, County Kilkenny, and went on to be one of the founding families of Coke. She still has a distant connection she has never utilised. She also said to us that within three of miles of where she lives, in Windgap in rural Kilkenny, lived the man who designed the White House, and within six miles of where he in turn lived, the grandfather of Walt Disney lived. This elderly lady told us of her connections and the connections of those connections in this tiny region of rural Kilkenny, and it just struck me that we really should utilise these connections.

There has been much talk of the diaspora for several years. I proposed my idea to the Taoiseach and he really liked the concept. I also proposed that I would finance it at the start and get it up and running and that we would be paid back over time as we became successful. I proposed that it would run as a break-even initiative, which is ultimately the way it is materialising now. We now have a huge network of educated connectors who know about the project, people all around the world who are eyes and ears for the country and are keeping their eyes and ears open. If they hear about companies that are expanding, they let us know. We receive huge numbers of leads every day. Not all of them convert or turn into jobs for Ireland, but the State does not have to pay in that case. The State simply pays us a small amount, two and a half times less than the cost of the IDA, for each job we get into the country. It is a success-only model, so I see absolutely no national advantage in shutting it down. To answer the Senator's question, I set it up as a patriotic initiative and thought I could get it done. We had not only a fantastic team led by Ms Murphy, but also a massively loyal network of connectors around the world that we have now built who help the country for nothing. We give them an opportunity to help the country, and it is as simple as that.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. It works. There are challenges with it so we would like very much to be involved with a review rather than it being this contract whereby we are a direct contractor to IDA Ireland. It should be a public-private structure whereby one can use the best of the private sector and the innovation of entrepreneurs with the structure and infrastructure of the State organisation to get a job done. Ultimately, that is what we are doing but there is a lot of opportunity to fix the structure and make it much more successful into the future.

What we would really like is that, as one of the Deputies suggested earlier, rather than closing it down on Sunday, the Department would take it over as a short-term measure and operate it or oversee it until the review is conducted and completed. Based on the outcome of the review, either the Department would continue running it, IDA Ireland would run it or Enterprise Ireland would do so. However, somebody would run it or else the Department would deduce at the end that this does not make sense. Closing it down and then carrying out a review does not make sense and is not in the national interest.

I want to ask Mr. Clune and Mr. Murphy whether they believe that, if the will is there, the programme can be extended without any problems.

Ms Joanna Murphy

To be clear-----

The reason I ask is that we were told it had to go to tender and procurement and that there are issues in that regard. I want to hear an opinion as to whether this can be extended on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or otherwise.

Ms Joanna Murphy

ConnectIreland is very happy to enter into a process like anybody else who is interested. We have sought exactly that for almost three years, non-stop. However, it is worth noting our legal advice on this issue is that, because of the unique nature of this programme, it does not require a tender. We have it from one of the pre-eminent procurement lawyers in the country that in time of national emergency, such as with Brexit and given the fact it is unique, that is not required. However, ConnectIreland would have been, and still is, very happy to enter into a tender process in order to facilitate that.

ConnectIreland is not a business. This thing does not make a profit; it is a not-for-profit entity. However, it is a passionate, wonderfully vibrant community of people who all have one golden thread running through them, namely, an affinity toward Ireland. It is not a case of them and us. It is not a case of wanting to put down the State agent partners. We want to work with them. We want to unify more and become more collegiate. We want them to find a way to work with us also, understanding that the number of jobs we bring is smaller than what they are used to and may not be as interesting to them as other announcements may be, but that they are vital for Ireland. ConnectIreland is open to any single iteration that allows us to continue our good work and to facilitate rural job creation in Ireland.

My apologies for not arriving earlier. It is a challenge to be here on a Tuesday morning. This is a very important issue and I want to put on record that I have met representatives from ConnectIreland.

Although we want to conclude this meeting quickly, I am struck by a host of issues. There is no doubt one of the great things Ireland has is an extraordinary network of people around the world who feel very passionate and strongly about the country. What disturbs me most from what the witnesses had to say is an impression I get that we will be saying to the diaspora, to which we put out our hands at a time when the country was in crisis, "We are all right now thanks very much". That would be very wrong.

I sincerely hope the Department will reconsider this situation and I will certainly be talking to the Minister about it. I am fully aware of the fact that this is very different to the work ConnectIreland does, and that it is a case of no foal, no fee. It is about providing better value for money in a different sort of way. It is going for the smaller scale of one to ten, 20 or 30 jobs as opposed to IDA Ireland, which works in the hundreds and thousands. We want to support IDA Ireland and that is fantastic. I fully accept the witnesses' point that it is not a case of either-or but, rather, that it is both working in tandem.

In Swords yesterday, I visited a home-grown company that started off in 2010 with six people, that now employs 120 and that is going to invest €25 million in order to increase its workforce to 400 over the next three years. The company in question began with a turnover of €40,000 and this has risen to €220 million. From the little acorn, the great oak doth grow. There are hundreds of such companies and we want to support them.

As the Taoiseach once said, if every SME in the country just took on one extra employee we would have 80,000 off the dole immediately. The small ones also work really well. I know there are disputes over figures and I accept that it is not the full story, that the verification process is much more difficult from ConnectIreland's point of view and it is not the same verification process used by IDA Ireland in other areas. We certainly do not want to lose 78,000 connections around the world. Perhaps rather than having a relationship with IDA Ireland, ConnectIreland might look to having a relationship with Enterprise Ireland. One way or the other, I am very strongly in favour of ConnectIreland continuing. I do not believe one should turn off the light before examining what will replace it or how it was working. It should be left on. I hope the Minister will take action. We will certainly be lobbying her very strenuously to ensure that happens.

That seems to be the message that will emanate from today's committee meeting. We are very supportive of the work ConnectIreland has done.

I concur with what Senator Reilly has said. I have the impression that IDA Ireland feels threatened and undermined by ConnectIreland. I know what it is doing is a success. I know there are difficulties. Am I right in my impression?

Ms Joanna Murphy

We cannot surmise how IDA Ireland might feel or otherwise. We have been enormously proud. We talked about 82 new-name greenfield investments over the short life of the programme. It is not quite five years yet. We are so proud. IDA Ireland is one of the most successful inward investment agencies in the world. We are terribly proud to have been able to contribute 22% of its own new-name greenfield projects over the same timeframe. I hope that in some way answers the question. It has been very successful. We would not want to do it if it was not. It is an evolving thing. For 14 months consecutively we have had job announcements every single month coming through the initiative, including smaller companies. It works.

I might pick up where we left off if everyone else has finished. We were talking about the seeking of the money from IDA Ireland. I am curious about that and I ask the witnesses to deal conclusively with that. Newspapers reported figures in the millions. From where is that derived? What exactly is that?

Ms Joanna Murphy

I have no idea where the figure that was reported in the newspapers came from. We have now got 2,351 jobs approved. As those jobs are created on the ground, it will trigger a payment of €4,000. I imagine that the figure has come from 2,351 multiplied by €4,000.

That is a potential liability based on Ms Murphy's projection of how many jobs could be approved in the future.

Ms Joanna Murphy

At this scale.

Does that tally with the witnesses' understanding?

Mr. Terry Clune

Yes. However, if we add to that consideration that rather than multiplying it by €4,000, we multiply it by €10,500, we can very easily deduce how much we have actually saved the State. Had those jobs come through the IDA Ireland structure, it would have been considerably more.

Nobody would begrudge ConnectIreland its success there.

Mr. Terry Clune

Naturally our team has been very involved in the initiative. Part of the cost that has been talked about goes to our connector as a reward and the remainder goes to cover the cost of the initiative. Ultimately, we are doing it at a cost that is dramatically lower than the cost of IDA Ireland, which is good for the country.

Was there any arbitration mechanism in the contract? Has that been triggered yet? Is that what we are seeing now, in effect?

Ms Joanna Murphy

The contract did provide for a dispute, which is well rehearsed, that we have some issues over numbers, verification, red-lighting etc. The arbitration clause was excess within the contract and ConnectIreland has not commenced arbitration. We want to resolve and continue. It is not our wish to go down that road. Of course, the contract provides for it, but that is not what ConnectIreland wants.

If I may interject, will you clarify that a dispute notice has been issued under the terms of the contract?

Ms Joanna Murphy

That is right.

Mr. Terry Clune

We have a dispute or an issue with the IDA and we cannot go into that. However, we could have triggered legal issues with the IDA one, two or three years ago. We have been trying to resolve the issues with the IDA. Heretofore, that has been unsuccessful but we hope that, with the support of the committee, this initiative can be extended or be given a bridging agreement or that we could work with the Department. During that time a review can be carried out whereby the issues we have a concern about can be resolved, rather than it having to become any more legalistic than that.

Perhaps the witness will try to help me understand it. ConnectIreland says it is creating all these jobs but the IDA is very slow to verify them. The witness says it is creating hurdles and so forth.

Ms Joanna Murphy

We did not say that.

They have not quite said that.

Ms Joanna Murphy

It is fair to say that there is a particular structure in place that needs to be more belt and braces.

To use Ms Murphy's words earlier, it is a very onerous process.

Ms Joanna Murphy

It is.

Why was an arbitration process not triggered earlier in light of ConnectIreland's success compared with the IDA's measurement of said success?

Ms Joanna Murphy

The easiest thing in the world would have been to pull down the shutter on this initiative. That would have been the path of least resistance. We do not wish to do that. We seek to continue and to grow. Every day we are blown away by people, such as the two gentlemen on my right hand side, who have chosen this country. To reiterate, I do not believe that this is a them-and-us situation. There is little wrong with this initiative that a few people in a room with a constructive frame of mind could not resolve in a number of hours. Issues such as verification and red lighting can be resolved. There is not much wrong with it. It is okay that there are gaps and that these things did not exist. The programme is new and, if members will excuse the phrase, one does not throw the baby out with the bathwater. One figures out where the issues are and resolves them. That is what ConnectIreland seeks to do, and that is why we did not trigger an arbitration. We did not want to. We want to continue on behalf of our network across the globe. We feel enormously pressurised in the context of Monday. How do we tell those companies? What do we say to them? We have not figured that out yet, to be honest.

Mr. Terry Clune

Do we thank the 17,000 people for sending us leads but say to them Ireland, especially rural Ireland, does not need their help anymore and that it is not necessary? That is what we will be saying. We are at various levels of dialogue with 900 companies. The IDA is a very successful organisation, but we have the ongoing relationships with these companies. We have built them and we have the dialogue. The IDA is not structurally able and I assume would not be in a position suddenly to take over 900 other new companies when it is already stretched enough. Again, the cost of our initiative is pay on success only. In the interim, we hope the Department will be able to step in for a short period and have an interim or temporary contract with us while the review is done. It will see the good aspects and we can share the things that could be improved. That is good for the country.

I did not mention Brexit but obviously it is a huge challenge for this country and a challenge in terms of jobs. We need all the connectivity we can muster to remain in place. I thank the witnesses for the work they have done and for all the jobs and goodwill they have brought as well as for cementing the connectivity with the diaspora. The last message that should come from this meeting is, "Thanks very much, we are all right now." The message we should convey is that we appreciate the tremendous patriotism and connectivity of the people who have left this country, we value it above and beyond jobs and that it is something we want to grow and flourish in good times as well as bad. Although we are in a much better place than we were previously, we still need all that connectivity. It works both ways. Much goodwill and many possibilities can flow back to the countries that make the connections here. I thank the witnesses and assure them we will lobby the Minister very hard on this. We want the message to go back to the 78,000 connections, and to the many more it is hoped the organisation will make, that we appreciate and value them, regardless of the jobs side of it.

Deputy Rock has asked valid questions. It is a great pity and a great contrast that while ConnectIreland is here and giving us answers, the Minister and the IDA are not present. I cannot for the life of me understand why-----

In fairness, the Minister is abroad on a trip to Holland. I ask the Senator to not be unreasonable.

When we requested the Minister to attend we also asked for officials from her Department to attend and they have done so.

I was not aware of that fact. I can see no reason the IDA or Enterprise Ireland could not find a representative to come here for this important meeting. I do not accept the excuses given in their letter.

On behalf of myself and the committee - I am sure I speak for everyone - I thank Mr. Clune for putting on the Irish hat in 2011 and investing his own money to set up ConnectIreland. Its endeavours have been very worthwhile. I thank Ms Murphy for her efforts. She has worked extremely hard for the past few years, especially in the past three months, to ensure that ConnectIreland will still be working for Ireland next Monday.

I thank Mr. Moran and Mr. Salam for connecting with each other and bringing jobs to Gweedore in County Donegal. We like to hear such news as we all have rural and urban areas in our constituencies. It is fantastic to see jobs created in a rural part of Gweedore. Both men are more than welcome to bring jobs to County Waterford.

Does the Chairman mean near to Dunmore in County Waterford?

Yes. I thank everyone for attending. I propose that the committee goes into private session to discuss our way forward. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The joint committee went into private session at 1.45 p.m. and adjourned at 1.57 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 March 2017.