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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 16 Feb 2005

Vol. 179 No. 8

Company Closures.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Martin, to the House. It is the first time I have been present in the House to welcome him as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I wish him well in this tough job and hope he is proactive rather than reactionary. All politicians can make the mistake of being reactionary.

I draw the Minister's attention to the need to secure replacement jobs arising from the closure of the sugar factory in Carlow. The closure will have a great impact on the local economy, far greater than the Government realises. It is estimated that it was worth approximately €22 million to the local economy. The area will no longer benefit from this revenue.

There have been many job losses in Carlow recently. Keenan's of Borris and Braun have laid off staff. Fair Oaks Food of Bagenalstown laid off 40 staff this week and I believe an engineering firm in Carlow also laid off 40 employees. Many jobs were lost in the past few weeks and this is having a knock-on effect in the Carlow area.

There has been considerable growth in indigenous industry and the retail sector in Carlow in recent years. However, the danger is that we do not have a proper balance. We do not have the big multinationals we should have. A recent FÁS report indicated clearly that growth would be in the banking and pharmaceutical sectors but we have no industries in these sectors. I am sure the Minister will agree. Historically, Carlow has had a large manufacturing base. It is much larger than that of Kilkenny, for example, which has a tourism base. However, the reality is that the manufacturing industries around the country are under serious pressure and cannot compete globally. We had a very successful bicycle manufacturer in Carlow called Trek, of which the Minister may be aware. Although it had won major awards, its owners decided to close and relocate to east Germany to avail of cheaper labour and rent.

We have had much bad luck in Carlow lately and it was nauseating to see the sugar factory close even though it made a profit of €10 million last year. This is a conservative estimate. We need to secure a replacement industry. We have an industrial park on the outskirts of Carlow town and the IDA spent approximately €11 million on its acquisition and infrastructure. I acknowledge the considerable role Carlow County Council has played in this regard not only in terms of securing one broadband connection to the industrial park, but of putting in two broadband connections. It has put the necessary infrastructure in place, yet the park has been lying idle for two and a half years. It is imperative that we attract businesses into the park regardless of whether they are pharmaceutical or commercial banking organisations.

Carlow County Council, Carlow Chamber of Commerce and certain agencies in the county produced a document last week promoting the positive aspects of Carlow, of which we are all well aware. To be honest, I am blue in the face listening to all the positive attributes of Carlow. It has two third level colleges, a good supply of housing, fantastic recreational facilities and top class golf courses. It is quite near Dublin in terms of gaining access to ports and airports and it is also close to the port in Rosslare. The county has all the necessary assets. The N9 is to be upgraded and this will be a great boost to the infrastructure of the south-east region. I ask the Minister to ensure that Carlow gets its fair share of the cake and that the loss of jobs due to the closure of the sugar factory will be offset by the creation of new jobs in the area. This would obviously have a considerable knock-on effect. When creating one job we should think about the impact this will have on the creation of others. The manufacturing industry base in Carlow is very vulnerable and while the retail sector has grown significantly in recent years it will die away too if no industry or people earning high wages come into the town, which is under competitive pressure from Kilkenny, Newbridge and Naas. It is vital to have industry and attain the right balance in the town. Unfortunately, the unemployment figures there are growing. We want to stop that.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter on the Adjournment and for his kind comments on my new portfolio. The board of Greencore has made a commercial decision to cease production of sugar beet in Carlow, with Mallow remaining as the sole producer in Ireland. The company has indicated that the move is designed to ensure the survival of its business in the face of reforms to the existing EU sugar regime and the increasingly competitive nature of the company's market, which will severely impact on the viability of sugar production in Ireland.

While primary responsibility for this area rests with the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the State agencies under the aegis of my Department will be available to assist in whatever way they can. Initially, the full services of FÁS, including retraining and upskilling, are being made available to any workers who wish to avail of them. Carlow town is a key focus for IDA Ireland in attracting foreign direct investment, in line with the Government's strategy of achieving balanced regional development.

Fortunately, Carlow has many of the ingredients necessary for attracting overseas investment, particularly a strong third level educational provision through Carlow Institute of Technology. It is important to ensure that a supportive business environment is being developed and maintained in Carlow. This includes working closely with the third level sector to ensure that new course development is aligned with the requirements of potential overseas businesses, and maintaining a close working relationship with the local authority to ensure that world class infrastructure is available to foreign investors.

The expected commencement in 2006 of the northern section of the N9 and N10 motorway-dual carriageway, which includes a bypass of Carlow, will enhance Carlow's attractiveness for investment. The existing base of overseas companies consists of five firms, employing 976 people according to the most recent Forfás employment survey.

IDA Ireland's continuing commitment to Carlow is evidenced by the development of a flagship business and technology park on the Dublin road. This will further enhance the town's attraction for overseas investment. An investment of €11.5 million has been committed to the park to date. Site development works were completed on the park in 2003 and planning permission was granted for the construction of a 17,600 sq.ft. advance office building on the park.

Construction began in December 2004, with expected completion during the third quarter of 2005. IDA Ireland continues actively to market Carlow town and the business and technology park through its network of overseas offices. Now that construction has commenced, IDA will be marketing the new building as well as the greenfield sites available on the park. IDA Ireland is also marketing Carlow for international services and high technology manufacturing sectors for which proximity to both Dublin Airport and city are key advantages.

Enterprise Ireland works with companies in its portfolio to assist them grow their sales and exports and improve innovation in order that they can compete on world markets. In the past three years Enterprise Ireland approved support of over €6 million and made payments of over €4 million for manufacturing industry in County Carlow. This investment was in areas such as research and development, capability building and process development. As part of its regional development role Enterprise Ireland works with other agencies in the county to develop the business infrastructure.

Infrastructural projects include community enterprise centres, incubation facilities in the colleges as well as supporting other technology centres. Enterprise Ireland also works closely with the institutes of technology to encourage industry-third level partnerships in the regions. Enterprise Ireland has approved €1.42 million for the construction of a campus innovation centre at Carlow Institute of Technology and an additional €156,000 for the management of the centre. Construction work on the centre is under way and is due to be completed by this summer. The first tenants will move into the centre in September.

Enterprise Ireland approved €200,000 for the construction of a 7,500 sq. ft. community enterprise centre located on O'Brien Road in Carlow which opened in December 2004. The development of community-based enterprise centres is a crucial part of the drive to create new regional enterprise. Carlow County Enterprise Board has relocated its offices to the centre and two new enterprises have opened. An additional four units are available for letting and it is hoped that the building will be fully occupied by June 2005.

Carlow County Council launched a new brochure promoting Carlow on 10 February. Enterprise Ireland was actively involved in this venture and will continue to work closely with the local authority and all other agencies in any initiatives that help to promote industry in the county.

The combined efforts of the industrial development agencies, including the County Enterprise Board, together with local community interests will be able to address the needs of the Carlow area following the closure in question.