I thank Senator McHugh for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The Donegal employment initiative task force was established in September 1998 by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Harney. Included in its terms of reference were three specific actions: to assess and recommend the most appropriate responses to offset and compensate where there are any immediate risks to jobs in particular areas of Donegal; to draw up a set of priority actions for establishing Donegal as a prime, competitive and attractive location for job creation; and to assist the development agencies in selling Donegal locations to prospective investors.
The employment initiative task force report set targets for the enterprise, tourism, public, community and voluntary sectors. The report also set out the resource and funding requirements necessary for Donegal over a seven-year period. A review was undertaken by the Donegal County Development Board in 2005 of the implementation of the task force report. Among the findings of the board was the belief that significant implementation had taken place of those actions and projects over which the local actors had control and were able to drive their implementation.
While acknowledging substantial progress in the support of air access to the county and the extension of broadband, the review found that the area in which the most significant impediments to the economic development of the county continued to exist was its infrastructure, the development of which is dependent on Government decisions and various Departments' funding. It was in that context, as well as some more recent major job losses, that the interdepartmental group on Donegal was subsequently established at the request of the Government. In July 2006, my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, published the report of the interdepartmental group. The interdepartmental group was asked to focus on the progress being made on infrastructural requirements to make Donegal a more attractive location for enterprise creation, especially as it makes the transition from traditional to more modern and higher value added industries.
The report showed that Donegal has no shortage of advantages and opportunities in so far as the promise of a brighter future for its inhabitants is concerned. There is a dynamic combination of State development agencies active in Donegal which are committed to enhancing the attractiveness of the county for business. These agencies have demonstrated the ability to provide a clear vision and focus for future economic development. IDA Ireland aims to pursue more knowledge-based, greenfield foreign direct investment for Donegal and to convince existing IDA Ireland clients to transform their current operations into higher value activities. Enterprise Ireland will encourage and assist more innovative, technology-led companies and promote a greater level of start-up activity. These actions are in response to the challenges facing traditional industry in the county, which is under pressure for competitiveness reasons, and both agencies, as well as Údarás na Gaeltachta, are endeavouring to meet these challenges.
Enterprise Ireland has also been very active in supporting the development of community enterprise centres in the north west which are critical to continued enterprise development in rural areas and to the development of an entrepreneurial culture. Nine community enterprise centres in County Donegal have received funding of approximately €2 million under the community enterprise centre scheme to date. In Donegal town, IDA Ireland has commissioned architects to design a 1,000 sq. m. office building at Lurganbuoy. IDA Ireland has applied for planning permission for the building and a decision from Donegal County Council is imminent. It is planned to enter discussions with the private sector regarding the construction and provision of this building as soon as planning permission is received. I am confident a substantial number of new jobs will arise from this initiative. In Ballyshannon, IDA Ireland has undertaken a significant amount of site development work on the industrial estate and this work is now complete. The county enterprise board will continue to provide existing and new supports to micro enterprises.
The lack of much needed infrastructure has been highlighted as an obstacle to job creation in County Donegal over a number of years. The interdepartmental report highlighted many developments under way or planned in the areas of roads and air transport, water supply and treatment, broadband, energy and education. These have been solidified and strengthened in the recently launched National Development Plan 2007-2013. Particular emphasis has also been placed in the NDP on North-South co-operation and developments which will be of direct benefit to County Donegal. An important study on the development of the all-island economy has recently been completed and this sets out a clear and strong economic rationale for all-island economic activity. InterTrade Ireland, the all-island trade and business development body set up under the Good Friday Agreement, is supporting the development of key business networks on the island of Ireland, including the North West Science and Technology Partnership. This partnership between industry, academia and other key stakeholders is focused on strengthening science and technology-based innovation and business in the north west.
I am confident that we will see major advantages for County Donegal and the north west flowing from the re-establishment of the political institutions in Northern Ireland. The Senator will be aware that funding, to include Government investment of €580 million, is to be set aside for linking the North and South. This will allow for considerable progress to be made under the North-South initiative regarding the national roads programme, in particular on the A5 Aughnacloy to Derry route via Omagh and Strabane. The plan commits specifically to the completion by 2013 of a high-quality road network on the interurban routes linking the major population centres of Dublin, Belfast and the north west, especially the Letterkenny-Derry gateway. The A5 Aughnacloy to Derry route via Omagh and Strabane and the announcement today are a major development in the achievement of this goal.
We have already seen improvements along the A5, in particular the works that have been completed at Omagh, Newtownstewart and Strabane and the continued improvements are making a real difference to accessibility to County Donegal and the north west. This will be further improved when the NRA completes the Castleblaney bypass later this year. The Government is committed to improving the roads from the M1 to the Border at Aughnacloy and from the Border at Lifford to Letterkenny.
Under the north-west gateway initiative launched by the two Governments in 2005 there was a commitment to examining the potential for joint investment in key infrastructure projects. In line with that commitment, the National Roads Authority and the Roads Service of Northern Ireland undertook research on potential road infrastructure projects which would have cross-Border benefits. Progress on the A5 in Northern Ireland will help in opening up County Donegal on a commercial and socio-economic level by providing the much-improved infrastructural access to the county.
The north-west region is a priority area for IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland as the agencies continue to market this region strongly for new investment. The job creation achieved over the past year is largely as a result of the ongoing commitment to County Donegal from the State development agencies which will continue this commitment into the future. The Senator will be aware of the significant employment developments for County Donegal recently. In addition to the Abbott announcement, recent major job announcements include SITA, ZEUS, PowerBoard and AssetCo.
The Government and the State development agencies are fully committed to fostering the environment for job creation in County Donegal with economic benefits accruing right across the county.