First, I acknowledge my friends from Carrickmacross who are in the Gallery. They are here for the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (Amendment) Bill, which will be dealt with later.
I welcome the opportunity to be in the Seanad again and to present amendments to the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill which have been introduced and passed by the Dáil.
Senators will recall that I introduced the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill here in the Seanad on 10 October 2019. In summary, the Bill provides for the granting of lending powers to Enterprise Ireland and contains other provisions relating to enhanced support for research, development and innovation in several critical sectors such as horticulture. The Bill also includes a technical amendment to increase the aggregate capital funding that can be provided to IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland from €7 billion to €14 billion. As primary legislation currently sets a statutory limit of €7 billion on the aggregate capital funding that can be provided to these agencies since 1993, it has been deemed timely to increase the aggregate amount into the future. A further technical amendment provides for an increase in the aggregate limit on grants made to capitalise Microfinance Ireland to enable it to provide increased lending in the event of a disorderly Brexit.
Having passed all Seanad Stages, the Bill was referred to the Dáil for assent on 23 and 24 October. On Committee Stage, two similar amendments were introduced by Deputy Munster of Sinn Féin to section 3.7A(2) and section 3.7B(1)(c) of the Bill, respectively, to the effect that "Preference may be given to industrial undertakings or body corporates that are located in the border counties of Louth, Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo." Section 3.7A, where the first amendment has been accepted, refers to the powers of Enterprise Ireland to make loans. Section 3.7B, where the second amendment has been accepted, refers to the powers of Enterprise Ireland to purchase or take shares or convertible debt instruments. These amendments were subsequently passed by the Dáil. Therefore, I am here today to present the amendments to the Bill for final assent by the Seanad.
I take this opportunity to emphasise that I am acutely aware of the vulnerabilities, due to the challenges of Brexit, of businesses not only in the Border counties but also for certain business sectors right across the country. These challenges may, however, be tougher along the Border region. Government continues to face these challenges through initiatives such as the regional enterprise plans, Project Ireland 2040 and Future Jobs Ireland, which provide the impetus to drive regional growth and resilience for economic development and good quality job creation. What is encouraging for the Border region is the steady decline in the unemployment rate since the start of the previous regional action plan for jobs and the fact that the rate has fallen from 8.6% to 3.9%.
The Government's announcement in budget 2020 of a €110 million package of Brexit contingency supports which we are ready to roll out in a no-deal scenario will be targeted at assisting all vulnerable but viable firms, whatever their circumstances. Budget 2020 also provides a €40 million fund which will be available to support tourism in the event of a no-deal Brexit. This funding will be focused on the regions that will suffer most from a no-deal Brexit, such as the Border counties and the south-east.
The regional breakdown of funding to Enterprise Ireland client companies shows that 65% of funding in 2018 went to regions outside of Dublin, with funding of €11.4 million in grants for industry and research and development awarded to client companies in the north-east-north-west region in 2018, which represents an increase of 12% over the 2017 figure.
We continue our work to prepare for the UK's exit, in whatever way that unfolds. Even with an agreement, it is still the case that the UK is leaving the EU and this will bring change. Since July 2019, my Department has hosted four Brexit outreach events in Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal and Louth. These events focused on advising businesses of the steps they need to take now to prepare their businesses for Brexit and highlighted the supports available to businesses to help them with such preparations. My Department also directly emailed over 220,000 companies to encourage them to act now to prepare for Brexit and to promote the array of supports available to them to assist them. Officials from my Department have also worked with the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society to encourage its members to prepare for Brexit now and promote the supports available to them.
Furthermore, my Department has responsibility for a wide range of regulatory agencies and offices, and they are all engaged in stakeholder events, road shows and information sessions to inform and share information with those most impacted by Brexit. Therefore, companies located in all regions will continue to be supported to respond to the challenges of Brexit through all appropriate existing Enterprise Ireland supports, those contingency supports which were announced in budget 2020 and the enhanced supports which we are providing for in this Bill.
I was delighted on Monday last to be turn the sod on a new IDA Ireland factory in Monaghan town. That is something that we have waited 30 years for. It certainly is good to see that work progressing. I am also glad that through the regional enterprise fund we were able to provide funding for a bioconnect research centre which will be important. That is just developments that have happened in one county. There are good developments happening right across the Border region. Only a number of weeks ago, I visited WuXi in Dundalk. The company had already announced 400 jobs, and now there are another 200 jobs. These are high-quality jobs. That is the kind of employment we want in the Border region because it will be impacted more severely by Brexit than any of the other regions. Only a few weeks ago, we had another foreign direct investment company and I announced 60 new jobs at Newbaze in Carrickmacross. There is real progress but we need to continue to make sure that we have the right infrastructure in place and that we continue to attract investment into the Border regions, whether it is Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan or Louth.
Finally, I thank Senators for supporting this Bill and for their ongoing support in progressing this legislation as quickly as possible.