I regret very much the job losses announced by Thomson in Limerick and the consequent effect on the workers and their families. FÁS has been in contact with the company and is offering its full range of services to the workers being made redundant, as is Enterprise Ireland. I understand that Thomson NETg announced, in November 2003, that as part of an ongoing assessment and reorganisation of its global business operations, a decision had been made to consolidate its global product development activity in Naperville, Illinois. As a result of this decision, the company's product development facility in Limerick would cease operations with the loss of 173 jobs. The company had earlier decided that it would not undertake the establishment of an operation in Birr due to the adverse economic climate, particularly in the e-learning sector.
IDA Ireland continues to actively promote Limerick to potential investors from across all sectors in either manufacturing or internationally traded services via its network of overseas offices. The agency is also actively marketing Birr and the Thomson NETg facility for potential new investment. The current economic slow down has meant that there are a lower number of companies actively seeking to invest and consequently there are fewer companies visiting Ireland. There were 17 first time site visits to the mid-west in 2003, with 13 first time site visits to Limerick. So far this year, there have been four first time site visits to the mid-west and three to Limerick.
The decision where an overseas company decides to locate lies, of course, ultimately with the company itself. In addition to targeting potential new projects, IDA and Enterprise Ireland continue to work with the existing base of companies in the region with a view to supporting companies with potential expansion and diversification objectives. The major decentralisation programme announced in the budget includes 180 jobs to be relocated to County Limerick and a further 455 jobs for County Offaly. This move demonstrates the Government's commitment to balanced regional development and will provide a further boost to enterprise development in these areas.