I propose to take Questions Nos. 376 to 379, inclusive, together.
In regard to the infrastructure issues referred to by the Deputy, I have raised these with my colleagues, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Transport. I am advised that the national roads serving the north west have benefited from the major increase in investment in the national roads programme in recent years. Major upgrade projects completed include the Donegal bypass, the Mountcharles bypass and the Clar-Barnesmore section of the N15. Major upgrade projects have also been completed on the M1, N2, N3, and N4, the main access routes to the north west. In addition, work is currently underway on the Sligo inner relief road, N4, the Ashbourne and Carrickmacross bypasses, N2, and the Ballyshannon-Bundoran bypass, N15. It is clear, therefore, that roads serving the north west have been major beneficiaries of the increased investment in the national roads programme. The north west, in common with the rest of the country, will continue to benefit from the national road development programme underway.
As regards air transport, I am advised that under European air transport liberalisation measures, any air carrier licensed by a member of the European Economic Area, EEA, may introduce air services on any route within the EEA without Government or EU controls, subject only to the availability of airport slots at either end of the route and, of course, overall safety considerations. As a result, the provision of air services on any particular route is essentially a matter for the commercial judgement of the individual airline.
As regards telecommunications services, I am advised that their provision is primarily a matter for the fully liberalised private sector. However, because investment in infrastructure by the sector has failed to keep pace with the demand for broadband, the Government's regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit with a number of targeted interventions that will enable the delivery of broadband to all areas.
An indicative €200 million from ERDF and Government funding under the NDP 2000-2006 is being invested in State-owned broadband infrastructure that includes the 26 metropolitan area networks in the major centres including Letterkenny and Gaoth Dobhair, and community broadband exchanges in over 90 towns with a population of more than 1,500. In addition to these, the group broadband scheme offers funding assistance of up to 55% to smaller towns and rural communities to pool their requirements and obtain broadband in their area using the most suitable delivery platform such as wireless or satellite technology.
With regard to possible initiatives in the tax area, I should state that responsibility for tax policy rests with the Minister for Finance in the first instance. However, I would point out that the current low rate of corporate taxation of 12.5% represents a significant incentive for business to establish and develop here in Ireland, as does the low tax burden on employment.
With regard to the North-South Ministerial Council, the Deputy will be aware that it cannot meet at present due to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, the various implementation bodies set up pursuant to the Good Friday Agreement continue to carry out their important functions. InterTradeIreland is the North-South body responsible for trade and business development on an all-island basis. It is committed to establishing and facilitating business networks and developing and deepening trade and business co-operation throughout the island of Ireland, including the Border and north-west regions. I look forward to the restoration of the institutions set up under the Good Friday Agreement and to working with northern colleagues to promote business development and co-operation across this island.
I very much regret the recent job loss announcements in County Donegal. Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. FÁS has been in contact with the companies concerned and has offered its full range of support services to those who will lose their jobs.
IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are committed to the development of the north-west region and continue to strive to secure new investment for Donegal. Both agencies are working closely with their existing base of companies in the region. In its efforts to secure investment, IDA Ireland is working with Invest Northern Ireland, on a virtual cross-Border park which will involve joint marketing efforts and planned improved telecoms infrastructure on a cross-Border basis. Construction of the Letterkenny Business Park has been completed and construction by Donegal County Council to extend Letterkenny ring road to this park is well advanced. Work has now been completed on the provision of a second 25,000 sq. ft. advance factory at the park and planning permission has been granted for a third advance facility. Planning permission has been obtained for a new facility at Ballyshannon and IDA Ireland has undertaken a significant amount of site development work recently on the site. In addition, further land has been purchased in Buncrana and planning permission has been obtained for a 20,000 sq. ft. factory. IDA Ireland is currently working with a local private developer in the provision of advance space within this estate.
Enterprise Ireland works with companies in the north west to assist them grow their sales and exports and improve innovation in order that they can compete on world markets. The agency is encouraging these companies to adopt new technologies and to move up the value chain. Its range of supports include strategy development, production and operations, marketing, human resources development, finance and research and development.
With regard to the Donegal employment initiative taskforce report, the Donegal county development board, CDB, was charged with its implementation in 2000. The CDB which includes the State development agencies, local interest and representative groups, as well as the local authorities, was viewed generally as the most appropriate vehicle for taking forward the task force recommendations. The recommendations of the task force were incorporated into the CDB's ten year strategy, An Stráitéis, for Donegal. I understand that a review of the original taskforce report and An Stráitéis is currently being finalised and will be considered shortly by the Donegal county development board.
At the request of my predecessor, An Tánaiste, the expert group on future skills needs, which operates under the aegis of Forfás, is, in conjunction with IBEC, undertaking a detailed analysis of the education and skills requirements of the north west region. I understand that this work will be completed shortly.
I wish to assure the Deputy that the Government, with the State development agencies, is committed to balanced regional development, particularly through the implementation of the national spatial strategy and the Government's decentralisation programme. The State development agencies will continue to work together to promote the north west, to attract investment and foster job creation there.