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Foreign Direct Investment

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 23 November 2017

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Questions (3)

Niall Collins

Question:

3. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to deal with competitiveness issues and direct threats to continued foreign direct investment here. [49668/17]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Business)

What steps are the Minister and Government taking to deal with competitiveness issues that are a direct threat to continuing foreign direct investment, FDI, into our country?

I have just come from a detailed discussion on competitiveness that was held by Enterprise Ireland. This is clearly a cutting-edge issue for companies to deal with in the months ahead particularly in view, as the Deputy said earlier, of the Brexit challenge. Despite intense competition, the trajectory of Ireland's competitiveness performance is positive. Ireland moved from 16th to sixth place in 2017 in the IMD's World Competitiveness Yearbook. The World Bank's most recent Doing Business 2018 report shows Ireland is now ranked 17th out of 190 countries, an improvement of one place on last year. We can see that we are competitive. It can be seen in the strong employment growth across all sectors. There is no room for complacency. We need to continue to improve the environment for doing business in Ireland and remain vigilant to the very significant challenges in the external environment.

The immediate challenge for Ireland is to ensure growth continues, enterprises are resilient and the economy is internationally competitive. A range of work is being done on FDI. The continued focus of IDA Ireland is working with companies abroad that will invest here. A strong pipeline of investment is due in Ireland. All the companies I meet are extremely positive about the experience in Ireland, the diverse workforce they can attract and their experience of doing business here. We often talk about red tape but companies are positive about it. Enterprise Ireland's work is also important.

I will shortly bring the National Competitiveness Council's annual Competitiveness Challenge report to Government. I pay tribute to it for the work it does. We recently held a meeting in Farmleigh House with the stakeholders. It was clear that the companies are doing much work. The chair of the National Competitiveness Council was very involved in that and continues to work closely with the Department and Irish businesses to maintain that competitive edge.

Despite what the Minister says, the World Bank has told us that of 190 economies, we are now flagging behind economies such as Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia and Macedonia. What are multinationals saying to the Minister when she goes on trade missions with regard to the challenges related to housing and our planning laws, for example? We saw the recent Athenry data centre debacle, which has really left us in a state of uncertainty. We know the Taoiseach got no joy from Tim Cook when he recently visited him in California. What is the Minister doing about planning laws? My party has published legislation relating to fast-tracking major IT infrastructural projects. What is the Minister doing about the provision of housing? I am sure multinationals raise policy decisions of Government with her. What are these companies telling the Minister and the Government with regard to these barriers to setting up, such as in Athenry or in Dublin where we have a shortage of residential units, and elsewhere around the country? What will the Minister do about it?

I am pleased to be in a position to state the feedback from the international companies that invest here, representatives of dozens of which I have met in the almost six months I have been Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, both in Ireland and abroad on trade missions, is positive. The job announcements in Drogheda, Limerick, Waterford and so on and recent weeks bear testament to that. The universal feedback is positive about the experience companies have in Ireland and they wish to continue investing here. They are interested in our situation post Brexit and I think there are opportunities. Those that have businesses in the UK are concerned about the changes there. In recent times, the focus on housing is clearly being raised by some companies, both with IDA Ireland and myself. They have questions about what is going to happen and what the Government's plans are. Business wants to be assured that issues are being dealt with. The most important thing is for us to be clear with businesses that a plan is in place to provide greater housing and that there is also a national planning framework and capital investment programme.

I have been outlining to businesses that a plan is in place to deal with these issues. Quite a number of the companies I have met, when I have checked whether their staff have experienced housing difficulties, even very recently, have said they have not and that they have been able to deal with the issue. However, there is no doubt but that the issue needs to be addressed; otherwise, it will become a barrier.

The Minister has not referred to the potential loss of the €850 million investment by Apple in a proposed data centre in Athenry. We really need to hear from her whether this opportunity has now been lost. Is the investment lost to the country and the State? As I said to her, Mr. Cook rebuffed, or at least did not give any joy to, our Taoiseach when he visited him recently. Where are we in this regard? Is the State now unable to land such major, large-scale investments? This is a huge worry and concern for the community of Athenry and the wider west coast of Ireland, so will the Minister comment in that regard? Specifically what does she intend to do? I have raised this at our committee. I have asked for her and the IDA to come before the committee, where we will have more time and will not be constrained, as we are here, by time limits, to have a broader discussion, specifically about the delivery of projects such as the Apple project. I ask the Minister to comment on this.

I share the Deputy's concern about what has happened regarding Apple. That is why it has been a priority for the Taoiseach to meet Apple and discuss with its directors both here and in the USA the issues in this regard. The whole country regrets the delays because delays are always of serious concern to business. That is one of the reasons-----

Is the investment lost?

We continue to work with Apple. I would not put it the way the Deputy has put it, that it is lost. We must continue to work with Apple. What is important is that we deal with infrastructure planning, as the Deputy rightly says, and data centres. The Taoiseach and I brought a memo to Government in order that we could fast-track data centres. This is very important because, as the Deputy knows, Apple put in for one part of a project which, I think, has eight parts to it all together, so it would be extremely helpful for the future decisions that Apple may make to get that legislation through. I ask for the Deputy's co-operation in the House, which I am sure we will get, to have that legislation passed. I would certainly like to see those jobs in Athenry, and we will continue to work with the company and will progress that legislation, which will also be helpful. There is no indication that companies are moving away from taking decisions to invest in Ireland - quite the contrary. Based on my experience and the IDA work in recent months, there is a strong interest and pipeline of investment in Ireland, thankfully, because, as the Deputy knows, tens of thousands of jobs rely on that sector.

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