Thursday, 31 January 2019

Questions (11)

Brendan Smith

Question:

11. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to provide specific incentives to attract inward investment to the Border region to create employment in view of the particular difficulties that will arise for business and commerce in areas such as Counties Cavan and Monaghan due to the adverse impacts of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4667/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

As the Minister knows, and as we have discussed in the House previously, farming, agrifood, construction products and engineering, which are critical sectors in the local economy of Cavan-Monaghan, stand to be most adversely impacted by Brexit. We must ensure we maintain the best possible level of job creation in our region. As such, there is a case for specific incentives to attract inward investment to places like Cavan-Monaghan and the broader Border region.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Regional development, not just in the Border area but across Ireland, remains a key priority and my Department and its agencies are focused on strengthening investment and job creation all over the country. The recent annual results of the IDA demonstrate that we are making significant strides. In 2018, for example, 56% of all new jobs created by the agency were in locations outside Dublin. Similarly, every region in Ireland, including the Border region, posted net gains in jobs last year. There are now over 132,000 people employed across 681 firms in IDA client companies outside the capital. In fact, 58% of all IDA-supported employment is now outside of Dublin. This represents the highest number of people employed in the regions by IDA clients in the agency's history. While more work remains to be done, the Border region has benefitted from this regional focus. The region experienced a 3% growth in employment by overseas companies in 2018 and we are already working hard to increase this figure in 2019.

As part of its work, the IDA is directly investing in a building programme to ensure property solutions are in place for overseas companies considering investing or expanding outside our major cities. As part of budget 2019, I allocated an additional €10 million for the next phase of the IDA's regional property programme. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the programme includes plans for an advanced technology unit, or ATU, at Knockaconny, County Monaghan. The IDA is in the process of procuring a design and delivery team for this facility. The wider Border region will also benefit with new buildings planned for Dundalk and Sligo, which I am confident will help generate new opportunities for the wider area. The agency has a dedicated regional manager for the north east-north west region and an office in the Cavan Innovation and Technology Centre. As part of its strategy to promote the area, the IDA is focusing on sectors including agrifood, manufacturing, tourism and internationally-traded services.

I thank the Minister for the reply and welcome the proposed development at Knockaconny. The provision of workspace enterprise centres, whether by the private sector or via community endeavour, is welcome and should be supported. The Minister is well aware that our counties were held back for many decades due to the Troubles and the paramilitary activity inflicted on our province over many decades. Hopefully, we are not returning to an era in which the Border is seen as a negative location. In advance of Brexit and regardless of the outcome, which in any event will not be favourable, the Minister's Department and its agencies must think about providing new streams of incentives. In the past, we had Objective One status to help the less developed parts of the country. Cohesion funding post-2020 is one of the important ingredients the Department and its agencies should be working to put in place to secure employment and bring inward investment to our region, which will need it following the adverse impacts on critical sectors of the local economy.

I acknowledge the work Deputy Smith is doing on Brexit as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. I am from the Clones area and Deputy Smith's home is not far from Belturbet, Bawnboy and Ballyconnell, which are towns that bore the brunt of the Troubles when a hard border was in place. We never want to go back to those days. That is why everything the Government is doing is focused on ensuring we do not have a hard Border on this island. Deputy Smith has brought delegations and parliamentarians to the Border region to highlight the impact Brexit will have. The joined-up approach of this Parliament to Brexit is in stark contrast to what we see in Westminster. There are targeted supports available, including the regional enterprise development fund. Of the last call relating to the fund, €10.6 million went to the Border region. I am pleased to inform Deputy Smith that almost €5 million has been allocated for the construction of a new bio-economy research centre in Monaghan which will be a game-changer for the future of the food industry on which we are so dependent. Further funding of €250,000 was provided to develop an engineering network in the north east involving a number of companies in Monaghan, Cavan and Louth working in collaboration and building on their engineering strengths. Deputy Smith and I are both aware of how important engineering is in the Border region.

I will be brief to allow my colleague get to the next question. It is important to note what must be done at national level to achieve EU policy changes on cohesion funding and Objective One status to address the issues I referred to earlier. Our agencies and Departments must work in close collaboration with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. The North-South economy is joined up locally.

I agree with the Deputy. InterTradeIreland is doing a great deal of work with Border region companies to help them meet the challenges of Brexit. In the last budget, I allocated an extra €1 million to InterTradeIreland to help it support companies on a cross-Border basis. I met Commissioner Vestager last week and highlighted to her the issues arising in relation to Brexit, in particular for the Border region Deputy Smith and I know so well. All elected representatives from the region are well aware of the difficulties Brexit presents. I took the opportunity to tell the Commissioner that I was from the Border region and to inform her of the huge impact of Brexit. There are many supports available from my Department and I ask companies which have not taken them up to do so. The help is there and it is just a matter of going to the local enterprise office as the first port of call. The Commissioner is acutely aware of the difficulties Brexit presents to Ireland and she said the EU would not be found wanting and would deal with any requests we have efficiently and promptly.