Business Regulation

Questions (99)

Michael McGrath

Question:

99. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the legislation underpinning the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority; the powers of the authority; if it can impose fines on individual firms; the number of cases in each year since 2013 in which investigations have been brought against auditing and accountancy firms; the number of those that led to penalties been imposed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27437/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

The Companies Act 2014 sets out the framework for the oversight of the accountancy and auditing profession in Ireland. The Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA) is an independent body responsible for the supervision of the auditing and accounting profession and its objects, functions and powers are set out in the 2014 Act.

IAASA’s mission is to contribute to Ireland having a strong regulatory environment in which to do business by supervising and promoting high quality financial reporting, auditing and effective regulation of the accounting profession in the public interest.

In relation to accountancy, IAASA is responsible for the supervision of the prescribed accountancy bodies in respect of how these bodies regulate and monitor their members including on investigations and disciplinary matters. There are eight of these bodies currently.

In relation to auditing, IAASA is designated as the single competent authority with responsibility for the oversight of statutory auditors and audit firms in accordance with the EU Audit Directive (2006/43/EC as amended by Directive 2014/56/EU) and Regulation (EU) 537/2014. The oversight tasks in respect of statutory auditors are:

- the approval of accountants to act as statutory auditors and public registration;

- the adoption of standards on professional ethics, internal quality control of audit firms and auditing;

- continuing education of auditors;

- quality assurance of audits; and

- investigation and administrative disciplinary systems.

Five of the prescribed accountancy bodies are recognised by IAASA for the purposes of carrying out oversight tasks of the approval and registration of statutory auditors and audit firms; continuing education; quality assurance systems; investigative and administrative disciplinary systems in respect of statutory auditors and audit firms. These are the recognised accountancy bodies.

Under the Audit Regulation, IAASA has direct responsibility for the quality assurance of audits of public-interest entities. Public-interest entities are systemically important entities such as credit institutions and insurance undertakings. Entities with securities listed on a regulated main market in the EU are also classified as public-interest entities. IAASA is also responsible for any investigations or sanctions arising, as a result of those quality assurance inspections, including fines.

By the end of 2018 IAASA had carried out inspections in each of the nine audit firms that carry out statutory audits of PIEs and accordingly fall under its remit under the above Regulation. Arising from these inspections, IAASA commenced its first such investigation in 2018, which is ongoing.

IAASA can impose fines on individual firms, however, no penalties have been imposed to date in respect of investigations brought against auditing and accountancy firms.

IAASA also has discretionary powers under the 2014 Act including to enquire how a prescribed accountancy body has carried out its investigation and disciplinary procedures and to enquire into how a recognised accountancy body performs the audit oversight tasks.

IAASA also has responsibility for the registration and supervision of third country auditors i.e. auditors of companies incorporated in a country outside the EU that are listed on a regulated market in Ireland.

IAASA is independent in the exercise of its statutory functions and details of its activities can be found in the Authority’s annual reports which are submitted to Government and published on its website.

https://www.iaasa.ie/Publications/General

Regional Development Policy

Questions (100)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

100. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she can continue to assist business and enterprise throughout County Kildare using the medium of innovation and technology to enhance business development opportunities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27400/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

Regional enterprise development is a key priority for my Department and I am focused on maintaining existing jobs while also increasing the level of employment and investment in every county in Ireland.

I launched the new Regional Enterprise Plan for the Mid-East region, which covers Kildare, Meath and Wicklow, on 7 February last in Naas. The principle behind the Regional Enterprise Plans is collaboration between regional stakeholders on initiatives that can help to realise the region’s enterprise development potential.

On the day of the Mid-East Regional Enterprise Plan launch, I turned the sod on the development of the Mid East Regional Innovation Think Space (MERITS) enterprise centre in Naas. This project is receiving funding of just over €1.9 million from the previous €60 million competitive Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF).

I also visited Athy on 18 April last for the announcement of the development of the Athy Food, Drink and Skills Innovation Hub in the old Model School. This development will see the conversion of the Old Model School in Athy owned by Kildare County Council into a mixed-use Hub comprising of two commercial kitchens to cater for Food/Drinks Innovation and hospitality training, a Fab Lab for Agri-Tech Innovation, a large co-working /remote working space and soft-landing unit for potential FDI catering for 120 entrepreneurs and apprenticeships annually.

The unemployment rate in the Mid-East region, which includes Co. Kildare (along with Meath and Wicklow) has reduced from 9.6 % in Q1 2015 to 4.1% in Q1 2019, lower than the State unemployment rate of 4.8%.

The focus for Co. Kildare and the Mid-East over the period to 2020, under the new Regional Enterprise Plan, will be to maintain an emphasis on employment growth, aiming to out-perform the rate of growth achieved since 2015 to date and to ensure that sustainable, quality jobs are created and maintained in the region. The collaborative strategic objectives and actions in this Plan, along with the core activities of the various Agencies and Bodies involved in supporting enterprise development over the coming two-year period will support this.

Guided by the new Regional Enterprise Plan, and with access to funding under my Department’s new €45 million Regional Enterprise Development Fund, Co. Kildare and the wider Mid-East region is well positioned to build on its success and to continue to see the benefits and results of collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the region.

Innovation is a critical element of regional economic sustainability and in order to grow, firms must be enabled to achieve sales outside their own region.

Enterprise Ireland’s Research, Development and Innovation supports (Innovation Vouchers/Partnerships Technology Centres/Gateways, Campus Incubators, SME Instrument), are available in every county in Ireland. For instance, In Co Kildare, NUI Maynooth performs research as part of a number of Technology Centres, including Irish Manufacturing Research, Food for Health Ireland (FHI) and Microelectronic Circuits Centre Ireland (MCCI).

There are 29 IDA Ireland supported client companies in Co. Kildare, which collectively employ 8,838 people - representing an increase of 4.5% over the previous year. The county has a strong contingent of overseas firms in the technology, financial services and pharmaceuticals sectors. IDA Ireland clients such as Intel, Pfizer, and Procter and Gamble are all located in Kildare and continue to perform well.

IDA Ireland’s efforts to increase FDI in Kildare is strengthened by the presence of NUI Maynooth in the county. The university has been involved in a number of research projects with IDA Ireland client companies and has seven research institutes on campus. These include the Hamilton Institute - a world leading research unit in ICT with a focus on drones, AI and robotics - and the Innovation Value Institute which has been co-developed with Intel.

In November 2018, INIT announced their plans to create a software development centre in Maynooth which will result in the creation of an additional 20 highly skilled jobs. This is their first operation outside of Germany and this investment reflects Kildare's significant potential. IDA Ireland will be working hard to attract further investment from overseas firms to the county.

In addition, in 2018 Science Foundation Ireland approved grants of €3,716,400 in NUI Maynooth across a number of initiatives including the President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Programme and the Research Infrastructure Programme.

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Questions (101)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

101. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the degree to which she continues to assist small businesses affected by competition from outside the EU; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27401/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) network and Enterprise Ireland have played a significant role in our economic success and in driving competitiveness and productivity. Enterprise supports are central to our entrepreneurial ecosystem and the continued growth of small business and the success of the cohesiveness of future SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Under the Local Enterprise Offices Technical Assistance for Micro-Exporters (TAME) Grant, clients are supported to explore and develop new export market opportunities, such as participation in international trade fairs and development of export-related marketing materials and websites which can help companies to diversify.

The LEAN for Micro grant is adapted by Enterprise Ireland for LEO clients to help small businesses boost competitiveness, increase performance and profitability as well as building resilience within their companies. Under this programme, clients can avail of five days of consultancy with a qualified, Lean practitioner whom will work with the company to introduce lean principles, undertake a specific cost reduction project and assist the company in benchmarking its performance.

Enterprise Ireland provides supports to established SMEs in the manufacturing and internationally traded services sectors and to High Potential Start Ups (HPSUs). Funding and other supports are provided by Enterprise Ireland with the objective of increasing the potential employment and sales growth of the businesses, supporting regional development, increasing the productivity and innovation in indigenous businesses, and increasing exports. Categories of support provided by Enterprise Ireland to client companies include:

- Strategic Marketing Review Grant: This support is targeted at established companies that have experience in selling internationally and who are interested in reviewing and developing their market development strategy.

- Excel at Export Selling: A series of workshops aimed at rapidly embedding the proven tools of good international selling practice into the sales teams of Irish companies across all industry sectors.

In addition, from a broader EU perspective, EU policy on state aid recognises the specific difficulties that SMEs face due to their size. SMEs can receive a larger proportion of state aid than larger firms in many areas. They may benefit from certain types of support aimed at addressing their specific needs. Also, Member States may grant aid for SMEs, without the need for specific notification to the European Commission. Many of our grant aids and enterprise supports provided by our Agencies are regulated on this basis.

COSME is the EU programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs, running from 2014 to 2020, with a budget of €2.3 billion. To facilitate access to finance, the European Investment Fund (EIF) and the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) have signed a COSME agreement in Ireland. It is a key instrument in the EU's strategy to boost growth and jobs. COSME assists small companies in seizing the business opportunities in both EU Single Market and global markets.

Economic Data

Questions (102)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

102. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she continues to monitor impediments likely to impact on business nationally, with particular reference to the need to ensure the availability of indigenous and foreign investment in a business-friendly environment with consequent employment opportunities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27402/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

My Department and its agencies consistently engage with businesses throughout the country and across a variety of sectors to ensure an understanding of the existing and potential challenges faced by our businesses. This information is then used to develop Departmental policies and whole-of-government strategies that will help Irish companies to overcome obstacles and avail of opportunities in domestic and international markets.

In this context, Future Jobs Ireland is our plan to meet the challenges businesses are facing now. Launched on 10 March 2019, it includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy. For example, Future Jobs Ireland commits to doubling our lifelong learning rate by 2025. It commits to investing in test beds, demonstrator sites and research and innovation centres in cutting edge technologies like Connected Autonomous Vehicles, advanced manufacturing and Cobotics. It commits to a national AI strategy which will ensure we are leader in exploiting AI technologies in our research centres, businesses and the public sector to secure greater levels of productivity and wellbeing.

Future Jobs Ireland also aims to make the Public Service a leader in technology adoption and innovation including in GovTech, healthcare and in the edelivery of services to the public. Future Jobs Ireland is an inclusive plan. We don’t want any group of people to be left behind so we will also prepare and equip vulnerable workers for changes in their jobs through Transition Teams. We will also enable older workers, women and people with disabilities to participate in the workforce through better childcare, more flexible working options and access to upskilling.

It is vital that all businesses assess their vulnerabilities with regard to Brexit, and other economic challenges that may arise. It is particularly important that businesses examine their supply chains in detail and work towards addressing any identified weaknesses.

My Department, through its agencies, provide a wide range of supports to enable companies to consolidate market share within the UK and also to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets.

Enterprise Ireland's (EI) Strategy 2017-2020 aims to support entrepreneurs and bigger and better Irish companies to create 60,000 new jobs, to increase exports by €5bn (while reducing dependence on the UK) and to double client spend on innovation over four years.

EI is playing a key role in the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation's strategic response to Brexit. Over the medium term, EI's strategy of supporting companies that can compete globally through scaling, innovation and market diversification is the sustainable response to Brexit and other global challenges.

Enterprise Ireland has a broad range of supports available to help companies prepare for Brexit including the Brexit Scorecard, Be Prepared Grant, Advisory Clinics, Agile Innovation Fund, Operational Excellence Offer, Market Discovery Fund, Online Customs Training and the Act On Consultancy Grant.

EI clients' exports for 2018 rose for a ninth consecutive year, and now stand at €23.8 billion, the highest level in the history of the State. This represents a 6% increase on 2017, and a €10.9 billion increase in exports since 2009. In relation to employment, as of the end of 2018 215,207 people are now employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies. This is the highest in the history of the agency.

Enterprise Ireland manages the development of the 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) throughout the country. The LEOs are the "first stop shop" for advice on starting and growing a business locally. In 2018, 8,007 new jobs (gross) and 3,656 jobs (net) were created by LEO-backed client companies, with jobs growth across every LEO area. At the end of 2018 there were 36,666 people employed by 7,164 small businesses and start-ups that had received financial assistance from the Local Enterprise Offices.

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) recently launched their customs training offering which is available to all companies. Furthermore, they have a number of enterprise supports in place cover a range of potential Brexit impacts. These include: liquidity support through short term and longer-term loans; restructuring aid for businesses in severe operating difficulties, including an EU State aid approved Rescue and Restructure Scheme to deal with sudden shocks; and an expanded network of overseas offices and in-market supports to help firms diversify markets and to consolidate market share in the UK where appropriate.

IDA Ireland continues to work with their client companies and prospective clients to promote Ireland as an excellent location to do business. FDI companies have a hugely positive effect on the local economy with over eight jobs being created for every 10 jobs in an FDI company. Direct employment of 229,057 along with indirect employment of 183,246 translates to 412,303 jobs supported by FDI in Ireland at the end of 2018.

In March 2017, DBEI launched the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF). The REDF is a €60m competitive fund complementary to the Regional Enterprise plans and with the overarching aim of driving enterprise development and job creation in each region throughout Ireland. The Fund is administered for DBEI by Enterprise Ireland and it is aimed at supporting collaborative and innovative projects that can have a significant impact on enterprise development and help to sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level.

During 2017 and 2018, 42 projects have been awarded funding as part of Government initiatives under Project Ireland 2040, over two completed Calls for Proposals worth a total of almost €60m, with collaborative projects supported in every region. A third REDF competitive call was announced last week with a fund of €45m to further align this fund with key policy developments including Future Jobs Ireland and in order to continue to build Brexit resilience in the regions.

The Government is nevertheless conscious of our need to continue attracting FDI from as many different countries as possible. In order to reduce over-reliance on a particular market for FDI, we need to build awareness of Ireland as a favoured investment destination in target countries, as well as improve competitiveness and consolidate Ireland’s traditional strengths in terms of talent, productivity and ease of doing business. We are also investing more in infrastructure, to help ensure our economy can support and foster the investment we are seeking.

Brexit Issues

Questions (103)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

103. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the degree to which she continues to monitor business openings and opportunities arising from Brexit with a view to maximisation of employment here post Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27403/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

I can assure the Deputy that in so far as possible, my Department is seeking to maximise opportunities and minimise risks by ensuring the growth and resilience of Irish enterprise post Brexit. I have said in the past that Brexit does not present many business opportunities but is rather an exercise in damage limitation for businesses.

Nonetheless. we are working across Government to create the best environment for businesses to grow, export and create jobs.

The key elements of this include ensuring that firms have access to finance; that our tax regime is competitive and supportive of enterprise; that we invest in productivity enhancing infrastructure and promote national competitiveness; and that our agencies are appropriately resourced to help business to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that emerge.

We are supporting firms to start exporting, to grow their exports in existing markets and to diversify into new markets and regions. This support has been enhanced through the recruitment of an additional 100 Brexit related staff across the Department and its Agencies.

While the UK is and will remain a major market for Irish companies, expanding the Irish export footprint in markets beyond the UK is a key priority. Our enterprise agencies are now opening new offices around the world to support our companies in competing and thriving in global markets.

Enterprise Ireland’s (EI) strategy is to support Irish exporters to be more innovative, competitive and market diversified.

Ministerial-led Trade Missions support the Government's major drive towards market diversification and I have led on a number of successful trade missions over the past year to help Irish companies to expand into new markets. The majority of trade missions are taking place to the Eurozone, North America and Asia Pacific, which represent the strongest growth opportunities for Irish companies.

It is noteworthy also that EI client companies achieved record levels of exports in 2018 of €23.8bn, against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty.

In 2018, the Eurozone region, which is a key focus of Enterprise Ireland’s diversification strategy, saw growth of 7.6% to €4.8bn, with Germany, France and the Netherlands each exceeding €1bn in exports.

Exports to North America increased from €3.87bn in 2017 to €4.08bn in 2018, an increase of 5.5%.

Some of the biggest opportunities in relation to Brexit for Ireland is in the investment area.

Ireland is already an attractive location in Europe for foreign direct investment (FDI) and we are well placed to attract investment from multinational companies wanting to locate within the EU and in an English-speaking common law country.

IDA Ireland continues to work closely with international clients, from a range of sectors, to mitigate the potential impact of Brexit and to capitalise on any opportunities for additional Brexit-related foreign direct investment (FDI) in the future.

In doing so, the IDA has targeted both new-name investors and increased investment from companies already located here. This approach has contributed to record results in recent years and should lead to further investment and job creation in the years ahead.

In addition, staff at IDA are working hard to avail of new investment opportunities from non-traditional target markets and the IDA has also restructured its global footprint in response to Brexit, with the UK now being treated as a distinct market.

The results of these efforts have already been positive, with over 80 Brexit-related investments and 5,300 associated jobs won to date.

Our efforts to secure more investment, post-Brexit, will be aided by our membership of the European Union. This ensures that companies considering an investment in Ireland will gain barrier-free access to the EU market.

When taken together with other strengths - such as our pro-enterprise environment and our highly skilled dynamic workforce - these factors will assist Ireland to continue to be an attractive destination for mobile overseas investment post Brexit.

Brexit Issues

Questions (104)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

104. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the degree to which she continues to promote, generate and support Irish business at home and abroad in view of ongoing challenges such as Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27404/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government has a new plan - Future Jobs Ireland - to ensure we are preparing now for the jobs of the future. While the economy is performing well with strong employment and unemployment down to 4.4%, we cannot be complacent. In the past we took success for granted and failed to prepare for emerging challenges, trends and opportunities.

Future Jobs Ireland includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy. These includes funds, policies and initiatives that; enhance productivity, especially among SMEs; promote indigenous entrepreneurship, especially in the regions; encourage clustering and stronger links between domestic and foreign owned firms; and assist businesses to move up the value chain, to protect jobs and to build resilience for the future.

The long-term response to Brexit is for companies across all sectors to become more competitive, more innovative and to diversify their export footprint into more international markets. The agencies under my Department have a wide range of supports available to enable companies to consolidate market share within the UK, and also to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets.

Enterprise Ireland’s results for 2018 show the progress that the Agency have been making in supporting and driving the creation of new enterprises in the indigenous sector at a national and regional level. Client companies assisted by Enterprise Ireland created 18,846 jobs in 2018 and 64% of the jobs created were outside Dublin, with all regions recording increases in employment. There were 215,207 people employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies in 2018, the highest total employment in the history of the agency and exports also reached a new record of €23.8 billion. Importantly, these EI client firms have extensive links to their local economies around the country and EI client purchases of raw material and services and wages to direct employees exceeded €27 billion in 2018.

Enterprise Ireland’s clients' exports continued to rise for a ninth consecutive year and now stand at €23.8 billion, the highest level in the history of the State. This represents a 6% increase on 2017, and a €10.9 billion increase in exports since 2009.

During 2018, EI progressed with its strategic ambition to expand the Irish export footprint, by growing exports beyond the UK, while consolidating and building upon hard-won UK market positions. The 2018 export figures confirm that EIs clients are exporting more than ever before, to more diversified markets than ever before. Importantly, 417 companies established new overseas presences in 2018.

In the UK, which is and will remain, EI clients' largest market, exports remained strong and increased by 4%, despite the prevailing challenges of volatility and uncertainty. EI progressed with their ambition to reduce overall UK market exposure to one-third by 2020. During 2018 EI achieved a further one per cent reduction in UK market exposure, reducing it to 33%, down more than ten per cent over the years

The Eurozone region, which is a key focus of Enterprise Ireland's diversification strategy, saw growth of 7.6% to €4.8bn, with Germany, France and the Netherlands each exceeding €1bn in exports.

Enterprise Ireland’s focus is to assist client companies to build on the strength of their 2018 performance by supporting them to start, innovate, be competitive and to diversify their global footprint. In delivering on this, new supports have been introduced, others streamlined, a Global Ambition campaign launched and an intensive programme initiated to support companies to take action and plan for Brexit so that they have the resilience necessary to navigate the challenges and opportunities posed by any kind of Brexit.

The UK is the leading exporting destination for Enterprise Ireland supported companies and is the first export destination for many companies. Despite this, Enterprise Ireland supported companies, are increasingly diversifying their global footprint beyond the UK. The proportion of exports to the UK has reduced by 10% over the years, reflecting the success Irish companies are having in substantially increasing and broadening their exports to other international markets.

Enterprise Ireland has a broad range of supports to help companies prepare for Brexit including the Brexit Scorecard, Be Prepared Grant, Advisory Clinics, Agile Innovation Fund, Operational Excellence Offer and Market Discovery Fund. Recently launched EI supports including online Customs Training and Act On Consultancy. In addition, the Local Enterprise Offices recently launched their customs training offering which is available to all companies. Furthermore, the suite of enterprise supports in place cover a range of potential Brexit impacts. These range from liquidity support through short term and longer term loans, to restructuring aid for businesses in severe operating difficulties, including an EU State aid approved Rescue and Restructure Scheme to deal with sudden shocks and an expanded network of overseas offices and in-market supports to help firms diversify markets and to consolidate market share in the UK where appropriate.

The 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are located throughout the country and provide a range of supports for the micro and small business sector. The LEOs act as the “first-stop-shop” for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports to those wishing to start or grow their own business. The Government agreed to increase funding for the LEOs by 22% in 2019 and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and to build resilience against Brexit.

To drive awareness of the importance of preparing for Brexit, a number of regional advisory clinics have been held by Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs around the country.

It is also vital that businesses themselves prepare for Brexit impacts and take actions to mitigate against any adverse effects. Firms that do business with the UK, whether buying goods or exporting products, should in particular, examine their supply chains to determine their vulnerabilities and take appropriate action.

Trade Promotion

Questions (105)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

105. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of countries, with particular reference to new markets, with which she continues to be in contact in order to generate new business; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27405/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

While the UK is and will remain a major market for Irish companies, expanding the Irish export footprint in markets beyond the UK is a key priority. In that context, Enterprise Ireland’s strategy is to support Irish exporters to be more innovative, competitive and market diversified.

Enterprise Ireland client companies achieved record levels of exports in 2018 of €23.8bn, against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty. In 2018, the Eurozone region, which is a key focus of Enterprise Ireland’s diversification strategy, saw growth of 7.6% to €4.8bn, with Germany, France and the Netherlands each exceeding €1bn in exports. Exports to North America increased from €3.87bn in 2017 to €4.08bn in 2018, an increase of 5.5%. Our Enterprise agencies are now opening new offices around the world to support our companies in competing and thriving in global markets.

Ministerial led international trade missions and events support the goal of securing high- level market access for Irish companies aiming to grow business overseas and increase domestic employment. An extensive schedule of international trade missions and events for 2019 was launched in February this year. This covers a total of 207 events within Ireland and international locations, to include 73 Ministerial led trade missions and events.

To date in 2019, Mr Pat Breen, T.D., Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection and I have led trade missions to Australia and Singapore, the UK, Canada/United States and New Zealand. Trade Missions planned for the reminder of the year will include visits to Switzerland and Germany, Turkey, Spain, Japan and Korea, the Netherlands, North America, the UAE, South Africa and Kenya, and Mexico. These Trade Missions will continue to focus on promoting the innovative capabilities and competitive offerings of Irish companies to international buyers in sectors including internationally traded services, fintech, high-tech construction, engineering, ICT and lifesciences.

Brexit Supports

Questions (106)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

106. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she remains satisfied with the availability of grant aid or other supports to assist business and enterprise here facing the threats arising from Brexit; her views on whether further innovation is needed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27406/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

My Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses are prepared for Brexit. While we cannot yet know the form that Brexit will take, these measures aim to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme provides working capital (1-3 years) to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. As part of the eligibility application process, businesses must complete a business plan demonstrating the means by which they plan to innovate in response to the challenges posed by Brexit.

The Future Growth Loan Scheme, which opened to eligibility applications in April of this year, provides a longer-term loan facility of 8-10 years. This €300m scheme is also jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Loans of €100,000 (€50,000 for primary agriculture) to €3 million are available to eligible Irish businesses, including those in the primary agriculture and seafood sectors, to support strategic, long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment.

Enterprise Ireland has established additional supports including a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, an online Brexit SME Scorecard, a Be Prepared grant and a new Eurozone Strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK. In addition, the Agile Innovation Fund provides grant support of 50% of up to €300,000. EI has also launched a Customs Insights Online training course aimed at businesses that will be engaging with customs for the first time.

Local Enterprise Office (LEO) funding has been increased by 22% in 2019, and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and better able to cope with the changing environment in which they are operating. The suite of supports available from the LEOs includes tailored mentoring to address the specific Brexit challenges facing businesses, as well as targeted training on Brexit-related issues, various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. In addition, 641 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. The Local Enterprise Office interactive one day Prepare Your Business for Customs workshop helps businesses understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes required to succeed in a post Brexit environment.

The LEOs engage in a number of other schemes to help companies prepare for Brexit including Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export which are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities.

The majority of the schemes outlined are open to all SMEs, not just agency clients.

InterTradeIreland’s Brexit Advisory Service provides important support for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading relationships arising as a result of Brexit. ITI has organised a series of awareness events focused on improving knowledge of customs processes and procedures, and identifying actions that can be taken in areas such as logistics and supply chain management. To date, more than 7,000 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service.

ITI also offers a Brexit Planning Voucher worth up to €2,250, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services. In March, it launched a Brexit Implementation Voucher, which provides financial support up to €5,625 with InterTradeIreland paying 50%. This will allow businesses to implement critical changes making them better prepared to deal with a new trading relationship. InterTradeIreland’s Tariff Checker allows SMEs to view, filter and print the cross-border tariffs and charges related to their business. This enables businesses to evaluate the potential impacts that Brexit may have on their supply chain.

EU State aid approval has been secured for a €200 million Rescue and Restructure Scheme which can be used to support businesses in the event of a sudden shock.

Regarding State aid, in November 2017 a Technical Working Group was established comprising representatives from DG Competition, my Department, Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The objective of the Group is to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules. Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group, Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018. Options available through the Agriculture Guidelines are also being developed to support large food companies.

Earlier this year I met with the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager and at that meeting she assured me that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms.

While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the continuing uncertainty around the withdrawal process may have led businesses to defer their Brexit preparations. The UK’s exit from the EU will bring change for Irish businesses. I want businesses to know my Department and agencies are here to help.

Economic Competitiveness

Questions (107)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

107. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which technology, education and the availability of suitable business and housing accommodation continue to be an issue in regard to the creation of further employment nationally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27407/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

The economy is in a strong position having recovered from the financial crisis and the subsequent recession. The unemployment rate is down to 4.4% and there are 2.3 million people employed in Ireland, more than ever before. However, there are several risks facing the Irish economy which may constrain economic performance including infrastructural constraints. We also face risks on the international stage including Brexit, growing trade protectionism and the undermining of the rules-based international trading system which could threaten our future economic welfare.

Ireland remains a highly competitive economy and performs well in international competitiveness scorecards and is regularly ranked as one of the most competitive economies in the EU. However, this strong competitiveness position cannot be taken for granted. There is no room for complacency which is why improving Ireland’s competitiveness is a key priority for this Government, and my Department.

The Government is ambitious to build upon the gains we have made in recent years and to ensure our people enjoy higher standards of living and quality of life now, and into the future. Future Jobs Ireland 2019, which was launched on 10 March 2019, is the first part of a new multi-annual framework, up until 2025, to ensure our enterprises and workers are resilient and prepared for future challenges and opportunities. Future Jobs Ireland is an opportunity for managed and sustainable growth aimed at future proofing our economy. This is a whole of Government approach, which will form a key part of Ireland’s economic agenda over the medium term.

Future Jobs Ireland focuses on five key Pillars, namely:

1. Embracing Innovation and technological change;

2. Improving SME productivity;

3. Enhancing skills and developing and attracting talent;

4. Increasing participation in the labour force; and

5. Transitioning to a low carbon economy.

Future Jobs Ireland 2019 sets out core ambitions for each of these Pillars, each backed up by a set of specific deliverables representing crucial steps toward achieving each ambition. These deliverables are built on engagement, including through the national Future Jobs Summit held in November 2018 which brought Government and stakeholders together to discuss the Pillars within Future Jobs Ireland. The deliverables for 2019 represent the first stage of Future Jobs Ireland which will be built on in subsequent editions annually.

Future Jobs Ireland is one of a number of Government initiatives designed to embed resilience in the Irish economy and harness opportunities for growth. Project Ireland 2040, the Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown, Global Ireland 2015, and the National Skills Strategy will all contribute to continued and sustainable growth.

By 2025, our workers and enterprises will be operating in a changed economy. It is time to shift our enterprise and jobs focus to ensure quality jobs that will be resilient into the future. We are witnessing rapid technological advances presenting challenges and also new possibilities. Certain job roles will disappear or be redefined and new job roles will appear requiring new and different skillsets. We want Ireland to be at the frontier of technological developments internationally. To do this we must enable and encourage innovation across sectors and firms. Work must also be done to increase the absorptive capacity and new ways of working across all types of business, and particularly within SMEs.

Technological adoption will mean changes in the labour intensity of important sectors in our economy. As workers transition between occupations and sectors, a greater focus will be required on re-skilling and up-skilling those already at work that are at risk, improving lifelong learning, as well as ensuring graduates are equipped with the skills to contribute in the high technology economy of the future.

The importance of having a skilled workforce cannot be exaggerated. But we also need to inculcate a lifelong learning culture. The Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), which operates under the aegis of my Department, plays an important role in advising Government on future skills requirements and associated labour market issues that impact on enterprise development and employment growth. It is a key component of Ireland’s skills architecture, carrying out strategic research into emerging skills needs and presenting its findings to the National Skills Council (NSC) where priority areas can be identified and addressed.

Enterprise Support Services Provision

Questions (108)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

108. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which adequate incentives remain available to encourage the indigenous sector, with particular reference to job creation enterprises; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27408/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

The Government has a new plan - Future Jobs Ireland - to ensure we are preparing now for the jobs of the future. While the economy is performing well with strong employment and wage growth, we cannot be complacent. In the past we took success for granted and failed to prepare for emerging challenges, trends and opportunities. It is my priority as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to see more jobs created in the regions. Regional development is a key priority for this Government and it is important that the value of collaboration and the work by the development agencies, which has yielded strong jobs results in recent years, must be complimented by a bottom-up approach in providing critical business supports and advice.

Enterprise Ireland’s results for 2018 show the progress that the Agency have been making in supporting and driving the creation of new enterprises in the indigenous sector at a national and regional level. Client companies assisted by Enterprise Ireland created 18,846 jobs in 2018 and 64% of the jobs created were outside Dublin, with all regions recording increases in employment. There were 215,207 people employed by Enterprise Ireland supported companies in 2018, the highest total employment in the history of the agency and exports also reached a new record of €23.8 billion. Importantly, these EI client firms have extensive links to their local economies around the country and EI client purchases of raw material and services and wages to direct employees exceeded €27 billion in 2018.

Enterprise Ireland provide funding and other supports with the objective of increasing the potential employment and sales growth of businesses, supporting regional development, increasing the productivity and innovation in indigenous businesses, and increasing exports.

The 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are located throughout the country and provide a range of supports for the micro and small business sector. The LEOs act as the “first-stop-shop” for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other supports to those wishing to start or grow their own business. The Government agreed to increase funding for the LEOs by 22% in 2019 and this increase is being used to assist micro-enterprises in becoming more competitive and to build resilience against Brexit. The LEOs are supporting over 36,000 jobs in 7,000 small Irish businesses and significantly in 2018 171 LEO clients were transferred to Enterprise Ireland for further growth and investment. Future Jobs Ireland has a commitment to examine how best to strengthen the capacity of the LEOs to work with and support a broader range of ambitious and growth-oriented enterprises to improve productivity growth, innovation and resilience.

In March 2017 the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) was launched. The REDF is a €60m competitive fund complementary to the Regional Enterprise plans and with the overarching aim of driving enterprise development and job creation in each region throughout Ireland. The Fund is administered for my Department by Enterprise Ireland and it is aimed at supporting collaborative and innovative projects that can have a significant impact on enterprise development and help to sustain and add to employment at a national, regional and county level.

During 2017 and 2018, 42 projects have been awarded funding as part of Government initiatives under Project Ireland 2040, over two completed Calls for Proposals worth a total of almost €60m, with collaborative projects supported in every region.

I announced a third REDF competitive call last week with a fund of €45m to further align this fund with key policy developments including Future Jobs Ireland and in order to continue to build Brexit resilience in the regions.

I also recently announced the second call of the pilot Online Retail Scheme which has been open for applications since 19 June 2019. Call 2 of the pilot Online Retail Scheme is open to applications from Irish owned retail businesses with 10 or more employees, and who have a physical retail outlet.

Regional Development Initiatives

Questions (109)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

109. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the degree to which she continues to encourage start-up enterprises in all regions nationally; the issues to date identified as being likely to impede progress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27409/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

While we have had great success through the Action Plan for Jobs in reducing unemployment from 16% to 4.4% today, in the context of Brexit and other global challenges it is important that we move our focus beyond numbers of jobs created to quality and sustainable jobs. Future Jobs Ireland is our plan to meet all these challenges. Launched on 10 March 2019, it includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy. These includes funds, policies and initiatives that; enhance productivity, especially among SMEs; promote indigenous entrepreneurship, especially in the regions; encourage clustering and stronger links between domestic and foreign owned firms; and assist businesses to move up the value chain, to protect jobs and to build resilience for the future.

My Department continues to support and encourage start-up enterprises and entrepreneurs nationally through the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) which have contributed to our economic success. Year on year the they have increased their client numbers and job creation in all regions throughout the country. They are central to the continued growth of small business and the success of future start up enterprises and entrepreneurs.

In 2018, the LEOs had 36,666 clients generating 8,007 total jobs with a net gain of 3,656 in the year with all regions recording increases in employment. The Government’s commitment to start-up enterprises and small businesses is demonstrated through the additional funding of €5m allocated to the LEOs in the Budget 19 to encourage new clients to apply for grants and initiatives made available through the LEOs.

The flagship Local Enterprise Office Start Your Own Business (SYOB) programme gives aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs an opportunity to assess whether they have a viable business idea. It helps de-risk start-up business by identifying, understanding and researching their target market. The LEO SYOB caters for

- Anyone with a business idea they want to develop

- Anyone looking at self-employment as a career option

- Anyone who recently started a business

The Local Enterprise Office also run Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur Programme with an investment fund of €2 million, which is open to people between the ages of 18 and 35 with an innovative business idea, new start-up or established business.

Enterprise Ireland’s results for 2018 show the progress that the Agency have been making in supporting and driving the creation of new enterprises in the indigenous sector at a national and regional level. Client companies assisted by Enterprise Ireland created 18,846 jobs in 2018 and 64% of the jobs created were outside Dublin, with all regions recording increases in employment.

Enterprise Ireland has an extensive range of supports to encourage start-ups, including:

- High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) Feasibility Grant: assists a new start-up company or individual entrepreneur to investigate the viability of a new export orientated business or proposition.

- HPSU equity support: actively works with HPSUs, companies with the potential to develop an innovative product or service for sale in international markets and the potential to create 10 jobs and €1m in sales within 3 to 4 years of starting up.

The Government’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund is about supporting every region in Ireland to build on its unique strengths and ultimately create sustainable jobs. The Fund, which is delivered for the Government through Enterprise Ireland launched an open national competitive call to encourage start-ups and regional projects.

Under the Future Jobs Ireland strategy, the Government is promoting indigenous entrepreneurship, especially in the regions; in encouraging clustering and stronger links between domestic and foreign owned firms; and helping in assisting businesses to move up the value chain.

Brexit uncertainty has been identified as likely to create significant challenges for many businesses, however several supports have been developed to help them to rise to this challenge. These supports, and programmes are focused on innovation, export market diversification, competitiveness and information sharing.

The LEOs and Enterprise Ireland are an outstanding resource available to businesses and their variety of clients in such a diversity of sectors is a demonstration of the expertise available through these Agencies. Businesses that work closely with benefit significantly from the supports, mentoring and training they provide. I will ensure that the Enterprise Agencies continue to get the resources they need to create jobs and allow start-up enterprises to flourish throughout all regions.

Work Permits Applications

Questions (110)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

110. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to streamline the application process for work permits further, with particular reference to the issuing of decisions in a quick manner, therefore avoiding unnecessary delays for businesses in hiring the appropriate staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27410/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

As the economy improves and we approach full employment my Department has experienced a high volume of employment permit applications which has led to some delays in processing applications.

The Employment Permits section in my Department is working to reduce the current waiting times of four weeks for applications from Trusted Partners who are regular users of the service, and account for 71% of total permits issued, and twelve weeks for Standard applications, which account for 29% of permits issued.

In order to reduce processing times, the Employment Permits section has introduced a number of operational changes, streamlined processes and implemented ICT solutions. Additional staffing resources have also been assigned to the section and a fast track training programme has been devised. In addition a Business Process Reengineering Review for the Employment Permits section will commence shortly as a first step in the development of a new IT processing system which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation.

Applicants have always been advised by my Department to apply for an employment permit 12 weeks in advance of the expected start date. This should help to minimise any impact of the current extended processing timelines on recruitment timeframes.

I can assure you that all available resources are being deployed with the aim of reducing processing times. My officials have been proactively engaging with customers to notify them of current delays through email, meetings and regular updates on the Employment Permits section of my Department’s website.

Foreign Direct Investment

Questions (111)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

111. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which Ireland continues to remain an attractive country for foreign direct investment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27411/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) remains a cornerstone upon which Ireland’s economy is built. Its contribution to Ireland’s economic recovery has been far-reaching and it’s estimated that 20% of all private sector employment in the State is directly or indirectly attributable to FDI.

It is a significant achievement that there are now over 230,000 people employed in IDA Ireland client companies. Last year alone IDA Ireland won 265 projects, compared with 237 in 2017. Within this figure, a record number of 134 were from new companies investing in Ireland for the first time, which is an increase of 20% over 2017.

The mid-year results for 2019 demonstrate that the pipeline of FDI into Ireland remains strong, with 13,500 job approvals and 140 investments secured so far this year. The provisional results have also reflected a number of significant investments across all regions including 150 jobs by Meissner in Castlebar, 100 new positions at JRI America in Tralee and 75 new jobs at Greenfield Global in Portlaoise.

It is therefore clear that Ireland remains attractive to overseas investors. However, we cannot take future FDI success for granted, which is why the Government is working hard to strengthen the competitiveness of the economy. Steps are also being taken to diversify further our sources of investment, including through the placement of IDA staff in new locations abroad.

Apprenticeship Programmes

Questions (112)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

112. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the timetable for the actions regarding work permits that will be taken to implement recommendations as set out in the report, The Role of Apprenticeships and Work Permits in Addressing Ireland’s Skills Needs, which was compiled by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation. [27417/19]

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Written answers (Question to Business)

Many of the recommendations and issues identified regarding the employment permits system in the Report of the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the Role of Apprenticeships and Work Permits in Addressing Ireland's Skills Needs were considered and included as part of the Review of Economic Migration Policy undertaken at my request during 2018.

The Review found that, overall, the State’s vacancy-led employment permits system is robust and has served the country well in recent years, allowing us to focus on attracting skills critical to business. However in the context of strong economic growth new pressures are emerging and some adjustments are needed to provide the flexibilities required to ensure that the system remains supportive of the Irish Labour Market at all stages of the economic cycle. The Economic Migration Interdepartmental Group, chaired by my Department, is overseeing the implementation of the recommendations, including the development of new Employment Permit legislation to consolidate the existing legislative framework and to give effect to a number of the review recommendations. This work is underway at present.

All employment permit applications require that a contract of employment is place the ensure that an employee enjoys the full regulatory protections governing workplaces and any associated enforcement. It is the norm internationally for employment permission for migrant workers to be linked to a specific employer. Non-EEA employees are generally expected to remain with an employer for 12 months, after which they are free to move employment. The current legislative provisions provide for circumstances whereby a non-EEA employee may move employment within that 12 month period.

My officials met with the Low Pay Commission Secretariat during the review and agreed to continue to consult on those recommendations that require further analysis. In addition my Department intends shortly to commission a study on remuneration thresholds for employment permit purposes.

As the economy improves and we approach full employment, the Department has experienced a high volume of employment permit applications which has led to some delays in processing applications. In order to reduce processing times, the Employment Permits section has introduced a number of operational changes, streamlined processes and implemented ICT solutions as well as securing additional staffing resources. In addition a Business Process Reengineering Review for the Employment Permits section will commence shortly as a first step in the development of a new IT processing system which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation.