Job Creation

Questions (6)

James Browne

Question:

6. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to address the quality of jobs and the need for further investment in the south east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26954/19]

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Oral answers (16 contributions) (Question to Business)

I ask the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to address the quality of jobs, and the need for further investment, in the south east.

Before I respond to Deputy Browne's question, I would also like to pay tribute to Deputy Kelleher, with whom I have served in this House for the past 17 years. Deputy Kelleher previously served in my office as Minister of State with responsibility for commerce and trade, where I know he was very popular with all of the staff. I understand some of my staff worked with him during his tenure as Minister of State. I wish the Deputy Kelleher well in his new role. It is an important role. Our future emanates from Europe and our MEPs have a lot of important work to do over the next five years. The Deputy's experience in this House will stand to him as he takes on his new role in the European Parliament. I wish him well.

In regard to Deputy Browne's question, enterprise development and sustainable job creation in the regions is a key priority of the Government. A total of 18,300 more people in the south east are in employment in quarter 1 2019 than there were in quarter 1 2015 when the regional action plan for jobs initiative was launched. Unemployment has reduced from 11.7% to 6.7% in the same period. The State average figure at quarter 1 2019 is 4.8%.

While we have had great success through the Action Plan for Jobs in reducing unemployment, in the context of Brexit and other global challenges, it is important that we move our focus to the creation of quality and sustainable jobs. In this context, the Deputy has raised an important question. Future Jobs Ireland is our plan to meet these challenges. Launched last March, it includes ambitious targets and actions to drive the transformation of our economy.

In the south east, there were 15,580 people employed across 76 IDA Ireland client companies in 2018, an increase of almost 7% on 2017. The IDA will continue to work with its clients to identify opportunities for new investment or expansion in the south east, promoting the region's strengths, including its ports and existing concentrations of financial services, IT and high-value manufacturing activities.

In 2018, there were 25,214 people employed in Enterprise Ireland, EI, supported companies in the south east, an increase of 5% over 2017. Earlier this week, the Minister launched Enterprise Ireland's new regional plan, Powering the Regions, which sets out the focus of its activities in each region, including the south east.

The Government remains committed to achieving an overall jobs uplift of between 10% and 15% in each region by the end 2020, from quarter 1 2015, and to bring and-or maintain unemployment levels in each region to within at least one percentage point of the State average. To this end, we recently launched nine new regional enterprise plans to 2020, which build on the strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. Last March, we launched the south east plan, which covers counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford in Waterford, with strategic objectives focused on building enterprise resilience, marketing the region, a regional engagement strategy on key infrastructure priorities, ensuring the south east is a learning region, and tourism growth.

I do not get the sense that the Minister, the Minister of State, or the Government understand the position in the south east. The region consistently has the highest rate of unemployment in the country, which I have raised continuously in this House since my election three years ago. There does not appear to be any focus on address of unemployment and the quality of employment in the south east. Numerous towns in the south east are consistently ranked among the lowest in terms of average incomes. Wexford, in particular, is on the doorstep of Dublin. It is linked by motorways, it has a significant population but it is not being serviced. The south east also has one of the lowest numbers of IDA jobs. There is no focus on address of the situation in the south east. As mentioned by the Minister of State, it has natural strengths such as the ports, but this has never been highlighted to any our colleagues in the UK in the context of the Brexit negotiations. Rosslare Europort should be booming. It should be a driver. We still do not have a university in the south east, which is another key issue. The quality of the jobs in the south east is unacceptable and it needs to be addressed. The south east is consistently one of the worst regions, and one of the failures of this Government, in terms of job creation targets.

There are 19 IDA companies in Wexford, which employ more than 3,139 people. The south east has many strengths, including its ports and existing cluster of financial services. The IDA continues to engage with companies in Wexford. Last March, GrandPad, which produces tablets for seniors, located its European headquarters in Gorey. In July 2018, INDOS Financial located in Enniscorthy. There is a lot of job creation happening in the south east. In terms of focus, I refer the Deputy to the future jobs Ireland framework, which is of major importance to the country. It is about innovation.

The Deputy referred to quality jobs. There is a lot of innovative and technological change taking place in Ireland. We also have to increase SME productivity in the country. SMEs are important to the south east, including Wexford. Approximately 98% of enterprises in the country are SMEs that employ 70% of the population. It is also important that we invest in upskilling people as job roles change. The figures I outlined in my initial reply are positive. As stated by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland in their end of year reports, job creation outside of the greater Dublin region is strong.

Unemployment decreased in May but 200 fewer people were unemployed in the south east.

It appears that the unemployment rate is going down solely on the basis that people are retiring from or leaving the employment market.

The south-east region is consistently missing both the Government's Action Plan for Jobs targets of bringing regional unemployment to within 1% of the State average and the Government's proposed target of creating 25,000 new jobs. IDA Ireland has virtually no land in County Wexford. Wexford has 3.3% of the national population and we want 3.3% of IDA Ireland jobs. That is reflected across the entirety of the south east.

Yesterday, it was announced that Enniscorthy town has the second lowest average income in the county. According to Pobal, the south east has the highest number of socioeconomic black spots.

There is a lack of focus on targeting this in the south east. There are many generalities. The figures the Minister of State gave are national figures. There is a lack of focus on the south east. The strengths are there but they are not being taken advantage of.

The figures I gave on the south east are positive figures. I stated that in the south east, 15,580 people were employed across 76 IDA Ireland companies in 2018. That is positive.

The Deputy is lucky to have the financial services down in that area as well. I wish we had more of them in my own area. This is an area where we are getting many new companies in as a result of Brexit and where many of our trade missions are focusing as well. Wexford's own Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is in charge of that area and he has done many trade missions in that area of financial technology, FinTech, services.

Deputy Browne talked about the region. Regions, for us, are really important. Only last Monday, in Cavan, the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched a new round worth €45 million for the regional enterprise development scheme. It is a very important scheme. In the south east alone, €10 million was secured under the two completed calls, which involved €60 million in total. This is the way the south east needs to move forward here.

It is not all about IDA Ireland jobs. It is all about indigenous jobs, microenterprise jobs.

We will take any jobs.

There is a local enterprise office in Wexford. All these are playing a significant role in increasing employment in the regions.

As Deputy Browne will be aware-----

I gave the Minister of State figures and he is giving me generalities.

-----unemployment has decreased in all the regions around the country.

We will continue to do so in the future with the prudent management of the economy-----

-----and the initiatives that we have brought in in our Department.

Brexit Issues

Questions (7)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the percentage of goods and services imported from the United Kingdom; the percentage of goods and services exported to the United Kingdom; the extent to which this has changed since the Brexit referendum in June 2016; and her views on whether businesses here have been able to find new markets outside of Britain. [25219/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Business)

Question No. 7 is in the name of Deputy Howlin. I will allow Deputy Jan O'Sullivan to put the question. I am sure everybody else is happy with that.

It seems more likely now that we may face a hard Brexit with the change of Prime Minister in the United Kingdom. The question is around the percentage of goods and services imported from the United Kingdom and exported from Ireland to the United Kingdom, and how that has changed since the Brexit referendum in 2016.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue.

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 to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets. These include a €300 million Brexit loan scheme for eligible businesses with up to 499 employees and the future growth loan scheme, which will make a fund of up to €300 million available to SMEs for terms of eight to ten years.

CSO trade data show that in 2015, 14% or €31 billion of the total value of goods and services imported into Ireland was from the UK. In 2018, this percentage remained at 14%, although the value increased to €39 billion. The total value of goods and services imported into Ireland increased from €223.1 billion in 2015 to €275.9 billion in 2018.

In 2015, 16% or €37.1 billion of the value of total goods and services exports was to the UK. In 2018, this reduced to 14% or €43.8 billion. Even though the value went up, the percentage came down. In the period 2015 to 2018, the value of total exports from Ireland increased by €77.6 billion or 33%, to a record level of €316 billion.

In 2018, the dependency on the UK as a destination for Enterprise Ireland client company exports reduced to 33%, down from 44% in 2007. 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. Against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty, Enterprise Ireland client companies achieved record levels of exports in 2018 of €23.8 billion. The eurozone region saw growth of 7.6% to €4.8 billion, with Germany, France and the Netherlands each exceeding €1 billion in exports. Exports to North America increased from €3.87 billion in 2017 to €4.08 billion in 2018, an increase of 5.5%.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Ministerial-led trade missions support the Government's major drive towards market diversification. These missions are taking place to regions which represent the strongest growth opportunities for Irish exporters. Their focus is 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 life sciences.

As well as the global efforts supported by our agencies, key to our success has been our commitment to trade liberalisation in order to open new markets for our indigenous sectors. With a small domestic market, further expansion in other markets is essential to our continued economic growth and, in this regard, Ireland will continue to support the EU's ambitious programme of negotiating new free trade agreements, opening new markets for Irish companies and increasing export and investment opportunities.

I thank the Minister for the information. There is some encouragement, in so far as there is growth in exports to the European market and the US market.

There is concern, and maybe the Minister can respond to this, that the level of imports is much the same as it was in 2015 and while the percentage level of exports to the UK has gone down, their value has gone up. Clearly, we are still very dependent on that market and we face, possibly, a hard Brexit. Can the Minister let me know what is being done to ensure that our dependence on the UK market does not continue to be as high as it is?

Later, in one of my own questions, I refer to research that was done by the ESRI and the Department on imports and exports. The research states that food products are particularly exposed in a relatively high dependence on the UK market because there may be tariffs as high as 18% in a hard Brexit scenario. Much of the foodstuff does not come under Deputy Humphreys' Department but a good lot of it, such as processed food, does. Is there a particular focus on food products, which are at risk in terms of the possibility of a hard Brexit?

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan is correct that food products form a significant part of our exports to the UK. Enterprise Ireland has been working closely with the food companies in terms of looking at new markets for their products, improving their processes and new products. For example, mozzarella cheese is something that is being developed in Carbery. That is a new product to get away from the reliance on cheddar, which, of course, is mainly consumed in the UK market.

Of course, the UK will remain a major market for Ireland, and for Irish companies, because it is our nearest and closest trading partner but we have been expanding the Irish export footprint in markets beyond the UK. That is a key priority for us. 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 strategy is to support Irish exporters to be more innovative, more competitive and more market diversified. We have had quite a number of ministerial-led trade missions. The Minister of State, Deputy Breen, and I have been in many different countries promoting Irish companies. I have just returned from a trade mission to New Zealand with a team of Irish agricultural technology, AgTech, companies looking at how we can increase our market share there. Moreover, there has been a specific emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region. We have visited China, Hong Kong and Singapore trying to increase our market share there.

In relation to food, the closer markets are more important in the sense that one does not want to be sending food thousands of miles across the world for all sorts of reasons. Will there be a step-up in efforts to get a greater extent of the market in the European Union and European countries generally?

We are concentrating on increasing our market share in Europe. There is a number of trade missions organised. A number have taken place in Europe but we are also doing more into Europe.

I visited Singapore a couple of months ago, for example, with a company in my own county. We see considerable potential to increase our market share in Singapore because they are particularly interested in food. One company is exporting in the region of 20,000 ducks per week to Singapore.

There are many more opportunities in that market. I was delighted when I was there to be able to open a chain of restaurants called Duckland for this businessman. He has a very successful company. He is focusing particularly on Irish produce and is using his Duckland restaurant chain to sell Irish products because he is very impressed with their quality. We need to continue to look for new markets because they are out there. At the same time, we will continue to trade with the UK. Only recently, I was on a trade mission to Manchester and Birmingham. We need to work more closely than ever before with our trading partners in the UK.

National Broadband Plan

Questions (8)

Joe Carey

Question:

8. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the estimated impact the national broadband plan will have in implementing strategies such as Future Jobs Ireland 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27105/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

I wish to ask the Minister the estimated impact the national broadband plan will have in implementing strategies such as Future Jobs Ireland 2019, and if she will make a statement on the matter. I tabled this question to establish her Department's progress in developing a remote working policy as put forward in the Future Jobs Ireland 2019 strategy.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The national broadband plan is a key commitment in the programme for Government and is a core component of Project Ireland 2040. The national broadband plan will be a key enabler for the delivery of strategies such as Future Jobs Ireland as we prepare for the next stage of our economic development. Future Jobs Ireland is a new medium-term economic framework aimed at ensuring our economy is resilient enough to withstand shocks in the future and agile enough to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. The national broadband plan will support Future Jobs Ireland in helping our workers and businesses succeed in the digital, low-carbon economy of the future.

Digitalisation can drive substantial increases in productivity, innovation, social improvements and connections, and economic growth and jobs. To maximise the benefits from digitalisation we will need a strategic approach. Future Jobs Ireland 2019 sets out how we will begin to implement this strategic approach through the development of a national digital strategy, an industry 4.0 strategy and a national artificial intelligence strategy. The roll-out of the national broadband plan is critical for the use of advanced digital technologies core to all of these strategies.

Fundamentally, a driving goal of Government policy is to increase the living standards of our people. Increasing productivity levels is key to achieving this goal. Through Future Jobs Ireland, we hope to adopt measures to increase the productivity of indigenous SMEs over time. Therefore, I welcome the potential for significant productivity benefits for the almost 44,000 small and microbusinesses in the areas where high-speed broadband will operate under the national broadband plan and the potential for them to link to new markets and develop a global footprint. In line with Future Jobs Ireland aspirations, and complementing several Government strategies, delivery of the national broadband plan will help enhance the potential of the regions in terms of economic development by building regional economic drivers and reinforcing opportunities to diversify and strengthen the rural economy, and to leverage the potential of regional locations and communities. I look forward to an Ireland in which geography no longer disadvantages regional and rural communities in exploiting digital opportunities and digital commerce. The national broadband plan will be a key enabler as officials in my Department work with colleagues in the Department of the Taoiseach, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, on the development of new deliverables for inclusion in Future Jobs Ireland 2019 and beyond.

Over the past months, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development, which I chair, has had a number of hearings on remote working. I was particularly impressed by an organisation called Grow Remote. It is a voluntary organisation set up to promote and drive this new working practice. It has had great success across the country. The Minister has engaged with Grow Remote directly herself. Flexible working offers the individual great benefits. They do not have to drive to and from work. We can get rid of the long commutes, which is good for the environment and the people, as well as for the employer because one will have a happier, more productive workforce. However, we need a more strategic approach to the development of co-working spaces and remote working. The Future Jobs Ireland strategy outlines that there will be a need for a national policy and I welcome the fact that the Minister has referred to the national digital strategy. I would like to see remote working forming a cornerstone of that policy and would like to hear the Minister's views on it.

I wish to compliment the Deputy, who is a very strong advocate for remote working and has championed it as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development. The way we are working is changing and this trend is only going to get stronger in the future with the pace of technological change. A key focus of Future Jobs Ireland is on flexible and remote working. We are at full employment and the labour market is tightening. We need to consider how we can make sure that everybody who wants to work has the opportunity. There is a cohort of women who can benefit from remote working. Flexible working can not only bring tangible benefits to employers and employees but can also support a more creative and inclusive society. For the employer, benefits include the greater attraction of workers from a larger pool of talent, which is especially valuable in a tight labour market; staff retention; a more motivated workforce; fewer sick days; and greater productivity. For the employee, flexible working offers the potential for a better work-life balance and can provide solutions for those who would otherwise take unpaid parental leave but cannot afford to do so.

The Minister is taking this on and I welcome that. A key element is to encourage employers and companies to see offering remote working as an opportunity for themselves. It is very hard to attract and retain talent but it could be advantageous to offer the opportunity to work remotely, as the work-life balance aspect could be a serious factor. A person could live and work in and contribute to a local community. Has the Minister any ideas or policies in respect of encouraging companies to take on remote workers?

This is a major focus of Future Jobs Ireland; pillar 4 is focusing on participation. I will host a major stakeholder consultation forum on remote working on 18 July in the Cavan Digital Hub. We will have companies that offer remote working along on the day, such as Amazon, to talk about their experience. We have also invited the National Women's Council. I also want to hear from organisations like Abodoo and Grow Remote, whose representatives I have also met, that match jobs to remote workers' skill sets.

Broadband is going to be a game changer for rural Ireland; there is no doubt about that. I was in New Zealand on a trade mission recently and met one of the Maori leaders. He said broadband has changed the rural face of New Zealand. They are in the second or third year of the roll-out of a national broadband plan very similar to what we plan to do here in terms of those who are not connected. He said it has made such a difference. Broadband in rural and regional areas is the game changer.

Departmental Priorities

Questions (9)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she expects innovation to play a major role in Ireland's internal trade in addition to maximising export opportunities from the island of Ireland, particularly in the aftermath of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27180/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

This question seeks to ascertain the extent to which innovation is to become an integral part of developing trade in this country and within the island of Ireland while at the same time allowing us to utilise all opportunities for increased exports abroad.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, which the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I talk about all the time as we travel around the country. Embracing innovation is essential in ensuring that we build a resilient enterprise base and support a sustainable economy that can withstand significant challenges such as those posed by Brexit. Innovation drives productivity - as we all know - through new, higher value-added products and services and more efficient business processes. Ireland continues to perform strongly in terms of innovation. The annual European innovation scoreboard, published this month by the European Commission, shows that amid increased innovation performance across the EU, Ireland remains a strong innovator and, in tenth place, remains one of the most innovative member states, above the EU average.

I am particularly pleased with Ireland’s success in converting our research, development and innovation efforts into high quality jobs, sales and exports, as demonstrated by our position on the European innovation scoreboard for employment and sales impacts. Under the Future Jobs Ireland strategy which was launched in March, the Government will build a framework to ensure Irish enterprises are prepared for all future challenges and opportunities. Pillar 1, Embracing Innovation and Technological Change, calls out measures to promote indigenous entrepreneurship and encourage clustering and stronger links between domestic and foreign-owned firms.

Through its agencies, the Department drives and supports greater engagement in research, development and innovation by Irish and foreign-owned enterprises, small and medium enterprises, SMEs, and large-scale enterprises. Our research shows that companies investing in research, development and innovation have 3.6 times the exports and almost double the employment of companies that do not invest. Enterprise Ireland provides a wide range of supports for companies to support innovation, competitiveness and market diversification, while Science Foundation Ireland leads major elements of Ireland's innovation agenda. Examples of the initiatives being taken include building large-scale centre investments that leverage significant non-Exchequer funding, challenge-based funding and support for talent and training in important areas such as artificial intelligence, digital, collaborative partnerships, recruiting outstanding researchers to Ireland, cross-Border collaboration and enhancing international engagement as part of building Ireland’s global footprint.

Does the Minister of State expect to see greater opportunities and greater urgency to engage in innovation in national and international trade with beneficial consequences for the country? Have objectives or targets been set, particularly in the European Union? Notwithstanding the fact that Ireland ranks tenth among the EU 27, can we improve our performance?

The Government is conscious of the need for innovation, particularly in respect of the various schemes that have been put in place. When I travel around the country, I tell companies that if they do not innovate, they will evaporate such is the level of competition. If we want to create good, sustainable jobs, we have to encourage all small businesses to innovate, grow and be competitive on the world stage. Companies that are not competitive will not succeed, as can be seen in Enterprise Ireland's annual business results. The survey shows that companies which invest in innovation are higher performing in creating employment. That is what we are trying to achieve. The same is true of export sales. In Enterprise Ireland's export results for the first half of the year the exports of indigenous companies throughout the world are growing, with growth of 7.6% in exports to the eurozone area. Despite the United Kingdom's issues, exports to the United Kingdom have risen by 4%. Similarly, exports to the United States and elsewhere in North America have increased by 6.6%. It is by encouraging innovation and ensuring agencies equip companies in this way that we can continue to grow on the global stage.

To what extent does the Minister of State foresee opportunities for the development of an all-island economy, notwithstanding Brexit, and to what extent can innovation be used in that context?

A whole-of-government approach is taken. There is collaboration between the North and the South such as between universities and research centres. InterTrade Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices, LEOs, work together, which is important in the context of Brexit. Much is happening in the area and I expect this to continue. In Future Jobs Ireland innovation is an important factor, not least in respect of the digital and technological changes expected, given that the pace of change will be faster in the next five years than in the past 20. That is why innovation is the key. We must ensure we upskill the workforce and that innovation centres attached to universities and other third level institutions will continue to play a primary role in creating the types of job that are important on the world stage, in conjunction with the jobs we are attracting through foreign direct investment.

Brexit Issues

Questions (10)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

10. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the measures taken following research published in July 2018 by her Department and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI which indicated that Irish firms sourced over half of their supply chain materials from the UK in the context of growing concerns that a hard Brexit may occur later in 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26925/19]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Business)

My question follows on from Question No. 7. It relates to the report from which I quoted. It was published by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the ESRI and concerns the reliance on exports to the United Kingdom, particularly in respect of the supply chain. Will the Minister outline what measures are being taken to address the issue?

While many businesses have plans in place to mitigate the impacts of Brexit, I am conscious that some have delayed their Brexit planning owing to the degree of uncertainty in the United Kingdom surrounding Brexit. I urge all businesses to prepare, make all necessary decisions and complete all required administrative actions. My Department and its agencies have consistently advised businesses that it is crucial they check their supply chains for vulnerabilities to Brexit impacts. They should also contact their UK suppliers, service providers, logistics companies, wholesalers or distributors to seek assurances about the continuity of goods and services on which they rely to do business and assess whether it would make business sense to find an alternative supplier in the European Union.

It is important that businesses understand supports and advic are available to help them to prepare for Brexit. Companies in all sectors need to become more competitive, more innovative and diversify their export footprint into more international markets in response to Brexit. Enterprise Ireland and the 31 LEOs throughout the country have a wide range of supports available to enable companies to consolidate market share within the United Kingdom and also to become more resilient by broadening their sales to other international markets. The LEOs are the first stop shop for advice on starting and growing a business locally. Enterprise Ireland has a broad range of supports to help companies to prepare for Brexit, including the Brexit scorecard, the Be Prepared grant, advisory clinics, the agile innovation fund, the operational excellence offer, the market discovery fund, online customs training and the Act On Initiative consultancy. In addition, the LEOs recently launched their customs training offering, which is available to all companies.

In my engagements with businesses throughout the country, I have consistently emphasised the importance of firms putting all elements of their supply chains under the microscope, in particular, to assess the vulnerabilities of important goods and services inputs in the event that there is a hard Brexit. This is good business planning and it is only through working with suppliers and getting the necessary assurances as to continuity of supply in all potential Brexit scenarios that businesses can ensure their own resilience to shocks. Enterprise Ireland, the LEOs and ITI have a range of supports to help businesses through this assessment and planning process. My Department and the agencies are continuing to roll out regional advisory clinics throughout the country.

Brexit is coming down the tracks very quickly, if 31 October is to be the date on which it will happen. I am somewhat worried that the Minister is concerned about the delay on the part of many companies that the Department seems to have identified, despite the advice they have been given. The Minister referred to regional advice clinics in various places. How exactly is the Department informing all firms? The report indicates that Irish-owned firms are most affected because foreign-owned firms in Ireland are less likely to source their inputs from the United Kingdom. It goes on to state Irish-owned firms rely heavily on the United Kingdom as the source of intermediate inputs, that is, goods used to produce a final product. There is urgency attached to the issue. While the Minister has outlined the various schemes available, has the Department engaged with firms to ensure they will take the advice and the necessary actions?

There has been an increase in the number of companies availing of Brexit supports, although figures show that not all companies have engaged. Enterprise Ireland has contacted all of its clients and held Brexit events throughout the country. I will not list all the locations, but they have been held in every part of the country. There have been Getting Ireland Brexit Ready events, while in October and November, more than 2,500 people attended public outreach events in counties Cork, Galway, Monaghan, Dublin and Limerick, as well as in Letterkenny.

There was strong participation by the business community in those events. We have the local enterprise office, LEO, Brexit events. To date, 34 custom workshops have been run with a total of 468 participants. Six workshops are planned in the short-term. I want to try to make contact with as many businesses as we can. We tell them to look at their supply chains, where their goods are coming from and how they can make sure that this will not stop in the event of Brexit.

There is a pilot scheme in Cavan and Monaghan, Border counties which will be impacted by Brexit.

I will have another event on Thursday, 4 July in Cavan. I have asked the accountancy bodies to come on board and to bring their clients because everybody has an accountant.

I am trying to get two or three questions in. I ask everybody to co-operate. If we always go over time, those people will not get their questions answered.

I previously raised a question about the medical technology sector and the standardisation done in Britain. There is an issue related to that which may not have been resolved where, if Britain leaves, medical technology companies may not be able to use that standardisation.

I am working with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, to ensure that companies know about the certification of what they are importing, to make sure that it meets EU standards and that they have continuity of supply. It is important that companies which are sourcing products from the UK engage with the NSAI. It is there to help them. There are many supports and if businesses still have not done anything about Brexit, I suggest that they do so. The Government is here to help. I ask businesses to use the range of supports available.

Industrial Development

Questions (11)

Tom Neville

Question:

11. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the regional enterprise plans; the way in which the plans will benefit County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27100/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Business)

I want to ask the Minister about the status of the regional enterprise plans, the way in which the plans will benefit County Limerick and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Neville for raising this issue about the mid-west region, which he frequently raises at the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I am interested in it too. During February and March, we launched nine new regional enterprise plans covering the period from 2018 to 2020, which build on the strong progress made on employment creation under the regional action plan for jobs for 2015 to 2017. These nine new plans take into account new and emerging opportunities and challenges including Brexit. I am pleased to say that implementation has commenced in all nine regions. Shaped from the bottom up by regional stakeholders, which is important to point out, and overseen by my Department, the new plans complement national level policies and programmes emanating from the top down and there is strong alignment with Ireland’s national enterprise policy, Enterprise 2025 Renewed and with the Government's Project Ireland 2040 and the Future Jobs Ireland initiatives.

We launched the regional enterprise plan for the mid-west region, which covers Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, on 20 February at the Irish Bioeconomy Foundation site at Lisheen, County Tipperary. The plan for the mid-west is focused on achieving impacts across five strategic objectives including developing the digital and innovation economy, progressing towards a low carbon economy, developing workforce skills, developing the capacity for economic growth and building a co-ordinated regional brand. Each of the five objectives involves a focus on County Limerick as part of the mid-west region. Initiatives to be pursued under the plan of significance for Limerick city and county include the development of an autonomous mobility testbed, the positioning of Limerick and the mid-west as a national centre for advanced manufacturing and the development of a sports technology cluster, building on the initial study by Limerick City and County Council.

The strategic objectives and actions in the mid-west plan are set out alongside, and add value to, the enterprise agencies’ activities, including Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and the LEOs' core activities in County Limerick and the wider mid-west region, including the recently launched Enterprise Ireland regional strategy, Powering the Regions.

I thank the Minister of State. The key issue is creating regional clusters. People are thinking regionally, especially about the development of roads around Limerick, such as the southern ring road and the tunnel that brings one right out to Shannon. In my time in Limerick in recruiting people to American multinationals during the boom in the 2000s, Limerick was hurt by the fact that it was involved in the electronic subcontracting and manufacturing sector which took a hit between 2007 and 2009 and many of those jobs went east. It is prudent and innovative to move into those different clusters and not have a region be seen for just one specific cluster. Limerick has diversified more into financial services since then and into medical devices, as well as the clusters the Minister of State has described. I ask that it be made as easy as possible for companies to get through the bureaucracy to avail of this regional enterprise fund.

The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, launched another round of the regional enterprise development fund last Monday in Cavan. It is worth €45 million. As we did in the past, I encourage more companies in the mid-west to apply for that funding. We have seen the success of it with the Emerald Aero Group, when Clare companies and Limerick companies got together to pool their engineering skills so that they could bid with companies such as Bombardier and Boeing. The Deputy is right that clusters are important. We have seen the success of some in the medical technology sector recently. Edwards Lifesciences created nearly 600 jobs. Johnson & Johnson added to its company in Limerick, increasing its complement there by 100 jobs. That facility in Limerick is the biggest contact lens facility in the world. We should be proud of those achievements. In the Deputy's area, we have seen Croom Precision Medical increase the number of jobs. Much is happening in the mid-west region and it will continue into the future with the focus on innovation and ensuring that we upskill people.

To add to that, there are more jobs with companies such as DesignPro in Rathkeale and ABS Engineering in Castlelands Business Park, where the Minister of State visited us. There is no doubt that there has been a significant increase in employment in Limerick in the last years. In the Kilmallock region alone, there has been a 67% decrease in unemployment. In the Newcastle West region, there has been a 73% decrease in unemployment since 2011. There were approximately 5,000 Enterprise Ireland-supported jobs in Limerick in 2011 and there were nearly 10,000 in 2018. There were 6,642 IDA Ireland-supported jobs in Limerick in 2011 and there are now nearly 12,000. That is a substantial increase in employment. It is very welcome and long may it continue.

I agree with that. We also have to pay tribute to the universities and third level institutions which are working hand-in-hand not just with the multinational companies but with the indigenous companies. The Deputy mentioned ABS Engineering in his area. That has won many awards and new contracts in Mexico, India and other places. It is a sign that a company such as ABS can be a major player globally. I hope that we can ensure that more of those companies grow in the future and can be located in the regions. Our policy is to ensure that we grow the regions by 10% to 15% each year and we have reached our targets. Our target is 200,000 jobs and 135,000 of those jobs are outside the Dublin area. All the regions have experienced growth recently and they will continue to do so.

Brexit Preparations

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Questions (12)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

12. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she and her officials continue to interact with the business community in order to maximise opportunities at home and abroad with particular reference to import substitution in the aftermath of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27179/19]

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Oral answers (2 contributions) (Question to Business)

I will forgo my opening statement and hear the reply.

The Deputy's question relates mainly to import substitution in the aftermath of Brexit. I have a written reply that will go on the record of the House and that will be available to the Deputy. He is right that companies need to look at where they source their goods. I recently met a company that imports oranges for jam-making. It always imported the oranges from the UK. With the support of Enterprise Ireland, it decided to look at new sources. It now sources its oranges from Spain. They are cheaper, better quality and make better jam. Companies should look at their supply chain, where they can source different products and look to Europe where companies are guaranteed there will be no tariffs or disruption when importing from across the EU. I thank Deputy Durkan for raising the issue.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In my role as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation I have met with many businesses throughout the country, in all regions, and across a variety of sectors. I have been impressed with the levels of ambition, talent and creativity that I have seen in our companies. I am committed, through my Department and my work with ministerial colleagues across Government, to helping these businesses to maximise their opportunities, to succeed in both domestic and international markets and fulfil their potential.

While we had great success through the Action Plan for Jobs in reducing unemployment from 16% to 4.4% today, we recognise the need to move our focus beyond numbers of jobs created to quality sustainable jobs and to building resilience in the enterprise base.

Future Jobs Ireland is our plan to meet all these challenges. It includes ambitious targets and actions to drive this transformation of our economy and it was developed based on extensive consultation with the business sector and other stakeholders. In the context of Brexit preparedness, I also continue to chair a number of stakeholder grouping, including the Retail Consultation Forum, which has had a specific focus on Brexit over the last year and my Department's Trade and Investment Stakeholder Group, which meets roughly every six weeks.

Regarding import substitution, I have been consistently urging businesses of all sizes to put their supply chains under the microscope to check for risks and vulnerabilities to the UK. Businesses could very well be exposed through their supply chain upstream, such as those who import ingredients, materials or components from the UK. They may be impacted with tariffs or delays at the port, which could impact on cashflow and that is why we have put in place the Brexit Loan Scheme to help businesses to prepare. Once businesses have assessed their supply chain’s exposure there are a range of supports on offer from Enterprise Ireland, InterTrade Ireland and the 31 local enterprise offices and information on what actions to take.

An important element of this commitment is my Department’s annual Global Sourcing Initiative, helping EI clients to develop relationships with Irish based multinationals, through sales, partnership, R&D collaboration and innovation. This year there were more than 400 meetings with 96 Ireland-based multinational companies and 188 Irish suppliers.

Another key priority for businesses looking to succeed is to focus on diversification. Diversification is not just about markets, it also about diversifying into new products, new sectors and new methods of working. It is, therefore, vital that Irish companies increase their levels of investment in innovation and R&D.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.