Adjournment Debate. - Teleservices in Border Regions.

Today's announcement of 175 new jobs in teleservices in the west makes this matter more urgent. Why have Border areas been ignored in relation to such development? Efforts have been made in recent years to develop this service north of the Border. Teleservices and telemarketing is a growth industry and accounts for a higher percentage of job creation here than in any other EU country or the US. I understand 20 per cent of teleservices and telemarketing operations are located here.

A Forbairt representative, speaking in my constituency 12 months ago, said telemarketing should be encouraged in Border areas. He pointed out that although areas were isolated, road infrastructure was not critical. He went on to talk about the need for languages. Dundalk and Letterkenny regional technical colleges should be in a position to ensure sufficient graduates to demand such development. Across the Border in south Fermanagh, teleservices have been established even in small bungalows and have provided employment in recent years. Many jobs have also been created in the Scottish islands. A Forbairt representative, discussing the 1996 annual report, said that employment had increased in the strategically targeted information technology sector and that its future would be enhanced by current developments in the regional technical college in Dundalk. That indicates there would be enough graduates for those services if they were provided.

When I tabled a Dáil question in November last asking the number of teleservicing operations grant aided in each IDA region, I was disappointed to find none in the north-east when there are 21 in Dublin. This is the usual occurrence of Dublin attracting jobs when an area such as mine has a serious job creation problem. There was an increase of 12 per cent in the number of people registered as unemployed between November 1994 and December 1996. Cavan has a lower figure but a number of firms there have indicated there will be substantial job reductions soon.

These areas must be considered and IDA Ireland and Forbairt should make a greater effort. A reply to a Dáil question I tabled today stated that IDA Ireland is hopeful many more pan-European call centres will come on stream soon and that a regional spread of these projects is being pursued. It went on to say, with regard to the indigenous sector, that Forbairt, in co-operation with Telecom Éireann, sponsored a detailed study on teleworking, "Telefutures", in 1996 to promote teleworking throughout the country, including the Border region. There were 12 seminars with the objective of creating awareness and promoting new teleservices opportunities.

We have had, since the peace initiative, more than enough seminars in the Border region on everything under the sun, but jobs are not being provided. We cannot get inward investment because we have not got UK or international industries to attract those jobs into the area. Some of the seminars were held in Letterkenny, Sligo and Monaghan with 100 people attending but we want to see a follow-up with resulting job creation.

In 1991 IDA Ireland established a small team to investigate new areas of business opportunity for Ireland. It identified the growth of telemarketing and teleservicing as a business tool in the United States and recommended the promotion by the IDA of Ireland as a location for pan-European multilingual telemarketing centres. Subsequently, IDA Ireland announced its intention to create 2,000 telemarketing jobs in Ireland between 1993 and 1997. Ireland has emerged as a significant player in the field of pan-European call centres in the past few years. Over 40 overseas companies, employing approximately 3,600 persons, have chosen Ireland as the location for their new European telemarketing centres. Dublin, Dundalk, Galway and Limerick have benefited from these investments to date.

However, only one of these projects has located in the Border counties so far. That is mainly due to the requirement for large numbers of persons with linguistic skills who are mainly located in university cities. The site selection criteria for telemarketing projects include the availability of linguistic skills, a modern telecommunications infrastructure and suitable office accommodation. A modern telecommunications infrastructure is now available in all but the most remote locations in the State. IDA Ireland is working with private developers to ensure the availability of suitable office accommodation nationwide. In addition, various significant initiatives are under way to increase the availability of language skills.

IDA Ireland's regional policy for employment growth in locations outside the larger urban centres is being implemented vigorously. It is expected that, in line with other locations, the Border region will benefit from this recent development whereby financial incentives are biased in favour of regional locations. I am hopeful many more pan-European call centres will come on stream in the near future and the regional spread of these projects is being pursued in line with the criteria outlined.

With regard to the indigenous sector, Forbairt, in co-operation with Telecom Éireann, sponsored a detailed study on teleworking entitled "Telefutures" in 1996 to promote teleworking throughout the country, including the Border region. Forbairt held a series of 12 seminars throughout the country with the objective of enhancing awareness and promoting new teleservice opportunities for Irish businesses. Three of these seminars were held in Letterkenny, Sligo and Monaghan respectively in October and November 1996 and in excess of 100 people attended. The seminars were publicised through radio and local advertising.

Forbairt will continue to promote new teleservice projects in Border regions in 1997, through studies, promotional events, promotional literature and partnership programmes.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 24 April 1997.