Priority Questions

Job Creation

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

55 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation if he has satisfied himself that the measures in place to counter youth unemployment and emigration are adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2909/11]

The primary objective of my Department is to ensure we have the right policies in place to support and grow our enterprise base to facilitate job creation and job retention. The work of the Department has been proven over the past five days with the announcement of 1,200 new jobs, including a major investment by the Intel corporation which had been sought worldwide.

The policies developed by this Government to accelerate and improve the transition of young people from education into the labour market are based on three main pillars, the first of which is to expand provision in the higher education sector, including full-time and part-time education places, and provide more flexible access to the education system. In 2011, it is expected that 170,000 full-time and part-time further education places and 156,000 full-time higher education places will be provided. The bulk of this provision is open to persons under 25 years of age where they meet the relevant criteria. The creation of a new €20 million higher education activation fund, announced last month by the Tánaiste, will extend the range of upskilling opportunities available for unemployed people.

The re-configuration of Departments announced by the Government in April 2010, which involves the merger of the FÁS public employment service and the benefits agency under the Department of Social Protection, will facilitate a more comprehensive and effective activation strategy that will strengthen the links between getting benefits, searching for a job and participating in employment and training programmes.

There is the enhancing of active labour market policies aimed at young people, including maintaining support for redundant apprentices; responding to the needs of low-skilled or semi-skilled young persons who have limited qualifications; and a strengthened framework of work experience opportunities through the introduction of the new skills development and internship programme and additional placements on the work placement programme.

In summary, the Government will continue to provide a diverse range of labour market activation provision to the unemployed, including those under 25 years of age. This will aim to keep young people active, close to the labour market and equipped to take up the employment opportunities anticipated under the Government's plans to generate 300,000 jobs through trade, tourism and investment by the end of 2015.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply but he did not answer the central question, namely, whether he believed the measures in place were adequate. When we have seen 165,000 young people under the age of 25 lose their jobs in the past three years and 81,000 people under the age of 25 on the live register, among whom the highest and most rapidly growing group is the long-term unemployed aged under 25 who now constitute 28,000 young people who have been out of work for more than 12 months, how can the Minister pretend that what he has read out is an adequate response? His Department's initiative, the job placement programme——

A question, please.

I asked the Minister of State how he could justify what he has said. That is a question.

The total number of places on that programme is 2,500, which is not one in 150 opportunities for people out of work, and there are just 1,000 people on the scheme where employers take on people. These schemes are simply not responding to the scale of the problem. I ask the Minister of State to reconsider the strategy.

All of us are very aware of the problem we face. However, it is not just an Irish problem and I remind Deputy Bruton that 1 million people under the age of 25 are unemployed in the UK. We have put in place a direct response, providing for graduate employment and for those without qualifications. Between the skills development and internship programme and the work placement programme, there are more than 12,500 places. We have reorganised FÁS to make it more accessible to younger people, we have changed the apprentice scheme and the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has engaged with multinational employers across the country to encourage them to participate in the schemes.

We have also had some success domestically with schemes such as the ESB scheme, which arose specifically in response to the position of apprentices. By changing the rules under the apprentice training programmes, we have made a direct response to those affected by the construction downturn so they can continue their education and training to have a skills base. While we have a serious problem, there is a focused challenge under way to address it.

The Government is not even scratching at the surface. Some 40,000 young Irish people emigrated in the past 12 months. In the past six months, some 400 places have been added to the job placement programme, which is simply not adequate. If we want to retain our talent at home, the Government needs to be much more ambitious in this area and not just trot out those statistics and ignore the fact that we are leaching the most talented people out of this country, when they are the key to building a stronger economy. It is cost-effective to develop initiatives for internships and work experience on a much more ambitious scale.

I assure the Deputy that I am not in the business of trotting out statistics. These programmes have been devised specifically as a response to the situation we are in and specifically to give people, including educated people, a chance to gain work experience here and to stay here. None of us likes to see emigration but we have had a consistently high figure of immigration in recent years and these——

The rate is growing by 50% per annum from a very low to an extraordinarily high level.

Allow the Minister of State to reply.

These programmes have been put in place and are providing a response on the ground. While we would love to be able to put more money into them, it is a question of resources and resource allocation. Resources are being allocated in the most effective way given their availability.

Loan Guarantee Scheme

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

56 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation when the proposed loan guarantee scheme for viable small businesses will be established; the criteria that will be used for qualification of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2912/11]

As I outlined to the House on several occasions in recent months, most recently on 2 December 2010 in reply to Question No. 98, my officials are working with their colleagues in the Department of Finance, the Credit Review Office, Enterprise Ireland and Forfás to address access to credit issues for viable SMEs, including the option of a loan guarantee scheme to assist the working capital requirements of SMEs.

Since my last reply, the working group has received updated analysis from Forfás and Enterprise Ireland to allow greatest possible targeting of any initiative on viable, innovative and growth-orientated SMEs who face a specific market failure, namely, where institutions have difficulty in applying existing credit policies and products. This can be, for example, due to lack of familiarity with certain sectors, markets and business models. Substantial progress has been made in identifying the critical elements involved in any further initiatives. However, in developing any further initiatives, it is important they complement, rather than substitute, the main banks' lending commitments and activities under the 2010 recapitalisation package, and that they represent value for money for the taxpayer.

The provision of credit to our enterprise sector, particularly SME's, should primarily come from a properly functioning banking sector and any additional initiatives on the State's part should not relieve the banks of their obligations in this regard. As indicated already, loan guarantees are just one of a range of possible measures being considered to address SME credit availability. Proposals in regard to any new measures will have to be considered by Government in the first instance.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. Is it not the position that the provision of credit to the enterprise sector, particularly SMEs, is of vital importance yet many small businesses, including family businesses, are being denied loans that are necessary to keep the show on the road? They are struggling to pay their bills and make ends meet.

Notwithstanding assertions from the banking sector on the renegotiation of loans, one might as well try to get a camel through the eye of a needle. Why has the proposed loan guarantee scheme promised for the purpose of assisting small viable businesses not been put in place, subject to the quite proper constraints outlined by the Minister? Does the Minister agree a loan guarantee scheme would be an essential tool to enable credit to flow once again for small viable businesses and would be their salvation? Will he indicate why the Department of Finance has such an aversion, distrust and dislike, and why it displays such heavy handedness, in terms of allowing this scheme, which is in incubation for nine to ten months, to come to fruition?

I thank the Deputy for his acknowledgement that our priority is to protect taxpayers' money. We also want to ensure that the banks which have made a commitment of €12 billion up to 2012 meet that commitment. Mr. John Trethowan, who is leading the group that is working on a credit guarantee scheme, admits there is a sector within the broader SME sector comprising start-up, high-technology enterprises with whose business the banks may be not as familiar as they should be. We are working with him based on the updated Forfás report to examine this specialised area which encompasses some 2% to 3% of the overall loan requirement.

Our objective is to ensure there is an absolutely focused scheme in place that will meet the requirements of some of these start-up businesses which lack the necessary collateral and which are encountering a lack of expertise within the banks. In the case of an environmental company selling into the Middle East, for example, there is no great expertise in the banks to assess the viability of its operations. I have asked Enterprise Ireland to involve itself with the banks in terms of training and assessment of these new start-up companies. These are highly technical enterprises which need credit in order to sell their wares abroad.

I fully agree with that review and how it will be framed. However, we are not reinventing the wheel here. Similar schemes are in operation in some 95 countries across the world, including Britain, Singapore and Hong Kong. Those countries are not going to leave their Exchequers exposed any more than we would wish to do so. Nor do we want to remove the imposition upon banks to do the right thing.

Why is there a such a lack of progress in regard to a scheme which, as the Minister acknowledged, is of great importance and would target market failure in terms of ensuring support for businesses which have failed to secure credit because of insufficient collateral or a lack of expertise in the banks but which have demonstrated ability to pay? When does the Minister expect to be in a position to announce the inception of this scheme which has been called for by IBEC, the Small Firms Association and others? We in this House have been calling for it for months.

The review group met in November and December last and another meeting is due. In the interim I have asked Enterprise Ireland to work with the banks. We are looking, for instance, at mechanisms that can be used by the banks to make use of the funds that are available under the European Investment Fund. That is also subject to review. I cannot give a date when the review will be completed. The updated figures will be reviewed by the committee at its next meeting and we will then have a more detailed report. After that, we will have to go back to Government with whatever recommendations emanate from that. It was the Government which put this review process in place.

Enterprise Support Services

Deirdre Clune

Ceist:

57 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation if he has satisfied himself that the existing examinership process is an effective instrument for protecting viable small business that encounter credit difficulties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2910/11]

The existing examinership process is effective and fair for companies of all sizes, large and small. The examinership provisions are contained primarily in the Companies (Amendment) Act 1990 and are widely recognised to have operated successfully in the two decades since their introduction, a period which has seen both sides of the economic cycle.

The fundamental principle of the examinership provisions is that they offer protection for a short period to a company which is considered by the court to have a "reasonable prospect of survival". I stress the importance of this test — the remedy of examinership is only intended to be availed of by a company which has a reasonable prospect of continuing on an ongoing basis after the examinership and which has an underlying sound business model to continue. The examinership process does not, and was never intended to, offer businesses an opportunity to walk away from debts or from amounts legitimately owed to other creditors. It must be remembered that the debts of any company do not exist in a vacuum. Often these debts are owed to other small businesses whose viability in turn may depend on the successful recovery of the amounts involved.

Representations have recently been made to my Department suggesting changes to the examinership process which would significantly reduce the role of the courts — a form of "examinership lite". Given that successful examinerships inevitably involve losses for creditors — whose viability may also be at stake — it is critical that the process is not only fair but seen to be fair, and the role of the courts is not to be underestimated in this regard. Subject to the maintenance of this fairness criterion, I remain open to any suggestions that may improve the effectiveness of the process.

My question referred to viable small businesses. The reality is that an examinership process is not available to small businesses because of the excessive costs and lengthy court times associated with it. We are not talking about complete reform of our bankruptcy system — even though it is stuck in the dark ages — rather some type of flexible arrangement that can be introduced without delay This is about saving jobs. Last year more than 1,200 small businesses closed, if my figures are up to date. I heard another Minister say on the radio some time ago that this is not a priority for the Government. It should be a priority to support viable small businesses. In Britain and Northern Ireland there are more flexible arrangements in place. As it stands, the cost of the examinership process is excessive.

I understand where the Deputy is coming from and I too am anxious that the process be expedited as much as possible. However, there is an important element that we cannot ignore, which is maintaining an impartial involvement. The courts afford that and thus ensure there is confidence in the process.

As I said, proposals that have been submitted to the Department in regard to a so-called "examinership lite" process are being examined. However, there are concerns relating to these submissions. For example, there is concern about the absence of an independent accountant in the proposed model and regarding the emphasis on the avoidance of publicity. Also of concern is the proposal that arrangements may be approved if a body comprising 75% of the value of creditors — which may very well comprise a bank — approve the proposal. A reply has issued to the proponents of these submissions to the effect that while we are anxious to be as accommodating as possible and undertake to examine the proposals in detail, the credit supply clearing group is not totally in favour of the proposal.

There is much that can be done to improve the situation for small businesses. In the case of the large number of companies that have gone out of business since the start of the year the issue that is often referred to as the straw that broke the camel's back is excessive rents. Is there any progress in devising measures in this area? We must think outside the box rather than simply referring these issues to the courts.

While the Department does not keep statistics on the number of examinerships, theInsolvency Journal website has noted a dramatic decrease in 2010 in the number of companies seeking protection from creditors by placing themselves in examination.

That is because of the costs. According to that journal, a total of 16 companies went into examinership in 2010, compared to 37 in 2009. That represents a decrease of 57%.

Yes, but at a time when closures are going up, so the inevitable consequence is what Deputy Clune is saying.

What about the rent issue?

Job Creation

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

58 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation his plans for additional job creation measures having regard to the increase of more than 12,000 in the live register figures for December 2010, the highest end-of-year figure ever recorded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2913/11]

The role of my Department is to ensure that we have the right policies in place that will support and grow our enterprise base to facilitate job creation and job retention. The National Recovery Plan, published by the Government on 24 November 2010, provides a blueprint for Ireland's return to sustainable economic growth. It identifies the areas of activity, which will provide increased employment opportunities as Ireland's economic recovery takes place.

The plan sets out a range of specific actions and supports designed to improve competitiveness across all sectors of the economy. These include measures to cut costs to business, the removal of barriers to employment creation, and a range of sector-specific actions to increase exports and domestic demand.

In September, the Taoiseach launched the five-year integrated Government plan for trade, tourism and investment aimed at generating 300,000 jobs by the end of 2015. The new plan, entitled "Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy", is the first integrated strategy to promote overseas trade, tourism and investment. With this new strategy, the Government aims to position Ireland for strong export-led growth to 2015, resulting in high levels of job creation.

The plan aims to create more than 150,000 direct new jobs — IDA Ireland 75,000, Enterprise Ireland 60,000 and tourism 15,000 — in manufacturing, tourism and internationally traded services, with another 150,000 spin-off jobs. The programmes supported by my Department and its agencies will be critical in achieving a return to economic growth through promoting the export potential of enterprise in Ireland and advancing the smart economy agenda.

The allocation in budget 2011 of €508 million in capital funding will ensure that the enterprise agencies' core programmes are sustained and targeted. This will include actions to position Ireland as a global innovation hub.

The State development agencies — Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the county and city enterprise boards — are continuing to drive and promote enterprise development and, consequently, employment creation in our economy. IDA Ireland continues to market and promote Ireland for inward investment. On 15 January, Intel, an IDA client company that already employs more than 4,000 people in Ireland, announced that it is to begin a substantial new €375-million construction project at its Leixlip technology campus.

Additional information not provided on the Floor of the House.

This infrastructure project will create a further 850 construction jobs on the Leixlip campus. The company will also create 200 new high-level jobs on the Leixlip campus as a result of this technology upgrade. The fact that Intel has chosen to invest further here is an enormous vote of confidence and an endorsement of Ireland as a competitive location for global investment.

In addition, the National Recovery Plan reflects the need to ensure that the unemployed are equipped with relevant skills and kept close to the labour market. We are providing for appropriate upskilling or reskilling so that the labour market can access the skills it requires and, under the plan, we are committed to strengthening the framework of additional activation by measures including: a community work placement programme; a skills development and internship programme; additional placements on the work placement scheme; the redundant apprentice scheme; and an extension of the PRSI employers exemption scheme to end-2011.

At the outset, I acknowledge the success of Intel and long may it continue. It is great news. We have opportunities to advance developments such as science technology parks, which are important in the context of future economic policy.

Notwithstanding the grim employment news in the live register to end-December, the unemployment rate would be even higher were it not for the resumption of mass emigration. When people are forced to emigrate it provides a safety valve for the Government. Ireland's young, educated workforce have ambitions but at least 100,000 people have left our shores in the past 15 months. Many of them are under 25 years of age. Deputy Bruton said that some 40,000 people in that age category have emigrated. That is an indictment of State policies as well as an appropriate political epitaph for the Government. Mass emigration was something we thought we had left behind in the 1940s and 1950s and would never resume, but one in three young people under 25 are on the dole.

Will the Government continue with the same policies as a result of which we have already suffered the deflationary impact of budgets? If the Government continues along that path, will it be possible to make an impression on the unemployment figures? I acknowledge the Minister's successes, including Intel. I am not here to be a knocker because we all feel the economic impact, but is there anything meaningful the Government can do?

Although we have no more divine wisdom than anyone else, we have suggested a number of ideas, including the apprentice work placement programme, the skills exchange policy and a tax-based scheme to fund full-time study. Does the Government have any focus on the clean-tech, tourism and agri-food sectors which have the potential to create jobs here? Foreign direct investment is important but what policies does the Government have in place for indigenous industries which can play such a meaningful role?

We should address three issues concerning job creation. The first one is to provide sufficient capital to agencies so they have money to expend and ensure that targets are met. IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the enterprise boards have sufficient cash and are satisfied that they can meet their targets given the capital provided.

Second, the trade strategy itself outlines into 2015 the creation of 300,000 jobs. All the agencies involved in that strategy, including tourism and food, are all working together on an integrated package. We are happy that they will achieve those targets. For instance, the IDA and Enterprise Ireland alone have clearly indicated that they can create 30,000 jobs, which is a significant increase. We can see that this strategy is working because foreign direct investment has confidence in Ireland. Some 850 additional jobs are to be created at Intel in Leixlip, which gives a signal to the rest of the world that Ireland is the place to locate. Ireland has the best labour skills and outstanding operational efficiencies, in addition to being much more competitive than it was previously.

Science and technology are important, particularly with the focus on commercialisation and job creation, but what are the Minister's plans in that regard? While Ireland remains an important development hub for European markets, we may be somewhat threadbare in terms of staff numbers devoted to securing a significant market share in expanding economies, such as those of the BRIC countries. The Minister should re-examine the recruitment moratorium to ensure that additional personnel will be made available to the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to secure such opportunities.

I am glad the Deputy raised that issue because our strategy targets emerging economies in India, Brazil, China and the Middle East. I have visited three such countries on trade missions. I was due to visit Brazil but could not do so at the time. We are targeting those markets, however. To this end, I am calling in all the ambassadors of emerging economies to make them aware of our purpose in marketing in their countries. The Chinese ambassador will come in to meet me this afternoon. In addition, I will meet the ambassador from the United Arab Emirates next week. I will meet all such ambassadors in due course and will take them to Farmleigh for a meeting with the relevant State agencies.

I hope the Minister will have enough time.

In that way, we will make them fully aware of the export opportunities that Ireland can provide for their respective countries.

Small Business Sector

John Perry

Ceist:

59 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation if he has satisfied himself with the level of support for micro, small and start up businesses in relation to job retention and job creation; if support for incubation centres are adequate to help start ups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2911/11]

Support for micro-enterprise, small businesses and new start-ups is provided by my Department through the county and city enterprise boards and Enterprise Ireland.

I have made a capital allocation of €15 million available to the CEBs in 2011. The CEBs will prioritise and manage these funds in a targeted manner in order to maximise entrepreneurial development at local level.

Enterprise Ireland operates a range of entrepreneurship programmes that provide participants with the business skills, contacts, mentoring and support to potentially transform their innovative ideas or technologies into exporting businesses. Funding of over €213 million is available to Enterprise Ireland this year from my Department's Vote to support companies, including through research and development grants and collaboration with third level institutions.

Under the auspices of Enterprise Ireland, the Government has also invested significantly in the broader environment for business start-ups, including investment in incubators, seed and venture funds, angel networks and mentors.

Enterprise Ireland also provides support to community enterprise centres, CECs, and business innovation centres, BICs. These centres provide a range of facilities that enable entrepreneurs to establish new businesses, provide employment and grow their businesses locally.

There are currently 21 Enterprise Ireland supported campus incubation facilities and six specialist bio-incubation facilities in operation in Ireland. Approximately 240 new companies are based in these centres, employing in the region of 1,000 people. In addition, there are approximately 5,000 people employed in community enterprise centres throughout the country.

In regard to the availability of credit for small businesses, the Deputy will be aware that the Government has secured a commitment from the main lenders, AIB and Bank of Ireland, to make available at least €12 billion in total for new or increased credit facilities to SMEs over 2010 and 2011.

The National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 sets out further actions which will be taken to improve supports for all businesses. These include: measures to cut costs to business in the areas of energy, waste, professional fees and property; the extension of the 15 day prompt payment rule beyond central Government Departments to the wider public sector; investigating the potential for using vacant or under-utilised property as incubation centres; and there is also a commitment to review the business expansion scheme.

My priority is to ensure that both the business environment in Ireland and the assistance available from the enterprise agencies continue to be supportive of enterprise and encourage growth in all areas of the economy.

I thank the Minister for a comprehensive reply. With regard to the €15 million for 34 boards, when the staff costs are taken from that the net benefit to small companies is minimal.

The Minister gave a comprehensive reply and I have several supplementary questions but on the funding aspect, will the Minister agree that a tremendous opportunity was missed to access EIF finance in these challenging times? Will the Minister not agree that the enterprise network had major consultation with the EIF and that money was available? Is it not a damning indictment of the Government that the only EIF approved micro-finance institution in the country is First-Step? Despite what the Minister of State said about John Threthowan and with regard to the banks, funding is not available. Is it not a fact that many loans that have been approved by CEBs with local credit unions have been rejected by mainstream banks? That is a fact.

It is disappointing that we have not had a bigger draw-down in this area but the banks and Enterprise Ireland are working collaboratively to encourage their own systems of understanding of each other's work to ensure that can be achieved. A new scheme was announced by my senior colleague, the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, with regard to an exchange programme between Enterprise Ireland and the banks.

We must be clear, in terms of credit flow in Ireland, that because of the boom years and the dependence on property based lending as opposed to lending based on cash flow businesses or real businesses, as other people might describe them, there was a major loss of expertise and analysis within banks to lend to real businesses. Part and parcel of the initiative of Enterprise Ireland, and this Department and my senior colleague, has been to try to encourage much more movement in this area. There is a vibrant exchange programme now in terms of the banks placing personnel in Enterprise Ireland andvice versa and from my own constituency experience, I have had to intervene to a certain extent with local companies where major misunderstandings had developed in terms of banks lending to companies and not realising the viability of such companies, even in these terrible times of recession. There is a learning curve to be gone through by everyone involved in this area.

I do not believe the story about the banks because it is not happening. Despite what the Minister of State might say and the guarantees, and I met John Threthowan last week, the money is not getting through. I refer to the EIF finance that is available in Europe. Is it not a fact that money is available and that the Minister of State's Department did not respond to the CE boards with regard to the availability of funds, namely, between €5,000 and €25,000 for small companies, that can be accessed? That is not happening. Can the Minister explain the reason the Government did not have proactive discussions with the EIF in Europe where cash products and loan guarantees are available? Those funds are available in Europe and this Government has done nothing to access that fund. The Minister should forget about the banks. The banks are not doing the business. That is the question.

If I might correct the Deputy, it seems that the order of the day for everybody is to simply say the banks are not lending.

I am talking about the EIF.

The evidence, such as we have it, from all of the sources available to the Department, particularly the work of John Threthowan, is that there is and has been——

I am asking about the EIF.

——an increase in the amount of lending to small enterprises here in the past year.

The Minister is side tracking. They are not getting through.

It is not a side track. If the Deputy believes that lending to small business is a side track, I do not know if he is——

Can the Minister answer the question on the European Investment Fund——

Allow the Minister of State to reply.

——that is available, cash guaranteed, with the credit guarantee for small companies? The Department has not——

The Deputy has put his question. The Deputy will not ignore the Chair.

He will not answer the question.

We will see if he will——

With respect, I did in my last reply to the Deputy.

You did not answer the question.

I did. I said Enterprise Ireland and the banks——

I am talking about EIF finance that is available for small companies.

Please do not shout down Members.

I am trying to answer the question.

Viable companies are closing down while we hear all this waffle.

The House should calm down.

Allow the Minister to answer the question.

He did not answer the question he was asked.

I did. The last time——

Tell me about the EIF please.

I ask the Minister to take a seat for a moment. If he would allow me to chair the proceedings and if Senator Perry would allow, in a calm fashion——

He is annoying me.

Breath deeply——

We have heard it all before.

——and I will allow the Minister to reply calmly.

You might encourage the Minister to answer the question.

I will do my best.

EIF funding. That was the question.

Yes. Unfortunately, the Chair has no control over the answer given.

The Deputy is getting excited.

It is great to see the Deputy getting excited.

The Minister of State, I have no doubt, will now address the question raised.

His original thoughts.

As I said in my earlier reply, Enterprise Ireland, the banks——

——and the Department are working towards drawing down more assistance and funding from the EIF through the schemes. That is work in progress.

On the Deputy's wider assertion that credit is not getting through to small and medium-sized enterprises, that is not borne out by the facts in the credit reports we receive from the Central Bank and from the office headed by John Threthowan, which we set up deliberately to police and patrol the commitments made by the banks. It would not be wrong if occasionally a member of the Opposition's spokesmen's group such as Deputy Perry would acknowledge the fact that €12 billion is available now from both AIB and Bank of Ireland for this year and next year to extend to small and medium enterprises. It would be helpful also if Deputies in this House would advertise that fact locally.

We need to move on.

The Minister should make an application and see if he gets it. It is not available.

I have acknowledged——

Have you spoken to a businessman——

In fairness, I have acknowledged the difficulties.

Very good. I ask the Minister to take a seat.

EIF finance is separate to the bank funding. It is a separate application. It has nothing to do with banks.

Deputy Perry, please do not ignore the Chair.

It is incorrect information.

Do not ignore the Chair, and do not try to shout down the Chair.