Other Questions

Departmental Strategy Statements

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

60 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation if he has set new goals for his Department in the strategy statement due to be completed in September 2010; the reason he has not published the strategy statement to help inform the Oireachtas on choices that have to be made in budgetary planning in 2011 and subsequent years [2607/11]

In fulfilment of the provisions of the Public Service Management Act 1997, my Department prepared and submitted to me a draft Statement of Strategy 2011-2013 for my consideration. The Department subsequently arranged for this draft to be forwarded to the Department of An Taoiseach for consultation in accordance with the revised guidelines for the preparation of strategy statements issued by the Department of An Taoiseach in July last year.

The Public Service Management Act provides that the strategy statement be laid before each House of the Oireachtas not later than 60 days after it has been approved. However, since the announcement late last year of the intention to hold a general election in the coming months, it was decided that the current draft statements of strategy will not be finalised and published in advance of the election. Nevertheless, business units in my Department are using the draft statement as the basis for the preparation of their business plans for the coming year, taking account of adjustments to reflect the outcome of budget 2011 and of actions necessary to meet our commitments under the EU-IMF and the national recovery plans.

In preparing the draft new statement of strategy, my Department gave considerable time to determining appropriate goals, objectives and strategic actions for the Department for the three years ahead. The range of actions identified in the draft covers all aspects of the work of my Department, aimed at, among other things, growing employment and foreign earnings through enterprise and trade, and through building the smart economy; better regulation of markets and enhanced consumer welfare; and fostering good industrial relations, employment rights and health and safety awareness and compliance.

I should add that when the Select Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation considers my Department's Estimate for 2011, I will present and publish our annual output statement, which will set out our goals and objectives for 2011.

While Nero fiddles Rome burns. There will be no strategy until the Fianna Fáil election manifesto is produced. It is now 2011. The most recent strategy finished at the end of 2010 and the Minister gave a commitment at the end of December last that the new strategy would be brought before the House within 60 days. Is he now saying no Department strategy will be produced but that it will become part of the Fianna Fáil election manifesto? The Minister might also enlighten us as to when the general election will take place.

While the Government document, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy set a target of 300,000 jobs, all the agencies under the aegis of the Minister's Department employ fewer than 300,000 people. Does the Minister not agree that since 2000, not one additional job has been created by the enterprise agencies under his direction?

Last year, which was a very tough year, the IDA created more than 10,000 jobs. The net increase was approximately 1,750 because there were significant job losses permeating from 2009. Job losses in Dell in Limerick spilled over from 2009 into 2010. Nevertheless, there was a net increase of 1,750. The IDA has indicated clearly to my Department that it does not believe job losses will be as severe this year. Information available from the employment agencies suggests that there is significant stabilisation and growth in job advertisements this year.

I would like to correct a statement made by Deputy Bruton the last time I answered questions in the House, when he claimed that only 40% of targets contained in last year's statement were met. Of the 68 individual targets for achievement in 2009, we met or exceeded 47. We missed out on 21 targets, which represents a success rate of 70%, rather than the 40% claimed by Deputy Bruton. It is also important to point out that the targets that were exceeded or met were all in the enterprise sector.

The Minister treats the House with contempt. He has a strategy but he will not tell us what it is. We are told the Government respects the Dáil as a place where Ministers are accountable. The Minister is saying he is paddling his canoe up the stream with, according to himself, a map and guide as to where he is going but he will not tell either the public or Members of the House where he is heading or how he is going to get there. This is the depth of contempt to which the Government has led the Dáil. We are entitled to know the strategy being pursued and to hold the Minister accountable for it.

The Minister is pretending he is delivering on his strategy. What has happened to the strategy to cut red tape by 25%? According to his own figures, he has delivered just €20 million of that, or less than 4%.

Where is his strategy to implement the 21 priority recommendations of the Competition Authority? He has not delivered on any of them.

The Minister is obliged to tell us what he is doing and to answer questions on a published record. He is going to pretend he has delivered in these areas, which are directly his responsibility, when the truth is he has failed miserably. This has nothing to do with the agencies. They are the Minister's responsibility.

Deputy Bruton looks like a teacher with a finger wagging. I am too old for that.

The Minister has not learned much.

The last time I answered questions in the House, Deputy Bruton made a misleading statement of what had been achieved. I felt an onus to correct the record.

Let me correct the record. I said 40% had not been delivered. The Minister said 30% had not been delivered. I may have been a little bit out but I was not far out. The Minister certainly did not deliver what he was supposed to deliver.

All the enterprise sector targets were covered. The only thing missed out in the strategy statement——

Was the Minister's own responsibilities.

——was the extraordinary demand in relation to legislation and a number of demands in terms of services.

What about red tape? What about the Competition Authority? What about any of those things that are key to the Minister's strategy?

The Government has taken a decision that it would not be prudent to publish a strategy statement at present because of the announcement at the end of last year regarding the calling of an election. What is available, and what we are working on, is the renewed programme for Government, the smart economy framework, the strategy for science and technology innovation——

We know the Minister commissions reports by the lorry load, but he does not do anything about them.

——the Forfás Making it Happen document, the trade and tourism strategy, the jobs and growth strategy,——

We would want a wheelbarrow to wheel them around.

——the ongoing work of the National Competitiveness Council, the innovation task force and Towards 2016.

Can the Minister show us his record of delivery?

Since I came to office we have taken €53 million out of the cost of bureaucracy in business and we are continuing to drive down cost in business. We have become much more competitive as a result of what we are doing.

SME Sector

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

61 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation the steps he has taken to ensure that capital is available to medium and small industries to retain jobs and expand production when the opportunity arises; his views on whether there is a significant opportunity for the manufacturing industry to increase production to a number of different markets such as the UK, Germany and so on, if only they could get the working capital; the steps he is taking to rectify this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2542/11]

Access to bank credit for businesses, particularly SMEs, has been central to many Government initiatives in addressing the crisis in the banking sector. Both the 2009 and 2010 bank recapitalisation arrangements provided specific commitments from the recapitalised banks to assist SMEs.

Under the 2010 bank recapitalisation arrangement, AIB and Bank of Ireland have both committed to making available not less than €3 billion each for new or increased credit facilities to SMEs in both 2010 and 2011, including funds for working capital for businesses. As a Department, we have ongoing contact with the main banks in relation to their lending to businesses and will, together with our colleagues in the Department of Finance and John Trethowan of the Credit Review Office, continue to ensure that they meet their lending commitments.

In this regard, as part of his second quarterly report on SME lending published on 18 November 2010, John Trethowan indicated that each of the banks has shown a positive attitude to his review process and the banks' executives have been asked to ensure that this attitude is shared with their front-line lending staff. He also stated that the current market perceptions that banks are not lending to SMEs is based on experiences from six to nine months ago, and the current situation while still not entirely perfect, is now continually improving. In addition, our 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.

The National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 contains a pillar to pursue appropriate sectoral policies to encourage export growth and recovery of domestic demand. The plan sets out a range of specific actions and supports designed to foster export growth and a recovery of domestic demand; provide investment of €2.2 billion in capital over the four years of the plan for the enterprise agencies, which will enable them to create jobs across the economy; support indigenous firms to increase exports; win new foreign investment; and target and supporting research, development and innovation in companies to boost productivity, exports, growth and jobs. To further assist cash flow for SMEs, the 15 day payment rule to suppliers will be extended beyond central Government Departments to the wider public sector.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The State development agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and the county and city enterprise boards are continuing to drive and promote enterprise development, and consequently employment creation in our economy.

In September 2010, the Taoiseach launched the five-year integrated Government plan for trade, tourism and investment. This plan has set a number of ambitious targets to be achieved by 2015, including the generation of 300,000 jobs between direct and spin-off employment. The overall objective of the strategy and its action plan is to marshal and co-ordinate the resources of the State in a way that best supports firms, of all sizes, in all parts of the country, which are trying to trade and grow their business overseas. The strategy presents a suite of actions for building on existing strengths and driving trade relations in existing as well as new and emerging economies.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply but it is totally different from the reality. My reason for asking this question is simple. A number of small industries that are in a position to expand or retain staff are finding it impossible to get cash flow or working capital. This is true of ordinary small businesses that have a proud record in my own constituency of Cavan-Monaghan.

The Minister must get down to business and ensure that people with a genuine demand can get money. When will structures be put in place to ensure that viable — and not fly-by-night — good businesses can continue? I spoke to someone who has been in business for 40 years. He told me he could employ another eight or ten people if he could get money from the bank.

All Members share the Deputy's commitment to viable small businesses and this is the reason the review office is in place. Regardless of party politics, all Members should use it. I have used it and have found it to be helpful to me and to a number of constituents. As for direct interaction with the office, it takes it on and if the businesses are viable and if they have a future, it will assist them to secure funding from the recapitalised banks. Members should provide Mr. Trethowan with the cases to allow him to do his work.

How many cases have been dealt with by the review body and how many have received money as a result?

Does the Minister of State have such a level of detail to hand?

I do not have it to hand but will provide it to the Deputy. However, unless Members provide the cases from their daily interactions with businesses, that figure will not improve.

I trust that each Member of the House is receiving the same representations as is Deputy Crawford and as I certainly am. Does the Minister of State accept there is a lack of faith in the Credit Review Office? I do not refer in particular to Mr. John Trethowan himself but to a lack of faith in the office. This is demonstrated by the low numbers of people who are contacting the office. Regardless of whether people succeed, fail or otherwise, they simply are not contacting the office because of such a lack of faith. People simply are blue in the face on foot of banks' refusals of loans to them at the point of contact on the high street. Even viable businesses are not getting loans.

I have to hand some figures. Since its establishment, the Credit Review Office has had slightly more than 4,000 users of its website, 467 calls from borrowers and a total of approximately 37 cases have been received. The Government is not happy with this and Deputy Morgan probably has hit on a point, in that we must do a lot more. While the Credit Review Office has advertised extensively and Mr. Trethowan has visited chambers of commerce nationwide, the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, and I certainly will meet him to ascertain what can be done. However, the Government is open to ideas from this House as to how it can allow him to make his services more public in a direct way. Each Member of this House has an equal role to play in so doing.

Does the Minister of State agree that the State-owned banks only comprise 60% of banking in Ireland? I refer to entities outside the State-capitalised banks, such as Ulster Bank and others, which may not be lending to the same extent. Is there a method to track funding from the banks? Is the Department in receipt of a monthly report on new business, by which I do not mean the recapitalisation of existing companies or the refinancing of existing loans but new business for job retention and creation, which is not happening at present.

While I do not have that information to hand, I will provide it to the Deputy. It certainly is the kind of information this Department has been seeking through this process.

I agree it probably is easier to get money from Ulster Bank and the others in this context. However, I refer to the banks we virtually own and this is the point that ordinary punters and small, big or medium-sized business people cannot understand. These banks have robbed them blind and have taken their bloody money. However, now that they are taking more money, they will not even re-lend the money that has been given to them by the ordinary individuals of this State. Has the Minister summoned the chief executive officers, the chief financial officers and the credit officers of the aforementioned banks to meet him? One should forget about Mr. Trethowan, as he is a port of last resort. Has the Minister met them on a face-to-face basis to tell them of the Government's unhappiness? The banks are not doing what the Government has set out for them to do. Moreover, the Government only wishes banks to lend to viable business, as we have had enough madness in the past, but they should lend to real viable businesses. I agree with Deputy Perry's point. A smokescreen is being put up in that if a bank renegotiates a client's overdraft facility from €5,000 to €3,000, it will assert that this constitutes new business.

It will be counted as a new loan.

It is nothing more then a gross distortion of the truth. The Department should get to the truth because people are not telling lies to Members.

I accept that and accept Deputy Penrose's concerns in this regard. As for meeting the banks or the bank management, the Minister, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, has led five different meetings with the banks since his appointment to the Department at the end of March 2010. The last report of the Credit Review Office states:

My view is that recapitalisation strategy for the two main banks is now achieving its objective of ensuring that a functioning banking system is in place to support economic activity.

Current market perceptions that banks are not lending to SMEs is based on experiences from six to nine months ago, and the current situation whilst still not entirely perfect, is now continually improving.

Certainly, the Government will continue to meet and pressurise the banks as it shares the concerns expressed by Deputies Perry and Penrose on the repackaging of facilities.

Does the Minister of State agree there is a weakness in the review process? It has a limit of €250,000 and takes a "comply or explain" approach. Consequently, Mr. John Trethowan cannot compel the banks to lend. Furthermore, does the Minister of State agree there is a need for a bank guarantee scheme to complement the credit review process? For example, if a loan application was for €110,000 but the bank only felt comfortable with lending €90,000, the guarantee would be for €20,000 and simply would guarantee the excess.

I have heard from internal sources within the banks that at present, they are more concerned with shrinking their loan books and collecting money, and the SME sections within banks are not getting the attention they deserve. The Minister should propose to the banks that they should set up specific designated and firewalled SME sections. Instead, banks are more concerned at present with shrinking their balance sheets and sweating their assets and, consequently, the SME sector is falling out of the equation.

Some changes such as those suggested by Deputy O'Donnell have been made. The Government has been forcing banks to improve their lending facilities to SMEs and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, referred to increasing the number of staff. Moreover, the skills base of staff to lend to SMEs was depleted——

Designated divisions.

——and they now are engaged in partnership with Enterprise Ireland on this. In addition, the Government has found that the success rate of appeals within the banking system from regional to central level has improved in recent months. Moreover, the Government continues to force the banks to adopt a more vigorous internal appeals procedure, as well as that available through the Credit Review Office.

Ceist Uimh. 62——

What of the guarantee?

—— in ainm an Teachta O'Donnell féin.

A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the point regarding the guarantee to complement the credit review system is very important.

I have called the next question as we are three minutes over time.

Insurance Industry

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

62 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation if he has had discussions on the future of Quinn Insurance [2590/11]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

64 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation the meetings he has had with the Department of Finance concerning the restructuring of the Quinn group including, specifically, the sale or re-organisation of Quinn Insurance; the efforts in conjunction with the Department of Finance he has made to secure the best interests of workers and to maintain employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2639/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 64 together.

I assure Deputies of my ongoing concern about the situation at Quinn Insurance Limited, particularly regarding the long-term impact on the workforce and their families, as well as the local communities. However, I must emphasise that responsibility for the sales process is a matter for the joint administrators who were appointed by the High Court and I am sure Deputies will understand that owing to considerations of commercial confidentiality and to ensure fair process in this commercial transaction, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the matter. In addition, I am of the view that it is inappropriate to speculate as to what may happen regarding jobs in the company before any decision is made on the sale of the company.

That said, certain matters already are in the public record and it is worth recalling that immediately following the announcement of the impending redundancies in Quinn Insurance, I met the court-appointed administrators and other stakeholders in the company of officials from Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and FÁS. At that time, the administrators briefed us on the position within the company. On 29 April, I met the Taoiseach and officials from relevant Departments and State agencies to discuss concerns about the employment at Quinn Insurance and the implications for the wider Quinn group. On 5 May, I met the employees' representative group. I also put in place an inter-agency group comprising the relevant State agencies and appointed the former chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, Dan Flinter as chair to ensure that every possible resource was put in place to support the employment prospects of all those affected. Since then, I have been briefed regularly on the matter by my officials, and on occasion by officials from the Department of Finance.

Twice last year I met representatives from the Quinn group, who updated me on developments within the company. At those meetings, I was made aware that the group was formulating a proposal on the future of Quinn Insurance. It must be remembered that the appointment of the joint administrators, pursuant to the Insurance (No. 2) Act 1983, to take over the management of Quinn Insurance Limited was taken in the best interests of the firm's policyholders. The aim of the appointment of the joint administrators was to allow the firm to remain open for business in order that it could continue to be run as a going concern with a view to placing it on an ongoing sound commercial and financial footing.

The sale process involved the issuing on 27 August last, by Macquarie, of an information memorandum to interested parties on the sale of Quinn Insurance Limited. The submission of a non-binding indicative proposal was required by 17 September 2010 as a first stage. Following evaluation by the administrators, a limited number of prospective purchasers was selected to participate in phase two of the sales process. They were allowed to conduct further due diligence before completing a final bid. Final bids were submitted in December. Macquarie Bank and the administrators are currently considering the offers made and I understand it is expected that the joint administrators will decide on a preferred bidder shortly, with a view to entering into detailed discussions with them to seek to conclude an agreement on the sale of Quinn Insurance.

In assessing the bids, the joint administrators are required to consider how best the interests of policy holders can be protected and how the company can be returned to a sound commercial footing. Retention and protection of employment it is also an important priority, subject to their other responsibilities. The final decision of the joint administrators is subject to the approval of the High Court. It is important to be clear that the neither the Government nor I have any input into or influence on the administration process, including any decision on the sale of the company.

The Minister stated a decision will be made shortly. Could he give us a clearer indication as to when he expects a decision to be made by the administrators on the bids? The Minister, in his reply, did not refer to the fact that there are 1,400 people working in Quinn Insurance and up to 6,000 people working in the Quinn Group in a region where it is the largest employer. In terms of employment protection and competition in the insurance market, it is critical that Quinn Insurance continues to be viable and provide jobs. Has any contact been made by the administrators with the Minister's Department on the measures which it could provide regarding the deal, in particular for job protection?

On the reopening of the business, the administrators were concerned that they would ensure the value of the business was maintained in order that it can be attractive for potential purchasers. The key factor has been that they reopened the profitable parts of the UK business. The Financial Regulator allowed Quinn Insurance to reopen its private motor insurance business by the end of April. Before taking its decision the Regulator carefully considered the information provided by the administrators on the important improvements in the company's underwriting model and there was significant strengthening of its pricing structure. It also consulted closely with the regulator in the UK.

On the issue of reopening commercial lines of business in the UK, the Financial Regulator decided in September that such a move would not be appropriate as Quinn Insurance would require additional capital which it currently does not have. The Regulator understands from the administrators that the non-resumption of UK commercial business should not have a significant impact on the sales process.

The administrators were put in place by the courts and it would be invidious of me to become involved with them, given that they have to report back to the courts on the policy holders and the business being put on a sound footing. It is an ongoing concern. The process has to consider jobs. We are all well aware of how important it is to try to ensure that any sale retains the maximum number of jobs.

Every evaluation must ensure that the best interests of policy holders are met, that competition within the industry is secured, that the existing jobs in Cavan, Enniskillen, Blanchardstown, Navan and elsewhere are protected and the best prospect for the return of €2.8 billion owed by Seán Quinn to Anglo Irish Bank, which is now in State ownership, and the taxpayer. Would the Minister not believe that the extended efforts between Anglo Irish Bank and Quinn Insurance in putting together proposals for the consideration of the administrators would have offered the best prospect of realising each of those goals?

Does the Minister have any indication as to why the long and protracted preparatory period did not lead to the final presentation of the so-called Quinn and Anglo Irish Bank proposal to the administrators within the timeframe set? How is it that Anglo Irish Bank, over a very short period of time, appeared to be saddled to another proposition with external interests which can guarantee none of the aforementioned goals?

What has the Minister's Department been doing, including providing any supports that are necessary, to give life to the Quinn and Anglo Irish Bank proposals? What has it been doing in conjunction with the Department of Finance to assist the achievement of each of those objectives?

I met the group several times. I met representatives of the wider Quinn Group in July and November last year. At the first meeting, the delegation outlined to me the details of a proposal that would involve the participation of Anglo Irish Bank and Quinn Group. The Quinn Group hoped it might be a viable alternative to the sale of the business by the administrators. In responding to the proposal I had to reiterate to them the independence of the Financial Regulator in carrying out its role. I indicated to it that the administrators were appointed by the courts and would be subject to reporting back to them, but they would always have to take into account what the Deputy outlined, as well as maintaining the maximum number of jobs.

I understand the result of the deliberations and sales process will be announced very shortly. As the administrators were appointed by the courts I or any member of Government cannot be involved in the process. However, we have been very concerned about the matter. The Deputy will be aware that I established an interagency group under the chairmanship of Mr. Dan Flinter who is the former CEO of Enterprise Ireland. He has been working with representatives of the company. The group has met on 13 occasions regarding this matter.

I thank the Minister for his interest in this matter. The Quinn Group has provided up to 6,000 jobs on the island of Ireland and is extremely important. My interest in this matter is not about any individual, rather it is about the need to sustain jobs. What role, if any, did the Minister play in ensuring that the group he met representing the Quinn Group and Anglo Irish bank had ongoing discussions until December? The Quinn Group suddenly found itself left out. Can the Minister find out why that happened? If the Quinn Group proposal was not solid enough to represent the combined Anglo Irish Bank and Quinn Group interest, can it be given an explanation as to what was wrong and can it be offered the right to rectify it?

I fully appreciate the legal issue with the administrators. Our problem concerns where the proposal fell down before it reached the administrators. Is there any way the proposal can be reconsidered? It is the only proposal which can save the jobs and save the taxpayer €2.8 billion.

I appreciate from where the Deputy is coming. The Government has been very supportive of the Quinn Group. I met representatives of the group a number of times as did the Minister for Finance and the Taoiseach. There is a limit to what we can do. The regulator is absolutely independent and must be satisfied with regard to the corporate governance relating to all of the participants. I am not aware of the exact proposals lying with the joint administrators and the Macquarie bank group. All I know is that they will have to take into account the protection of the maximum number of jobs, along with the interest of the policy holders. They must ensure it is a viable business with a future.

If Deputies will bear with me, I will allow three further Deputies put their questions.

We all accept the Minister's ability to interfere directly in the process, although carefully and severely circumscribed by the fact that the administrative process is under the purview of the courts. We accept that, but we are also aware of the importance of the Quinn Group jobs in Dublin, Meath, Monaghan, Cavan, Fermanagh, Longford, Westmeath, Leitrim and Roscommon. These are areas where jobs are extremely scarce on the ground and we are all aware of the importance of this industry in that regard. Why, therefore, did the Quinn Insurance Limited or Anglo Irish Bank bid that was being put together disappear from the landscape and why was it not considered as coming from a viable bidder? Did the Minister have any opportunity to become involved or was the Department of Finance, which is important in the context of Anglo Irish Bank, ever become directly involved? Was Mr. Elderfield ever brought into the process and asked his opinion? He is entitled to give an opinion when sought. Anglo Irish Bank is now owned by the State and would, in that context, have a direct input, particularly when, if the jobs are lost, we will end up paying for them at the end of the process.

Where does the NTMA fit into the situation? Has it had any input into the overall process? Were there any discussions with the Department of Finance, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Mr. Elderfield, the NTMA and all of the entities that are so important in this context?

Deputy Rory O'Hanlon will confirm that we met with the Minister for Finance and that Mr. Elderfield was present at the meeting. It is not for me to reveal in public the sentiments expressed by Mr. Elderfield at that meeting. The Deputy must recognise that the regulator has an independent role, and he demands that independence. He gave an opinion on that occasion with regard to the Quinn Group and what could be done for it. I am satisfied that on the basis of the efforts of Deputy O'Hanlon and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, we have met on a regular basis with all of the entities involved. We all want to see a successful conclusion to this and want to see the retention of the maximum number of jobs. We have emphasised this to everyone we have met, including Mr. Elderfield and the joint administrators.

I accept entirely the restrictions on the Minister with regard to the regulator and the administrators. However, does the Minister accept this is a job retention situation and will he confirm whether he has had talks with people in Anglo Irish Bank? Clearly, he has unrestricted access to those people. If the Minister accepts this is a job retention issue, it should surely be part of Government policy to consider the joint proposal made by Quinn Insurance Limited and Anglo Irish Bank to see what can be done. Has the Minister done that? Does he accept the difficulty in that there are virtually no other job opportunities in the region, particularly the Border area. Given the importance of the jobs, they must be retained if at all possible.

I confirm the Minister's statement that there were a number of meetings and I thank him and his colleagues for the number of times they met and facilitated representatives of the Quinn group. Owing to the fact that there are 5,000 jobs involved and that the taxpayer is owed money, it is important we do everything we can to protect these jobs. It is also important that the Quinn proposal is examined. The Quinn group and in particular its representatives, including people like Dave Mackey a former public servant, should be informed exactly why their proposal has not been accepted and given the opportunity to amend it if possible. Does the Minister agree that should be done? While I appreciate the Minister has no direct influence on what happens, will he use his good offices to try to ensure that these people are informed what exactly is the problem with their proposal and given the opportunity to amend it?

Yes, I did meet with Anglo Irish Bank people and I am aware that there was interaction between the Department of Finance and Anglo Irish Bank on this matter. There was also interaction between my Department and the Department of Finance with regard to the proposed investment. The Government, the Minister and the Taoiseach can intervene with the joint administrators with regard to the exercise of their duty and we have clearly indicated the importance to the region of the retention of jobs.

Also, the inter agency group I have set up, which has a North-South connection, proposes to make an application to INTERREG. This application will be lodged before the closing date at the end of February and we hope it will be a successful cross-Border initiative. Progress is being made with regard to that aspect of the joint agencies.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.