Other Questions

IDA Ireland Site Visits

Frank O'Rourke


38. Deputy Frank O'Rourke asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she is satisfied with the regional spread of organised site visits by IDA Ireland in 2015 and in 2016 to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15815/16]

This question is in the name of Deputy Frank O'Rourke, who is absent. As the question was tabled before the introduction of the new rules, I understand it is possible for it to be taken by Deputy Niall Collins, who has been nominated in the absence of Deputy O'Rourke. Is that agreed? Agreed.

This question has been tabled against the backdrop of the two-tier recovery we are experiencing in this country. The quality of the recovery being experienced in Dublin and the greater Dublin area is not being mirrored in the rest of the country. Can the Minister comment on that and on the role being played by IDA Ireland in this regard?

While I am satisfied that the position is improving, I want to see more being done. I expect IDA Ireland to promote every location actively. There is no doubt that site visits outside main population centres have increased. Since 2015, IDA Ireland has been working towards the targets set out in its strategy, Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019. Under this strategy, ambitious investment targets have been set on a regional basis for the first time. IDA Ireland aims to increase overall investment by 30% to 40% in each region. Statistics compiled by IDA Ireland already show a steady increase in the number of site visits outside Dublin. In 2015, some 57% of site visits were to locations outside Dublin, which represented an increase on the 2014 figure of 43%. Figures for the first quarter of 2016 show that this trend is continuing, with 58% of visits so far this year being outside Dublin. This renewed emphasis on regional development is achieving results already. A record 18,983 new jobs were created by IDA Ireland client companies in 2015. Of these, some 53% are based outside Dublin, compared to 49% in 2014.

I welcome the Government's belated acknowledgment that there is a two-tier recovery afoot, as this was continuously denied prior to the recent general election. Now that this problem has been acknowledged, we need to tackle it constructively. I will put a couple of facts on the record. In 2015, Dublin received 242 of the 565 IDA Ireland site visits, or 43% of the total. The Minister has quoted this statistic. However, this figure increased to over 50% when applied to the greater Dublin area, which comprises Dublin and the overspill of the city into surrounding counties of Kildare, Wicklow, Meath and Louth. It was clear that this activity was still concentrated in the Dublin region in 2015. This pattern continued in the first quarter of 2016, when almost 40% of all site visits involved locations in our capital city. It is important to note that counties Carlow, Cavan, Laois, Monaghan and Roscommon received no site visits.

I thank the Deputy. I will let him in again.

Will the Minister take a personal interest in this matter with IDA Ireland? Will she report back to us on it when Question Time resumes next month? Perhaps she will be able to tell us what IDA Ireland intends to do to address the absence of site visits in those counties, in particular, and also in other parts of the country.

I note the Deputy's comments. I assure him that I will take an interest in this matter. I can tell him that the eight regional development plans are on my desk. We are working our way through them. We will be meeting the implementation group soon. We will sit down to review the progress that has been made on the regional plans so far in 2016, with a view to developing the 2017 regional plans. I have a visited a number of counties since my appointment as Minister three or four weeks ago. I will continue to do so. I will make sure to meet the stakeholders in the regions who are driving this agenda and who will be driving the regional plans. It is absolutely on my radar. I will make sure this happens.

I have three questions. First, I welcome the Minister's statement that 58% of all visits this year have been to locations outside Dublin, but I ask her to break it down for us. If she cannot break it down by county, perhaps she can do so by region. If she does not have that information to hand, she might forward it on to us as soon as possible. Second, I suggest that the manner in which we deal with this issue from a statistical perspective needs to be changed. We need to differentiate between Dublin and the greater Dublin area, as defined by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. In future, the figures for visits and jobs created should be broken down across three categories: Dublin, the greater Dublin area and the area outside of that. The conurbation around Dublin faces the same issues, such as housing but they just happen to be in Kildare, Meath or Louth, for example. Third, arising from the breakdown of site visits, is the Minister happy that sufficient property is available in the regions? I ask this in the context of the creation by the previous Government of a fund for advance factories and pieces of land. Is the Minister happy that the property portfolio is in place and is accessible?

I am never happy and am always striving for more. I will make sure land is available for advance factories. We are building three such factories at the moment. There are plans for others. We want to make it easier to do business in Ireland. I will make sure advance factories are available. We are talking about IDA Ireland today, but I am also working with local people on the ground, with Enterprise Ireland and with the local enterprise offices to make sure there are jobs. I refer not only to multinational jobs, but also to foreign direct investment jobs. Deputy Kelly also asked me to give him a breakdown of the 58% figure. I have provided some figures in response to parliamentary questions. I will come back to him with a breakdown of all the figures.

I asked three questions.

I will come back to the other one.

I wish to raise a concern about IDA Ireland site visits to County Kildare, an area with which the Acting Chairman, Deputy Durkan, is familiar. A reply to a parliamentary question I submitted a month back illustrated that County Kildare had 13 site visits between 2011 and 2015, during the term of the previous Government. Seven of these arose in the final year of the then Government's term, 2015, which was essentially the general election year. In each of the four preceding years, there was a single visit. Visits spiked as the general election approached but were neglected for the four years prior to that. I hope we will not see a recurrence of this with IDA visits accumulating as we approach whenever the next election may be. Let us hope they are scattered across the term and we see more than one a year to County Kildare over the next several years.

On Deputy Alan Kelly's question as to whether the visits will be to Dublin, the greater Dublin area or the regions, I will make sure to have those figures.

On County Kildare specifically, the message from my office, loud and clear, to IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland is to get out to the regions and rural Ireland. I probably am a good Minister in this regard because I am from rural Ireland and I want to see it develop.

It should not be forgotten what happened between 2009 and 2011. The economy absolutely collapsed. To be fair to IDA Ireland, it put its shoulder to the wheel and brought jobs into Ireland. It is easier and more economic for the IDA to ensure the jobs come to Dublin. However, the message now is regional Ireland. Backing up that message are eight good regional plans.

Trade Relations

Clare Daly


39. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if her Department engaged in negotiations, consultations, exploratory talks or other communications since 1 August 2013 on trade missions to Egypt; and if these took human rights violations into account, particularly concerning a person (details supplied). [15631/16]

This question relates to our trade and business links with Egypt. What consideration, in terms of any of those arrangements, has been given to human rights violations, particularly over the past three years during the incarceration of an Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa? What role is this playing in those deliberations because it should be an incredibly strong one?

My Department has not been involved in any discussions since 1 August 2013 in regard to trade missions to Egypt.

I am concerned about and personally sympathetic to, as well as moved by, what has happened to Ibrahim Halawa. While I am not happy he is incarcerated, the judicial process works differently in Egypt than it does in Ireland or in many other countries.

Yes, with mass trials.

Everything is being done diplomatically for Ibrahim Halawa. For example, various submissions have been made to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by different lawyers and non-governmental organisations. At all times, the key question guiding our approach is what stands the best chance of securing positive progress for Ibrahim Halawa at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government has been in contact with other states which have had citizens in similar situations. It is the Government's considered approach, supported by decades of diplomatic experience and extensive consultation with these states, that our diplomatic efforts still represent the best means of achieving the twin goals of protecting Ibrahim Halawa's welfare and securing his release at the earliest opportunity.

His next hearing is scheduled for 29 June. Embassy officials will be in attendance, as they have been at every hearing of his trial, to monitor and to report on developments on the day. There has been frequent and ongoing communication with his family members through our embassy in Cairo and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters in Dublin.

I am aware most of the business links are in an agricultural format. The heart of this issue is that we have to use whatever economic clout we have to put manners on or to influence authorities in other regimes where there are human rights violations. Not to do so would place profit over people.

The feeling was articulated clearly by the Australian captive who shared a cell with Ibrahim Halawa, Peter Greste, who said the Australian Government had lobbied forcibly for his release. The softly-softly approach of the Irish Government has not been sufficient. We should be pulling out the stops in terms of our agricultural dealings or whatever because it is not a different judicial process. It is a system of mass imprisonment, torture and appalling human rights violations in a completely undemocratic and unaccountable regime. We have to do more in this regard.

Our priority is to see that Ibrahim Halawa is returned to his family and that he can continue his studies. We want to provide every possible consular support for his welfare where he remains in detention. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has been in regular contact with his Egyptian ministerial counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, and the Taoiseach has twice met with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, making clear the Irish Government's concerns and objectives in this case.

Given that the trial is ongoing, the Government must remain measured and responsible in its public comments. This is entirely consistent with our approach in other consular cases. While our objectives are clear, I too, along with Deputy Clare Daly and all decent Irish people, want to see Ibrahim Halawa released.

The Minister spoke about being measured. We have to look at the fact that Egyptian human rights organisations have documented at least 124 deaths in custody in the timeframe we are talking about through medical negligence, torture and ill-treatment. We know from his testimony smuggled out of prison that this young Irish man is in danger. In it, he spoke about waking up every morning to the screams of prisoners being tortured. He spoke about sleeping on the floor of his cell, witnessing people being punched, kicked, beaten and slapped, as well as the torture and crucifixion of others. This is a young man at the start of his life. The trauma this experience has already inflicted on him is, undoubtedly, going to last him a lifetime.

There is an urgency about this matter. The fact the Australian Government was able to negotiate the release of one of its citizens should give us a signal as to what more we can do. Will the Minister contact the IFA and her ministerial colleague in agriculture to use their clout much more? Being nice and mindful has not delivered the results yet.

The Government will continue to be measured in its approach. That is the best consular advice we have received. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has regular contact with his Egyptian counterparts while our Taoiseach has met with the Egyptian President on two occasions. We will continue to do our best to ensure the earliest possible release for Ibrahim Halawa.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Paul Murphy


40. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15837/16]

This question is about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, negotiations. The Minister’s predecessor was one of the hawks in Europe on it. Considering recent leaks about the TTIP negotiations and the public statements in the US that show Europe should beware that the US is trying to export its failed regulatory model, does the Minister consider the Government's approach should be reconsidered and that it should be opposing TTIP instead of egging it on?

The 13th formal round of the EU-US free trade negotiations took place from 25 April to 29 April 2016 in New York. Progress was made on the two texts on regulatory co-operation and good regulatory practices. Substantial progress was achieved on the small and medium-sized enterprise chapter and on the provisions of customs and trade facilitation.

This would simplify customs procedures and reduce fees and charges, to the benefit of Irish SMEs in particular. There was also progress in consolidating textual proposals on the sustainable development chapter, which includes labour and the environment, and on the investment chapter. Extensive discussions also took place on public procurement. Discussions covered mutual recognition agreements for professional services and significant progress was made on the consolidation of the text.

Ireland’s enterprises are particularly well placed to take up opportunities to trade more easily with the US, which will build on our already rewarding economic relationship and will also generate new opportunities to create employment and continue to grow our economy. Studies have shown that the benefits to Ireland will be proportionally greater than in the EU as a whole.

The 14th negotiating round is due to take place the week of 11-15 July 2016 in Brussels. The pivotal and overarching objective is to negotiate an ambitious, high-standard agreement that responds to both EU and US interests.

Does the Minister consider the manner in which the negotiations are being carried out is at all problematic? In particular, there is the fact we need a leak from Greenpeace to see what is in the text and the fact Members of the European Parliament have to go into a closed room with no note-taking facilities in order to see the texts that have been negotiated. That should ring alarm bells for the Minister as it rings them for people all across Europe and in America. Is the Minister concerned that the leaked documents clearly disclose that the so-called precautionary principle which exists in Europe is in the firing line of the US position? Is the Minister at all concerned that it is precisely the notion of regulatory co-operation that will undermine our right, for example, not to have GM foods, not to have hormones in our beef, not to have pathogens in our pork and not to have chlorine-washed chicken? These are all things that currently exist in the US and which, if they cannot get them in the front door, they will get them in through the back door of regulatory co-operation.

I thank the Deputy. I fully recognise that TTIP, and the process it involves, is full of many complex and difficult issues. Nobody wants a bad deal and along within every country, we in Ireland have our priorities. The Copenhagen economic study has shown that the right agreement could create anything up to 10,000 jobs here. Irish companies in the US employ approximately 80,000 people. Regulatory coherence between the US and the EU is a worthy goal and it should not and will not come at the cost of lowering operational practices for food safety, which the Deputy mentioned, employment protections or environmental health standards. Environmental, food safety and labour standards will continue to be at EU level and accountable to this House.

I again ask whether the Minister is concerned that the precautionary principle is clearly under threat in negotiations and the European side does not seem to be defending it. I make the point that regulatory coherence is often presented as some very technical thing. Regulatory coherence is precisely about whether we have GM foods - they are regulations. When it comes to mutual recognition or coherence, is the direction going to be upwards in terms of protections or downwards? It is a negotiation that is driven on both sides by big business agendas, which precisely want a bad deal from the point of view of ordinary people and a good deal for them.

Let us take the example of cosmetics. In the EU there are 1,328 prohibited substances in cosmetics; in the US there are 11. Mutual recognition of each other's regulations in regard to cosmetics will mean we can have all of those 1,300-plus substances that are deemed illegal entering into the market. The point about co-operation going forward is privileging the position of so-called experts who will be coming from big business in the writing of future regulations as opposed to it being the right of legislators to decide on regulations.

I thank the Deputy. We will not change our rules on GMO and we will not accept hormone-treated beef, as the EU has made clear from the outset. The text of any deal will run to thousands of pages and it is still under negotiation. Nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed and I expect negotiations to continue for some time. Any final agreement is subject to agreement by all member states, including ourselves. It has to be approved by the democratically elected European Parliament and also by this House. The negotiating process is not complete at present.

There is a reading room in my Department. I invite every Deputy to come over and see the two lever arch files of documentation that are in the Department. Deputies received a letter of invitation yesterday. I ask them to take it up and to visit the room.

Question No. 41 is in the name of Deputy Shane Cassells, who is not present. Is it agreed that his nominee takes the question? Agreed. I call Deputy Niall Collins.

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Shane Cassells


41. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she examined empowering the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in order to issue civil fines for anti-competitive practices; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15803/16]

This question is hugely relevant to the public, in particular consumers, in regard to anti-competitive practices. Has the Minister examined empowering the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in regard to issuing civil fines for anti-competitive practices? To outline the definition of anti-competitive practices, as we would see them, there is what is called hard-core cartel activity, for example, price fixing, bid rigging or market sharing, and also what are called non-core infringements, which would be an abuse of dominant position within the marketplace.

The current legal position is that civil fines are not provided for in Irish law for anti-competitive practices. The Attorney General has previously advised my Department that providing for them would pose legal difficulties, having regard to Article 38.1 of the Constitution, even at the level of a class A fine. In that context, any legislation to introduce civil fines that would lower the burden of proof from "beyond reasonable doubt" to "the balance of probability" would pose constitutional difficulties, having regard to the protection afforded in Article 38.1.

I am aware the Law Reform Commission published an issues paper, Regulatory Enforcement and Corporate Offences, on 27 January 2016. The issues paper invites views on the supervisory and enforcement powers of the State’s main financial and economic regulators, including the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The issue of administrative and civil fines has been raised. I look forward to the outcome of this consultation process. Any recommendations or proposals that may emanate from this exercise in due course will be carefully considered by my Department.

Will the Minister outline, as far as she can, the Attorney General's legal advice? If I am quoting her correctly, she said the Attorney General has said there may be legal difficulties. Are there constitutional difficulties with the proposal? Like all of these proposals, the consumer and the public are being disadvantaged by some of these practices. Given the Competition Authority asked for these powers five years ago, and given we discussed in earlier questions the potential re-emergence of the rip-off culture in the Irish economy, does the Minister not think we should push a little harder and try to get clarity about this?

The main argument is that the level of proof required to achieve a successful prosecution is too high for hard-core competition offences, for example, cartels and price-fixing, which are criminal in nature. In criminal cases, the level of proof is "beyond all reasonable doubt". By contrast, the level of proof in civil proceedings is on balance of probability grounds. Thus, proving a case in criminal cases is at a higher level.

Very high penalties apply to criminal offences under the Competition Act. There is a fine of up to €5 million or 10% of turnover, whichever is the higher, for an undertaking, or a term of imprisonment of up to ten years for a person. That is the reason for having a high level of proof. The issues at stake are the constitutional implications of imposing large civil fines while having a lower level of proof. The imposition of large fines signifies the criminal nature of an offence.

Job Creation Targets

Catherine Murphy


42. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to create 135,000 jobs outside County Dublin by 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15834/16]

This question comes from the commitment in the programme for Government to create 135,000 jobs outside County Dublin by 2020. I will await the Minister's reply.

A Programme for a Partnership Government sets a target of creating an additional 200,000 jobs by 2020, of which 135,000 jobs are to be created outside Dublin. I am convinced that we can achieve these targets.

Since 2012, the unemployment rate reduced from 15.1% to 7.8% in May this year. We have 155,000 extra people at work since 2012 and employment is growing in every region. My focus is on ensuring we support new job creation in every region. The regional action plans for jobs are the mechanisms for delivery. Their objective is to increase employment by 10% to 15% in each region. Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and the local enterprise offices are delivering on their elements of the action plans which are being driven by local implementation committees.

My Department is providing funding of up to €250 million to support the regional plans. A €150 million regional property programme is being delivered by IDA Ireland. On 1 June I announced an allocation of €5 million in competitive funding for 48 local and regional initiatives through Enterprise Ireland. Further competitive funding calls will be launched shortly to ensure we achieve the jobs targets.

Is it intended that they will be full-time jobs and what sectors will be targeted? I routinely come across people who tell me they are still having difficulties in accessing credit. They are trying to keep businesses going, but nothing much has changed for them, particularly for small indigenous businesses and start-ups. I have not read in full the ESRI's report which deals with the living wage. When pressed, an official of the ESRI made the point that poverty levels were directly impacted on by people being at work as opposed to being on welfare payments. We all want to see this happening. The ability to access credit is still a major issue and a real impediment.

The Deputy asked about the types of job created. As a Minister and a mother, I want to ensure the jobs we deliver are sustainable. On all sides of the House there is an ambition to create more sustainable jobs outside the population centres. There is no single approach to this. It will require up to 40 or 50 separate actions involving IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the local enterprise offices, local government services and third level institutions, as well as improved access to credit for SMEs. However, it needs much more than funding; it also needs a persistent drive across the public service and the business community. I ask every Deputy to come on board and help us to make it happen.

We will all come on board in trying to assist, but when constituents come to us and state they are having trouble in maintaining people in employment because of the difficulty in accessing credit, it becomes an impediment. This is a particular aspect. We understand IDA Ireland has a particular role, while Enterprise Ireland has a different role. Obtaining seed capital for small new businesses can be a problem because there are rules.

Does the Minister have a figure in mind as to what constitutes full employment? During the Celtic tiger years we were told a 3% or 4% unemployment rate meant full employment. Does the Minister count being in part-time work in the same way as being in full-time work? Very often being in part-time work is not sufficient to sustain a family.

What I define as full employment is everyone who wants a sustainable job being able to find one. It is my job to ensure this will happen in the coming years. The Deputy asked about part-time workers. I understand many women are in part-time employment and would like to work more hours. There are people who choose to engage in part-time work and I understand this.

We will try to ensure there is credit available. I am working to ensure money will be available through Microfinance Ireland and under the credit guarantee scheme. I wish to tell businesses that, through Microfinance Ireland, they can avail of loans ranging from €2,000 to €25,000. I strongly believe this information is not known and that SMEs do not know this. I ask Deputies to do something to help to ensure SMEs know that credit is available.

The Minister has stated funding of up to €250 million is available. As I hate the phrase "up to", what is the figure? Is it €250 million? Will all of it be spent? I am sure the Minister will say, "Yes," but will she tell us how it will be spent? "Up to €250 million" could mean €5, €250 million or anywhere in between.

A bugbear of mine, about which the Minister will hear repeatedly, concerns IDA Ireland and site visits. In a previous life I had personal experience of having to intervene to ensure Amneal located in Cashel because I was not satisfied with how the site issue was being dealt with. Why have only three advance sites been identified with regard to the €150 million to be used? How long will it take us to use the rest of the money? What are the timelines in which it will be used? Will the Minister break down for 2014, 2015 and the first six months of 2016 the number of approaches IDA Ireland has made throughout the country in the purchase of sites for companies that wish to locate in Ireland? Obviously, we do not want sensitive data on the locations.

The Deputy asked about the amount of up to €250 million. I will ensure we spend €249 million or €249.99 million. I will certainly not send back any money. Anyone who knows me knows that I am able to live within budget, but I will ensure it is ringfenced to create jobs.

The Deputy also asked about why there were not more IDA Ireland site visits. The money has come onstream and three advance facilities have been built. There are plans to build three more. I will try to ensure there are more and that we hurry up the entire process. Sometimes there are difficulties in planning, but we must ensure we drive through and get it done.

If the Minister digs deep, she will find out that is not true.

Will the Deputy repeat what he said?

Questions Nos. 43 and 44 replied to with Written Answers.

Research Funding

James Lawless


45. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when he will provide funding to scientists engaged in basic research following the publication of Innovation 2020; the provisional deadline for applications in 2016; the scientific disciplines he will accommodate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15842/16]

The question relates to specific funding available for research under Innovation 2020. The strategy has a number of admirable components but is short on specifics, so the question to the Minister-----

Sorry, is this Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív's question?

It is Question No. 45, in my name.

I will take it.

I have given the introduction to it.

Whoever takes Question No. 45, the introduction has been done.

Whichever one of the Ministers is most equipped can reply.

Deputy Halligan is the expert.

Or all together. As long as I get an answer, I do not mind who gives it.

My Department provides Science Foundation Ireland with its annual budget and SFI, in turn, invests in academic research and research teams. The funding generates new knowledge, leading-edge technologies and competitive enterprises in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. SFI provides funding across a range of "oriented basic research" through to "applied research". To answer the Deputy's question, SFI estimates that more than 80% of its portfolio of active research awards is for oriented basic research which takes place before the point of any type of commercialisation. This is the case even though SFI's remit was extended in 2013 to enable it also to fund applied research.

SFI's research funding is allocated in accordance with Government policy whereby the majority of competitive funding of research is allocated to 14 priority areas and the platform science and technology that underpin these areas. However, it is important to make clear that research prioritisation has not impacted on funding of oriented basic research by Science Foundation Ireland or my Department.

I thank the Minister and note his support for Science Foundation Ireland, a Fianna Fáil initiative and a very successful one.

The question remains unanswered, unless I misunderstood something in the answer. We are attempting to attract researchers and scientists and people of such professions into industry and into the country to begin their programmes. Without the specific funding targets and funding dates, these people cannot be brought in. The culture does not exist to attract them. This is an industry that by its very nature is very dependent on human capital, human resources, people and their families. They are highly mobile and we want them to relocate into this jurisdiction. In order to do that, we must tell them by what dates they must apply, when they will find out about their application, for how long they will be engaged, whether it is a multi-annual programme and where they stand. While I agree with the Minister of State's comments on the sector and how important it is - that is taken as a given - I have not yet heard a date or an implementation programme. When will the grants and the research be announced, by when must applicants apply and how does that happen? These are the real, hard figures and facts that we need for this to move forward.

SFI's budget of €167 million in 2016 is already allocated. To break this down, and to respond to the Deputy's question, based on information from higher education research and development, HERD, 50.9% of expenditure this year in the higher education system on research is on basic research and the rest is divided between applied research at 43.4% and experimental research at 5.7%.

Innovation 2020 set a delivery date for 2017. If the Deputy is asking me the provisional deadline for applications in 2016, I do not have that deadline here but I most certainly will revert to the Deputy in that regard. What I can tell him is that there are 14 research priority areas, RPAs, which can be found on the website and which include networks and communications, data analytics, management, digital platforms, medical devices, diagnostics, food for health, therapeutics, marine renewable energy, smart grids and smart cities and so on. My plan is to meet with Science Foundation Ireland within the next few weeks, and the Deputy would be very welcome to come to that meeting with me.

I thank the Minister for his invite and I will take up that offer to join him at his meeting with Science Foundation Ireland. I would also be interested in the 14 RPAs. The Minister of State ran out of time while reading out the priorities, but I would be interested in getting that document from him at another stage.

I will get that to the Deputy.

Very good. I thank the Minister of State for that final clarification but we are approaching the end of the academic term and it is the summer months when people will be making decisions about where they position themselves into the new academic research year. It is therefore imperative that over the next three to four weeks we begin to make movement. If we can indicate to these people over the summer what is happening, then they can begin to make plans and we can attract the right people to the right research.

The Deputy's question is very relevant, and I will be very brief in my answer. As I indicated earlier, I contacted Science Foundation Ireland and asked them to meet me within a few weeks so that we can discuss the priorities, the provisional deadline and so on. As I said, any Deputy in the House who is interested in the sciences, research and development and so on will be welcome to come to that meeting. Until I have that meeting there are some questions that I cannot answer, but when I do meet them, I will extend an invitation to the Deputy to come to that meeting with me, and I would be delighted if he would take up that invitation.

Zero-hour Contracts

James Browne


46. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his plans and timeframe for bringing forward legislation to address the issue of zero-hour contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15869/16]

Ruth Coppinger


47. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will bring forward legislation to outlaw zero-hours contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15836/16]

I ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans and timeframe for bringing forward legislation to address the issue of zero-hour contracts and if she would make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy Browne for his question. Deputy Coppinger has a similar question but she is not here. I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 47 together in any event.

I am committed to considering the appropriate policy response to the report of the University of Limerick of their study of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts. As Deputies will be aware, the University of Limerick was appointed in February 2015 to study the prevalence of zero-hour contracts and low-hour contracts and their impact on employees. The study, published in November 2015, found that zero-hour contracts, as defined within current Irish employment rights legislation, are not exclusively or extensively used in Ireland. It found low working hours can arise in different forms in employment contracts. There are regular part-time contracts with fixed hours, contracts with if-and-when hours only and hybrids of the two. If-and-when contracts are contracts where workers are not contractually required to make themselves available for work.

The UL report made a range of recommendations relating to contracts, hours of work and notice, minimum hours, how contracted hours should be determined, collective agreements, data gathering and wider contextual issues. It is important to point out that the UL study was an independent study and that the conclusions drawn and the recommendations made in it are those of UL. Therefore, it was essential to seek the views of stakeholders. To this end, my Department sought submissions from interested parties by way of public consultation. A large number of submissions were received in response to the consultation. The responses contained a variety of views both for and against the findings and recommendations as made by UL. These responses require, and are currently being given, careful consideration by my Department. The study and the responses to it will be considered by Government with a view to agreeing the actions that should be taken.

While I accept zero-hour contracts and similar if-and-when contracts are not very prominent in our society, they do affect primarily people in the most vulnerable positions. Job insecurity and the casualisation of the workforce is something we see growing and that is why this matter has come to a head in the last few years. Bringing clarity to work hours is essential to creating decent jobs, in particular for those people who are in the most vulnerable sections of our society. Where I come from, in the south east, in Wexford in particular, a high proportion of people rely on these jobs. A recent report only last week highlighted the fact that Wexford and the south east in particular has 7,000 fewer third-level education positions and 6,000 fewer IDA jobs in proportion to its population when compared to the rest of the country. I ask the Ministers to bring in a task force or to do something urgent to address those issues.

I will take note of the Deputy's concerns, which the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, and I will try to rectify. We must examine the report, why it was commissioned and the recommendations in it. As the Deputy pointed out, while zero hours contracts are not often used in industry, the "if and when" approach is used, whereby people are not contracted to make themselves available. Outside of these, there is a lack of clarity regarding the employment status of many people who want to work, particularly in the hours the Deputy mentioned. As I previously said, we are concerned about the unpredictability of the hours and the difficulty of managing family life for people who have this type of uncertain employment, and the unstable income, which I mentioned earlier, which means people cannot get access to finance. A consultation process is in place. It finishes on Friday. We will take note of all the submissions, meet some of the interested parties, if necessary, and make our report.

Questions Nos. 48 to 52, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Regional Development Initiatives

James Browne


53. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the measures she plans to take to provide and support sustainable jobs in the south east given the high rate of unemployment there; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15868/16]

I would like to ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the measures she plans to take to provide and support sustainable jobs in the south east, given the high rate of unemployment there, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

The economic crisis hit job numbers in the south east badly with the loss of 37,800 jobs between 2007 and 2012. There has been a focused, collaborative approach and a range of reforms have been delivered in the region over recent years. The unemployment rate has fallen from a peak of 20.1% in 2012 to 12.5% in early 2016. Some 204,400 people are at work in the south east, an increase of 23,100 over the period. Over the past three years, employment growth in the region has increased at a faster pace than the national increase. While the current unemployment rate of 12.5% is still unacceptable and too high, the figures demonstrate that the overall trend is one of steady recovery.

I am committed to working with the various agencies and stakeholders in the south east to ensure this trend continues and that sufficient sustainable jobs are ultimately created. The regional action plans for jobs initiative is a concrete example of the targeted approach undertaken to boost regional employment. The core objective of the south east regional action plan, which was launched in September 2015, is to realise the potential to have a further 25,000 at work in the region by 2020. We are aiming to ensure the unemployment rate is within 1% of the State average.

Last Thursday, Waterford Institute of Technology published a report containing statistics and evidence that backed up what we all know about the south east, namely, that it is the forgotten region. There are 6,000 fewer IDA jobs and 7,000 fewer third level places in the south east than in the other regions. The district suffers from brain drain. The population aged under 25 and over 50 is at national norms, while the population between those ages is gone. People who get an education do not return, given that there are no jobs there. We need more than what is in place. We need a task force with specific goals for the south east to target the area and bring us up to the norm. We are 14 years behind the rest of the country and we need specific targets to be brought into place and action to happen to bring us up to the national average, at a minimum.

Deputy Cullinane raised the issue earlier today here. There is a plan. The IDA has 71 client companies in the region employing 12,000 and has recently launched a strategy, Winning: Foreign Direct Investment 2015-2019. The IDA positions the south east in the marketplace as an investment location with a strong ecosystem of indigenous and multinational companies operating across a diverse range of sectors. In particular, there are strong-----

We are out of time. We must move on to Topical Issues.

I can furnish the Deputy with the answer.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.