Other Questions

Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

Mick Wallace


6. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation further to Parliamentary Question No. 257 of 31 May 2017, the eight areas that the Government has excluded from the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA; the process by which decisions to exclude particular policy areas are made; the number of submissions for exceptions that were made to her Department; the Departments from which they originated; the policy areas to which they related; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30236/17]

Mick Wallace


18. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her views on the potential impact of CETA in view of the fact that the State's negative list of eight policy areas is considerably shorter than other member states, for example, Germany, which has 25 pages of exemptions; her further views on the fact that Ireland's negative list does not include services such as water, education or health; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30237/17]

I welcome the Minister to her new job. I hope she enjoys it more than the previous one.

Deputy Wallace is everywhere.

The European Commission explanatory document on negative lists states that all sectors or sub-sectors that are not listed on the negative list are, by default, open to foreign service suppliers under the same conditions as domestic service suppliers. The Minister's predecessor stated that substantive engagement took place, sector by sector, to identify Ireland's interests over the course of negotiations. However, the negative list for Ireland refers to only eight areas, effectively leaving almost all areas of life in this country open to the provisions of CETA, which is nothing less than an attack on our power to regulate in the interests of the public. Why is this the case?

There is a very straightforward answer to the point the Deputy has made. He has made it several times, for example, in respect of Germany. The latter has a shorter list than Ireland and it is important to note that the German list is prepared by the 16 Länder while Ireland's is a single national list. That is the first point to explain the disparity between the two lists.

Ireland is an open trading economy. Under successive governments Ireland has continued to promote a policy for open international trade and competition. This has greatly benefited our economy. The process by which decisions are made regarding exemptions is through a comprehensive consultation with Departments at every stage of a negotiation of a free trade agreement.

The EU-Canada economic and trade agreement, CETA, commits Canada, the EU and its member states to permit access to each other's domestic services market and to treat foreign services suppliers no less favourably than their own service suppliers.

It is important to note that one of the features of Canada-Ireland economic relations has been the high level of Canadian investment in Ireland, which we welcome. We will also welcome the visit of the Canadian Prime Minister next week. At the end of 2015, Ireland's FDI stocks in Canada amounted to over €4 billion, making Ireland the thirteenth largest source of FDI to Canada, and there are some 400 Enterprise Ireland client companies doing business in Canada.

There are exceptions to the general commitments to liberalisation of the services market. These are listed in Annex I, reservations for existing measures and liberalisation commitments, and Annex II, reservations for future measures to the agreement. There are EU-specific exceptions that cover all of the member states and Ireland is also covered by its own specific exceptions. We need to look at those two lists.

The annexes list all the existing measures and restrictions that the EU and Ireland want to maintain in respect of Canadian service providers. It is important to note that CETA does not cover public services. EU member states will be able to retain ownership of public monopolies, CETA will not force governments to privatise or deregulate public services - such as the water supply, health or education - and EU member states will continue to be able to decide which public services they want to keep public and subsidise them.

Given that it is the Minister's first time answering questions in her new capacity, I would expect her to paint a prettier picture than the one we anticipate. There is a lot to be said for trade deals around the world. I am totally in favour of doing business with different countries but very often these trade deals have led to various types of problems. Much of the research around CETA comes straight from fairyland. The modelling used, for example, assumes constant full employment so no one can be unemployed due to imports. It assumes balanced trade so a country's total output cannot be undermined by a trade deficit. It assumes no international capital flows. It is a false notion that companies will not be able to shift investment abroad.

I know that this is a new portfolio for the Minister and that she is being fed a certain line by the civil servants. However, the picture is not as rosy as we have been led to believe and as the Minister is starting out in this area, I ask her to look under the covers to see exactly what CETA will mean for the people of Ireland.

I ask the Deputy to do the very same. He should look under the bonnet of CETA as well to see the huge advantages it offers in Ireland. It covers virtually all aspects of economic activity. The Deputy should consider the new market opportunities which are very significant for many Irish firms and in the context of Brexit they will welcome those opportunities. Irish companies will now be able to bid for Canadian public contracts as limitations on those will end under CETA. Irish firms will also benefit from the recognition of product standards and certification thus saving on the double testing on both sides of the Atlantic. Ireland has strong protections for the beef industry through restrictive quotas for Canadian beef entering the EU. CETA will also provide very significant opportunities for the dairy industry which could find Brexit quite challenging given its dependence on the UK market. There are many opportunities in CETA for Irish firms and business which will help many Irish families. It is very important to consider that aspect as well.

While the Minister was busy looking under the bonnet of the Department of Justice and Equality and trying to defend the poor Garda Commissioner day and night, I was looking under a few other bonnets, including those of CETA and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, for several years. I can assure her that there are problems in these areas. The Minister mentioned beef. No one in his or her right mind would claim that the regulation around the production of beef anywhere in North America, be it the United States or Canada, is as good as ours. When beef comes in from Canada it will be cheap, as is the case with beef from Brazil. Beef from the latter is coming into Ireland into wholesale units where it is repackaged and sold as if it was Irish, with the original labels removed. It is produced for a third less than Irish beef because our regulation is much better.

Likewise, CETA and TTIP, when it unfortunately arrives here, will make it difficult for Irish producers of food to compete with Canada and the USA because of their lower standards of regulation.

While Irish meat export volumes to Canada are low, there is a real prospect of growing business with that country. That is important for producers here. I am not saying there are no difficulties with these international trade agreements - I accept there can be aspects - but I am asking the Deputy to have a more comprehensive approach to it because there are huge opportunities. The removal of Canada's 26.5% import tariff will be significant. The Irish dairy industry will benefit from Canada opening a new bilateral quota with the EU of 18,500 tonnes of cheese and the elimination of all tariffs on its milk proteins. These are important initiatives which will help very important sectors in Ireland to grow their markets and diversify, which is even more important given the challenge of Brexit. I am pointing out all the positives around CETA which will impact on farm families and business up and down this country as they face into the challenging period ahead. That aspect of these trade agreements is certainly worth putting on the floor of the House.

Legislative Programme

Niall Collins


7. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when the heads of the Bill regarding protections for workers on insecure, low-hour contracts will be published in 2017, in view of the urgent need. [30224/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett


51. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the timeframe for the publication and enactment of legislation dealing with low-hour contracts and precarious work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30475/17]

What is the status of legislation to protect workers on insecure and low-hour contracts? Has the Tánaiste had the opportunity to read her way into the brief? It is an issue the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has invested nearly all its time in to bring the legislation forward. It is an issue which featured very prominently in my party's election manifesto and it was one of the issues we highlighted in the confidence and supply agreement between the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties to underpin the minority Government. I impress on the Tánaiste the urgency of the legislation.

I appreciate the urgency of this. My Department received recently the first draft of the Bill from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and, subject to Government approval, I envisage the publication of the Bill at an early date once the drafting process is complete. The joint committee has confirmed it does not wish to engage in pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft legislation. As such, the Bill, once published, can come straight to the House in keeping with the urgency to which the Deputy refers. The Government's legislation will ensure employees are better informed about the nature of their employment arrangements and, in particular, their core terms at an early stage of their employment. Employees will not have to wait to get those details. It will strengthen the provisions around minimum payments to low-paid, vulnerable workers who may be called in to work for a period but not provided with that work. That is an issue which has been raised. It will also deal with quite a number of other things.

I appreciate that the Tánaiste sees that the Bill is urgent but she has not provided us with a date. I press her to do so. Is it likely we will see the Bill before the House in the current session at least to kick off its passage through the Oireachtas? In the work of the joint committee, pretty much everyone has been on the same page, which is important. It is legislation which will impact on the most vulnerable people in the employment landscape. The fact we have been waiting so long impresses on us all the urgency of the Bill. I would not like to see the opportunity being lost. We all know how precarious the current Dáil is. That is the result that was handed to us by the public. There is so much expectation on the Bill that I impress the point on the Tánaiste again and ask her if she has a date in mind.

It is clear that good progress has been made. This was only referred to the Office of the Attorney General on 4 May, but there has already been a first draft from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. While I cannot provide the Deputy with a precise date, all the indications are that the Bill will be published at an early date once the drafting process is finalised. I appreciate the points the Deputy makes and the points which were made at the joint committee. It is important to move to ensure workers on low-hour contracts who consistently work more hours each week than are provided for in their contracts of employment are entitled to be placed in a band of hours which reflects the reality of the hours they have worked over an extended period. There are also other aspects of the Bill. I will discuss it further with my officials to see if I can get a clear indication. Given that a first draft has been provided, it may be in the House early in the next term, depending on the complexity and responses of my Department.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy

James Lawless


9. Deputy James Lawless asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if she has considered the need for a dedicated stand-alone office of a chief science adviser that would be free of other responsibilities and solely responsible for advising the Government and its members on scientific and research issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30412/17]

Can an office of chief scientific adviser, free of other responsibilities, be created? Such an office was in place under previous Administrations but it was merged. Does the Government have a view about re-establishing the office?

I thank Deputy Lawless for his important question and his attendance at the briefing with Professor Mark Ferguson of Science Foundation Ireland, which I hope he found informative.

The office of chief scientific adviser to the Government was created in 2004 to provide expert advice on matters of science policy.  In November 2011, the public sector reform initiative called for a rationalisation and reduction in the number of State bodies. Following consultation with Departments and on foot of a memorandum for Government, it was decided to dissolve the office of chief scientific adviser.  However, it was agreed that Professor Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, would assume the role of chief scientific adviser in addition to his SFI responsibilities.  Deputy Lawless has met Professor Ferguson on a number of occasions. The Government was of the view that the suppression of the office of the chief scientific adviser as a stand-alone office could be done without undue adverse impact on the Government's access to advice on scientific matters.  The decision to combine the role with the role of director general of the SFI ensures greater synergies between the development of policy and the support of national scientific aims. Like Deputy Lawless, I am very interested in science. We have many discussions on it. I have looked at this very carefully and wondered if it had an impact on the advice the Government receives on all issues. I believe it has not.

In his role as chief scientific adviser, Professor Ferguson sits on a number of committees, including the implementation group on Innovation 2020 and the high-level group which informs national policy and direction for Horizon 2020 and EU framework programmes. He also represents Ireland at both EU and international fora. Ireland has a national target to win €1.25 billion in competitive funding from Horizon 2020 and has already drawn down €424 million. I am satisfied, having looked at it very carefully, that there has been no diminution of the quality of advice offered by the chief scientific adviser notwithstanding that there is no specific office for that role.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply and the invitation to attend the briefing with Science Foundation Ireland, which was a very useful session. I do not want to talk about the individual, because we have learned about doing that on different topics in the House over recent days. I want to talk about the formulation of the offices and the relationship between them. It was a progressive move in 2004 to create the office of chief scientific adviser. There were many arguments in favour of that policy. I attended recently the science march with a number of academics, policymakers and others with an interest in the area who came together to make the point that a more evidence-based policy was needed with a whole-of-Government approach and to call for investment in research, development and science. The Minister of State and I have often talked about that and I know he understands the need for it.

It was regressive to abolish the position in 2012. In the same way, we have an Attorney General, who is separate from the Chief Justice, an Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser, and a budget office that is being created, which have different functions in terms of advice to the Government and are separate to the multiple agencies that stem from Government. At the time the office was abolished, it was understood that it was for financial considerations. One would hope that, as financial fortunes are, hopefully, beginning to be restored, there may be scope to revisit it. There was some criticism at the time of the abolition that it was seen as a shortsighted move and one that potentially created a conflict of interest in terms of the agency and the advisory roles. It is important enough to be reconstituted into its own office now that budget conditions, hopefully, allow that to be a possibility again.

I will make a number of brief points. It is important to note that, when required to do so, Professor Ferguson provides top-level, independent and informed advice to the Government, either in response to direct requests or through his involvement in cross-departmental groups such as Horizon 2020. I took some advice and made some inquiries on the model in other countries. Interestingly, there are other countries which invest far more in science than we do, and the Deputy and I agree that we should probably be doing a lot more in research and development, but there is no one model followed in some of the top countries across Europe for the structuring of their chief scientific adviser's role. In some countries, for instance, the UK, New Zealand and Malta, which are pretty highly involved in research and development, there is a separate chief scientific adviser. In other countries the role is undertaken by national academics. The Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Science does not have a dedicated, if one likes, chief scientific officer, while in others it can be a mix of the head or the president of the national academy of funding bodies. I considered countries across Europe and elsewhere to see if it was a disadvantage to us not to have it, and I found it not to be so.

Perhaps we will agree to disagree as I think it would be useful to create a separate office. Were we to reconstitute the office, it would recognise the status that the Government and the State place on science and research. Another point I make is that currently it is aligned to the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Research needs a whole-of-Government approach. My understanding is that around 2004, when it was created, this office came within the remit of the Department of the Taoiseach. As part of that, it had a whole-of-Government approach. It is not just the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation that needs that sort of evidence-based policy advice but all of Government.

Yesterday there was, arising from the recent Nevin report, a Topical Issue that I had tabled on the lack of research and development funding. I expected either the Minister or the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to take it or, if not, perhaps the Minister for Education and Skills. I was surprised to see a Minister of State at the Department of Finance take it. It was a good debate and the Minister of State made good points. However, it highlighted the number of stools between which research and development can fall, that is, education, enterprise and, in yesterday's case, finance. Things such as research and development tax credits came into yesterday's debate, which amplifies and highlights the need for a whole-of-Government approach. Perhaps when considering the chief scientific adviser in whatever guise, at least under the Department of the Taoiseach there was that broad role.

I agree to a certain degree with what the Deputy is saying. When I was in opposition, I called specifically for a ministerial position to deal exclusively with innovation and research and development, which is why I specifically asked the Taoiseach, if I were to be reappointed in this position, that he would add research and development to the portfolio. Having regard to the advancement of technology, science, research and development, and innovation, I agree absolutely with the Deputy that the Government or future Governments will probably have to look at that position, where we dedicate a particular role to research and development.

I will not go through the detail of the role of the chief adviser now. Probably the best thing I could do is send a note to the Deputy on Professor Ferguson's exact role. The Deputy will find that he is comfortable in his role. He has great people with him at university level and within the Department who were able to deal with all of the Departments. However, there is an argument to be made and a discussion to be had on the Deputy's last point about a combination of roles and so on.

Question No. 10 taken after Question No. 11.

IDA Ireland Data

Brian Stanley


11. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the strategy her Department will pursue to ensure that the IDA Ireland performance regarding inward investment in County Laois is improved; and her contact in IDA Ireland in this regard. [30217/17]

Brian Stanley


31. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the actions the Government will take to ensure that there is not a repeat of the severely low job creation figures in IDA Ireland backed enterprises in County Laois in 2015 and 2016. [30218/17]

These questions relate to IDA Ireland's performance in County Laois, which has been very poor, to put it mildly. We want to try to ascertain Government strategy in terms of getting jobs into the regions, particularly the midlands, because we are falling seriously behind according to replies that we have received to parliamentary questions from the Department.

I have already stated here today that the Government is committed to regional development. The Deputy can see from the IDA Ireland figures the percentage of new jobs that are being created and the investment made outside of Dublin. We are working towards ambitious targets to ensure that employment and investment are fairly distributed, if one likes, as much as possible throughout the country. I am sure the Deputy is familiar with the fact that in June 2015 my Department published a midlands regional enterprise strategy as part of the Action Plan for Jobs. I take the Deputy's point that more needs to be done, especially in counties such as County Laois. County Laois is marketed by IDA Ireland as part of the midlands region, together with counties Westmeath, Longford and Offaly. There are 30 multinational companies based in the midlands, employing 4,280 people. There are 115 people employed by those IDA Ireland client companies based in County Laois.

Site visits represent one tool through which IDA Ireland has sought to encourage more investment in County Laois. There were ten such visits to the county across 2015 and 2016, which ultimately led to the creation of 28 new IDA Ireland-supported jobs. I assure the Deputy that the agency continues to promote County Laois as an investment location to overseas companies. I am hopeful that further jobs will be created there by IDA Ireland companies and clients in the future.

County Laois is also part of the midlands region for the purposes of the regional action plans. The County Laois local enterprise office, LEO, is currently advancing three projects which are in receipt of approximately €230,000 of funding through the LEO competitive fund. The Deputy will be familiar with that fund. It was made available for the regional action plans. That will support the growth of micro-enterprises and innovation in small firms, which is more necessary now than ever, as well as job creation.

I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. A lot of good work is being done at local level by the local enterprise office and the local authority. We, as public representatives, the Sinn Féin representatives no less than anyone else, are working to improve infrastructure and facilities in the county and make it attractive for inward investment. However, the record in County Laois is appalling. There were 39,609 net new jobs created in IDA Ireland-backed companies in 2015 and 2016. County Laois, as the Tánaiste noted, got just 28 of them. That is 0.07% of them. I am not arguing that County Kildare should have got less, but it got 1,140 in the same period. County Laois is at the bottom of the league and has been so consistently for more than two decades. Why?

Bord na Móna has plans for some of its Coolnamona sites and IDA Ireland has been tasked with marketing them. It has been requested by Bord na Móna to do that. There are business parks in the county and huge infrastructure improvements in terms of motorways and broadband. The facilities in the county in terms of hotels, golf courses, swimming pools and sports facilities are excellent. It has the infrastructure needed to address quality of life issues. When I became a councillor, I was told that we lagged behind in respect of all those matters. We have done all of that and have excellent facilities and infrastructure in the county. All parties are behind this, yet 0.07% of jobs are going to the county. There are 10,000 people a day commuting out of County Laois to work. That is not acceptable in a county of 85,000 people.

The Deputy makes relevant points about the development of the infrastructure that is needed to sustain foreign direct investment and to create jobs. In every county we are looking at both the foreign direct investment and the indigenous companies that we want to support because small and medium enterprises are the backbone of job creation in the country.

I take the points the Deputy is making but it seems to me from what he is saying that Laois is well placed to attract further FDI and we support the IDA to do just that. We want to see all of the regions benefitting. We also have the regional action plans to make sure of that. They all have ambitious programmes now. There is potential in the area. We want to grow that number. We want to increase the level of FDI-driven employment in the county. The Deputy has made a very good case. We need to try to ensure companies are attracted to the region and that more jobs will be created. There are 30 multinational companies based in the midlands area. I have already given that statistic that 70% of jobs that are created with IDA companies are created by companies already here. There is potential to grow locally from those companies.

I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. I welcome the midlands regional enterprise strategy. I want the Minister to focus on the Laois part of it. We do not want to take a hands-off approach on the IDA. It is funded by the taxpayer and public funds. The Minister is new in the job. I congratulate her and wish her the best of luck in her new role. I want to give the county particular focus. We cannot continue to be forgotten about. When the Tánaiste was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, she focused on Laois and came down to visit the facilities there. She prioritised certain things she was asked to do locally, which was welcome. I want her to do the same with this. I want her to recognise there is a black hole here in terms of IDA investment. I want her to contact her senior officials in the IDA and ask them to specifically focus on the business parks and facilities we have in the county and to try to use the midlands regional strategy to improve matters.

I have no doubt the IDA will look at the transcripts of this discussion and note the points the Deputy has made very persuasively, as Deputies from every county also have. I reassure the Deputy the regional focus is a very important one for the IDA. It is a very serious one. The job creation that is happening outside Dublin is testament to that, with over 52% of jobs that have been created being outside Dublin. I reassure the Deputy the IDA engages regularly with the local authority in Laois and with those in Longford, Westmeath and Offaly. There is more work to be done. We are supporting IDA and its staff to continue the very intensive focus on job creation and meeting new companies. I have already met quite a number of companies that are showing a huge interest in investing in Ireland. Every effort will be made to ensure the kind of investment we have seen in the past few years will be continued.

Enterprise Support Schemes

Brendan Smith


10. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she will take to assist enterprises that are heavily dependent on exporting to the British market; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30430/17]

I wish the Tánaiste well in her new role in Government. The agrifood, construction and engineering sectors are major players in our local economy in Cavan-Monaghan and the Border region in particular. That goes for north of the Border as well. Those sectors have already been impacted by Brexit, particularly with the reduction in the value of sterling. The Government needs to give out a clear message that new initiatives will be taken to support those sectors through difficult times. The longer the Brexit negotiations go on, the greater the uncertainty. There is real concern among enterprises that built up good businesses in very difficult times and they need support from Government now.

I recognise the points Deputy Smith is making. I can see from my conversations with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland in particular that what the Deputy says is absolutely accurate in terms of the challenges facing companies that are dependent on the British market. The UK is a strategically important market for Irish-owned companies. Some sectors such as food, timber, construction and engineering are very dependent on that market. The uncertainty around Brexit is a real issue. Some of the companies have said they are somewhat concerned that we have not seen the same focus on trade that we have seen on other issues. That is to some degree a timing issue in the negotiations. It is worth saying that in 2016, 35%, or €7.55 billion of Enterprise Ireland client exports went to the UK.  By contrast, ten years ago, 45% of EI client exports went to the UK, so we have seen market diversification. Market diversification needs to be supported. There will be a particular focus on the eurozone market, which is important. EI recently launched a strategy to increase client exports to the eurozone by 50%, from €4 billion to €6 billion, by 2020. Since the UK referendum result, my Department and its agencies, InterTradeIreland, Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices have been actively engaging in supporting companies to assess and address their exposure to Brexit. I have already spoken about the EI scorecard. I encourage all businesses to take part in that exercise. Some, but not all companies - even those with huge exposure to the UK market - are necessarily getting involved in that exercise. It is essential they do so and look at their strengths and how they can diversify and look at innovation in order that they have new products. It is not that easy to move from the UK market because companies went there for a very good reason; they were meeting a need there and the prices were good. Diversification will be challenging but it is necessary.

I thank the Tánaiste for her reply. I would like her to come to the region and meet enterprises. Over the years we have had particular obstacles in trying to attract foreign direct investment to Cavan-Monaghan and the Border region because of the troubles we endured as a community over many decades. Thankfully, during that period people with great entrepreneurial spirit developed businesses and enterprises. Thankfully, some of those in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan have become international corporations. There was a great spirit of initiative and of getting up and doing things. Those companies are predominantly in the agrifood, construction and engineering sectors, as I said earlier. They export to Britain, which is their major market so the fluctuation in the value of sterling is an issue. Similarly, Britain is often a landbridge for product leaving our area and heading to destinations in other parts of Europe or outside Europe because the ports in Northern Ireland are heavily used by companies from south of the Border. There are particular difficulties there with regard to access to other markets. If the Tánaiste could come to the region and meet with those small, medium and large enterprises, she would get a feel for the concerns they have. I am not suggesting she does not have that knowledge but I think it would be beneficial. Some weeks ago, I brought a delegation of senior French parliamentarians to the Cavan-Monaghan area. They met businesses and on leaving Ireland they told me they went away with a totally new perspective on Brexit and how it affects our island. They said they would bring that message back to their parliament and Government. It is important that at senior Government level, people like the Tánaiste are in a position to come and meet those enterprises and local communities.

I certainly will be doing that. Part of my remit is to make sure there is job growth in the regions. There are particular issues in the areas the Deputy mentioned. I will make a number of points. Clearly, we want to continue to export to the UK but there will have to be some developments and we will have to reposition our offer to some degree. The UK market, however, will remain key. Having said that, we will be obliged to make a number of other strategic responses to Brexit. We will have to look at innovation and market diversification. Those companies will have to if they have not engaged already. It varies quite a lot. Some companies are really analysing very carefully and clearly the potential impact of Brexit although it is hard to know precisely given the uncertain state of the negotiations at this point in the early stages. Some companies are examining that. The Department is working on measures targeted at the needs of companies across the economy around working capital and business development because we will have to support our companies during this very difficult period for them.

I emphasise that I am a realist and I know it is not easy to attract foreign direct investment to rural areas. An additional impetus is needed to try to attract foreign direct investment to the Border area, which has the skills pool and people required. At a time such as this, we must ensure there is good collaboration between agencies, North and South, as there has been over the years. Many of the companies and enterprises I spoke about have sister companies north of the Border and many are all-Ireland companies, with plants on both sides of the Border. Business owners from Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone have visited me and expressed great concern about the effects of Brexit on their companies. It is equally important that they get through these difficult times. We must address the issues, concerns and challenges arising from Brexit on an all-Ireland basis. We must ensure the co-operation that has existed, particularly since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, is built upon in the challenging 18 months ahead of us. The loss of a job in Fermanagh impacts on my constituency, just as the loss of a job in Cavan-Monaghan impacts on the economy of Fermanagh. Thankfully, for upwards of 20 years, the island has been experiencing a great movement of people, goods and services that it did not experience prior to 1998.

The Deputy makes the point very well regarding the importance of North-South trade and the great developments we have seen in this area, which have been facilitated by the political changes of recent years. I hope these issues can be resolved in the near future because trade between North and South is significant. As the Deputy noted, changes on one side of the Border impact on the other side of the Border. For this reason, a particular energy is needed to deal with the challenges he describes. This is one of the reasons we established the all-island dialogue, which Deputy Smith may have attended. The dialogue has featured tremendous engagement between businesses North and South and it will be a bulwark against the challenges that will inevitably arise.

An increased focus is needed on IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and we must support business through this difficult period. We must also ensure the appropriate financial initiatives are in place. One of the big issues facing all companies is access to finance to enable them to engage in research and innovation. While it is difficult in a period of uncertainty to invest in innovation and research and development, it is key to growth. Companies must be provided with finance to help them prepare for Brexit. I take the Deputy's points regarding the particular needs of the Border area.

Departmental Budgets

Thomas P. Broughan


12. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her priorities for budget 2018; the amount of increased funding she expects to access; projects or areas for such; if increased resources are being sought for her Department's agencies for Brexit work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30229/17]

I also wish the Minister well in her new portfolio. I am sure she will miss the Department of Justice and Equality and the lengthy questions both I and other Deputies used to submit to her. I also wish the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, well in the portfolio he has retained.

Budget 2018 will be vital. I do not agree with removing any part of the Department and transferring it to another Department. In what appears to be a reflection of the hard-right ideology of the new Taoiseach, it appears employment will be moved into the Department of Social Protection. These are different functions and responsibility for employment should be in the same Department as responsibility for jobs. What areas will not be included in the Department's Estimates this year?

A couple of Deputies discussed the issue of Brexit at length. What additional resources will the Department be allocated to address the issue of Brexit? The previous Minister secured an additional €100 million for the Department last year. I wonder how ambitious the new Minister will be in at least matching that achievement.

Final decisions have not yet been made on the specific functions of the Department that may transfer. It is important to have close co-operation with the Department of Social Protection because we want people to move seamlessly into employment when opportunities arise. We do not want there to be barriers preventing people from taking up jobs that become available.

The Deputy asked about the forthcoming budget. My Department is engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on budget 2018. It is too early in the process, however, to be definitive about the Department's capital and current ceilings for 2018, which will not be finalised until later in the year.

As part of 2017 budget negotiations, the overall gross allocation to my Department was substantially increased to €858 million, which included the highest ever capital allocation of €555 million provided to my Department. This increase was targeted at ensuring my Department's enterprise agencies were in a position to respond proactively to the evolving Brexit situation.

I have already held discussions in the Department and with others on a number of discrete and significant priorities for the coming year. These include the need to continue progress on delivering on the Government's regionalisation agenda, which I have discussed with Deputies, and its commitment to create 200,000 extra jobs by 2020, including 135,000 jobs outside Dublin. A second priority is to ensure the Department's enterprise agencies are in a position to provide transformational supports for indigenous enterprise. I discussed this important point with Deputy Brendan Smith. We must also continue the roll-out of research and development investment in support of the Government's science strategy, Innovation 2020, and provide, if required, contingency funding and access to finance packages over two years to support firms most at risk from the threat of Brexit. As the Deputy is aware, some firms will be more at risk from Brexit than others. I intend to ensure that these priorities are at the forefront of discussions on budget 2018.

The Minister's predecessor established a Brexit unit in the Department. How many officials are engaged in the unit and what type of ongoing work is it doing with business on the ground in the regions and in the capital? The previous Minister informed us in January that Enterprise Ireland would recruit an additional 39 staff and IDA Ireland would recruit an additional ten staff to prepare for Brexit. Will the Minister comment on the work the enterprise agencies have been doing? Can additional resources be allocated to these bodies? There is still grave anxiety about the prospect of Brexit. We heard a British Minister speak casually about trucks being pulled over on the roads in the context of North-South trade. It would be intolerable to be dragged back into that environment with that type of Border.

Brexit has already impacted on tourism numbers from the United Kingdom and the used car trade. Other worrying issues are developing, such as the possibility that the projected growth rate will be cut. In addition, the Economic and Social Research Institute has indicated Brexit could cost 40,000 jobs. What will be the focus of the Department? The Minister must take a dynamic role in the budget.

The focus must be on addressing the issues of most concern to business in the run-up to Brexit. This includes meeting the challenges presented by our reliance on the United Kingdom in the context of Brexit. It is difficult at this stage because we do not know what will be the final shape of Brexit. However, Brexit has significant implications for trade generally but specifically for firms which are dependent on the UK market. The focus in the budget will be on ensuring that we have a range of initiatives in place that are supportive of business in this environment. Addressing the issue of access to finance will also be key because businesses will need to invest in capital, innovation and research and development. The Government wants to be able to help businesses to do this. We also want to ensure they access funding that is available from international resources and take all necessary steps to prepare for Brexit. I will consider these initiatives in the context of the budget.

As the Deputy correctly noted, additional funding was provided in last year's budget to facilitate significant recruitment in the enterprise agencies. This continues to be supported by my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

We are aware of the need to have staff on the ground doing the work and dealing with the challenges for businesses in the run up to Brexit. The latter is a question of businesses' development, preparations and access to finance so that they can take the necessary steps to cope with Brexit.

My final point is on the subject of a parliamentary question that we will not reach but that relates to this matter. In terms of the census returns on unemployment, many of us found it disturbing that there were 79 major blackspots around the country, for example, in Waterford and Limerick. In those areas, 27% of people reported themselves as being unemployed, which is far above the figures that the Taoiseach and his predecessor have talked about. In fact, seven of the blackspots are in Dublin constituencies.

Is the Minister's Department meeting or speaking to the CSO? Are these figures coming across in programmes? For example, certain people cannot get on community employment, CE, schemes, training schemes or the like with a view to returning to work. What initiatives will the Minister take in respect of constituencies like Waterford and the north, west and south sides of Dublin?

Does Deputy Quinlivan wish to ask a question on the same matter?

Yes. I tabled a question on this issue to the Minister, but it was referred to the Department of Social Protection. It concerned the blackspots highlighted by the CSO, 17 of which are in my constituency of Limerick, with eight of the top ten in Limerick city. If creating jobs in Moyross, Southill and St. Mary's Park is the responsibility of the Department of Social Protection rather than the Minister's Department, what work is she undertaking with the former to ensure that people in those areas, especially young people, who have been left behind are able to access the workforce? CE schemes, apprenticeships and so on could be considered. Will the Minister's Department liaise with the Department of Social Protection, given how important this issue is?

Unfortunately, that Limerick is in the top ten is not news to us. It was in the same situation in the previous stats.

We can see what is happening with the unemployment rate. Its decrease is positive and is spread across the country. I recognise that there are particular challenges in some areas but, as the recovery continues, we want the decrease to reach further and deeper in every region. The Department of Social Protection's focus on activation plays an important role, as does access to apprenticeships. We need to communicate more about the range of opportunities that are available to young people. They have a variety of options beyond the CAO process, which is not a route that everyone wants to take. We must ensure that young people understand this and that information is available to them so that they can take up various options.

The census was the subject of a different question. I will ensure that replies are made available to both Deputies.

Does Deputy Niall Collins wish to ask a brief supplementary question?

Yes. I will pick up on the topic raised by the Deputies. I tabled a priority question about the CSO's publication on employment blackspots and highlighted the situation in Limerick in particular. While I recognise that the relevant functions have been transferred to the Department of Social Protection, there is an overlap, so will the Minister furnish us with her views on the matter?

I wish to impress upon the Minister the point that, in Limerick and the other blackspots, unemployment is intergenerational, with households having two, three or four generations of unemployment. That is the key underlying factor. What can the Minister do to try to address this situation? Unemployment seems to be rolling over and rolling over within particular households in places like Limerick, Waterford, Dublin and so on.

Employment is increasing across the country and will impact on all areas. There is also the important work being done under the regional action plans for jobs. The topics raised by the Deputies are for those regional plans and initiatives. Skills assessments and apprenticeship opportunities are being developed across the country.

The intergenerational issues that Deputy Niall Collins outlined are challenging, but access for young people in those families must be our focus. We are examining all of the issues around access to training programmes and skills. The strong approach being taken by the Department of Social Protection to activation plays an important role in work that will help those families and break the vicious cycle.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.