Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

May I raise a point, if Deputy Wallace does not mind? I tabled a question for the Minister on the issue of establishing a working group which was disallowed by the Ceann Comhairle, who is not here. The question was disallowed because it was determined to be hypothetical. Deputy Eamon Ryan just had a question which was quite good and which he delivered quite well. In it, he used the word "if" and when he was introducing it he used the word "should". That is hypothetical as well. I would like to know why my question was not allowed. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will come back to me on that. I will raise the matter again at the next opportunity. I just want to log it now, with apologies to Deputy Wallace.

I have allowed the Deputy to make his point. I advise him to make contact with the Office of the Ceann Comhairle to get it sorted out.

I will. I only got the letter this morning. We were advised yesterday that it would be on the Order Paper.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

5. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she will reconsider her decision not to publish the original ODCE report into the collapse of a trial (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4679/19]

This question relates to the Minister's refusal to date to publish the original report of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, into the collapse of the Seán FitzPatrick case. The Minister has told me she would be breaking the law if she published the original report. I wonder if she could tell us which law she would actually be breaking. So many questions remain unanswered following the collapse of the Seán FitzPatrick trial. I find it worrying that the Government seems content to sweep it under the carpet.

The advice of the Attorney General was sought on the publication of the Report of the Director of Corporate Enforcement prepared under section 955(1)(a) of the Companies Act 2014. Because of section 956 of the Companies Act 2014 the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation is prohibited from publishing reports prepared pursuant to section 955 of the Act. This advice is very clear. It means that I will be breaking the law if I publish the report that the Deputy is referring to.

The Companies Act 2014 contains strict confidentiality obligations on information in the possession of the director. This is because there is a public interest in ensuring that ongoing and future investigations are not compromised by the disclosure of details of an individual investigation and the investigative process itself.

However, while it is not possible to publish the report itself, an account of the investigative shortcomings identified by Judge Aylmer was published on 4 December 2018 on the website of my Department. The account sets out the factors which led to the investigative shortcomings, including the need for a broader skills base, a greater range and depth of knowledge and experience of criminal prosecutions within the office and a greater appreciation of the necessity to employ appropriate procedures and manage risk. Now that we know the factors that led to the shortcomings, our focus has shifted to ensuring we use the lessons of this investigation, note the steps already taken to address them and identify further measures to enhance the capacity of the ODCE to tackle corporate wrongdoing.

Since the time of the investigation, the director has implemented multiple reforms within the ODCE, including staffing and procedural reforms that address many of the issues that led to the investigative shortcomings outlined by Judge Aylmer. Further measures to be taken include the establishment, as announced by Government in November 2017, of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement as an agency. This will provide the office with greater autonomy in respect of staffing resources and ensure it is better equipped to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law.

The truth is that we are being left in the dark on many of the issues surrounding this. I wish to God that the Government would stop hiding behind the Attorney General. The narrative has been put forward following the collapse that it was all the ODCE's fault. It was said that the mistakes made by the ODCE were due to funding issues and a lack of forensic accountants, and that these issues have now been solved as the ODCE has been awarded an extra €1 million in funding. That all sounds great but it does not address the fact that there are very serious shortcomings and mistakes on the part of two other State bodies that do not suffer from funding difficulties, namely An Garda Síochána and the DPP. On the second day of the first trial, Judge Mary Ellen Ring stated that there is no doubt that the proceedings implied in the production of the witness statements differ significantly from the process normally used by gardaí in the course of a Garda investigation.

On the twenty-eighth day of the first trial it was also stated that there had been no good explanation offered to the court as to why there was not more Garda involvement, in the ordinary way, in the taking of the statements of the two witnesses in question. The methods used by the ODCE in the taking of witness statements were the main reasons both trials collapsed, as the witnesses were effectively coached. Judge Mary Ellen Ring asked why there was not the ordinary level of Garda involvement. Will the Minister address this question? She cannot blame it on funding, as has been done in respect of the ODCE. Does the original report, which the Government does not want to publish, address these questions?

The account clearly shows that the ODCE investigation, in this instance, did fall below appropriate standards. The investigative shortcomings relating to the ODCE point to the need for a broader skills base, a greater range and depth of knowledge and experience, and a greater appreciation of the necessity to employ appropriate skills and experience for a case of this complexity. This was a complex case. Many positive steps have been taken by the office since then. In 2008, for example, the ODCE had no forensic accountants or digital forensic expertise. Today it has seven forensic accountants, a digital forensic specialist and a digital forensic laboratory, as well as two enforcement portfolio managers and two enforcement lawyers.

In 2008, civilian staff in the ODCE took the lead role in obtaining witness statements. None of those people had any training or experience in taking such statements. Since then, specialised training has been provided in the Garda training college in Templemore for ODCE staff to assist them with statement taking, the interviewing of witnesses, the preparation of files for the DPP exhibits handling and disclosure. Procedural changes have also taken place so that all criminal investigations are now led by members of An Garda Síochána assigned to the ODCE. There has, therefore, been much improvement since this took place.

This is an important issue and I am sorry for cutting across the Minister but the time limits mean I must. I call Deputy Wallace.

I am not asking the Minister about the ODCE; I am asking her if there is anything in the original report dealing with how the gardaí and the DPP behaved. Will she explain how the DPP decided to pursue a second trial, following the collapse of the first trial? The DPP was aware of the shortcomings in the investigation as far back as 2010. It should not have even allowed the case to go before Judge Mary Ellen Ring, but allowing it to progress a second time was unforgivable. How much money was paid to barristers during the second trial? Was it multiples of millions of euro? The Minister has called it the most expensive trial in the history of the State.

Will she address any of these questions in respect of the DPP? Similar to the Garda, the DPP does not suffer from a lack of funding. It seems, however, that the ODCE, and its lack of funding, has been the scapegoat for the collapse of the Fitzpatrick trial. The DPP and the Garda Síochána, however, as far as I can see, have questions to answer, and perhaps the answers are in the original report. Either way, I cannot believe it. The Fine Gael party used to say that it was the party of law and order. Now, it is more like the see no evil, hear no evil school of politics.

I am not going to make any comments on what the DPP does. That is a matter for it. On what falls under my remit, which is the ODCE, it has made many changes, the correct people have been employed and it is now well resourced. I will introduce legislation shortly so that the ODCE will become a stand-alone agency. That will give it much more power in respect of recruiting the people it needs and the skill sets it needs to attract. I am satisfied that I have done everything I can in respect of resourcing and supporting the ODCE in the job it does. I know the Deputy would like to see the report. I would like to have been able to publish the report but unfortunately, due to the law, I cannot. That is the situation. I cannot break the law and I cannot publish it.

Insurance Costs

Maurice Quinlivan

Ceist:

6. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she has taken to date and the action planned to tackle the high cost of insurance for businesses; the discussions she has held with the Minister for Finance regarding the problem for businesses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4674/19]

What new steps has the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation taken so far to address high insurance costs? What actions are planned to help businesses deal with the great costs and what discussions has the Minister of State had with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, about the challenges facing businesses in this area? The Minister of State will be well aware of the Alliance for Insurance Reform. It has been highlighting a number of cases in recent weeks. This is an ongoing crisis that needs to be tackled.

My Department is very aware of the serious impacts on businesses and consumers of high insurance costs. It is important that consumers and businesses can obtain insurance cover at a reasonable and fair price. The cost of insurance working group, chaired by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, has undertaken a review of the factors influencing the increased cost of insurance. Its objective is to identify immediate and long-term measures which can address increasing costs, while bearing in mind the need to maintain a stable insurance sector. The first phase of this work involved an examination of the motor insurance sector. The second phase involved an examination of the employer liability insurance and public liability insurance sectors.

The work of the cost of insurance working group is complemented by the work of the Personal Injuries Commission, PIC. My Department submitted the second and final report of the PIC to Government on 18 September 2018. The publication of that report concluded the challenging work programme of the commission since its establishment in January 2017, on foot of a recommendation in the working group's motor insurance report. The PIC has made a total of 14 recommendations in its two reports. Those are aimed at impacting positively on the insurance claims environment.

One of the key recommendations in the PIC's second and final report is that the judicial council, when established under the Judicial Council Bill 2017, be requested by the Minister for Justice and Equality to compile judicial guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury. Following publication of its final report, my Department wrote to relevant Government colleagues, including the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Health and other organisations including the Garda Commissioner, Insurance Ireland and the Law Society.

As I said, insurance costs are a major issue for businesses across the country. I do not believe, and most of those businesses tell me they do not believe, that the Government is grasping the situation with the urgency needed. People are paying scandalous amounts for premiums that have no correlation whatsoever to their claims or costs. Information I recently received from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, shows that it received more than 1,200 complaints about motor insurance last year alone.

Insurance costs are impacting on both employees and their employers. I appreciate there has been some movement on the problem of fraudulent claims, and this is welcome. Fraudulent claims alone, however, are not the cause of large premiums. I am afraid this argument is now providing the insurance industry with a scapegoat as to why it is increasing premiums. The industry needs to be challenged on its behaviour and this is clearly not happening. The lack of transparency is astonishing, with businesses left bewildered at the premiums they are quoted. There is no explanation for that whatsoever. Are there plans to address this point, force these companies to be more transparent and ensure consumers are not ripped off by insurers?

In my initial response, I did not get the opportunity to state that the other groups we met included the Bar Council of Ireland and the Law Reform Commission. We were seeking the co-operation of all of those groups in advancing the implementation of the recommendations in the report that are relevant to them. My officials have met the Minister of State, Deputy D’Arcy, and other stakeholders to discuss the high cost of insurance for business and consumers and the work of my Department in this regard. The cumulative effects of the implementation of all the recommendations from the two reports of the PIC, alongside the reports of the cost of insurance working group and the measures contained in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018, will bring greater consistency and predictability to awards, faster resolution of claims and, ultimately, a reduction in insurance premiums. If we can get to that stage, and if we deal with those issues, that will bring down the cost of insurance and benefit consumers, businesses and society as a whole.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. In fairness, I appreciate what he said but people listening to this, or contacting our offices, whether car owners, business owners or community groups that have to cancel many of their events, do not see that this issue is being dealt with as a matter of urgency.

It has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. Younger people, especially in rural Ireland, are unable to afford insurance, so they cannot drive, get on the road and get work. It is affecting community groups, and there are massive increases coming in that area. The insurance companies hide behind the issue of claims to increase their premiums, which has no correlation whatsoever with the number of claims being made and the increases to which they are being exposed. Many people say they will not make claims because it will increase the price of their premium once the claim is lodged. They often do not know that a claim has been lodged against them until they go to renew their insurance.

The ball is in the Minister of State's court. He has to reassure businesses that he will act on this.

The cost of insurance working group is undertaking a review of all factors influencing the increased cost of insurance. We have met that group on a number of occasions. Its objective is to identify immediate and long-term measures to address increasing costs, bearing in mind the need to maintain a stable insurance sector in the community. Everybody in government believes that we need to do something about the high cost of insurance. The 14 recommendations in the two reports I have mentioned will deal with that over time. There is no quick-fix available for this issue. The senior Minister and I cannot stand up in the House and say that we will bring down the cost of insurance within two or three months. However, I believe that the recommendations in the two reports, the input of the various Departments that are dealing with this, and the second phase of the report of the PIC, when implemented, will mean that, in the medium term, insurance companies will have no choice but to bring down the cost of insurance.

Brexit Preparations

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

7. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to protect business along the Border in view of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4434/19]

What are the plans of the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to protect businesses along the Border in view of Brexit? Will she make a statement on the matter?

 My Department and its agencies are providing extensive supports, schemes and advice to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and the practical preparatory actions to be taken over the coming weeks.

We are active in the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready public information campaign, including a recent event held in Monaghan in October where I was delighted to welcome many businesses from the Border region. Officials from my Department and agencies also participated in the Getting Ireland Brexit Ready event in Letterkenny in Donegal on Friday, 30 November last year, which included Enterprise Ireland, EI, Industrial Development Authority Ireland, IDA, local enterprise offices, LEOs, National Standards Association of Ireland, NSAI, and the Health and Safety Authority, HSA.  Last week, the Revenue Commissioners held a seminar in Dundalk. The seminar focused on customs requirements, procedures and operation of the UK landbridge and transit arrangements. This week the NSAI is hosting Brexit events in Cavan, Monaghan and Sligo and further events are being planned by my Department and agencies.  

As part of budget 2019, I allocated an additional €1 million to InterTrade Ireland, ITI.  The ITI Brexit advisory service provides a focal point for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-Border trading post-Brexit. ITI also offers a Brexit start to plan voucher scheme, worth up to €2,250, for professional advice on preparing for Brexit. 

The LEOs in the Border regions are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business and preparing for Brexit. To date, 402 LEO clients have received one-to-one Brexit mentoring. I allocated an additional capital funding of €5 million in budget 2019 to the LEOs to step-up their Brexit preparedness work. 

In addition, the six LEOs in the Border region are working together with their Northern Ireland counterparts under the EU co-innovate programme, to help firms to innovate, differentiate and compete. I compliment the work being done by the LEOs. They are doing great work in the Border area in helping companies to prepare for Brexit. They are the first port of call, and can direct businesses to other places where they can receive further support.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In December, I announced call two of the competitive regional enterprise development fund, REDF. Taking the first and second calls of the REDF together, the Border region had seven successful projects with a total funding allocation of more than €10.6 million.

As part of budget 2019, I allocated an additional €10 million to the IDA for the next phase of the region property programme. This programme will prioritise investment in the Border region with advanced units to be built in Dundalk, Monaghan and Sligo.

I will also shortly launch the refresh of the north west and the north east Action Plans for Jobs and Brexit will be an ongoing priority area for both committees.

The €300 million Brexit loan scheme provides working capital for up to three years to eligible businesses to adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. The Brexit future growth loan scheme was announced in budget 2019 and will provide a longer-term facility, eight to ten years, of up to €300 million to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit.

Last week, I announced the EI annual results where every region in Ireland recorded increases in employment, including a 9% increase in the north west and a 3% increase in the north east. More than 23,700 of employment in EI clients of 215,207 are in the Border region. Some of the recent EI jobs announcements for the region have included 90 new jobs in E & I Engineering in Donegal and 200 new jobs in Combilift in County Monaghan.

EI also recently launched a new customs online training support to help all businesses understand how customs work.  

We are also engaged in extensive communications to ensure that businesses, particularly those in the Border counties, know my Department and agencies are here to help with a range of practical supports and advice. 

On "Morning Ireland" earlier, a real account of the difficulties people will face was given by a lorry driver who transports milk across the Border on a daily basis. He said that, after he puts his children to bed at night, he sits down with his wife to discuss how they will manage and how they will get their source and supply if there are customs checks along the Border. He cannot face a two-hour wait to get through customs and checks. He also pointed out that the particular produce he transports - milk - has a short shelf life, and if he had to wait for two hours at a border checkpoint, his product would almost be out of date and beginning to ferment.

This is a concern. There is mayhem in Westminster, and it seems we are hurtling towards a no-deal Brexit. Is the Minister confident that the contingency plan this Government has put in place will benefit people and provide a cushion for businesses along the Border? The Minister knows as well as I do that if one walks along the streets of Castleblaney, for example, there is a great degree of concern and worry.

I am satisfied that the Government is doing everything it can to help businesses prepare for Brexit. There have been numerous seminars and meetings, as well as an extensive advertising campaign, which I am sure the Deputy has heard on the radio, encouraging businesses to come forward to seek help from different agencies to prepare for Brexit. There has been a great take-up of these supports. Some 3,902 have used the EI Brexit scorecard to date. That means that 85% of EI client firms are now taking actions to prepare for Brexit. An additional 98 Brexit-related staff have been provided for IDA and EI, and an additional €8 million has been provided to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to allow for further increases in staff numbers, ensuring more staff are available to help people.

Regarding targeted supports, as part of the second call for the REDF, the Border region received an allocation of more than €10.6 million, which represented over one third of the total fund. Of that €10.6 million, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that more than €5 million was allocated for the construction of a new bio-economy research centre in Monaghan, which will be a game-changer for the future of the food industry in our region. Many targeted supports are available to help businesses prepare for Brexit. We all know the challenges it will bring, and we are certainly working with those businesses and doing everything we can to help them prepare.

The uptake for many of these schemes has been quite slow; indeed, it has been minimal.

That is not the case.

Can the Minister indicate what the uptake of the voucher scheme has been, specifically in the Border region? Among the mayhem that is going on at Westminster, we read the headline that 55,000 jobs could be lost in a no-deal Brexit scenario. I am asking the Minister to show a positive bias towards the Border counties, because I genuinely believe that if the Border becomes a physical structure again there will be an issue and concern will be raised.

A woman came into my office recently whose mother is being cared for by a carer who travels across the Border every day. What will happen to the elderly mother of that woman, who is depending on carers coming to her house three times a day? She is concerned that the carer will have to show a passport or go through checks. Will it be possible to continue with the care in place for her elderly mother?

The common travel area will be protected regardless of what happens with Brexit. It is important for people who live and work on both sides of the Border and who cross it every day.

On the question about the take-up, some 811 firms have applied to Intertrade Ireland. It provides a start a plan voucher worth €2,250. More than 4,000 businesses have availed of the organisation's various Brexit advisory services. That is why I was keen and anxious to give additional funding to ITI in the budget. It received an additional €1 million to help it support businesses that trade on both sides of the Border. Some 471 microenterprises have received practical assistance through the LEOs' Brexit mentoring support programme, and, in 2018, EI provided €74 million in grant aid to Brexit-exposed firms. Significant work is work going on, and businesses are engaging. I want to ask any firms that have not engaged with the available supports to please do so. The Government is here to help.

This is a real co-ordinated approach right across Government and we are doing everything we can to support businesses and the challenges they face.

Job Creation

Peter Burke

Ceist:

8. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she and agencies under her aegis are taking to support job creation in counties Westmeath and Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4443/19]

Deputy Peter Burke is absent and I have accepted Deputy Tony McLoughlin to put the question and receive the Minister's reply.

I thank the Acting Chairman. I am putting this question on behalf of my colleague Deputy Peter Burke to ask the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to support job creation in counties Westmeath and Longford, and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I thank Deputy McLoughlin for putting this question on behalf of Deputy Peter Burke. I congratulate Deputy Burke and his wife Olivia on the birth of their new baby boy. The Deputy was supposed to be in the Chamber for this parliamentary question but I think he deserves the day off. We want to wish them well.

I am committed to delivering on this Government's objective of achieving sustainable economic growth in all regions and to ensuring that all regions achieve their growth and jobs potential. I am leading a range of initiatives in my Department and its agencies to deliver on this commitment, including a review and a refresh of the regional action plan process. The first midlands Regional Action Plan for Jobs was launched in June 2015. Based on a review of achievements to date and future potential that was undertaken by my Department with stakeholders in the midlands region I will launch the first of the refreshed regional enterprise plans on 6 February for the midlands, which covers Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath. The regional enterprise plans are crucial in meeting the Government’s ambition to create an additional 200,000 jobs by 2020, of which 135,000 are outside the Dublin region.

Enterprise Ireland is actively working with companies in counties Longford and Westmeath to help them start and scale, innovate and remain competitive on international markets. In response to Brexit, Enterprise Ireland is building resilience in Irish exporting companies focused on innovation, market diversification and competitiveness, and it is addressing the awareness and preparedness of companies for Brexit.

The Enterprise Ireland agile innovation roadshow in Athlone and Longford, scheduled for 20 March and 10 April respectively, will advise companies on support for researching and developing new products and processes.

Through the regional enterprise development fund, Enterprise Ireland invested €60 million in 42 projects to build capability in key sectors. The projects put forward by Irish Manufacturing Research and the Longford Digital and Technology Hub were successful.

The Leitrim County Enterprise Fund Ltd., which was another successful applicant, is a collaborative project between members of the Upper Shannon Erne Future Economy, which in this case entails the development of a network of three digital and innovation hubs in Leitrim, Cavan and Longford.

I also send congratulations to the Burke family on their new arrival.

I spoke with Deputy Burke this morning and he asked me to highlight a number of issues with regard to his constituency, and Mullingar specifically. There is a 60 acre area for advanced factories or developments. Currently there is just one unit on this site and Deputy Burke asks if it is possible, with the Minister's plans in early February, that Mullingar would be earmarked for more investment and development through Enterprise Ireland or through IDA Ireland.

I too extend congratulations to Deputy Burke and his wife. It is a great occasion for them.

I thank Deputy McLoughlin. In 2018 we had another record year for IDA Ireland with job creation when the agency had its highest regional jobs growth in 17 years. A total of 58% of all IDA Ireland employment is now outside of Dublin. Enterprise Ireland also had a record year, with two thirds of all Enterprise Ireland employment now outside of Dublin. I want to ensure that we continue to build on those strong results in counties such as Longford and Westmeath.

The next phase for the IDA Ireland regional property programme has commenced and approval was given for additional funding in budget 2019 for new IDA Ireland advance properties in Sligo, Dundalk, Athlone and Monaghan. I will, of course, highlight the need - they are well aware of the need - to have these buildings right across the State.

I will launch the midlands regional enterprise plan in Laois next week. The midlands has shown excellent progress in employment levels since the launch of the Regional Action Plan for Jobs, with an employment growth rate above the 2020 target of 10% to 15%.

I thank the Minister for that information. If Deputy Burke was here he would be in a much stronger position to highlight some of the other issues the Minister has referred to. With the indulgence of colleagues I have a question coming up, No. 14. Is it possible that it may be taken?

It depends what the question is. We will see. Please proceed.

My question is relevant. What steps have been taken by Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland in County Sligo. Perhaps, if it is acceptable, the Minister could also comment on this.

I am aware that this question is coming up later, and if I get a chance I will give more detail to the Deputy. There has been a lot of job creation in the north-west region in the past year. I am very pleased with that. Since we launched Project Ireland 2040 jobs creation in Sligo seems to come into the news on monthly basis. I am aware that Deputy McLoughlin has played a very important role in ensuring that investment came to his region.

I will visit Drumshanbo on 25 February to launch the regional enterprise plan for the north west. My Department and its agencies are working towards ambitious targets to ensure employment and investment are distributed as evenly as possible across the State. Significant progress has been made with a lot of job announcements in Sligo. I compliment Sligo on its achievements because since the first Regional Action Plan for Jobs was launched on 30 November 2015 there has been a huge increase in employment in that region.

We have slipped back a good bit with time. I suppose it is my fault for giving a bit of leeway to everyone. I ask for Members' co-operation so that we can perhaps get four more questions done before 12 noon. Is Deputy McLoughlin finished? His time is up. We shall move on to Deputy Durkan.

Job Creation

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the degree to which she continues to maximise opportunities for the expansion of business through the medium of innovation technology nationally with particular reference to the need to encourage and ensure an even spread of investment throughout the regions thus alleviating the pressure on the more densely populated areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4639/19]

On the same theme, my question is on the need for continued focus on increased investment throughout the regions, with a view to alleviating the pressure on the more densely populated areas and utilising modern technology in the course thereof.

The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has made regional development a top priority. Enterprise development, job creation and the promotion of innovation across all regions are key priorities of Government. We want all regions to realise their potential as contributors to economic recovery and growth and for regional disparities to be reduced.

My Department’s 2019 capital budget allocation of €370 million for research and innovation, an increase of €40 million, will allow us to tackle a number of priority actions in Project Ireland 2040 and Innovation 2020. Science Foundation Ireland and Enterprise Ireland will continue to leverage further EU and private sector funding for Irish research programmes.

In 2018 we requested a refresh and refocus of all regional plans to ensure their relevance and impact out to 2020. This resulted in nine new regional enterprise plans, focusing on a smaller number of strategic objectives. We intend to launch the plans at nine separate regional events shortly. The plans align with my Department’s agencies’ core activities and add value to the work the agencies are already doing, through collaborative actions.

Enterprise Ireland supports companies to improve their innovation capabilities and de-risk investment in research, development and innovation through its range of innovation support programmes, which achieve a very strong regional balance. Approximately 76% of its innovation partnership programmes and 84% of its technology gateway projects are delivered outside Dublin.

Last year, my Department announced funding of €26.75 million for Enterprise Ireland's technology gateway network five-year programme. Regionally based gateways deliver technology solutions for industry through innovative collaborative projects using a network of 15 industry gateways based in 11 institutes of technology.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Has consideration been given to the use of digital highways? I refer here to using modern technology such as broadband throughout the regions and prioritising investment in areas where such technology is available in order to alleviate traffic congestion in more densely-populated areas and create greater opportunities for employment?

The answer is "Yes". We are certainly doing that. I did not get an opportunity to state that Project Ireland 2040 identified a number of specific priority investments in the area of innovation. These include the establishment of a €500 million disruptive technologies innovation fund, DTIF, which encompasses that to which the Deputy refers. The first call in this competitive process generated interest from all of the regions. This resulted in 27 successful projects being selected with enterprise and research partners based in several counties, including Cork, Limerick, Galway, Louth, Monaghan, Kildare and Tipperary. We look forward to launching further calls under the DTIF in order to harness further collaborative projects with potential across Ireland. We will soon launch nine new regional plans in the coming weeks across enterprise agencies and their core activities.

To what extend can the Department can monitor the level of the investment in those regions on a weekly or monthly basis with a view to creating specific job opportunities?

We are in constant contact with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI. It is also important for people to know that we have regional fora which collaborate and co-operate with multinational companies in all regions to ascertain skills shortages and what is needed from industry. The Deputy's final question is very important because we have ongoing meetings with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and all agencies associated with creating employment, particularly in the regions. My Department and all other relevant Departments receive feedback to ensure that all the money we have invested and all the projects we have launched over the past number of years provide value for money and provide employment in the regions.

IDA Ireland

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

10. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of regional IDA Ireland site visits and vacant properties nationwide by county on 31 December 2018; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4568/19]

Could the Minister of State provide an update on what was the status of regional IDA Ireland site visits by county and vacant IDA Ireland properties nationwide on 31 December 2018?

I have a lot of information about this issue that I will probably have to send to the Deputy. However, I will do my best to reply. Regional development is a key priority for my Department. We understand the importance of achieving the best possible spread of employment and investment throughout the country. My Department and its agencies have been working hard towards that goal. Significant progress has already been made with 58% of all IDA Ireland client-supported employment now located outside of Dublin. This figure is the highest ever in the history of the agency. Our aim is to increase this percentage further in 2019.

The availability of marketable serviced land and buildings in advance of demand is a key element in the IDA Ireland's ability to compete for mobile foreign direct investment, FDI. Not only does such a supply of properties help the agency to secure high-quality jobs, it also allows projects to begin at an earlier date by diminishing difficulties associated with land acquisition, planning and construction. It, therefore, remains an important means by which IDA Ireland can encourage and attract new investors to Ireland. IDA Ireland currently owns 29 properties. Of these, 14 are occupied by IDA Ireland clients. The remainder are available for prospective or existing investors. I will provide the Deputy with a table setting out the location of these various properties.

It appears that there is a continuation of a two-tier approach to regional job creation in respect of IDA Ireland site visits up to quarter 3 of 2018. The trend of over-concentration of IDA Ireland site visits on the eastern seaboard remains unchanged, with nearly one in every two taking place in the region. Out of a total number of 461 visits nationwide in the first nine months of 2018, 45% were to the capital city. During the same period, eight counties, including Longford, Cavan, Monaghan, Roscommon, Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny, received three visits or fewer. I was very concerned about the figures relating to County Wexford, particularly in light of the fact that Rosslare is located there. This is a concern. As the Minister of State will be aware, the two regions to which I refer continue to struggle in the context of job creation. What emphasis is the Department putting on prioritising the creation of jobs in the south east and the north west?

I emphasise that IDA Ireland does its utmost to encourage clients to locate in and expand to the regions. I previously made the point that the agency has a global perspective. As the Deputy probably knows, the same tax incentives and the same geographical infrastructure exist throughout the country. In the south east, particularly Waterford, Cork and Wexford, IDA Ireland has the same opportunities to meet client companies and advise them as to suitable locations to establish operations and about areas that have competent workforces, a good quality of life and the necessary infrastructure. Ultimately, however, the companies make the decisions and we cannot force or cajole them and say "Oh please don't locate in Dublin. Please come down to Waterford". As much as the Deputy and I would like to see companies setting up in Waterford and as other Deputies would like to see them in their regions, it must be accepted that IDA Ireland offers the same facilities all over the country to encourage FDI companies to set up in the regions. I reiterate that individual companies make the decision in that regard.

I accept that one can lead a horse to water but that one cannot make it drink. We all want to put the best foot forward when it comes to our regions. In terms of economic growth across the country, 45% of Irish GDP is generated in the capital according to the CSO. There is a large concentration of the population in the capital but, unfortunately, out of the total number of jobs created by IDA Ireland in all counties with cities, Waterford fared the worst, with only 471 jobs created there last year while 1,458 were created in Limerick, 1,971 in Galway and 3,177 in Cork. It is disappointing that three times the number of jobs created in Waterford, the constituency I represent, are being created in other cities. I know this is also disappointing for the Minister of State. I reiterate that Waterford, as well as the rest of the south east and the north west, can act as a release valve for the overheating in Dublin. In light of Brexit, I would like to see a renewed focus on Waterford and the rest of the south east and the north west.

I could not agree more. Looking at the statistics, we are achieving real results and deepening the spread of FDI companies across the regions. I can only go by IDA Ireland's 2018 results, which bear out that assessment. Last year, the agency delivered 113 regional investments, which is the equivalent of 56% of new jobs created outside Dublin. In the past four years, 44,000 FDI-driven jobs have been created outside Dublin. Again, I emphasise that all of us in the regions and the Government want to see things moving out of the capital. We want a regional spread that gives rise to the creation of good quality jobs. Not only do we want to see FDI companies doing so, we also want SMEs set up in the regions.

The infrastructure and the same incentives are in place and I cannot overemphasise, having met the representatives of the IDA in the south east, that they do everything they can when they go to the USA, France or Israel to entice companies to come to particular regions. The following is important. Many companies make their own assessments before they even go to a region and make their decisions.

If I get co-operation, I will try to get the next two questions in.

Brexit Issues

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

11. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to provide specific incentives to attract inward investment to the Border region to create employment in view of the particular difficulties that will arise for business and commerce in areas such as Counties Cavan and Monaghan due to the adverse impacts of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4667/19]

As the Minister knows, and as we have discussed in the House previously, farming, agrifood, construction products and engineering, which are critical sectors in the local economy of Cavan-Monaghan, stand to be most adversely impacted by Brexit. We must ensure we maintain the best possible level of job creation in our region. As such, there is a case for specific incentives to attract inward investment to places like Cavan-Monaghan and the broader Border region.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Regional development, not just in the Border area but across Ireland, remains a key priority and my Department and its agencies are focused on strengthening investment and job creation all over the country. The recent annual results of the IDA demonstrate that we are making significant strides. In 2018, for example, 56% of all new jobs created by the agency were in locations outside Dublin. Similarly, every region in Ireland, including the Border region, posted net gains in jobs last year. There are now over 132,000 people employed across 681 firms in IDA client companies outside the capital. In fact, 58% of all IDA-supported employment is now outside of Dublin. This represents the highest number of people employed in the regions by IDA clients in the agency's history. While more work remains to be done, the Border region has benefitted from this regional focus. The region experienced a 3% growth in employment by overseas companies in 2018 and we are already working hard to increase this figure in 2019.

As part of its work, the IDA is directly investing in a building programme to ensure property solutions are in place for overseas companies considering investing or expanding outside our major cities. As part of budget 2019, I allocated an additional €10 million for the next phase of the IDA's regional property programme. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the programme includes plans for an advanced technology unit, or ATU, at Knockaconny, County Monaghan. The IDA is in the process of procuring a design and delivery team for this facility. The wider Border region will also benefit with new buildings planned for Dundalk and Sligo, which I am confident will help generate new opportunities for the wider area. The agency has a dedicated regional manager for the north east-north west region and an office in the Cavan Innovation and Technology Centre. As part of its strategy to promote the area, the IDA is focusing on sectors including agrifood, manufacturing, tourism and internationally-traded services.

I thank the Minister for the reply and welcome the proposed development at Knockaconny. The provision of workspace enterprise centres, whether by the private sector or via community endeavour, is welcome and should be supported. The Minister is well aware that our counties were held back for many decades due to the Troubles and the paramilitary activity inflicted on our province over many decades. Hopefully, we are not returning to an era in which the Border is seen as a negative location. In advance of Brexit and regardless of the outcome, which in any event will not be favourable, the Minister's Department and its agencies must think about providing new streams of incentives. In the past, we had Objective One status to help the less developed parts of the country. Cohesion funding post-2020 is one of the important ingredients the Department and its agencies should be working to put in place to secure employment and bring inward investment to our region, which will need it following the adverse impacts on critical sectors of the local economy.

I acknowledge the work Deputy Smith is doing on Brexit as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. I am from the Clones area and Deputy Smith's home is not far from Belturbet, Bawnboy and Ballyconnell, which are towns that bore the brunt of the Troubles when a hard border was in place. We never want to go back to those days. That is why everything the Government is doing is focused on ensuring we do not have a hard Border on this island. Deputy Smith has brought delegations and parliamentarians to the Border region to highlight the impact Brexit will have. The joined-up approach of this Parliament to Brexit is in stark contrast to what we see in Westminster. There are targeted supports available, including the regional enterprise development fund. Of the last call relating to the fund, €10.6 million went to the Border region. I am pleased to inform Deputy Smith that almost €5 million has been allocated for the construction of a new bio-economy research centre in Monaghan which will be a game-changer for the future of the food industry on which we are so dependent. Further funding of €250,000 was provided to develop an engineering network in the north east involving a number of companies in Monaghan, Cavan and Louth working in collaboration and building on their engineering strengths. Deputy Smith and I are both aware of how important engineering is in the Border region.

I will be brief to allow my colleague get to the next question. It is important to note what must be done at national level to achieve EU policy changes on cohesion funding and Objective One status to address the issues I referred to earlier. Our agencies and Departments must work in close collaboration with their counterparts in Northern Ireland. The North-South economy is joined up locally.

I agree with the Deputy. InterTradeIreland is doing a great deal of work with Border region companies to help them meet the challenges of Brexit. In the last budget, I allocated an extra €1 million to InterTradeIreland to help it support companies on a cross-Border basis. I met Commissioner Vestager last week and highlighted to her the issues arising in relation to Brexit, in particular for the Border region Deputy Smith and I know so well. All elected representatives from the region are well aware of the difficulties Brexit presents. I took the opportunity to tell the Commissioner that I was from the Border region and to inform her of the huge impact of Brexit. There are many supports available from my Department and I ask companies which have not taken them up to do so. The help is there and it is just a matter of going to the local enterprise office as the first port of call. The Commissioner is acutely aware of the difficulties Brexit presents to Ireland and she said the EU would not be found wanting and would deal with any requests we have efficiently and promptly.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement Reports

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

12. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when she will publish an account of the investigative failures identified by a person (details supplied); the steps being taken to address the investigative failures emanating from the trial of a person; and the status of action points committed to in the report, Measures to Enhance Ireland's Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework, published in November 2017. [4567/19]

I will not press the Minister on the first part of the question as she has published the account of the investigative failures in the Fitzpatrick trial and responded to Deputy Wallace on the matter earlier. I ask the Minister for an update on the action points committed to in the report, which was published in November 2017, including measures to enhance Ireland's corporate, economic and regulatory framework.

A great deal of work has been done in respect of the heads of Bill published in November. Off the top of my head, the general scheme is before the Deputy's committee for pre-legislative scrutiny. I thank the committee for its work on the Bill. When it comes back to me, I will be happy to bring the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas as speedily as possible.

I confirm to the Minister that the committee will start the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill on Tuesday when we meet with departmental officials. The following week, we will meet with representatives of the ODCE and subsequently with the Minister. We can interact on the Bill then.

I thank the joint committee for its co-operation in the matter.

It is great to see such agreement.

That is women for you.

It is all sweetness and light.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.