Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 2 Nov 2021

Vol. 1013 No. 2

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Enterprise Policy

Catherine Connolly


6. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 80 of 15 September 2021, the status of the new west regional enterprise plan to 2024; if the plan has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52891/21]

My question is very straightforward. I am asking for the status of the new west regional enterprise plan to 2024.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Regional enterprise development and sustainable local job creation is a key policy priority of the Department and the Government. The Department is overseeing the development of nine new regional enterprise plans to 2024, including for the west region covering the county the Deputy represents. These are bottom-up plans developed by regional stakeholders working together to identify growth opportunities, recognise vulnerabilities and address ecosystem gaps to enable sustainable job creation in businesses throughout the regions through collaborative regional actions. The new west regional enterprise plan to 2024, which covers Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, will complement and build on the core activities of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and local employment offices. There will also be greater involvement of local authorities as well as educational stakeholders and institutions. It will involve the wider range of State bodies involved in enterprise development in the region, with a focus on creating sustainable employment opportunities.

The Minister of State, Deputy Robert Troy, is driving the delivery of the new plan in the west and he has been engaging directly with the west regional steering committee. This is made up of regional stakeholders, including representatives of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, local employment offices, local authorities, regional skills fora, the Western Development Commission and others. The group is chaired by Evelyn O'Toole, founder and CEO of Complete Laboratory Solutions.

The regional stakeholders in the west region are finalising their work and expect to sign off the draft plan in early November all going well. Once this is done it is intended to publish and launch the west regional enterprise plan along with all of the other new plans before the end of the year. To assist the regional enterprise plans, the Department, through Enterprise Ireland, has made available to date more than €126 million in regional enterprise funding to aid locally led regional enterprise development projects. Of this, more than €18.8 million has been approved for nine regional enterprise projects for the west under the regional enterprise development fund and, more recently, the regional enterprise transition scheme. We discussed this in a previous parliamentary question submitted by the Deputy. I know she is a believer in the strategies.

I am pleased to see positive news on the jobs front for the west with announcements this year, even though it has been a difficult year, by IDA Ireland of more than 400 jobs in Galway and 30 jobs in Ballina.

I thank the Minister of State and I appreciate his answer. IDA Ireland is very important, as is Enterprise Ireland. The Minister of State referred to bottom-up plans. These do not seem to be happening. I welcome that the plan will be published very soon and that it will be published before Christmas. I am thinking, for example, of wool. It has taken donkey's years to get a feasibility study for wool, which has huge possibilities.

I am looking at seaweed, on which we still do not have a national policy. It is one of the fantastic possibility areas for the west of Ireland. I am also looking at the islands, on which we have no policy. How does this fit in? This is the first plan since a pandemic was declared and it is certainly the first plan and opportunity since both a climate and a biodiversity emergency were declared. The only thing I see when I look through the various pieces of literature is that it talks about eco-gaps, which I would welcome if it was talking about the gaps in the ecosystem, but it is actually talking about business in a strange way because we have to do things differently. Is that not the case? We have all agreed on this. Will this plan be different and has it taken cognisance of the two emergencies I have mentioned, plus the pandemic?

I presume and hope the Deputy has made a submission to the plan because she has expressed some very good ideas there. The regional plan is meant to reflect all of the local ideas and it is genuinely a bottom-up process. I do not chair this plan but I chair four other ones and the Tánaiste chairs the Dublin one. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, also chairs four. In all cases - in the plans I, the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and the Tánaiste chair - we have taken the same approach. We have reached out for public consultation with all the stakeholders, namely, local authorities, chambers of commerce, anybody involved in business, the education system and existing companies which have ideas. This is very much meant to fund local ideas and initiatives.

I completely agree with the Deputy on the opportunity presented by seaweed. To make that happen, there has to be a very straightforward conversation involving the stakeholders who have a long tradition of harvesting the seaweed in a very sustainable way. It is about finding the right home for a seaweed strategy. Much research work has been carried out for the Project Ireland 2040 plan in regard to the marine, which I know the Deputy was involved in. I also attend the meetings on that. That strategy is in place and can lead to an opportunity for seaweed.

On the committee on wool, which is now up and running, it took a little bit of work to get that agreed with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, who brought it together. Again, it is trying to find a source, a market and a use for the wool. I am from that background and I know that years ago wool had a great value but now it does not. It is up to us, working regionally and locally, to find initiatives to make that happen. I have no doubt the Deputy made a submission and we can look at all the suggestions made by her.

I have a concern still on top-down rather than bottom-up if it has taken this long for a Government to commission feasibility studies on wool. There has, therefore, been too much consensus on the way forward as opposed to looking at our assets and how we use them. Anyone with a bit of sense would realise that wool has great value, from insulation to remediation for bogs, just to mention two of its uses. We had public meetings on seaweed but we still do not have a policy on it.

These are two indigenous industries but there are many more. I do not see an emphasis on sustainable, indigenous industries in the west of Ireland, bearing in mind that the last regional assembly report said the north and the west suffered disproportionately from Covid-19 as opposed to anywhere else. I am concerned. It is difficult to put in submissions, to keep an eye on county and city development plans and to speak in the Dáil. Surely there must be enough people within Government to say that seaweed is the growth area with the maximum potential for lives in the west of Ireland.

I want to be completely clear with the Deputy that these plans are meant to be bottom-up. I have sat around the table when the very first versions of these plans were put in place and I can assure the Deputy that it was all local people who were around the table with me when we went through each and every idea. The Deputy and I discussed these during one of my first set of parliamentary questions in this Department. This is the first time the Deputy has suggested wool to me, even though I am familiar with it. I am just mentioning our conversation but I will pass this information on to the Minister of State, Deputy Troy.

This is what these plans are about. Even when the regional plans are published in a couple of weeks' time, there is enough scope there to add in some more changes because a fund has been put in place. It was confirmed in the national development plan and again in the budget we had a couple of weeks ago. That is additional money to fund regional ideas and projects.

I refer again to the Department of Rural and Community Development which will have close to €1 billion over the next four years. There are certainly enough resources out there to fund initiatives and ideas. It involves the bringing forward of ideas by both the locals as well as the State agencies. It is very much not the case that this is a regional plan led by the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, SFI, or any of our national agencies. These are meant to be local plans.

The Deputy’s county has been quite successful over the last two rounds in drawing down a good deal of money to fund projects and I wish to see these projects implemented at a faster pace. That is something that we are going to do. The wool committee is finally up and running but it is not up to the Government to find a market for every product out there. It is up to us to work together through our agencies with all those interested bodies and I am happy to do that, as is the Minister of State, Deputy Troy, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, and we will continue to do that. I completely agree with the Deputy on the issue of seaweed. It is something that we can probably work on together in that we also need initiative in this House to bring such issues forward.

Personal Injuries Assessment Board

James Lawless


7. Deputy James Lawless asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his assessment of the latest Personal Injuries Assessment Board on personal injury awards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52657/21]

Can the Tánaiste give me his assessment of the latest personal injuries awards of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, PIAB? When can we see that having an impact on the cost of insurance for individuals, businesses and sporting organisations?

I thank the Deputy for his question. Insurance reform is a priority for the Government and for me, as Tánaiste. Premiums have been too high for too long and I know some businesses and volunteer groups continue to struggle to find insurance at any price. The Personal Injury Guidelines were commenced on 24 April 2021. This met the programme for Government commitment to recognise the work of the Judicial Council in providing guidance on personal injury claims.

The report published by the PIAB on 15 October 2021 provides an insight into the impact of the guidelines on average award levels, as assessed by the board. The report is also based on a much larger sample than our previous figures. It shows that the average general damages awarded under the guidelines is €11,808, a 46% decrease on 2020. The average total award under the guidelines is €14,223, a 40% decrease on 2020. Some 71% of awards are now €15,000 or less, compared to 30% of awards in 2020.

These figures are welcome and show that the Personal Injuries Guidelines brought into effect by the Government are having an impact. I expect this dramatic drop in award levels to be reflected in reduced premiums and the Government will continue to work and to press the insurance sector to make sure this is the case.

The Personal Injury Guidelines are just one measure brought forward under the Government's action plan for insurance reform. Further actions due this year include reform of the law on occupier's liability, enhancement of the role of PIAB, and the strengthening of competition law in Ireland more generally.

Implementation of these legislative reforms alongside other actions set out in the action plan should bring about meaningful reform of the insurance market and create the conditions for the provision of affordable insurance for consumers, community and voluntary groups, and business.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. We all welcome the fall in the level of awards made. When are we going to see this reflected in the price of insurance? When does the Tánaiste expect this to happen? Has he had any engagement with insurance companies on this? According to the Alliance for Insurance Reform, public liability insurance premiums continue to rise the despite a significant fall in the size of injury awards. It states that motor insurance premiums are coming down but that is not the case with public liability insurance. This is having a significant impact on businesses and the sporting organisations. The experience of SMEs, voluntary and community groups, sport and cultural organisations and charities is that renewals are actually increasing right now. The alliance states that the insurance companies cannot have their cake and eat it. It has identified the cost of claims as the key driver of insurance costs and this has been addressed by the Government and the Judiciary. As an elected representative, I am asking the Tánaiste to ensure that the drop in the level of awards is reflected in the cost of insurance to both the general public, businesses and sporting organisations.

I thank the Deputy. It is clear that a fall in the awards that are given to people who have been injured should result in a fall in insurance premiums but it is not the case that a 40% or 50% fall in awards through the PIAB will not result in a 40% or 50% fall in premiums. That is because many or, indeed, most cases do not go through the PIAB. Many are settled before that and that is why insurance companies need to change their settlement strategy. A small proportion, of course, end up in court. Many factors go into the cost of insurance claims and general damages is one part of that.

Central Statistics Office, CSO, data indicate a fall in motor insurance costs. The research from the Alliance for Insurance Reform does not show a decrease yet for public liability. Chambers Ireland would give us some sense that there has been a bit of a fall but we are going to have to watch this over the next couple of months. There is an engagement directly with the industry where the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, meets individually with the CEOs of all of the major companies and is doing a second round of these meetings at the moment to impress upon them our expectation that there should be a euro-for-euro passing on of these reductions in terms of lower premiums.

Neil McDonnell, the chief executive of ISME, said he would like to see the Government implement the provision of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 providing for the creation of a register of the parties taking personal injury actions, in order to identify potential abuses of the system by persons who make multiple claims. That would be a welcome development in helping to expose anybody who is making fraudulent claims.

The Tánaiste stated that some sectors are finding it very hard to get insurance. Does the Government have any plans to ensure that insurance companies are obliged to give a quote for companies in certain sectors, especially those providing recreational activity and sports services, including water parks, hunting and point-to-point racing? There is an issue arising now whereby no insurance company is giving quotes for those companies and it is a huge problem for the recreational activity and sports sector. Has the Government any plans to address that part of competition law to ensure organisations at least have the ability to get a quote in respect of the activities they provide?

At the most recent Cabinet committee meeting on insurance, we did an assessment of sectors where it is not possible to get insurance. That involved speaking to insurance companies and brokers. There is a small number of sectors where it is not possible to get insurance at the moment. We are following up on that and trying to understand it better to see what we can do to help the situation. I understand it would be possible legally to require insurers to give a quote, but that might not be the solution because the quote given could be cost-prohibitive. That would not provide the solution we need. One thing that can work is an engagement between the industry affected and the insurers. We nearly got into a situation a year or two ago where there was no one willing to quote for childcare providers. The sector got together and, by making some changes, it was possible to get an insurer to cover them. That might be what is required in some of the high-risk sectors to which the Deputy referred. Changes they make can make a difference and make them more insurable.

Questions Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Industrial Development

Joe Flaherty


11. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the IDA Ireland commitment to deliver an advanced building solution in Longford town before the end of 2024; if a site has been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52766/21]

Will the Minister comment on IDA Ireland's commitment to deliver an advanced building solution for Longford town before the end of 2024? Will he also indicate whether a site for the venture has been identified?

I was very pleased to visit Longford last week, where I was met by Deputy Flaherty, Senator Carrigy and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. The timely provision of appropriate and cost-effective property and infrastructure solutions to meet the needs of multinational companies thinking of investing in Ireland remains essential to winning foreign direct investment, FDI. Over the past five years, IDA Ireland’s regional property programme has enabled the winning of capital-intensive projects of significant scale to regional locations, county towns and other large towns that would not otherwise have received an investment.

The agency plans to provide 19 advanced building solutions, ABSs, in 15 locations throughout Ireland over the lifetime of its new strategy, which runs between now and 2024. "Advanced building solution" is a generic term used to describe the range of office, industrial and flexible building solutions being built under the IDA Ireland programme. These buildings offer high-quality production space and office accommodation within a landscaped business park and are designed to meet the requirements of the manufacturing, technology, life sciences and other prospective industries. In respect of the building in Longford, IDA Ireland is continuing to liaise with Longford County Council and wider stakeholders to seek a suitable site for the proposed ABS. The site selection process is ongoing.

IDA Ireland’s regional property programme, supported by my Department, will provide property and strategic site solutions to address market failures in regional locations. Under the regional development pillar, the agency aims to win investment to propel recovery and support development in each region, targeting 400 investments for locations outside Dublin by the end of 2024. It is actively encouraging investors to locate in all parts of the country, whether through marketing potential investment sites outside the main cities or working to develop recognised industry clusters.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. I am very pleased that an advanced building solution is now a Government priority for inward investment in County Longford, in line with similar comments from IDA Ireland. Ann-Marie Tierney-Le Roux, head of regional business development, told a recent meeting of Longford County Council that the agency is committed to developing a committed facility in Longford town. It is very much a case of build it and they will come.

The Tánaiste will agree that the challenge at the moment is to identify a site. Currently, we have in excess of 1,700 IDA Ireland-supported jobs in Longford town, thanks to Technimark, Avery Dennison and Abbott Diagnostics. The Abbott plant is a real success story, having just breached the 1,000 employees mark. The local authority owns lands in the vicinity of the Abbott site but the preference is that IDA Ireland would spread its net further and separately facilitate a possible future expansion for Abbott. I ask the Tánaiste to encourage IDA Ireland to be ambitious and cast its net wide in search of a site in Longford town.

Generally speaking, the regional property programme has been really successful where IDA Ireland identifies a site and is able to provide what it calls an advanced building solution, which I think is a terrible term. It is basically a building that can be used for many different purposes. We then find it is possible to get investment because there is a big difference between taking a potential investor or group of executives to see an empty park as opposed to one where there is a ready-made premises that can be occupied and adapted within a year or two. We have had really good success in this regard in Castlebar, Sligo and many different parts of the country, where we have got hundreds of jobs into towns. That is exactly what we want to do with Longford. We want to acquire a site, develop it and secure investment, thereby bringing jobs into the town and the increased spend that comes with that. Longford is very much on the priority list. I know the Deputy and Senator Carrigy will make sure we are held to delivery on that.

I agree that "advanced building solution" is not the best term. I am old enough to remember when we referred to such premises as advanced factories, which probably made more sense. It is very good that IDA Ireland is committed to such a facility for Longford but it would be a missed opportunity if we allowed it to take the easiest solution by simply acquiring the lands owned by the county council in the immediate vicinity of the Abbott site. What Longford really needs is to get the advanced building solution up and running before 2024 in order that we can actively market it. We hope that, in tandem, Abbott will expand its own operation on the lands that adjoin its property.

I know the Tánaiste had extensive discussions on this matter with local council officials last week and has undertaken to follow up with similar discussions with the CEO of IDA Ireland, Martin Shanahan, with a view to prioritising the securing of a site in Longford town. The message for IDA Ireland from Longford, which I am sure the Tánaiste will pass on for us, is that it needs to be ambitious for the town. There is a great opportunity for us to get an additional FDI facility. As I said, we have 1,700-plus FDI jobs at the moment. There is a real opportunity to attract more and I urge the Tánaiste to pursue that objective aggressively with IDA Ireland.

The acquisition of property by a State agency is not something that I, as Minister, can get too involved in as it would not be appropriate to do so. However, I certainly hear the case the Deputy is making for facilitating both the potential future expansion of the Abbott site and having an advanced business solution at another location. I know IDA Ireland is aware of the case for such an approach, but I will emphasise it to the agency.

In total, there are six IDA Ireland-supported companies in County Longford employing more than 1,000 people. That is a strong performance by the county in recent years. In addition, the State has been involved in Centre Parcs, which recently announced an €85 million expansion of its Longford forest facility. If we can add another substantial investment to that, we would be making good progress in the county.

Small and Medium Enterprises

John McGuinness


12. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the supports provided for the small business sector under budget 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52578/21]

Will the Tánaiste outline the supports provided for small businesses under budget 2022?

A strong and resilient SME sector is key to rebuilding the economy after the Covid crisis. Provision made by the Government in budget 2022 aims to ensure small and medium-sized businesses are sustainable and competitive in the long term. Specifically, we want to equip enterprises for the transition to the green and digital economy. We also recognise that some businesses are in need of assistance as we continue to reopen the economy and society in general. My Department, together with IDA Ireland and the local enterprise offices, is working with enterprises to help them to stabilise, reset and recover. To date, €238 million has been approved under IDA Ireland's Covid-19 supports.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also seen the agency work beyond its client base. In 2020, Enterprise Ireland took more than 1,200 new companies onto its client management system, a near 70% increase compared to 2019. Overall, the Department's core budget has increased by €103 million or 13.2% on budget 2021. This is a record core allocation for the Department and will significantly bolster the ability of the Department to help businesses to rebuild and grow after the pandemic and the impacts of Brexit, in conjunction with our development agencies.

Other measures include the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, which is extended to April 2022 at a cost of up to €1.4 billion, and a targeted rates waiver to help businesses to get back on their feet. We have also ensured that low-cost, Government-backed loans will remain available. I stress to the Deputy and his colleagues that they should remind businesses that now is a good time to look at their financial needs for the remainder of this year and in the years ahead and to avail of the supports and credit guarantee schemes that are available - the most recent Brexit impact one was launched a few weeks ago - to put financial plans in place for low-cost and long-term funding.

A number of other significant initiatives to future-proof our SMEs on their growth journey include an expansion of the employment and investment incentive scheme, the extension of the small start-up companies relief and the new digital games tax relief, as well as a confirmation of a new €90 million innovation equity fund. That will be a very beneficial fund to invest in companies throughout the country as they seek to bring their products to the market and to scale up as well.

The years 2020 and 2021 have been extremely difficult for businesses, particularly the businesses that have been adversely affected by Covid-19. I have spoken in the House on a number of occasions about the tourism bus sector and the huge pressure on it. There are a number of companies in my constituency that run very efficient bus operations for tourism. They had no business in 2021 but they have bookings for 2022. There was an allocation in the budget for tourism. It is absolutely imperative that this money is distributed as quickly as possible and that there is an accurate assessment of the businesses that need the funding to keep their heads above water. Even though the businesses are closed, they still have a serious amount of overhead costs, such as insurance, repayments on their fleets and so forth. Even though buses were standing idle, they were depreciating in value. This sector is under massive pressure and it is a vital cog in the re-establishment of the tourism sector in 2022. Without buses to take tourists to various locations around the country, the tourism industry will not regain its former stature. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that the allocation in the budget is distributed as quickly as possible and that the businesses that need it most receive it.

The Deputy will appreciate that I do not have the details of every scheme across the different Departments with me, especially as I thought the question was coming from a Kilkenny Deputy. However, I have discussed the situation in Tipperary with the Deputy and I have been there as well to engage with all the stakeholders. I am aware of the opportunities as well as the difficulties for some of the businesses in Tipperary. I can assure the Deputy that, from our point of view, when we announce budget supports, both in the recent budget as well as the supports that were put in place throughout the epidemic, we expect them to be implemented, assessed and distributed as quickly as possible. The Deputy is correct that a number of sectors are still under immense pressure. We recognise that. In my view, the supports are available and it is important that they are administered as quickly as possible to give those businesses a chance to survive and avail of the opportunities in the sector in 2022. On top of the supports that I set out, which is a combination of grants, supports, wage subsidies and the opportunity to draw down financial products at the right price, there are other contingency funds set aside so that if we need to draw on them during 2022 we can do so. We are very much on the side of business. We want a jobs-led recovery and for that to happen we must support businesses, and that is what we intend to do.

The Government has put a massive amount of investment into supporting business through an unprecedented and difficult time. As we head into the spring of 2022, it is essential to continue that support. There are businesses that are still seriously affected and their costs of doing business have increased substantially. In the hospitality sector the way the Covid restrictions are still operating, and necessarily so as we see the level of Covid in the country, is increasing labour costs for those businesses. It is essential that this is kept in mind in the last quarter of 2021 and as we head into 2022. We have done a massive amount to keep businesses afloat and we must go the final leg of the journey to ensure that the financial support that is necessary for the hospitality sector and other sectors that are still affected by Covid restrictions remains in place. It would be a shame, after the huge amount of money we have put into the economy, if we failed to finish the last piece of the jigsaw as we hopefully overcome Covid once and for all. Those businesses just have to be kept afloat until we get back to normality.

I assure the Deputy that we fully intend to see this out. As I said, a jobs-led recovery means supporting business all the way. The Deputy referred to the hospitality sector. It is a sector that valued the wage subsidy more than most. That remains in place until next April. On top of that, I ask the sector to look at and engage with Pathways to Work. There are additional supports in that to encourage the sector to take on new staff and to take staff off the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, or off social welfare. There is a range of supports that are very beneficial. There is a work placement scheme that is open to any business and I am surprised that it has been underutilised since it was announced in July. Again, that is to assist people back into work, but by doing that it is also assisting the employer. Yes, there is a difficult time ahead for the sector the Deputy mentioned. The spring will tell the tale of what businesses can survive and come through this time.

However, there are over 10,000 vacancies in this sector at present. The best way to assist those companies is to assist with the employment and training. A number of initiatives have been put in place throughout the education system in conjunction with our Department through Skillnet Ireland, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, under the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, and the Department of Social Protection under the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. We want to work with the businesses in this sector to fill those vacancies and to make it a viable sector again. I am full of confidence that we can make it a viable sector, but there are a few difficult months ahead, as the Deputy said as well.

Low Pay Commission

Catherine Connolly


13. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 51 of 15 September 2021, the status of the examination by the Low Pay Commission and the ESRI of a universal basic income; the international universal basic income pilots studied as part of this examination; if he has received any interim reports to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52894/21]

I am following up on the universal basic income and the status of the report from the Low Pay Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI. Also, has the Minister received any interim reports or is he aware of what international universal basic income pilots have been studied by the Low Pay Commission?

As I said in September, the programme for Government includes a commitment to "request the Low Pay Commission to examine universal basic income, informed by a review of previous international pilots, and resulting in a universal basic income pilot in the lifetime of the Government". Earlier this year, I formally requested that the Low Pay Commission examine this issue.

To inform its considerations, the Low Pay Commission asked the ESRI to conduct background technical research on a universal basic income under the terms of the Low Pay Commission-ESRI research partnership agreement. The study will examine the universal basic income pilots that have taken place in other jurisdictions to identify what was learned and what might be relevant to a pilot in Ireland. It will also seek to identify which policy objectives a universal basic income pilot could address and its associated risks and financial implications. It will conclude with recommendations on how a pilot in Ireland might be designed and run.

The Low Pay Commission intends to provide a report to me on this research and its recommendations later this year or early next year. It has not provided me with an interim report to date.

There is no interim report to date. The Minister might ask why I am tabling this question again so soon after September, but I am a little concerned. It is a revolutionary idea. The Government is to be praised for proposing in the programme for Government to have a universal basic income. I am a little worried about the language creep. For example, different words are used. The question the Minister answered for me is on a universal basic income, and rightly so. Then we look at what is planned for the artists. What the task force asked for is a universal basic income, but that has become a working age payment or a different type of language. I am a little worried about that. I am also worried that in a previous response the Minister said he would be informed by that. Of course, we must learn from the project for the artists, but it is not a universal basic income. That is what they requested, but that is not what appears to be rolled out. Again, it seems to be limited to a small number of artists and it would be done through a lottery. I know it is not the Minister's area, but there is an overlap and the Minister said he would learn from that. However, they are two distinct things.

It is entirely reasonable for the Deputy to table a question in November about something she asked about in September. Two months is a long time and it is important that we are held to account in that regard and that progress is made. I have always been clear that the proposal for a basic income for artists and the universal basic income were not the same thing.

I did not like the fact that they got confused from time to time. Universal basic income is universal, meaning for everyone. Any basic income pilot that was just for any one group in society or any one profession by definition would not be universal; it would be a selective basic income. That is why these projects are being dealt with totally separately.

The basic income for artists project is being led by the Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, and her Department. That is not a universal basic income; it is a particular basic income system for artists. The research being carried out by the Low Pay Commission under my remit is on universal basic income. Generally, when doing a pilot like that - pilots have been done in other countries - people would be randomly selected to participate in the pilot. To be universal it would need to include a mix of people ranging from the very wealthy to the unemployed, and ranging from people who are self-employed to totally different professions because that is the nature of it. If and when we do the pilot, that will be the approach taken.

It is important to tease this out. From the beginning, the Tánaiste was clear about the distinction but that is what confused me because I understand that the arts and recovery task force asked for a universal basic income. I understood from the Minister that was what was being rolled out, until on the last occasion the Tánaiste distanced himself from that by stressing two separate things. There seems to be confusion on this and I am not sure why they are different. The arts task force asked for a universal basic income. At least what the Tánaiste is saying is clear even if it is not acceptable. When does he expect the report at the end of the year? Will it be published? Is he happy to publish it? What timeframe does he envisage for rolling out the universal basic income pilot scheme? Will it be rolled out next year? Will there be start and completion dates during the course of this Government?

I would hope to have a report by the end of the year and will be happy to publish it once I have seen it. I would certainly like to commission the pilot under the term of this Government. Perhaps this is just semantics and just people using terminology differently, as can happen sometimes. The task force proposes universal basic income for artists, which to me is a contradiction in terms. Universal cannot be for just one particular group. Universal means universal. By definition something that is universal cannot be for any one profession or group and I have always been clear on that.

Enterprise Support Services

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor


14. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will provide a report on Enterprise Ireland supports for jobs and business in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52992/21]

I ask the Tánaiste to provide a report on Enterprise Ireland supports for jobs and businesses in County Carlow and to make a statement on the matter. Today we heard the great news about the technological university for the south east, which I believe is a game changer. I was involved in the process for the past few years and I really welcome this. I know it will open many doors for employment in Carlow, Kilkenny and the south east. I know this will be a priority for the Tánaiste.

I think we can all agree that the final confirmation about the university is good news and will lead to opportunities for sustainable growth in the area. It will develop enterprise in the local area in combination with our education system.

Delivering balanced regional recovery is identified as a priority within the Government's national economic recovery plan. As part of Enterprise Ireland's regional strategy, Powering the Regions, Enterprise Ireland has committed to building on the south east's regional strengths working with partners such as the local enterprise offices, the south-east business innovation centre, BIC, and the New Frontiers programme in Institute of Technology Carlow, to deliver initiatives that assist entrepreneurship and foster an exciting new generation of innovative and ambitious start-ups in Carlow and the south east.

In addition, my Department and Enterprise Ireland are actively collaborating with local stakeholders to identify gaps in the south east's enterprise ecosystem and to plan and help fund enterprise-enabling infrastructure aligned to regional enterprise plans out to 2024. In 2020, a total of 3,171 people were employed across 89 Enterprise Ireland client companies in County Carlow, which demonstrates the resilience of export-led industry in Carlow in an incredibly challenging year.

Under the regional enterprise development fund to date, over €4 million has been approved for four projects in County Carlow, namely, Insurtech network centre, Crystal Valley Tech, Incupharm and the National Design Innovation Hub. This will assist new collaborative and innovative initiatives that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the region and nationally.

In September 2021, two pre-accelerator projects were also launched in the south east to assist promoters validate business propositions and which will run until December 2021. A further €377,520 was approved for Institute of Technology Carlow under the regional technology clustering fund to assist the development of an industry-led engineering cluster to expand capability and competitiveness in the south east.

In response to Covid-19, the enterprise centres scheme was launched in August 2020 for both profit and not-for-profit enterprise centres. Two enterprise centres in Carlow were approved to receive €128,478 under this scheme.

I assure the Deputy that as we transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy and accelerate the pace of the digital transformation, this Department, working with our agencies, will continue to assist enterprise development and job growth in all regions, making them more resilient to these challenges.

I welcome the more than €4 million invested in Carlow, which is particularly important with regard to the enterprise centres. I welcome the supports being extended to businesses in Carlow. I welcome the overall budget for 2022 with up to €90 million to be invested in Irish start-ups through an extension of the innovation fund. Enterprise Ireland funding of €9.3 million has been allocated to 24 regional projects across the country with start-up grants for SMEs and to help them recover from the pandemic. The disruption caused by Brexit was a big factor, as the Minister of State will be aware.

I recently visited the company HaloCare, which empowers older people to live quality, more connected lives in their own homes. It has raised approximately €6.2 million in investment from its founders and other investors, including Enterprise Ireland. I am aware of the excellent work being done by HaloCare. I visited it a few weeks ago and I was blown away by what it has to offer. Companies like this will be vital, particularly for older people. HaloCare concentrates on giving older people the chance to stay in their own home, which is so important for families. It is important to give the funding to these companies.

I am familiar with HaloCare and what it does. It complements what we are trying to do, which is to develop and fund businesses and organisations that can create jobs and, more importantly, can have an impact on society both within the country and beyond.

The Government is committed to keeping people living in their homes for as long as they possibly can. We developed a scheme across a number of Departments to provide supports to enable that and to provide other suitable accommodation when the need arises if they can no longer stay in their own homes. I visited Carlow a few times and I have seen some lovely projects there. I believe the Deputy and other people down there understand that concept quite well.

The €90 million innovation fund the Deputy mentioned is committed to supporting businesses like HaloCare and social enterprise initiatives as well. It is a really exciting project and another tool in our kit to be able to assist companies in bringing their concepts, ideas, initiatives and projects to a new level. We have identified a gap in the market and we think this fund will be able to help these businesses with the investment they need. This €90 million fund will lead onto a much greater investment with matching funding from outside as well.

The Minister of State and the Tánaiste are both welcome to Carlow and to Carlow-Kilkenny at any time. I welcome investment, particularly in small counties like mine. It is vital for Carlow to have this. We now have the game changer with the technological university for the south east. We have much to offer with Carlow well located close to Dublin and all the vital areas that people need to get to.

I welcome that this week, 30 Irish companies are participating in a five-day visit to Toronto, Montreal, Boston and New York. It is really important that such trips happen. It is all about what we can learn and the business we can do overseas as well.

When will the facility IDA Ireland is building in Carlow be operational? That will be very important. We have been waiting for so long for jobs in Carlow and I really welcome this measure.

I do not have a date for when it will be operational but I am glad it is nearly ready. The answer to that would be as soon as possible. As the Deputy knows, considerable work has gone into that over the years. Earlier, I outlined the work of Enterprise Ireland, which complements the work of IDA Ireland, the local enterprise offices, LEOs, the local authorities and other stakeholders in creating jobs in Carlow. Carlow has done well in the creation of jobs, working with the local business community. That is on the back of a strong education system, which is being enhanced with the technological university and the options that will bring.

The key for us is that right across Departments, through the regional enterprise plans and working with our local agencies, often driven by local authority involvement, there are various stakeholders. These include education, business, community and business development agencies. They all come together to help fund great projects and ambition.

The Deputy referred to a trade mission that is under way to bring in companies from abroad that want to take on international markets. The small and medium enterprise task force was set up by the Tánaiste this time last year and we want to drive on with companies that want the opportunity to take on international markets. We can support that drive and ambition. The SME task force has set high targets to achieve that. Enterprise Ireland will publish its new strategy in the weeks ahead, again highlighting that ambition to target more companies to take on international markets.

Question No. 15 replied to with Written Answers.

Enterprise Support Services

Joe Flaherty


16. Deputy Joe Flaherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the supports being provided in 2021 by agencies under the remit of his Department to support businesses and jobs in County Longford; the way in which these will be enhanced by budget 2022; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52767/21]

Will the Minister outline the supports provided in 2020 by agencies under the remit of his Department to support businesses and jobs in County Longford and the way in which these supports will be enhanced by budget 2022?

I thank Deputy Flaherty for raising this matter. We focused on the IDA Ireland element in an earlier question. The Department and its agencies provide assistance to businesses in all regions of Ireland, including County Longford, to help them prepare for the challenges and opportunities of the future economy. The Department's core budget increased by €103 million, or 13.2%, in budget 2022. This will significantly assist us in helping businesses rebuild and grow after the pandemic and deal with the impact of Brexit and other challenges.

Enterprise Ireland assists companies in every county of Ireland to start and scale, innovate and remain competitive in international markets. There are 45 Enterprise lreland client companies in Longford, employing 2,959 people in a range of sectors, from consumer foods to digital technologies, and 190 new jobs were created by these companies in 2020. Between 2018 and 2020, Enterprise lreland provided €8.2 million to companies in Longford, including more than €2 million for two infrastructural projects under the regional enterprise development fund to encourage growth and back ambition.

The local enterprise office in Longford continues to be a "first-stop shop" for providing advice and guidance, financial assistance and other measures for those wishing to start or grow their own business and acts as a sign-posting service for all Government assistance available to the SME sector. I compliment the work of the local enterprise offices throughout the past 18 months in helping many companies, including companies new to those local enterprise offices, to manage their businesses through Covid-19 and avail of many business schemes, such as the business continuity voucher and online trading voucher. Many other soft supports were put in place through the local enterprise offices. I am trying to visit as many of those offices as I can to see the work they have done but also to compliment them on the different initiatives they have implemented.

The local enterprise network will receive an additional €2 million in budget 2022 to focus on the dual challenges and opportunities of digitalisation and transitioning to a low-carbon sustainable economy for micro and small companies. The Tánaiste referred earlier to the number of IDA Ireland client companies in the region, at 44. They, too, provide great schemes.

I thank the Minister of State. It is great to see such a strong focus on enterprise and industry in Longford this evening in the replies of both the Minister of State and the Tánaiste. He is correct in emphasising there is a three-pronged approach to job creation and stimulus in the nation, which starts with the local enterprise office. We are extremely lucky to have a very diligent and hard-working local enterprise office in County Longford. Even in recent weeks it has capitalised on the streetscape initiative and I know it secured additional money for that this week.

The message this evening is it is a three-pronged attack and we have a very healthy, strong and vibrant Enterprise Ireland-backed industry in the county. It is also critical we press ahead with plans for an IDA Ireland-backed advanced building solution or advance factory, whatever people call it, which often depends on their age. This is an exciting time for Longford and we have a great opportunity. We are incredibly lucky that my constituency colleague and the colleague of the Minister and Minister of State in the Department, Deputy Robert Troy, is also pushing the Longford agenda hard.

I agree with Deputy Flaherty that Longford has great opportunities open to it and our development agencies are working very hard in the county. The Deputy makes a strong case for Longford, as does the Minister of State in the Department, Deputy Robert Troy, on a daily basis, the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, and Senator Micheál Carrigy. When all of us focus our minds, Longford can do extremely well. It is not just across our Department. We are very much taking a whole-of-government approach to driving regional development and making it a sustainable place in which to invest. Longford town has also been very successful with its urban regeneration project. More than €10 million has been provided to fund initiatives that have been well-planned and put together by the local authority over a long number of years. I was delighted to visit the town a couple of years ago when those plans were put in place. Longford is now securing funding for them.

Our message now to all counties is that if they put in place good strategies and plans, the funds are in place through the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040 and our yearly budgets and are to be won or secured in a competitive way. That will happen as long as the strong plans help us achieve regional development and balance, bringing jobs and other investment.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.