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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 9 Dec 2021

Vol. 1015 No. 6

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Brexit Supports

Neale Richmond

Ceist:

84. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps his Department is taking to mitigate the impact of Brexit on businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60515/21]

What efforts are being made by the Department to mitigate the impact of Brexit on businesses?

As the Deputy is aware, Brexit is not a passing storm; it is a permanent change in our relationship with the United Kingdom with which the Government, business and citizens will have to deal for some time. On a positive note, it was confirmed earlier this week that Ireland's allocation under the Brexit adjustment reserve is €1.165 billion at current prices. This represents just over 20% of the total reserve, or the largest allocation for any member state.

This week, I spoke at the launch of two ESRI reports on cross-Border trade and services and enhancing the attractiveness of the island of Ireland to high-value foreign direct investment, FDI. These are the first publications from the ESRI joint research programme with the shared island unit of the Department of the Taoiseach. This research provides empirical evidence on the competitive advantage that the protocol provides for Northern Ireland. EU market potential is a driver of location choice for high-value FDI, including manufacturing, which is a sectoral strength for Northern Ireland, having access both to the UK internal market and the EU Single Market. Importantly, the ESRI work estimates the benefits of what we could do in a co-ordinated way on the island to enhance the overall prospects for attracting high-value FDI and the skilled jobs that go with it.

Budget 2021 allocated unprecedented resources to confronting the twin challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit, with €340 million to be spent on Brexit-related measures. Following on from the previous Brexit loan scheme, in October we launched the Brexit impact loan scheme which will make up to €330 million in low-cost lending available to eligible businesses. It is a competitive loan scheme, providing loan terms of up to six years, with loans ranging from €25,000 to €1.5 million and up to €500,000 available unsecured. Since the launch of the scheme, 77 loans have been sanctioned, to the value of €7.6 million. Enterprise Ireland's evolve strategic planning grant offers up to €5,000 to assist exporting companies, while its market discovery fund helps companies to research viable and sustainable new market entry strategies. Enterprise Ireland, EI, is providing post-Brexit advisory support on sourcing, customs and logistics and can also provide strategic consultancy grants and the agile and operational excellence grants to boost innovation and increase competitiveness.

I thank the Tánaiste. There are a couple of areas I wish to pick up on in order to drill down. The first is tied to the point on which the Tánaiste finished in terms of the work EI is doing with businesses to help them prepare. What work has been carried out in recent weeks to help businesses prepare for the checks that are due to be implemented in Great Britain on 1 January for Irish companies that are exporting to the British market?

The second and more important point relates to the more general approach to championing diversification. The diversification of export markets was discussed earlier with the Minister of State with responsibility for agriculture and trade promotion, Deputy Heydon. I refer to the diversification of routes and logistics to encourage more companies to avoid the land bridge where possible and ship direct to our biggest market which is, of course, the continental EU. How is that being developed through the appointment of officials from IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Bia or Tourism Ireland within Irish embassies to help us grow our footprint in continental European markets and other markets we approach through European trade deals?

I thank the Deputy. He is absolutely right regarding diversification. If one goes back 100 years, 50 years or even 40 years, Ireland was almost entirely dependent on Britain for trade and foreign currency. It is never a good thing for a country to be too dependent on another country, particularly a large neighbour if it has one. For several decades, our industrial and enterprise policies have been about diversification and making sure all our eggs have not been in the one basket. That has stood to us. The fact that Brexit has not had as negative an impact on the economy as it might have had is down to the fact that we have so much trade with the US and the eurozone. We want to increase our trade with areas beyond the eurozone, such as the Middle East, Japan and south-east Asia.

Enterprise Ireland is expanding and IDA Ireland is expanding our offices around the world, appointing new enterprise people to embassies around the world and opening new embassies, as the Deputy will be aware. We have seen a real improvement in the number of options for exporters and importers. The number of direct routes now available to continental Europe is extraordinary and they are very much being used.

That is an interesting point in respect of the growth of EI and IDA Ireland offices and how important that is terms of having boots on the ground. Although more difficult in Covid times, trade missions are of great importance. What appetite is there for virtual trade missions in 2022 as well as in person missions where feasible?

The second point I wish to make relates to maximising talent and labour. We speak a lot about encouraging Irish students to go into apprenticeships and other things but it is important to also consider maximising the pool of talent arising from freedom of movement within the Single Market. What efforts are being made to consider potential workers who may be coming out of third level in France, Romania or elsewhere in the EU and have the necessary skills to be HGV drivers and so on? I would appreciate it if the Tánaiste could elaborate a little on the all-island dynamic in terms of attracting FDI and what, if any, co-operation that involves with the Northern Ireland Executive.

The Tánaiste has a minute to deal with all that.

I will cover some of it anyway. I very much agree with the Deputy's remarks in respect of boots on the ground. There is no substitution for having boots on the ground or personal contact. It has to happen. Virtual engagement is great, but it is no substitute for individual personal contact and having boots on the ground. We are doing exactly that - increasing our embassies, embassy staff, counsuls and agency staff on the ground, not just through Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland which fall under my remit, but also through Bord Bia, for example, and Tourism Ireland. It is making a difference.

Trade missions are a big part of what we do. Having been on several of them, the Deputy knows what difference they make. It is almost like endorsing companies in many parts of the world. If a company is on a trade mission with the Government, that is seen as an endorsement that it is a good company and can be believed. It also gives companies access to meetings at a level they would not get if they were not part of the trade mission and maybe the Minister was not in the room. I wish we could do more of them. I only managed to get two done last year because of the restrictions. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, did several of them. We are hoping that Omicron will not put paid to trade missions because we would like to do quite a lot of them next year, if possible.

Employment Rights

Louise O'Reilly

Ceist:

85. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of his Department’s work on curbing bogus self-employment, especially in the transport and haulage and construction sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60807/21]

The practice of bogus self-employment is absolutely disgusting. It is horrible for workers and it is disrespectful to taxpayers. I hope that no Member of this House would stand over it. What is the Department doing specifically to curb the rise of bogus self-employment? I would like the Minister to acknowledge that he at least knows that bogus self-employment is on the rise. We see it all around us.

The issue of false self-employment has been discussed many times, including at the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, subgroup on employment and enterprise in May. Officials from the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection and the Workplace Relations Commission attended and explained their individual roles on enforcement and compliance in this area in respect of taxation, PRSI and employment rights. While there was some debate about the actual scale of the problem, there was general agreement that it is a complex issue. Although the data do not suggest that false self-employment is becoming more prevalent in Ireland, it was stressed that, regardless of the scale of the problem, steps must be taken to protect workers from exploitation. In that regard, the Department of Social Protection regularly carries out targeted investigations in certain sectors.

The revised code of practice on determining employment status was published by the Minister for Social Protection in July and reflects recent case law. Work has commenced on placing it on a legislative footing. There is ongoing engagement at official level and the issue is tabled for discussion again at the LEEF subgroup meeting on 13 December, which I will be attending, to see what further action can be taken.

The European Commission is expected to announce proposals on platform work this week, with a proposal for a directive from the directorate general for jobs and social rights and a set of guidelines from the directorate general for competition, featuring aspects such as employment status of platform workers, algorithms, cross-border work and taxation.

There is also expected to be a communication on decent work. We will consider these proposals in due course.

My question relates specifically to the haulage and construction sectors. At yesterday's committee meeting, we heard from representatives of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, who talked about the need to improve the numbers working in the haulage industry. I know the Minister of State is closely watching the situation at An Post, which, I have been informed, recently lost a very large contract for Amazon deliveries. I understand Amazon is saying it is going to do its own deliveries, but checking websites shows there are jobs available that I would put under the heading of bogus self-employment. They certainly do not amount to employment in the strictest sense of the word, although, on my reading of it, people will be treated like employees. We need a laser-like focus on this issue. There is a crisis in the haulage industry at the moment, as the Minister of State is well aware. We have a situation whereby these large companies are coming in and apparently setting the rules. Some of these jobs are advertised on indeed.com.

Thank you, Deputy. You were taking advantage of my distraction.

I encourage the Minister of State to take a look.

The precise number of incorrectly classified self-employed workers is not known. I accept the Deputy's anecdotal evidence in this regard but the most recent, pre-Covid, CSO labour force survey statistics from quarter 1 of 2020 show the number of self-employed individuals in Ireland at the end of March 2020 stood at 331,600. This represents an increase over the year of 2.4%. However, the previous year had shown a decrease of 3.8%, indicating marginal fluctuation in the figures. While there is anecdotal evidence out there, the exact number of incorrectly classified self-employed workers is not known.

I agree with some of what the Deputy said. Bogus self-employment is wrong. It facilitates exploitation, distorts competition from a tendering perspective and leads to a loss of income for the State. That is why it has been receiving attention from the Government, was discussed at the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, last May and will be discussed again at the forum this coming Monday.

The Minister of State needs to look for where this is happening. Again, I encourage him to log on to indeed.com and have a look at the types of jobs being offered there. They are what would previously have been considered decent jobs. It is not an accident that there is a crisis in the haulage, transport and logistics sector at this time. One of the elements of that crisis is that these jobs are not attractive jobs for people to do. They are highly pressured and now it is a case of, "Have a pat on the back, there is no sick leave or anything else but, congratulations, you are an entrepreneur now." People have to provide their own vehicle but still must work to a roster. There is a lot of that out there if one looks for it.

I ask the Minister of State to look into the loss of the large Amazon contract by An Post. It is a huge loss. Amazon says it will provide its own drivers but it is not doing so. If he looks at the company's website, he will see how many people it directly employs, notwithstanding the fact there are people who are, in effect, working for it. If he is not prepared to quantify the scale of this problem, we are not going to be able to deal with it.

The Deputy continuously refers to the haulage industry, which I am aware is having difficulty in recruiting drivers. However, having engaged with the industry, I also know there are haulage companies that are offering very good terms and conditions of employment and they, too, are having serious difficulty recruiting staff. It is unfair to say the reason there is a difficulty in the haulage industry is that everybody is expecting hauliers to be self-employed. That is simply not the case and it is not factually accurate.

I concur with the Deputy that there is anecdotal evidence of an issue in this regard. We need to strengthen the data and evidence and ensure this issue is tackled, because it is wrong from an exploitation perspective and in terms of loss of earning to the State and, in addition, it distorts competition when legitimate companies are hiring people legitimately and paying their taxes but are unable to compete. That is why the matter will be on the agenda next Monday at LEEF.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

86. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will request that the European Union support a waiver under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, at the meeting of the World Trade Organization from 30 November to 3 December 2021 to ensure that all persons can have access to the Covid-19 vaccines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59507/21]

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

131. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of his engagement with regard to pursuing existing flexibilities in the WTO's TRIPS agreement to allow for a waiver of intellectual property rights concerning Covid-19 vaccines, to facilitate universal and equitable access to vaccines. [56515/21]

Darren O'Rourke

Ceist:

153. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will advocate for a TRIPS waiver to ensure maximum roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60854/21]

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

159. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Parliamentary Question No. 36 of 2 November 2021, if he will report on his engagement at European Union and World Trade Organization level with regard to the waiving of intellectual property rights in respect of Covid-19 vaccines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60796/21]

Will the Tánaiste advocate for a TRIPS waiver to ensure maximum roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 86, 131, 153 and 159 together.

Universal and equitable access to vaccines is crucial in the global fight against Covid-19 and governments in the developed world must do more to ensure it happens. The Government is a very strong supporter of vaccine equality in the world. Morally, we need to make sure the world is vaccinated. We were not able to defeat smallpox and polio on a national basis; it could only be done on an international basis. This is what we need to do with Covid as well. Any country with a population that is not fully vaccinated is a potential reservoir for reinfection. It is the right thing to do morally and also from the point of view of self-interest.

As the Deputy is aware, international trade is a competence of the European Union under the treaties and, in exercising that competence, the European Commission engages fully with member states, including Ireland, through a variety of committees, working parties and groups, including on intellectual property. As part of the EU, we are very strong advocates of what is called compulsory licensing. This would allow governments to license the production of vaccines on a generic basis, whether the pharmaceutical companies agree to it or not. It could be very useful for countries like South Africa and India, which have vaccine-making capacity, to be allowed to license the production of the vaccines in the plants in their countries, irrespective of whether the companies approve. That is what we, as part of the European Union, are supporting and advocating at present.

I have an open mind on the alternative suggestion of a TRIPS waiver. I have always said that if we receive a WTO proposal, we will examine it. That has not happened yet. The TRIPS waiver, just like compulsory licensing, will not result in any new vaccine plants being built or made operational, which means it will not be enough on its own. What is needed is a comprehensive response involving capacity-building, know-how, qualified scientists and technicians, capital, and experienced medicine and safety regulators. All those elements are needed to get vaccines from the laboratory into people's arms. That is why it is better to have governments and pharmaceutical companies working together to find a solution rather than trying to create conflicts between government and industry. I do not think that is the right approach. We need a global solution that is comprehensive, intelligent and workable and that does not disincentivise innovation.

To date, Ireland has contributed €7 million in funding to COVAX in 2021 and will donate 1.3 million vaccines this year to low-income countries as part of that programme, with more to come in 2022. The first 500,000 Irish doses donated through the facility reached Nigeria on 29 November, with further donations of Irish vaccines taking place in the coming weeks. In addition, Ireland has delivered on its commitment to donate 335,000 doses to Uganda. The Irish people have shown enormous generosity in donating through UNICEF's Get a Vaccine, Give a Vaccine programme, which I strongly support and endorse. The EU has committed 200 million doses to reach low and middle-income countries by the end of this year, mainly through the COVAX initiative, and is investing €1 billion to ramp up mRNA production capacity in Africa. As a Government, we have consistently opposed the export bans advocated by others, including some of those now advocating a TRIPS waiver.

The Tánaiste said the Government and the EU are very strong supporters of vaccine equality and want to find a solution to ensure it happens. The truth, however, is that the EU and the Government are an active barrier to solutions. Dr. Mike Ryan of the WHO has said: "It's a tragedy and it's an abomination that today there are frontline workers going to work in Covid wards in many countries that still have not been vaccinated. That is a disgrace." Mary Robinson has stated: "The European Union represents the biggest roadblock to this effective solution to ramp up the supply of lifesaving vaccines." Each day, six times more booster shoots are being administered in high-income countries than first doses in low-income countries.

As the Tánaiste knows, there is a huge push for the TRIPS waiver.

It has come from so many organisations. More than 100 countries have asked for this, according to Médecins Sans Frontières. The nursing unions were the latest, with about 30 of them throughout the world, including the Vaccine Alliance and so on. In our country, 400 leading scientists have expressed a similar view. No progress has been made on this.

I welcome the figures the Tánaiste gave on vaccines. A total of 1.3 million vaccine doses will be given to low-income countries this year, and he might give us a breakdown of that. Nevertheless, he stated trade is a competence of the EU, but health is not. This is a health issue. Trade is subservient in this regard. He talked about not interfering with the entrepreneurial spirit but that too is questionable to me because all the vaccine production has been financed predominantly by, as I understand it, public money.

I fully agree with the Tánaiste that we need to invest in innovation and science and continue to incentivise that, given we all rely on innovation and investment in science when it comes to the research and development of the vaccines that are saving lives throughout the world. This is a worldwide pandemic, which is why it is so important that initiatives such as COVAX are happening and that we are donating 1.3 million vaccine doses to poorer countries. None of us will get out of this until all of us get out of it.

Is the Government proactive in examining ways of sharing intellectual property throughout the globe with countries such as India, which I understand has the capacity to produce large volumes of vaccines? What is the Government's position with regard to the coronavirus treatment acceleration programme, CTAP?

I disagree with the analysis of Deputy O'Rourke-----

It was Mary Robinson's analysis.

The fact is the EU is the biggest exporter of vaccines.

It was Mary Robinson's analysis.

Let the Tánaiste respond.

The EU is the biggest exporter of vaccines. While other countries such as the United States, on some sort of national security grounds, stopped vaccines being exported to developing countries, the EU exported as many vaccine doses as we made for ourselves. I acknowledge Sinn Féin is a Euro-critical party but that is going too far. The EU has exported more vaccine doses than any other major player in the world and Ireland has been part of that. We have donated 1.7 million vaccine doses and will do more in 2022.

I did not say anything about the entrepreneurial spirit, although I did say something about incentivising innovation, which is important. It is very possible that in 2022, we will turn to companies such as BioNTech, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and others and ask them to develop a vaccine to the variants and treatments for Covid. We cannot just dismiss concerns about disincentivising innovation. It is a serious matter that needs to be considered.

It is deeply insulting for those in low-income countries that the Tánaiste's response was patronising about the fact we are making donations and contributions. These countries are looking for the opportunity to provide for themselves and they are in a position to do it. We have prevented them previously, in the context of AIDS and other pandemics, and we are doing it again. It is simply disgraceful and completely out of step with the will, spirit and passion of the Irish people. The people would go for a TRIPS waiver in the morning, and the Tánaiste is letting them down.

I am really disappointed in the Tánaiste's response. COVAX has done so much but there has not been an assessment of whether it has met the need. Clearly, it has not because the figures speak for themselves. Just 8% of people in low-income countries will have received at least one dose by the end of 2021, compared with 76% for high-income countries. I have mentioned just some of the organisations that are crying out for a change of approach and for the TRIPS waiver to be considered as a matter of urgency. They are hardly doing that for the good of their health, which is probably a bad choice of words in the context of Covid-19. Moreover, there is no transparency regarding the deals being done bilaterally with individual pharmaceutical companies, and no acknowledgement of the vast sums of public money that have been used to incentivise, with an indemnity clause that is never ending, and none of this has ever been discussed. Will the Tánaiste address some of those issues and why we are not leading on the TRIPS waiver?

I can see where this is going and I am disappointed that, rather than having a rational debate and weighing up the pros and cons of options such as a TRIPS waiver or compulsory licensing, it will turn into-----

It is an emergency.

-----people wanting to shout at one another and make out they are more virtuous than the next person-----

Nobody was shouting.

The Government can act.

-----and engaging in personalised remarks. It is disappointing. I knew before I came to the Chamber that, rather than having a rational debate on the correct solution, it was going to turn into Deputies-----

The Government can act.

-----saying they are more virtuous than others or a better person than others-----

The Government can act on behalf of people in low-income countries. What is it doing?

-----and that is sad.

That was not what I was asking about. The Government is in a position to act.

Deputy, there is a structure here. You had your allocated time. Give deference to the Tánaiste. He is entitled to his time.

This is just showboating, unfortunately. I wonder whether the Deputy is even capable of having a rational debate on the different options, such as compulsory licensing, the TRIPS waiver and others. What is required-----

There is Irish research on the issue and it says the Government needs to act now.

Deputy, I cannot allow a free-for-all. Time is allocated and it is tight-----

This is not a fair debate.

It is the Tánaiste's turn to respond.

The Tánaiste is being completely disingenuous.

The Tánaiste, without interruption. I do not want to have to say it again.

I do not think the Deputy wants a debate at all. He just wants to make out he is the person who is virtuous and that we are nasty people looking after companies rather than people. It is just part of the political games his party plays and that is the truth of it. It is disappointing but, unfortunately, that is the alternative his party offers.

We all share the same objective, in my view, namely, to vaccinate our own population. Governments have a responsibility to look after their own population and citizens first, and that is what we are doing. We also have a wider responsibility, on a global level, to ensure we vaccinate the entire world because this virus will not be defeated until the world has been vaccinated. It is not a case of one or the other, of bad and good people or of governments against industry. We need people working together on this.

Question No. 87 replied to with Written Answers.

Work Permits

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

88. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to widen the sectors that are eligible for work permits; the steps he will take to streamline the system of issuing these permits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60444/21]

One of the perennial issues throughout the history of this country relates to how many sectors are short of labour. Time and again, even when looking for State services, we hear the mantra no labour is available. If there is genuinely no labour available here, a debate we could have with the Ministers for Social Protection and Finance in respect of incentives, what will the Government do to ensure vital services are available in this country?

The question related to the permit, so I will focus on that in a moment. In general, we try to analyse and identify any areas where there are critical skills gaps or a shortage of labour. The Department regularly engages with stakeholders through the various forums and also individually with different sectors and groups. We carry out a detailed analysis twice a year on every sector in respect of which shortages have been identified. Where evidence that is gathered clearly identifies shortages, we react and change the process for permits, something I will return to presently.

That is only one measure. The best way to deal with labour shortages is to predict them and invest the funding and various supports in all levels of education to address that. That is what we try to do to work more clearly and directly with the various sectors. Following reforms of the past ten years, we have a very enterprise-facing education system, through further education and training and all the commitments and announcements regarding apprenticeships, skills and on-the-job training, along with investment in higher education, research and innovation to drive automation. Every effort is made to deal with skills gaps and to work with the relevant sectors. The Deputy asked about the employment permit scheme, a regime designed to facilitate the entry of appropriately qualified non-EEA workers to fill skills and labour shortages in Ireland. This objective must, however, be balanced by the need to ensure no suitably qualified Irish or EEA nationals are available to undertake the work and that the shortage is genuine. We look for evidence, backed up by the parent Department, that the shortage is genuine and every effort is made to source that labour or talent locally. It is sometimes difficult to explain.

If there are, potentially, 40,000 people on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP, and another 150,000 people on long-term or short-term social welfare, it is sometimes hard to explain how we also need to bring in other talent. We try to close those gaps by working through the Department of Social Protection and with employers through the range of schemes, such as pathways to work, to join the dots there and try to get people who have various skills, and through upskilling if needs be, to fill those job vacancies. Where that cannot happen we use the permits scheme to bring people in as well.

On Tuesday night, I raised the shortage of home care workers. It is a skilled job, but one that does not require much formal qualification. It appears that the Government's system in this case finds it impossible to get enough people in the State to provide those services. People who are in critical situations are not getting care. On the other hand, I understand that the work permit system is so restrictive that it is not possible to bring in people where there are none available to do home care. Has the Minister of State had discussions with his colleagues on whether we should issue work permits to people to come here to provide these vital front-line services in the community? We saw in the Covid-19 pandemic how advantageous home care is in many cases as an alternative to nursing home care.

I acknowledge the Minister of State's work and assistance in this area. However, Deputy Ó Cuív is right. We have gone the full circle. There are families and people across the country for whom we could not get home help hours for a long time because the resources were not available. Now the hours are available, but we do not have the people. Families are being left in appalling situations. Loved ones are being left in hospitals, unable to leave, because we cannot get home care workers. They are available internationally. We require a system with flexibility whereby families can get their loved ones cared for at home through some type of change to the work permits system. This is very urgent. There are thousands of people and families awaiting home care at present who cannot get it due to the lack of staff.

I join my colleagues in asking the Minister of State to look at ways of streamlining the system. I have met farmers who are facing into a very busy period at present with milking, cows calving and so forth. It is a 24-7 job with health and safety issues involved. They have identified workers abroad in places such as the Philippines, but the amount of time it takes to get the work permit issued and the visa on top of that means that the calves will be ready for slaughter by the time it is done. It is too long. The system must be shortened and speeded up so these people can get here sooner. More staff have to be put on that work.

A couple of issues have been raised. The first is that of home care workers. I did not see Deputy Ó Cuív's debate during the week, but it was discussed with the Taoiseach last week in the House. It is an issue we all have commented on lately. We are engaging, and will engage, with the home care providers in the sector to try to gather the evidence to make the case. We carried out two reviews over the last year since the onset of the pandemic. In April of last year we changed the scheme to allow permits for healthcare assistants, who generally work in nursing homes, to come here to work. There was evidence to show there was a shortage there and there was agreement with the HSE and the Department of Health that they were needed. A structure and a training regime were put in place to facilitate that.

Phase two of that was the demand for workers in the home. We have tried to engage with the providers in that area. They have gathered evidence for us and we are working through that evidence. However, in the last review, which was completed in the last few weeks, the evidence was not there to show that there is a need to revert to the permits scheme to bring skills or labour in from abroad. The biggest issue we have to try to tease through is that 75% of the people who work in that sector at present are part-time. I understand that a number of them might choose to be part-time, but we have to go deeper and analyse that. The Department of Health is involved in that process.

I am sorry, Chair, but there were three questions.

No. The Minister of State is out of time.

I will respond to Deputy Stanton shortly.

It is cold comfort for somebody who is waiting for care to be told that all these processes are being gone through while in the meantime there are no services. We know that labour shortages are endemic in this society. We have to import most of the deckhands on fishing boats. There are delays in the licences in that area. Amazingly, we are very short of people in the hospitality sector. People in that sector tell us constantly that they cannot hire workers. Perhaps I am looking at the wrong end of the story and maybe another issue under the remit of the Department is more relevant here, namely, the issue of a living wage to make it attractive to work and the interface between gainful work and social welfare. If the Minister of State wishes to address that issue rather than that relating to work permits, I would be interested. However, I am also interested in exactly what he is doing to streamline the entire work permits process.

On the second issue, the Minister is driving a lot of changes-----

We have not seen them.

-----to make work pay and to ensure the conditions and rights of labour, backed by the Government, are made more attractive to try to attract people to work. The Deputy mentioned the hospitality sector. On one hand, there are thousands of jobs available in that sector, and we have given permits and prioritised certain areas, such as chefs and so forth. On the other hand, if one analyses the live register and the people on the PUP, there are thousands with a background in hospitality. There is a mismatch there and we are trying to close that gap. Yes, it involves pay and conditions. Yes, it involves choices and people are re-evaluating their careers. Again, we try to support that. A large amount of money is set aside for education and the upskilling agenda. I ask employers in all these sectors to engage with the pathways to work scheme to attract labour.

With regard to the farmers, we made 100 permits available, in conjunction with the Department of Health, to bring in dairy farmers. My sense is that this will not be enough, but I have to work with the relevant Departments and agencies, notably, the Irish Farmers Association and so forth, in the sector to be able to gather the evidence. However, we react quite quickly and have done. The number is 100 at present. We can increase that in the next review if there is proven demand. We try to work with every sector to encourage them to source labour locally and to avail of the supports from the Government through the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Education and our Department to make that happen.

Can I add a last comment regarding the processing of permits?

No, you cannot because I have been strict on everybody.

I will share the information with Deputy Ó Cuív later.

Regional Development

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

89. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to support regional enterprise in the aftermath of Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60792/21]

I am inquiring about the status of the regional enterprise plans, many of which were completed in 2020. Can I get an update on them, particularly in the context of Brexit but also in the context of the Covid pandemic, and the benefits there have been for regional enterprise?

Regional enterprise development is a key policy priority for me and the Government and is a core element of the national development plan. The enterprise agencies of my Department directly and indirectly support approximately 635,000 jobs in the regions outside Dublin.

In preparing for Brexit, the Government introduced a range of measures to assist businesses and SMEs. The 2022 budget allocation provided to Enterprise Ireland and the local enterprise offices will be used to service existing programmes as well as to provide the scope to explore the potential for new schemes to address the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and Brexit. The customs insights course from Enterprise Ireland helps businesses understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes required to move goods from, to and through the UK.

To date, my Department has made available over €126 million in regional enterprise funding through the regional enterprise development fund, the Border enterprise development fund, BEDF, and the regional enterprise transition scheme to assist locally-led regional enterprise and development projects. The BEDF was launched in 2020 with the aim of improving the international competitiveness of enterprises in the Border region in the context of Brexit and other market challenges. To date, 11 projects have secured funding of €17.4 million under this fund. The BEDF is part of a €28 million economic stimulus package for Border counties and further enhances Brexit supports for smaller businesses supported by the LEOs and drives SME business transformation for businesses in the Border region who are challenged by Brexit and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

My Department’s regional enterprise transition scheme was recently introduced as part of the Government’s programme of assistance for regional enterprise development and assistance to regions facing difficulties as a consequence of Brexit and Covid-19. Last October, 24 projects secured funding of €9.3 million, with funding approved in each region. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to work with my colleagues across the Government and with stakeholders to examine all appropriate business supports to assist businesses impacted by Brexit.

I thank the Minister of State for those details. How stand the specific regional enterprise plans? Many of them came to their conclusion in 2020. Will they be renewed and put back in place?

The Minister of State mentioned a lot of macro stuff which was irrelevant. I will try to give him a sense of real broadband issues. A leading domestic and international exporting company has been in a small town for nearly 90 years. It cannot get access to proper broadband to allow it to e-tail the company and provide a better service to its customers, both retail and wholesale. The relevant town will not be included in the national broadband plan for several years. Those are the day-to-day challenges facing enterprises in our regions.

In the context of Brexit, the Minister of State mentioned the customs courses. What specific programmes are in place for companies in the west and in the Border region who face the disadvantage of challenging companies which have the best of both worlds, as it were, in Northern Ireland?

The Deputy is right that the previous regional enterprise plans are coming to a close at the end of this year. Under the previous plan, €16.7 million was invested in the west on nine specific projects. The new plans are coming to the final stage. These plans have been developed through key stakeholder engagement, involving Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the local enterprise offices, local authorities and many private enterprises operating in specific regions. We want each plan to produce proposals unique to the specific region. We hope to launch the west regional enterprise plan at the end of January or the beginning of February. Last week the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform approved funding of €140 million to underpin the nine regional enterprise plans, enabling us to put out a call in the middle of next year for funding proposals to support enterprise development across the nine regions including that of the west.

I welcome that. We could take the entire €140 million in the west. Will the plans encompass the Government's new climate action priorities, particularly in the west? There is much rather lazy focus on wind energy, but much more could be done with hydrogen production and advancing the infrastructure of the area in a climate-friendly way. Will the enterprise plan include specific targets to encourage companies and communities to embrace that? Will the shortcomings of the previous plan, which were not delivered for whatever reason, be addressed in preparing the new plan?

The plans are bottom-up in nature. They will be designed with input from the key stakeholders in each region. It is up to the regions to devise their own plans and to prioritise what they see are the most ambitious targets they can achieve within their regions in the coming years. I already outlined the key stakeholders that will participate in that. I would be happy to get a copy of the draft plan and share it with the Deputy and he can have an input into it in that way.

Lessons need to be learned from the previous plans. Much of the funding that was allocated has not been drawn down and we need to understand why. Obviously, the Covid pandemic was a contributory factor but it is not the only reason. Earlier this week I met the CEO of Enterprise Ireland who is determined that the new schemes to be announced next year take account of the past experiences and what went wrong with some of the schemes in the previous plan.

Enterprise Policy

Jennifer Murnane O'Connor

Ceist:

90. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the south-east regional enterprise plan. [60813/21]

The Minister of State might have seen the beautiful piece in the Irish Independent this week on Carlow, highlighting the great enterprise, education and innovation going on there. I am very proud of that, as a Carlow woman. I ask him for an update on the south-east regional enterprise plan.

I thank the Deputy for tabling this question. We do not need to read about Carlow in the Irish Independent. Not a week goes by when Deputy Murnane O'Connor does not raise Carlow either here or in the parliamentary party meeting.

Not an hour goes by.

My colleague has corrected me by saying not an hour goes by.

Regional enterprise development and sustainable local job creation are key policy priorities of mine and of the Government. My Department is overseeing the development of nine new regional enterprise plans. These are bottom-up plans, developed by regional stakeholders which identify growth opportunities, recognise vulnerabilities and enable job creation across the regions including in the south-east region through collaborative regional actions. The new south-east plan which covers Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford will build on the core activities of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local employment offices and the wider range of State bodies involved in supporting enterprise development in the region.

I have responsibility for driving the delivery of the new plan in the south east, and over the past year I have engaged directly with the regional steering committee made up of our enterprise agencies, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the local enterprise offices, local authorities, higher and further education bodies, businesses and others in the south east. That committee is chaired by Patsy Carney, director of Kinetic Labs.

The regional stakeholders in the south-east region have signed off on five focused strategic objectives together with supporting actions for the region on starting and growing businesses, green growth, smart specialisation, innovation and placemaking.

It is my Department’s intention to publish the south-east plan and launch it early in 2022.

I welcome that. The Minister of State mentioned Carlow, Kilkenny and Waterford. I welcome the job announcements for Kilkenny and Waterford this year but Carlow got none. Carlow really needs to be looked at. We are the smaller county. I ask the Minister of State to do what he can. I welcome that he will be launching the regional plans and in particular the one for the south east. I have been working with IDA Ireland and I welcome that there is a new build for Carlow. I understand that facility will be ready in July 2022. That was meant to have been done five years earlier in 2017 but the building is nearly complete. We are delighted with that, but we need to promote Carlow more. What is the update on jobs for Carlow?

The previous regional enterprise plan had significant investment in Carlow. Two projects were supported. Insurtech Network Centre in Carlow, which supports technology solutions to the global insurance services sector, received €1.4 million and the National Design Innovation Hub received €1.843 million. Under the previous regional plan there was significant investment in Carlow. I hope there will be further investment in Carlow under the new regional action plan, which, as I have outlined, will be published early in the new year. It is a plan specific for the south-east region, devised by the people in that region who know the region best and know what is needed and where the investment needs to be made to support job creation.

The Deputy mentioned IDA Ireland. She will be aware that IDA Ireland published its strategy earlier this year and for the first time one of its key pillars is to have 50% of new investment in the regions during the lifetime of this plan. That is a significant commitment to regional development

I thank the Minister of State for that. I welcome the action plan which is very important. These regional plans are very important so that we look after our smaller towns, such as Bagenalstown, Tullow and Hacketstown in my area, where I hold clinics. Broadband is another issue we need to address, along with that of keeping our small companies going. However, jobs are the big thing particularly now that we are going to have a technological university for the south east. We have so much to offer. Carlow will be a major priority for me - Carlow-Kilkenny - and I will be looking for jobs there.

I reiterate that the plan will be published early next year. The plan is devised by the people of the south east. I am very confident that there are objectives and targets for every county in the south east and it will not just concentrate on one particular county. When I engaged with the stakeholders, I stressed that if it is to be successful, it must have buy-in from all counties; all counties must be supported.

Regional Development

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

91. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the identification process for a site for the second advance technology building for Tralee, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [60438/21]

I welcome the Tánaiste's recent announcement that a second advance facility will be made proceeding in Tralee. The location of Central Pharma, in what was originally an advance facility in Kerry Technology Park, is very good news for Tralee and will bring many jobs to the town. The second facility will also potentially provide hundreds of jobs. It is crucial, therefore, that we drive this project forward as quickly as possible. I ask that the Tánaiste provide an update on the matter.

IDA Ireland is committed to building a new advance technology building in Tralee. I know both Deputy Griffin and Councillor Jim Finucane, among others, have been working on the matter for some time, and the Deputy has raised it with me several times on the floor of the House.

The latest position is that IDA Ireland is continuing to engage with stakeholders to seek a suitable site for the proposed building in Tralee. Securing planning permission and the construction of the building will take time, but it is intended that the facility will be delivered during the life of the current IDA Ireland strategy either during or before 2024, whatever the case may be. The advance technology building may provide a new office for an investor or industrial investment given the flexible nature of IDA Ireland building solutions.

Provision of appropriate property and infrastructure to meet the needs of multinational companies remains essential to winning foreign direct investment, FDI. Advance technology buildings are designed to provide high-quality production and office accommodation for future manufacturing and technological businesses. They usually range from 25,000 to 30,000 square feet and are high-specification buildings, flexible in use, and provide office or industrial space or, in some cases, a combination of both. The buildings are completed to achieve leadership in energy and environmental design, LEED, accreditation where possible. Under the regional development pillar of its strategy, IDA Ireland aims to win investment to propel recovery and support development in every region of Ireland, targeting 400 investments outside Dublin by end of 2024.

IDA Ireland is actively encouraging investors to locate outside the Dublin area, be that through marketing potential investment sites outside the main cities or working to develop recognised industry clusters. The agency continues to engage with new companies on promoting Ireland as a location for their business and utilises virtual site visits as opposed to physically visiting the county. IDA Ireland will continue to position County Kerry to prospective companies in 2022 and beyond.

I thank the Tánaiste for that update. This is a very positive development and I welcome it. I wish to emphasise that we have no shortage of space in Kerry for these type of facilities. Kerry Technology Park is full of sites that would be very suitable for a second facility.

Central Pharma will begin operations in the first quarter of next year. The likelihood is that this company would not have come to Tralee if it were not for the advance facility. I was delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy English, visited the technology park with me recently to see the available sites and how close it is to Munster Technological University, which could also be a beneficial location for potential investors. I would be grateful if the process could be speeded up as much as possible in order to get the planning permission application submitted.

On balanced development within the county, the Tánaiste knows that Killarney, to which he is a frequent visitor, is thriving in the context of tourism and hospitality. We need an industrial balance as well, however. Killarney would also be a suitable location for another facility for Kerry.

What we seek to achieve in Kerry is a diverse and balanced economy. That means investment in tourism - the county is hugely successful in that regard already - food production, energy, public services and FDI. The county has shown what an attractive place it can be for FDI and for major companies such as Liebherr and Fexco. We anticipate seeing further investment in Tralee during the course of this Government's term of office. That is probably the best approach for the county. Just as Ireland needs a diverse economy that does not put all our eggs in one basket, the same applies at county level. That is the strategy for Kerry.

The Deputy has been in touch with me quite often about the tourism industry and the impact the recent restrictions will have on the hospitality sector. He may be aware that the Government announced this morning that the best solution is to restore the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, to the full amount, a return to the November rates, for the duration of December and January. I know that will be welcomed because the Deputy has advocated for that. We had hoped to do something more targeted with the Covid restrictions support scheme, but when we tried this it proved too complicated, so we decided to do it across the board.

That is welcome news for the entire economy of Kerry. That money circulates in the economy. Money goes around. When one person suffers, everyone suffers; when one person does well, everyone does well. I remember during my time as a publican, when agriculture was going well and farmers had money in their pockets, money circulated around the village and everyone did well. That is why the restoration of the EWSS is really important. It will be meaning for many people this Christmas and it will lift all boats in the economy. I welcome that.

I also welcome the Tánaiste's positive approach in the context of the broader economy in Kerry. As I said, advance facility solutions work. They are a good model and they work for peripheral counties, such as mine, that are at a disadvantage in attracting FDI. I have no doubt that the second facility in Tralee, when it goes ahead, will be filled. If the Tánaiste were to consider providing one for the southern part of the county, that would also be important. It would be filled and create jobs.

We will certainly give consideration to that, but, obviously, Tralee is top of the list at present. The restoration of the EWSS to the full November amount will benefit all companies that are down 30% or more in turnover. It will benefit and help the hospitality, arts, entertainment and night-life sectors to get through this difficult period. It will be in place until at least the end of January, whether or not restrictions are eased. It will benefit some companies that do not need it as much, such as in retail, construction and services, for example, but as the Deputy correctly pointed out, that will mean more money circulating in the economy. That additional stimulus for the economy will raise all boats.

Regional Development

Thomas Gould

Ceist:

92. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his plans to entice businesses into Cork city centre given the recent closures of a number of businesses in the city. [60788/21]

What is the Minister of State's plan to entice businesses into Cork city centre given the recent closure of a number of businesses there?

There was welcome news recently in the announcement by Penneys, in conjunction with the Tánaiste, that it will expand and invest a lot of money in its Cork city premises. That was an issue about which there was grave concern. I recently met the chief executive of Cork city local authority to discuss the authority's plans for the city centre and to deal with vacancies and to make the city and county a more attractive place to win investment and to create jobs. The local authority has plans in train that we are supporting. The regional enterprise plans are key to driving that activity and take a bottom-up approach to engage with State agencies, those working in my Department, to create jobs in addition to working with the local enterprise office, the local authorities and the education system in order to work through ideas to create solutions and actions that will help create jobs in Cork, including the city.

There has been much success in Cork in recent years regarding jobs, for which I will provide details. Most important in that has been the work with the local enterprise offices. We engaged with them extensively during our recent visit there. Much good work is going on to support and create jobs across many sectors. There are some sectors that cannot be supported with grant aid but can be supported with mentioning, soft supports and trading online vouchers and such initiatives which work well.

It is also important that Cork City Council commissioned a city centre economic revitalisation strategy. Following considerable consultation, it will be available in quarter 1 of 2022. Actions are already under way to make the city more attractive in order to win investments. Seven streets have been pedestrianised, thereby facilitating 1,000 outdoor dining spaces, the approval of 230 outdoor dining grants and the approval of five major winter-proofing grants for outdoor dining areas. The latter are currently being installed.

On Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, much good work has been carried out and they are featured in the regional enterprise plans that will be launched in early 2022. In Cork, Enterprise Ireland works with and assists more than 600 client companies in the city and county, who employ a total of 25,706 people. According to my Department's Annual Employment Survey 2020, a total of 2,712 new jobs were created by client companies in Cork. Considering some job losses by client companies, this translated in a net increase of 686 jobs. Enterprise Ireland continues to work closely with community groups in County Cork, developing community enterprise centres to foster microenterprises, which can in time grow into larger companies. Enterprise Ireland also supports centres in Cork city such as Cork Urban Enterprises, in addition to the Churchfield Community Trust. IDA Ireland is doing great work in Cork. There are 43,856 jobs with IDA Ireland involvement. A big part of its strategy for 2021 to 2024 is a focus on regional development in Cork, including the city.

We must conclude there.

Do I get a chance to respond?

You missed your slot.

I am afraid not, because we are out of time.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
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