Proposed Legislation

Ceisteanna (201)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

201. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation further to the statement by the Taoiseach on the Order of Business on 5 March 2014 in relation to the Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, if he will confirm whether the Bill will contain the fundamental right for employees to collective bargaining in the workplace. [12093/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

Discussions with stakeholders on the Programme for Government commitment to reform the current law on employees' right to engage in collective bargaining (the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001), so as to ensure compliance by the State with recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are ongoing. While these discussions have yet to conclude, I hope to be in a position to bring forward legislative proposals in the near future.

It has been the consistent policy of successive Irish Governments to promote collective bargaining through the laws of this country and through the development of an institutional framework supportive of a voluntary system of industrial relations that is premised upon freedom of contract and freedom of association. I am certain that the existing legislative provisions in this area can be improved and secured while respecting Ireland’s voluntarist system of industrial relations.

Job Creation

Ceisteanna (202)

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

202. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the position regarding job creation plans for the long-term unemployed on the north side of Dublin, particularly in the Dublin 3, 5, 9,13 and 17 postal areas. [11585/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

The Government’s primary strategy to tackle long-term unemployment is to create the environment for a strong economic recovery by promoting competitiveness and productivity through the Action Plan for Jobs. In addition, the Government recognises the need for measures to support the unemployed and keep jobseekers close to the labour market. In this context, the major elements of the Government’s response are set out in Pathways to Work, which is aimed at ensuring that as many as possible of the job vacancies that are created as the economy recovers are filled by people from the Live Register - with a particular focus on those who are long-term unemployed or at risk of long-term unemployment.

The latest Quarterly National Household Survey, published by the Central Statistics Office in February, showed that the number of people in employment increased by 61,000 year-on-year in the fourth Quarter of 2013, net of a reduction of 5,500 people in the public sector. This was the fifth quarter in succession where employment has grown year-on-year.

The 2014 Action Plan for Jobs was published by the Government on 27th February and builds on the 2012 and 2013 Action Plans. This year’s Plan includes targets for Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and the new Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) to support a total of 30,500 direct new jobs during 2014.

Enterprise Ireland (EI) will target the creation of 13,000 new fulltime permanent jobs and target €17.5 billion in exports by client companies in 2014. IDA Ireland will also target 13,000 new gross jobs in 2014 and work to win another 155 new FDI investment projects, with 20% of those from growth markets. In addition, a further 10,000 jobs (6,000 direct and 4,000 indirect) will be created over a five year period. It is expected that these new jobs, will in turn, lead to many thousands of additional jobs in the domestic supply and services industries. EI is focussed on job creation and export growth and offers a broad range of supports for entrepreneurs, start-ups and business growth, in addition to supporting the work of other players, public and private, in stimulating job creation at local and national levels.

With particular regard to Dublin’s Northside, funding for a Business Development Manager was approved for Coolock Enterprise Centre, Ballymun Enterprise Centre, Darndale Belcamp Initiative Ltd, SPADE Enterprise Centre and Balbriggan Enterprise Centre, under the Community Enterprise Centres (CEC) Funding Scheme. A total of 630 people are employed in these five CECs.

In 2013, 50% of the investment announcements made by IDA Ireland were for Dublin and in 2014 to date, there have already been five company announcements for Dublin. Additionally, there have been announcements by four high-growth start-ups for Dublin with a combined total of 102 jobs requiring a variety of skillsets. IDA is actively engaged with its existing client base, existing pipeline clients and key stakeholders such as the HEA, Third Level Institutions, Solas and the Department of Social Protection etc. regarding the provision of the skills required in respect of Foreign Direct Investment.

Dublin City and Fingal County and City Enterprise Boards (CEBs) can provide supports, both financial and non-financial, to all micro-enterprises in the start-up or expansion phase in manufacturing and services, subject to certain conditions. The soft supports include the provision of business advice, mentoring and training to all clients. The aim is to develop indigenous enterprise potential, stimulate economic activity at local level and promote the establishment of micro-enterprises within their administrative area. Anyone interested in starting or expanding their own business should, in the first instance, contact their local County and City Enterprise Board (CEB). Contact details for the CEBs are available on www.enterpriseboards.ie.

In Budget 2014, the Government has provided a total of €18.5m for the CEBs to support enterprise development, an increase of €3.5m on the Budget 2013 Estimate.

Departmental Legal Costs

Ceisteanna (203)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

203. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will set out in tabular form, by reference to each named firm, the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by his Department to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; if he will provide in a similar format the amount paid out in respect of legal fees during 2013 by State bodies, including commercial or non-commercial and regulatory bodies established by or under his Department, to law firms in or outside the State for services rendered to it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11874/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

The amount paid to law firms by my Department and its Offices during 2013 in respect of legal fees is set out in the following table:

Name of Law Firm

Amount paid in legal fees - €

Kilroys

4,305.00

Arthur Cox

5,712.28

Connellan & Co.

799.50

D.H. Sheridan & Co.

11,475.54

Dermot G. O’Donovan & Partners

1,309.21

Frank Nyhan & Associates

15,012.45

Gerard O’Brien

2,698.55

John Brosnan & Co.

1,273.05

Kennedy Fitzgerald

2,671.32

Leahy & Partners

22,145.99

Liddy Scollan

1,353.00

Millards

2,460.00

Niamh Tuite & Co.

7,135.23

O'Doherty Warren & Associates

4,803.45

Peter D. Jones & Co.

10,856.52

Rory Hayden & Co.

13,472.19

Steen O’Reilly

2,687.55

Vincent Deane & Co.

1,168.50

Wolfe & Co.

7,230.64

O’Meara Geraghty McCourt

5,650.62

A & L Goodbody

59,746.00

Dixon Quinlan

1,084.00

Kent Carty

144.00

The payment of legal fees is a day-to-day matter for the individual Agencies concerned for which I have no direct function. I have asked all Agencies under the aegis of my Department to advise me of any legal fees paid to law firms during 2013, and I will communicate this information to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

IDA Portfolio

Ceisteanna (204, 205)

Brian Walsh

Ceist:

204. Deputy Brian Walsh asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation whether IDA Ireland can play a role in addressing the shortage of supply in industrial property in County Galway through, for example, facilitating development of such property in its industrial parks as difficulties in accessing capital are preventing private companies from doing so. [11938/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brian Walsh

Ceist:

205. Deputy Brian Walsh asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his concerns regarding a shortage of supply in industrial property in County Galway that is affecting the city’s ability to attract major employers in the manufacturing sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11939/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 204 and 205 together.

Under the Industrial Development Acts, the management of IDA Ireland’s property portfolio, including the provision of property solutions for client companies, is a day to day operational matter for the Agency and not one in which I have a function. I understand from IDA Ireland that the Agency has identified a number of locations where the private sector is unable to develop property solutions at present. In order to boost regional development and win new business, IDA Ireland proposes to build new advanced manufacturing facilities in Waterford and Athlone, and office space in Letterkenny. These particular locations have been chosen on the basis of projected opportunities, for which IDA Ireland are competing at present. The Agency is also reviewing the available property stock in Galway and Limerick.

I should add that IDA Ireland has already invested in a number of Business and Technology Parks in Galway city and county - Parkmore, Oranmore, Ballinasloe, Tuam, and Loughrea - and has purchased land for future strategic development in Athenry. The Agency also partners with the private sector in the promotion of appropriate property solutions for FDI.

With regard to the specific requirements of the Manufacturing Sector, the availability of suitable property at the right price and in the right place has long been an essential contributory factor in Ireland’s success in developing this sector. I am committed to ensuring that policy initiatives will address our ability to deliver property solutions which will cater in particular for the next wave of investment in advanced manufacturing. The shifting nature of the sector in higher technology activities is likely to place greater demands on high quality water, waste water, waste infrastructures and energy, which will also be addressed.

It is also worth remembering that County Galway has been particularly successful in recent years in terms of attracting inward investment particularly in the areas of Medical Technologies and ICT. There are currently 60 IDA Ireland client companies employing some 13,615 people in Galway, city and county. IDA Ireland has strong relationships with these companies and works closely with them to ensure their long term sustainability and to encourage their growth, development and continuing re-investment in their sites. During 2013, there were 1,098 new jobs created in IDA Ireland Client companies in Galway.

Employment Rights

Ceisteanna (206)

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

206. Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when it is intended to publish the employment permits Bill; the way it will address the Younis case; the way he intends to ensure the rights of workers in illegal contracts of employment are protected; the other measures that are intended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12034/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

On 16 January 2014 the Government approved the text of the Employment Permits (Amendment) Bill, subject to such drafting and technical changes as may be agreed with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. I am informed that work is progressing on these necessary technical changes and that the Bill will be published at the earliest opportunity.

The overriding objective of this Bill is to provide for more flexibility and targeted instruments in support of the economy’s skills needs. The Bill will:

- update provisions for the employment permits schemes in line with policy and economic developments since 2007;

- provide the flexibility to deal with changing labour market, work patterns and economic development needs which often require rapid response;

- provide for a robust employment permits regime with greater clarity; and

- address deficiencies identified in the legislation with the potential for employers to benefit from (at the cost of the employee) from the un-enforceability of employment contracts in situations where an employee does not hold an employment permit but is required to do so.

The law is clear on the matter of employment of third country nationals - it is illegal for such a third country national to be employed without the State’s permission and it is an offence for both the third country national and the employer concerned. It is not my intention to change this legal principle in any way. Illegal employment of third country nationals creates two problems. Firstly, it creates a serious problem for the employees concerned in that they do not have a legally binding contract of employment and cannot therefore rely on such a contract in asserting their rights under the contract and under the wide spectrum of employment rights legislation. We saw the result of this in the High Court judgment concerning Mr. Younis which overturned a decision of the Labour Court to award Mr. Younis back-pay on the basis that by virtue of Mr. Younis not having an employment permit, the contract of employment was illegal. The Employment Permits Acts do not currently provide for any defence for an employee, which suggested to the High Court that it could not take into account any mitigating circumstances and had little discretion but to consider the contract of employment as illegal. The Bill will amend the legislation in order to provide a defence for the employee which will then give the courts some discretion on the matter.

I am also very mindful of the second problem created by the illegal employment of 3rd country nationals namely, that it enables unscrupulous employers to undercut legitimate competitors and places the third country national in a position which can be exploited to the employer’s benefit. Therefore, the Bill will introduce new safeguards that will ensure that the situation which arose in the Younis case will be prevented in future in a manner which does not undermine legal principles and ensures that an employer cannot benefit from the fact that such contracts of employment are illegal and therefore not legally binding.

Another key feature of the new Bill will be the establishment on a statutory footing of an Employment Permit for dealing with third country nationals who have, to use a parlance, “fallen out of” the Employment Permits regime. I recognise that there can be situations where such a third country national can find themselves falling out of the Employment Permit’s regime through circumstances beyond their control or even as a result of their omission to keep their Employment Permit up to date. I recognise that such people may have established roots in Ireland and that it can be in the public interest to facilitate a reactivation of their inclusion within a legal employment framework through the granting of an Employment Permit.

I should also point out that it continues to be the case that an employer can be prosecuted for breaches of employment law including the Employment Permits Acts and it is the National Employment Rights Authority’s policy to pursue such breaches. NERA has secured convictions of a number of employers in respect of violations of employment law in cases involving the employment of workers without permits or immigration permissions.

Workplace Relations Services

Ceisteanna (207)

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

207. Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation when he intends to publish the workplace relations Bill; the measures intended to be included in it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12035/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

As the Deputy may be aware I have engaged in extensive public consultation in framing my proposals for a radical reform of the State’s Workplace Relations Services. While there are excellent and committed people working in the five existing Workplace Relations Bodies, often with challenging workloads, clearly the system itself has not performed and needs to be changed. Indeed, there is universal acceptance of the need for root-and-branch reform of the existing structures and processes which have evolved in an ad hoc fashion over the last eighty years. These deficiencies have given rise to, among other matters, complexities for practitioners and users of the service, multiple points of entry to the system, forum shopping, long delays in scheduling hearings and issuing decisions.

My objective is to deliver a world-class workplace relations service which is simple to use, independent, effective, impartial, cost effective and provides for workable means of redress and enforcement, within a reasonable period of time. A new two-tier Workplace Relations structure will be established comprising two statutorily independent bodies replacing the current five. We will have a new single body of first instance to be called the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) and a separate appeals body, which will effectively be an expanded Labour Court.

A significant amount of work has been completed on the preparation of the legislation which will give statutory effect to the new structures and associated processes. The Draft Scheme of the Workplace Relations Bill has been approved by Government for priority drafting. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has assigned resources to ensure the earliest possible publication of the Bill and drafting of the Bill is at an advanced stage. My intention is to publish the Bill during the Spring/Summer Dáil session 2014 with a view to having the new structures in place during 2014.

The Workplace Relations Bill will provide for the following measures:

- The services of the Equality Tribunal, the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission and the first instance functions of the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) to come together under the remit of the WRC. The appellate functions of the EAT will be amalgamated into a reconfigured Labour Court.

- The establishment of the Office of Director General of the WRC; appointment of the Director General by the Minister on specified terms of appointment; the statutory powers and functions of the Director General.

- The staffing of the WRC by officials from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

- A statutory basis for the use of innovative measures such as Compliance Notices and Fixed Charge Notices to enhance the compliance functions of the WRC.

- The sharing of employment related and other specified information between the WRC, the Labour Court and other official agencies in the context of promoting compliance with employment legislation.

- The appointment of additional members to the Labour Court to facilitate the increased workload of the Court in the new system.

- A new more transparent system of appointment of adjudicators of the WRC and Chairs, Vice-Chairs and ordinary members to the Labour Court.

- A new streamlined system for the enforcement of awards under employment legislation.

- Necessary and consequential amendments to existing employment, industrial relations, equality and other legislation.

- Better enforcement of employment rights awards and better compliance and enforcement measures for employment rights.

Significant progress has also been achieved to date, in advance of the enabling legislation, insofar as the technological, structural, administrative and staffing changes required to underpin the Workplace Relations Reform Programme are concerned. A Single Contact Portal, e-complaint facility, Staffing and Structures Plan, Workplace Relations website, early resolution service and enhanced technologies and processes have already been put in place. Tenders for the supply and commissioning of a customer relationship management solution are currently being evaluated. This solution will underpin and support effective and efficient service delivery. Arrangements for the recruitment, selection and training of adjudicators and the rationalisation of accommodation and hearings venues are at an advanced stage.

Departmental Websites

Ceisteanna (208)

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

208. Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his plans to redesign the website of his Department to make it more appealing and user friendly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12036/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

Since September last, work has been ongoing in my Department, with the assistance of consultants who were selected following a competitive tendering process, for the purpose of redesigning the Department’s website. My Department’s objective is to develop a more user friendly website which will give customers enhanced access to the services provided by the Department. As is currently the position with its existing website, the Department recognises the importance of ensuring that its new website will be available to all of its customers by conforming with web content accessibility guidelines. It will also be taking steps to ensure that, in accordance with the Official Languages Act 2003, the objective of which is to ensure better availability and a higher standard of public services through Irish, the new website will continue to contain an appropriate amount of content in Irish. It is proposed to launch the new website later this year.

Grocery Industry Competition

Ceisteanna (209)

Seamus Kirk

Ceist:

209. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his plans regarding the statutory code of practice for the grocery sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12058/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

Work on drafting the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, which is included in the “A list” in the Government’s current Legislative Programme, is at an advanced stage and it is hoped to publish the Bill in the coming weeks on foot of receipt of a stamped copy of the Bill from the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. In addition to introducing enabling provisions to regulate for certain practices in the grocery goods sector, the Bill will, inter alia, merge the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, update and reform competition law on foot of a review of the operation and implementation of the Competition Act 2002, and give effect to the recommendations of the Advisory Group on Media Mergers.

Community Enterprise Centres

Ceisteanna (210)

Eoghan Murphy

Ceist:

210. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will provide a breakdown of the total spend from his Department to community enterprise centres, including funding to the National Association of Community Enterprise Centres, since the scheme was launched in 1989, broken down by year, and the corresponding number of jobs created; the number of persons in employment directly in CECs, including the NACEC; and the cost of this per annum from 2002 to the end of 2013. [12122/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

I understand from Enterprise Ireland that since the launch of the first Community Enterprise Centre scheme in 1989, €64 million has been invested by the agency for the development of CECs across the country. To date, there have been 4 schemes and 159 centres have been approved for financial support, of which 117 have been completed.

The question posed by the Deputy regarding the breakdown of the total spend by year requires a significant volume of information to be gathered and correlated by Enterprise Ireland and it has not been possible to provide the information within the timeframe concerned. Consequently, I will provide this information, when it is provided by Enterprise Ireland, to the Deputy as soon as possible in written format.

In January 2014, the results of a survey confirmed that CECs accommodate 1,119 companies employing 4,759. 55 of these companies are Enterprise Ireland clients and 174 are clients of the CEBs. The NACEC is a network of the 117 community enterprise centre managers. Its primary role is to support and develop the interests of community enterprise centres on a national basis. Many centres were developed in areas of low employment and population, with the support of Enterprise Ireland, the CEBs, Local Development Groups and other local community organisations. I understand from Enterprise Ireland that, since 2008, they contribute €10,000 to the NACEC each year to run their operations, such as website build, bi-monthly meetings, promotion and advertising and national co-ordination of the 117 CECs.

At present, there are 46 Business Development Managers in the CEC network throughout the country, which have been supported by Enterprise Ireland under the 2012 CEC Business Development Manager Scheme. I have also been informed by Enterprise Ireland that there are 16 other managers across the network, which have not been funded by Enterprise Ireland. All of these managers are part of the National Association of Community Enterprise Centres (NACEC).

The City and County Enterprise Boards (CEBs) can only fund CECs that are already being funded by Enterprise Ireland and can only fund to a maximum of 50% of the Enterprise Ireland contribution. The detailed information sought by the Deputy is not readily available within the CEBs and its compilation, which would involve a search through over 20 years of records in each of the 35 CEBs, would involve a disproportionate amount of time and work.

Ministerial Travel

Ceisteanna (211)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

211. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the companies that travelled to Cleveland, Ohio with An Taoiseach in October 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3514/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

In October 2012, the Taoiseach made a two-day visit to the United States as part of a Government bid to attract foreign investment and tourism to Ireland. The Taoiseach's visit, which included stops in Philadelphia and Cleveland, was aimed at delivering a message to international business people, investors and the Irish diaspora, that Ireland is open for business. Over the course of the visit, the Taoiseach:

- Officially opened the new US headquarters for Enterprise Ireland client, Zenith Technologies, in Philadelphia;

- Travelled to the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Ohio, a globally renowned and leading US hospital across a variety of specialties. Enterprise Ireland, working with the Cleveland Clinic, arranged for the Taoiseach to speak at the City Club of Cleveland which was hosted by the Clinic on the main campus of the hospital.

- the Taoiseach and Frank Ryan, the then CEO Enterprise Ireland, were given a guided tour of the Cleveland Clinic by the Clinic’s CEO, Dr Toby Cosgrove, a key figure in advising US policy on healthcare reform. As part of this event, the Taoiseach formally announced the investment by Enterprise Ireland and Cleveland Clinic in Irish-based High-Potential Start-Up (HPSU) company i360 Medical – the first time the Clinic had invested in a company overseas. The Taoiseach subsequently met with a variety of Irish companies which, through the work of EI, have established a relationship with, and subsequent presence at, the Clinic.

- Enterprise Ireland also hosted a private dinner for its clients with the Taoiseach, senior leadership of the Cleveland Clinic and the CEO of North Shore Long Island Jewish, another high-profile hospital in New Jersey.

The companies that attended at the Taoiseach’s visit to the Cleveland Clinic did so in a private capacity and were not part of the official mission. I am, therefore, not in a position to identify any of the companies present at the event.

Wage-setting Mechanisms

Ceisteanna (212)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

212. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views on pay rise claims in the private sector. [6197/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

A return to wage bargaining is already visible in certain sectors of the economy. In this regard, I note that the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation has indicated that around half of its members expect to experience some level of pay increase over the next 18 months. However we must not lose sight of the fact that Ireland’s economy had become increasingly and critically uncompetitive in the five years up to 2008. Regaining cost competitiveness, which has included wage restraint among other things, has been key in our fight to recover. We must be very careful that the gains so hard fought for over the past few years are not eroded.

Indeed, it could be argued that we have further to travel in this regard. According to the 2013 Forfás Report on Labour Market Competitiveness, despite some reductions, labour costs in Ireland remain above OECD averages. The Report found that Ireland has the 17th highest total labour cost level in the OECD-32 and the 11th highest net wage level in the OECD-32.

We know that some sectors are expanding at a faster pace than others while some are only beginning to stabilise and return to growth. In this context, I have noted IBEC’s view that local bargaining based on company-level realities is the appropriate manner in which to deal with wage pressures at this stage. It is my sense that, for the moment, firms and employers are taking stock of how the next 24 months will possibly pan out. Each assessment will be different and I do not believe that there is a homogeneous model for all Irish business at the moment. Rather, I think that employers must make their own assessments based on their personal experience of how their own business and sector is performing. These assessments, in turn, will inform their view as to the level of wage increase, if any, they see themselves as being able to afford. It is vital that any wage increases negotiated are not excessive, do not hamper the emergence of job opportunities, increase costs locally or impact on our competitiveness internationally.

With some exceptions, Ireland has been through a period of industrial peace. IBEC and ICTU have agreed two separate Private Sector Protocols for the Orderly Conduct of Industrial Relations and Local Bargaining. This has played a significant role and I would hope that any disagreements arising during pay negotiations where they arise at company level do not cause industrial unrest.

It is an area I am monitoring closely. The next 18 months will be key in terms of getting the economy expanding again and I am determined to ensure that the gains achieved and the image of Ireland as the best small country in the world in which to do business is not damaged.

Economic Competitiveness

Ceisteanna (213)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

213. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his views on Ireland's competitiveness in the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6198/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

The competitiveness and industrial performance of EU Member States is monitored on an on-going basis by the European Commission and is reported on in the Commission’s annual Competitiveness Report. The Commission’s 2013 report on Ireland’s industrial performance acknowledges that, while challenges remain, the economic adjustment programme that has been implemented by the Government has had a positive impact on Ireland’s competitiveness.

More widely, Ireland is rated highly internationally as one of the best countries in the world in which to do business, and we have built a strong competitive basis on which to compete in global markets. Ireland has moved up to 17th place in the IMD’s World Competitiveness Yearbook 2013, having being ranked 24th only two years ago. Ireland ranks 6th of the 28 EU Member States in this index. Ireland is ranked 15th in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2014 Report and rates 5th of the EU 28 in this report. In addition, Ireland was recently named by Forbes magazine as the “Best Country for Business”.

There are a number of key areas where Ireland tops the various global competitiveness rankings, including in relation to:

- business impact of rules on foreign direct investment;

- inflation;

- FDI and technology transfer;

- availability of skilled labour;

- flexibility and adaptability of the labour force; and

- investment incentives.

While Ireland’s competitiveness has improved in recent years, we must continue to do more, to ensure that these competitiveness gains are not eroded as the economy begins to recover.

Through the Action Plans for Jobs process, the Government has focussed on measures aimed at restoring our competitiveness position and creating a supportive environment for businesses operating in Ireland. The 2014 Action Plan for Jobs, which was published at the end of February, places a particular focus on improving competitiveness in all areas of economic activity and contains a range of specific measures which will deliver further improvements in our international competitiveness performance. These measures include the regular monitoring of competitiveness issues by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Recovery and Jobs, which will consider specific initiatives to make it easier to do business in Ireland. The Government will receive a report from the Cabinet Committee on a quarterly basis on these issues.

Other competitiveness measures in the Action Plan for Jobs cover improving cost competitiveness, supporting competitive regions, aligning skills with enterprise needs and using research and innovation to drive job creation. The implementation of these actions, combined with the Government’s exit from the Troika programme and its return to international funding markets, will play a key role in improving our competitiveness further and realising our ambition of making Ireland the best small country in which to do business.

Research and Development Funding

Ceisteanna (214)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

214. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the position regarding the Government's priority in investment into research and development. [7485/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

The Government’s strategy is to accelerate the economic and societal return on our public investment in science, technology and innovation, to further strengthen enterprise engagement and take-up of public research and to drive commercialisation. The focus is on prioritising public investment in research and development while better exploiting results in order to lead to an acceleration of growth and job creation.

A number of initiatives are being rolled out across Government in support of this strategy, including the following:

- Research Prioritisation seeks to maximise the impact of our spend by focussing the majority of public competitive research funding on 14 priority areas which are most likely to deliver societal and economic impact, particularly in the form of jobs.

- The remit of Science Foundation Ireland has been expanded to cover applied research, aligned with the 14 priority areas to further support the development of research findings into commercial opportunities.

- In order to ensure industry are in a position to exploit opportunities to commercialise the fruits of state investment in R&D, the Intellectual Property Protocol gives more clarity and certainty around ownership of IP emerging from state funded research. A Central Technology Transfer Office has been established to provide an effective interface between industry and the research community.

- The R&D tax credit scheme continues to encourage business to invest in research as seen in recent figures which show Business Expenditure in R&D continuing to grow, creating new product and service innovations that will drive exports, growth and jobs.

- Smart investment in research centres of scale with critical mass will deliver maximum impact on jobs and research excellence.

Evidence, both from the EU and internationally, shows that this strategy is paying off. It was most encouraging to see that the 2014 European Commission’s Innovation Union Scoreboard, published last week, shows Ireland increasing its position from tenth to ninth in the overall ranking of 28 EU Member States. It is particularly encouraging to see that Ireland is the overall leader in the indicator of the economic effects of innovation - this captures the economic success of innovation in employment in knowledge-intensive activities, the contribution of medium and high-tech product exports to the trade balance, exports of knowledge-intensive services, sales due to innovation activities and license and patent revenues from selling technologies abroad. This complements Ireland’s recent ranking of 10th in the Global Innovation Index 2013 which is also a very positive affirmation of our capabilities in this area. Additionally, we are in the top 20 in global international scientific rankings and in particular, Ireland is ranked:

- 1st in molecular genetics,

- 2nd in probiotics,

- 3rd in immunology,

- 6th in nanotechnology,

- 8th in materials science and

- 10th in computer science.

We have also set an ambitious target for Irish researchers of winning funding of €1.25 billion over the lifetime of Horizon 2020. A comprehensive national strategy is being implemented which will direct our engagement in Horizon 2020 and ensure that we maximize the benefits for Ireland.

Finally, despite the economic downturn, we are still on track to achieve our research intensity target under the Europe 2020 Strategy which is to improve the conditions for research and development, in particular with the aim of raising combined public and private investment levels in this sector to 2.5% of GNP (approximately equivalent to 2.0% of GDP). The latest available data show that the research intensity rate for 2012 is 2.13% of GNP (1.72% of GDP).

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Ceisteanna (215)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

215. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation his policy on small business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8922/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

Since coming into office this Government has had a clear focus on assisting SMEs to establish, expand and export, with a view to driving economic recovery and creating jobs across the country. SMEs make up over 99% of businesses in the enterprise economy in Ireland and account for almost 70% of people employed.

One of the measures introduced by Government is the “Action Plan for Jobs” which contains a suite of actions specifically aimed at supporting small businesses. The Deputy will be aware that significant progress has been made in a number of areas, including:

- Improving Access to Finance through the Credit Guarantee Scheme and the Microenterprise Loan Fund Scheme;

- Reform of the County Enterprise Boards through the establishment of new Local Enterprise Offices;

- Improving access to examinership for small companies through the Companies Bill;

- Tackling the issue of late payments through the transposition of the EU Late Payment Directive into Irish legislation; and

- Development of a Single Licensing Application Portal.

Also contained within the Action Plan for Jobs is a Government commitment to publish a National Entrepreneurship Policy Statement. This Policy Statement, which is due to be published in Q1 of 2014, will complement the existing business support initiatives to ensure that the operating environment is more coherent, responsive and conducive to entrepreneurship.

A key Government priority in 2014 is to raise awareness amongst SMEs and entrepreneurs of the full suite of developmental business supports available through a comprehensive communications strategy involving the widest possible range of stakeholders. The new Local Enterprise Offices, as an interface with business at local level, will have a central role to play in this regard, especially in relation to SMEs.

The Action Plan 2014 continues on from the Action Plan for Jobs 2013 commitment by Government to support SMEs. Almost all actions contained in this year’s Plan will impact on the SME sector generally or specific groups of SMEs. Actions around the skills agenda, support for research and innovation, support for management development and other capacity building measures are set out in the Plan. Sector-specific actions in areas such as food and drink, retail, construction, tourism, creative services, eHeath and the Green Economy aim to provide new opportunities for SMEs to win business both in Ireland and overseas.

In addition to work under the Action Plan for Jobs and measures contained in Budget 2014, the Government has ensured that on-going dialogue with the small business sector is in place so that businesses and Government can work together to identify necessary actions to support SMEs in Ireland. This is being facilitated through the Advisory Group on Small Business and the High Level Group on Better Regulation, both chaired by the Minister for Small Business, Mr. John Perry, T.D.

Social Partnership Meetings

Ceisteanna (216)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

216. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if pay rises have been discussed at his latest meeting with the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10349/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

None of my recent meetings with social partner organisations involved discussions on the issue of pay increases. A return to wage bargaining is already visible in certain sectors of the economy. In this regard, I note that the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation has indicated that around half of its members expect to experience some level of pay increase over the next 18 months.

However we must not lose sight of the fact that Ireland’s economy had become increasingly and critically uncompetitive in the five years up to 2008. Regaining cost competitiveness, which has included wage restraint among other things, has been key in our fight to recover. We must be very careful that the gains so hard fought for over the past few years are not eroded. Indeed, it could be argued that we have further to travel in this regard. According to the 2013 Forfás Report on Labour Market Competitiveness, despite some reductions, labour costs in Ireland remain above OECD averages. The Report found that Ireland has the 17th highest total labour cost level in the OECD-32 and the 11th highest net wage level in the OECD-32.

We know that some sectors are expanding at a faster pace than others while some are only beginning to stabilise and return to growth. In this context, I have noted IBEC’s view that local bargaining based on company-level realities is the appropriate manner in which to deal with wage pressures at this stage. It is my sense that, for the moment, firms and employers are taking stock of how the next 24 months will possibly pan out. Each assessment will be different and I do not believe that there is a homogeneous model for all Irish business at the moment. Rather, I think that employers must make their own assessments based on their personal experience of how their own business and sector is performing. These assessments, in turn, will inform their view as to the level of wage increase, if any, they see themselves as being able to afford.

It is vital that any wage increases negotiated are not excessive, do not hamper the emergence of job opportunities, increase costs locally or impact on our competitiveness internationally. With some exceptions, Ireland has been through a period of industrial peace. IBEC and ICTU have agreed two separate Private Sector Protocols for the Orderly Conduct of Industrial Relations and Local Bargaining. This has played a significant role and I would hope that any disagreements arising during pay negotiations where they arise at company level do not cause industrial unrest.

It is an area I am monitoring closely. The next 18 months will be key in terms of getting the economy expanding again and I am determined to ensure that the gains achieved and the image of Ireland as the best small country in the world in which to do business is not damaged.

Credit Guarantee Scheme Application Numbers

Ceisteanna (217, 218)

David Stanton

Ceist:

217. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he is satisfied with the take-up and impact of the small and medium enterprise credit guarantee scheme; the improvements he intends to make to the scheme in 2014 further to the review conducted in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12214/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

David Stanton

Ceist:

218. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he is satisfied with the take-up and impact of the micro-enterprise loan fund; if the review of the fund planned for this year has begun; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12215/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 217 and 218 together.

The SME Credit Guarantee Scheme (CGS) was established under the Credit Guarantee Act 2012, to address specific market failures in lending to SMEs and in response to calls from business interests. It is a novel Scheme in an Irish context and it is currently developing a position in the Irish financial arena.

My Department, along with the CGS operator, Capita, and the participating lenders has committed significant time and resources to the establishment and operation of this Scheme. While demand for the scheme has been lower than anticipated, it has, nonetheless to year end 31 December 2013 supported additional lending of some €9.788 million to 72 companies and supported 409 new jobs, while maintaining 236 jobs. The recently completed review of the Scheme has recommended some changes that could lead to increased take-up if they are addressed. We are nearing completion of the review process, having consulted widely with stakeholders on the proposed changes. I will shortly be bringing a Memorandum to Government seeking approval to amend the Credit Guarantee Act and I am confident that the necessary legislative amendments will be made by the Oireachtas in the coming months, with a view to the earliest possible re-launch of the scheme.

The Microenterprise Loan Fund is aimed at a very different type of enterprise and was introduced following demands from business interests for the introduction of supports for microenterprises in a difficult economic environment. Microfinance Ireland (MFI) has now developed a presence in the Irish financial market. To year-end 31 December 2013 €2.159 million has been approved to 137 microenterprises supporting 310 jobs. While take-up is lower than expected, the Scheme is demand-led and may be a reflection of the muted level of demand for credit as evidenced in the Department of Finance commissioned SME Credit Demand Surveys.

I intend to commence a review of the operation of the Microenterprise Loan Fund Acts 2012 by Q2 2014. The purpose of the review will be to seek to enhance the uptake and impact of the Fund and I can assure the Deputy that I will take all recommendations into consideration with a view to improving the overall take-up of the Fund.

Appointments to State Boards

Ceisteanna (219)

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

219. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the action he is taking to encourage more Irish executives to serve on State boards under the remit of his Department; his views on the recent Merc Partners survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12463/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Jobs)

Since coming to Office in March 2011 the process for appointments to State Boards, has been administered, where appropriate, through the Public Appointments Service (PAS). PAS publicly invites Expressions of Interest from suitably qualified persons to fill vacancies, as they arise, on the boards of the various agencies within my Department’s remit. The most recent invitation took place in December. Appointments made on foot of Expressions of Interest have regard to the expertise and experience of individuals, the balance of skills and attributes in terms of the overall composition of the board, and the availability and commitment of people to serve on the board. The overriding focus is on getting the best people for particular board appointments. Notwithstanding the findings of any survey, I am both encouraged by the very strong level of response to invitations to serve on State Boards under my aegis and I am very satisfied with the high level of expertise available from among those who responded.

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (220)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

220. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding the construction workers' pension fund. [11749/14]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Social)

Pensions are a long-term investment aimed at ensuring that people have an adequate income in retirement and Government policy supports this aspiration through generous tax reliefs. In general, people are only permitted to access their pension savings at the retirement age defined in their pension schemes. Schemes may have early retirement provisions from age 50 and when retirement is caused by ill-health, benefits may be paid regardless of age. In the case of Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) and Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs), benefits may be taken at any time after age 60 and from any age in the case of ill-health.

The Minister for Finance announced, as part of Budget 2013, that access to 30% of Additional Voluntary Contributions (AVCs) on pensions will be allowed subject to a marginal tax rate of 41%. This option to withdraw is available for 3 years from the 27 March 2013. The introduction of this measure is designed to allow people, who have provided for a good retirement through a core pension but who have an immediate financial need, to access a portion of their pension pot before they retire. There are no plans to extend this limited access option further.

There are a number of reasons why early withdrawals of pension savings are generally not permitted, the principal one being that funds, and the associated tax relief on contributions, are designed to support people in later life to ensure they have an adequate income. This requires that pensions must be long term vehicles based on the principle that savings will be “locked away” until retirement. The issue of early access has been considered in detail by an inter-departmental ad-hoc group, chaired by the Department of Social Protection. The group concluded that the principle of pension savings being “locked away” until pension age should be maintained. The Interdepartmental Group on Mortgage Arrears also examined the issue of early access to pensions and did not recommend such an approach.

If people are allowed to access their pension savings early, the resulting reduction in pension savings could have significant negative consequences in the longer term. Younger people in pension schemes are unlikely to have significant pension savings and where their pension scheme has incurred losses, as many have over the past number of years, early withdrawal of funds would mean very poor value for money. There is no guarantee the funds could be repaid or that people could make up these losses. Where people are close to retirement, an early withdrawal of funds could significantly diminish the pension they receive as they may not have time before retirement age to fill the gap left by such a withdrawal.

At present, only 51% of people in employment aged 20 to 69 have pension coverage. This relatively low rate of pension coverage is a major concern. The Programme for Government includes a commitment to reforming the pension system to progressively achieve universal coverage and allowing people access to their pension savings before pension age would run totally counter to the policy of encouraging more people to save more for their retirement.