Thursday, 31 January 2019

Ceisteanna (7)

Niamh Smyth


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

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Business)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is not the case.

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

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

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

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

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