Thursday, 27 June 2019

Ceisteanna (1)

Billy Kelleher


1. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the position regarding regional IDA site visits per county; the position regarding vacant IDA properties nationwide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27203/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Ceist ar Business)

I thank the Acting Chairman. I might ask for some indulgence at the time of my last question, if possible.

What is the position regarding regional IDA Ireland site visits per county and vacant IDA Ireland properties nationwide? It was brought home to me while campaigning in the recent European Parliament elections that many provincial towns are really struggling. Their commercial hearts are dying and there needs to be a radical review of regional, spatial and industrial policy in terms of delivering for the regions.

I wish to congratulate Deputy Kelleher on his election to the European Parliament. It has been a pleasure to work with him in a very constructive way since I took up this position. I wish him the very best in the European Parliament. I have no doubt he will make a significant contribution there also.

Regional development remains a key priority for me and my Department. We understand the importance of achieving the best possible spread of employment and investment across the country and my Department and its agencies have been working hard towards that goal. Significant progress has been made. For example, 58% of all IDA Ireland client-supported employment is now situated outside Dublin. This figure represents the highest level of regional employment in the history of the agency. Last year, IDA Ireland secured 113 regional investments. This strong level of performance in attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland is being maintained. Last week, I announced IDA Ireland's mid-year results for 2019, which included 13,500 new jobs approved across the country, representing an increase of 19% on the equivalent period last year. Indications are that further strong employment and investment growth will be achieved over the latter half of the year, which will lead to more economic opportunities across regional Ireland.

As I previously made clear, the availability of marketable serviced land and buildings in advance of demand is a key element in IDA Ireland's ability to compete for mobile foreign direct investment. Not only does such a supply of properties help the agency to secure high-quality jobs, it also allows projects to begin at an earlier date by diminishing difficulties associated with land acquisition, planning and construction. For that reason, it remains an important means by which IDA Ireland can encourage and attract new investors to Ireland.

IDA Ireland owns 29 properties across Ireland. Of these, 14 are occupied by agency clients, with the remainder available for prospective or existing investors. It is important that IDA Ireland has such a supply of properties in order that it can better compete with other jurisdictions for job-rich investment and secure new projects for Ireland.

I accept that it is very difficult for a Minister to instruct industry or commerce to locate in a certain area. If a multinational company comes to this country, we are happy to have it, but it is very difficult to direct it to a specific area. There needs to be a broader-based policy underpinning regional development. The vast majority of IDA Ireland sites that are lying idle are located in the places that most need job creation and investment and which are very much struggling to attract multinational foreign direct investment, such as the Border region, the midlands and parts of the south east. It is evident that this is having a direct impact on the commercial life of towns across the country. In some towns, there are more shops boarded up than there are operating commercially. There needs to be a refocusing and re-energising of investment in the regions and IDA Ireland plays a key role in that regard. We must consistently advocate for the regions. There would be a double gain as Dublin is bursting at the seams and under significant pressure while the regions are struggling.

I have a very strong focus on the regions. Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland have increased the number of jobs created outside Dublin. A couple of months ago, I launched nine regional enterprise plans, which are focused on supporting enterprise and driving job creation in the regions. As part of that programme of launches, I visited places such as the Hive in Carrick-on-Shannon, Drumshanbo food hub, Cootehill enterprise and technology centre, the Ludgate hub in County Cork and the Lisheen mines bioeconomy project in County Tipperary. All those projects have been supported by Government funding and are achieving fantastic things in terms of creating jobs in rural locations.

I too am aware of towns where the retail sector is suffering. We are living in a changed environment, however, as the shopping habits of young people have changed. Many are shopping online, which is having an impact on retailers in towns and villages across the country. That said, there has been significant investment in the town and village renewal scheme.

I accept much of what the Minister stated in regard to changing shopping habits and money leaving regions as a result of people shopping online or in larger outlets, etc. I wish to return to the issue of IDA Ireland. Kilbarry industrial estate in my constituency of Cork North Central is less than a mile and a half from St. Patrick's Bridge in Cork city. It comprises 56 ha of prime land but the only things on it are fields of barley. Every year, barley is grown on the site.

If the IDA does not want to do something with it, something else should be done with it. Can we not take note of the idle properties that the IDA has? If it is not going to use them to some benefit for itself in job creation and industrial development, this 56 ha should not be growing barley, a mile and a half from Cork city centre. I have consistently raised this with the IDA and I am quite disgusted that after all of these years, we are still going barley on an IDA site a mile and half from Patrick's bridge.

I cannot comment on that specific site but I will raise it with the IDA.

If there were no available properties in the region, IDA-owned or otherwise, this would significantly diminish the agency's capacity to attract and win new investments. The IDA has just had its half year results which are the best ever. The IDA has been doing great work and we know that it punches above its weight on an international level in winning investment on a global basis.

Overseas firms need to know that there are suitable sites and facilities in an area before they commit to an investment. The suggestion that some of these IDA-owned properties are intentionally being left idle or vacant is wrong and misleading. I take the Deputy's point and will raise that particular site with the IDA.