Regional Enterprise Development Fund

Ceisteanna (24)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

24. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when successful projects under the 2019 regional enterprise development fund will be announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40866/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) is a competitive Fund that has been introduced to co-finance the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative enterprise projects that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the regions so as to help sustain and add to employment at county, regional and national level. The Scheme is also aimed at supporting the development of initiatives that help strengthen the regional ability to adjust, cope with and take advantage of the potential effects of external economic, technological and market trends and opportunities. 

The Fund, administered on my Department's behalf by Enterprise Ireland, complements in particular the work underway by regional stakeholders all around the country in implementation of my Department's Regional Enterprise Plans, and more generally, the objectives of Future Jobs Ireland and Project Ireland 2040.

Under the REDF to date, just under €60 million in total funding has been approved across 42 collaborative projects over two completed calls in 2017 and 2018. Projects have been supported in every region.

On 24 June 2019, I announced a further €45m Call 3 of the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF). This call continues to support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects.

The third call closed on 25 September 2019 and it is my intention that the successful projects will be announced before the end of the year. As part of the competitive evaluation of projects, proposals that are well advanced and ready to be implemented will be prioritised.

Call 3 of the REDF has sought projects under three Streams: 'Strategic Change Projects' capable of attracting funding of up to €5 million;  smaller scale 'Regional Strengthening Projects' that may attract from €100,000 up to €500,000; and industry led enterprise clustering initiatives that can attract funding of €50,000 to €350,000.

The Regional Enterprise Development Fund REDF also sits alongside and is complementary to the funding opportunities under Project Ireland 2040 (the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds; Climate Action; and Disruptive Technologies) which collectively provide an opportunity to strengthen the regional enterprise ecosystem throughout Ireland.

Small and Medium Enterprises

Ceisteanna (25)

Joe Carey

Ceist:

25. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when the new SME and entrepreneurship strategy will be published; the planned areas of focus; the impact the strategy will have on regional development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40963/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department has a strong focus on developing the most appropriate conditions for SMEs and entrepreneurs to grow and prosper. In March 2018, I as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation commissioned the OECD to conduct a Country Review of SME and Entrepreneurship Policies in Ireland.

This 18-month project aims to provide tailored analysis and recommendations to my Department and the wider Government on how to improve the design and implementation of national SME and entrepreneurship policies and programmes. The outcome will be founded on an assessment of the country’s current SME and entrepreneurship performance, framework conditions and policies based on international comparisons.

My Department has played a central role supporting and facilitating the OECD during this process. My officials have organised and officiated at stakeholder events throughout the process to facilitate detailed engagement between my Department, other Government Departments, agencies, academia, business representatives and small businesses themselves. This engagement has enabled the OECD to gain insightful knowledge of the Irish SME and entrepreneurship ecosystem at the various critical stages of building this report.

I have, and will continue to, champion the development of our SMEs. I will ensure that the work and findings of the OECD Review and Strategy Roadmap will be central to our Future Jobs initiative into the future.

To this end, I and Minister of State, Pat Breen TD, hosted a very successful SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy Conference, which incorporated Future Jobs Pillar 2, at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on July 12 last. The event drew over 200 attendees with a broad representation of Irish SMEs, policy makers, agency leaders, academia and international representatives.

The Taoiseach also attended and addressed the event, reinforcing the natural alignment between that of the OECD Review and the Future Jobs Initiative.  He spoke of the need to change the way we work and to focus on improving our productivity to ensure continued progress and prosperity for all Irish citizens, throughout all of the regions.

The key recommendations of the Review include:

- Publish a whole of government SME and entrepreneurship-specific national policy and strategy;

- Establish an interdepartmental committee on SMEs and entrepreneurship;

- Introduce a pre-approval procedure of R&D tax credits to help reduce uncertainty for SMEs;

- Enhance Network and cluster organisations operational capacity;

- Scale-up the policy focus of Local Enterprise Offices to include SMEs with more than 10 employees;

- Encourage a wider take-up by SMEs of Skillnet Ireland programmes especially in management capabilities, financial management and next stage digital skills;

- Implement a simple diagnostic assessment tool for micro and small enterprises that can be completed online;

- Promote SME involvement in standards development and adoption in order to enhance their productivity and facilitate supply chain linkages.

This review is currently nearing completion and I, together with Minister Breen and OECD Deputy Secretary General Knudsen will be launching it, with an accompanying SME Strategy Roadmap, on the 23rd October 2019. This will assist my Department in developing a SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy for Ireland which will be part of the Future Jobs Framework.

It is evident in the significant literature produced by the OECD that regional development is essential to drive forward our indigenous small businesses. The network of clusters and the enhancement of the LEOs, who are present in every county, is a clear indication that the development of businesses in every region will benefit Ireland as a whole. It will remain a key focus of mine.  

The final Report and Roadmap will provide my Department and the whole of Government with the necessary recommendations to progress and develop future policies specific to the needs of our business ecosystem, both on a national and regional basis.

The outcome of the OECD Review, including both the Report and the Roadmap, will provide highly valuable inputs to enable us to move on to prepare our own national SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy. Given the depth and detail of the OECD Report, and the very significant level of informed analysis both at a domestic and international level that it provides, it will be important that we distill the findings of the Report to ensure that our own national Strategy benefits fully from the comprehensive detail of the Report.

I intend to bring forward a properly informed SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy for Ireland by the end of the year.

Exports Data

Ceisteanna (26)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

26. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she will report on the performance of exports in 2019; her views on the reported decrease in exports during the second quarter of May and June 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40865/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Total exports of goods for the second quarter to June 2019 amounted to €37.6 billion which represents an increase of 8.6% on the second quarter of 2018.  Total exports for the 6 months period to June 2019 amounted to €76.5 billion which represents an increase of 10.3% compared to the same period in 2018.

While the UK is and will remain a major market for Irish companies, expanding the Irish export footprint in markets beyond the UK is a key priority. In that context, Enterprise Ireland’s strategy is to support Irish exporters to be more innovative, competitive and market diversified.

The Irish exporting landscape is strong and companies in Ireland are succeeding in winning business worldwide for their products and services.  Enterprise Ireland client companies achieved record levels of exports in 2018 of €23.8bn, against the backdrop of Brexit uncertainty. In 2018, the Eurozone region, which is a key focus of Enterprise Ireland’s diversification strategy, saw growth of 7.6% to €4.8bn, with Germany, France and the Netherlands each exceeding €1bn in exports.  Exports to North America increased from €3.87bn in 2017 to €4.08bn in 2018, an increase of 5.5%.   Our Enterprise agencies are now opening new offices around the world to support our companies in competing and thriving in global markets.  

Ministerial-led Trade Missions support the Government's major drive towards market diversification.  The majority of trade missions are taking place to the Eurozone, North America and Asia Pacific, which represent the strongest growth opportunities for Irish companies.   These Trade Missions focus on promoting the innovative capabilities and competitive offerings of Irish companies to international buyers in sectors including internationally traded services, fintech, high-tech construction, engineering, ICT and lifesciences.   

As well as the global efforts supported by our agencies, key to our success has been our commitment to trade liberalisation in order to open new markets for our indigenous sectors. The EU has successfully concluded a number of important trade agreements with trading partners and is in the process of negotiating or upgrading its agreements with many more. The existing suite of EU Free Trade Agreements and new trade deals will continue to be very important for Ireland. With a small domestic market, further expansion in other markets is essential to our continued economic growth and, in this regard, Ireland will continue to support the EU’s ambitious programme of negotiating new Free Trade Agreements, opening new markets for Irish companies and increasing export and investment opportunities.

Work Permits Applications

Ceisteanna (27)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

27. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps being taken to reduce the employment permit application processing time. [41113/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

As the economy improves and we approach full employment, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) has experienced a high volume of employment permit applications which has led to some delays in processing applications. The current level of demand is due to our economic success,

growing labour market and reduced labour surplus.

At end September 2019, 13,835 applications have been received, a 10% increase on the same time last year.  At the same time there has been a 46% increase in the amount of applications processed (13,715) compared to the same period last year.  In July 2019, Employment Permits Section processed more employment permit applications (1,828) than during any month in the past 11 years.  Quarter 3 of 2019 was the busiest Quarter in the last 11 years with 5,072 permit applications being processed so the changes currently being implemented within Employment Permits are resulting in higher outputs and reduced processing times. 

Employment Permits Section is working to further reduce the current waiting times of:

- 3 weeks for Trusted Partners which account for 73% of applications this year (down from a peak of 7 weeks).  Trusted Partners are regular users of the service.

- 12 weeks for standard applications which account for 27% of applications this year (down from a peak of 16 weeks).

Applicants are advised to apply for the employment permit at least 12 weeks in advance of the expected start date so that any impact of the current extended processing timelines on recruitment timeframes is minimised. 

In order to reduce processing times, the Employment Permits section has introduced a number of operational changes, streamlined processes and implemented ICT solutions.  Additional staffing resources have also been assigned to the section and a fast track training programme has been devised. 

An independent Business Process Review (BPR) is currently being carried out to identify further efficiencies that can be implemented in the short term and as a first step in the development of a new IT processing system during 2020 which will take advantage of all the new technologies available, including full digitisation.  The Review, which included engagement from key stakeholders, is close to completion with the report expected before the end of the year.

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Reports

Ceisteanna (28)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

28. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she will report on the study by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission into the insurance industry, including brokers; when the study will be published; the parameters of the study; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40864/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

As Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I am very aware of the serious impacts on businesses of public liability insurance costs. It is important that businesses can obtain insurance cover at a reasonable and fair price.  

In August I requested that the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) undertake a study into how the public liability insurance market operates, and, in particular how competition works in the market and whether any practice or method of competition affects the pricing levels within that market. This request was made under with Section 10 of the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2014.  

I requested the CCPC to undertake this study as I have concerns about the recently reported increases in the cost of public liability insurance on business, which has the potential to pose a systemic threat to the very existence of some businesses.

 The study will focus on how the market for public liability insurance is functioning and will make recommendations as to how any identified issues may be addressed. The CCPC commenced this work in July. They have advised me that the study is a priority.

Irish National Accreditation Board

Ceisteanna (29)

Alan Kelly

Ceist:

29. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her views on the administration of the Irish National Accreditation Board, INAB; the correspondence and-or discussions her Department has had with the INAB in 2018 and-or 2019; the correspondence and-or discussions she has had with other Departments regarding the board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40867/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) is Irelands national accreditation body appointed under EU Regulation 765/2008. INAB was established in 1985. Following the dissolution of Forfás in June 2014, INAB, which has statutory independence, became part of the Health and Safety Authority for administrative purposes. INAB is the national body with responsibility for the accreditation of certification bodies such as the National Car Testing Service, inspection bodies whose functions include the examination of material and products to determination their conformity and laboratories.

INAB offers accreditation in areas such as Environment Management, Medical Laboratory Management and Quality Management Systems. This would include such activities as; metrology, chemical, biological, mechanical and construction materials testing, for example public health laboratories which test food and water. The provision of the accreditation service is managed by the INAB executive and over-seen by the INAB Board with the support of externally contracted expertise. INAB is statutorily independent in carrying out its accreditation and certification roles. My Department has no role in relation to decisions of this nature made by INAB.

In relation to correspondence and discussions between my Department and INAB the primary nature of ongoing contact is related to the appointment of Notified Bodies. My Department is the Notifying Authority for the conformity assessment of certain products being placed on the EU internal market. If a Conformity Assessment Body applies to my Department to be appointed as a Notified Body under certain EU Directives, then the Department seeks confirmation from INAB officials that the Conformity Assessment Body has received accreditation from INAB. This arises only in relation to accreditation provided by INAB to a Conformity Assessment Body under a specific number of EU Directives and it is in this context only that my Department seeks information from INAB on individual accreditations

Officials from my Department have been in regular contact with INAB since June 2016 in relation to matters concerning accreditation processes in the context of Brexit. INAB officials have participated in a number of publicity events organised by my Department, and other Departments, in order to highlight the potential impact of Brexit on Irish businesses who currently use UK based accreditation services.

Other interactions between officials from my Department concerning INAB include interaction with the Health and Safety Authority on the financing and staffing of INAB in the context of the overall operational management and staffing of the Health and Safety Authority.

Officials from my Department met with the CEO of the Health and Safety Authority in April this year to discuss the overall organisational structure of INAB in view of upcoming five-year anniversary of INAB becoming a committee of the HSA. In particular, the HSA is keen to explore new accreditation opportunities in emerging sectors such as GDPR and cybersecurity. The Health and Safety Authority recently issued a tender to undertake a review of INAB. This report will assist the Board of the Health and Safety Authority on the appropriateness of the current structure and operation of INAB going forward.

INAB is also a member of the Market Surveillance Forum, an inter-Departmental/Agency forum, chaired by my Department, involving all the Market Surveillance Authorities within the State in addition to other relevant stakeholders. This forum meets on a quarterly basis.

The Board of INAB is appointed by the Board of the Health and Safety Authority and INAB has statutory independence in the carrying out its accreditation role. I have no reason to have correspondence or discussions with other Departments regarding how INAB carries out its accreditation function.

Job Creation

Ceisteanna (30)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

30. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she remains satisfied regarding the adequacy of investment in job creation through the medium of enterprise and innovation, with particular reference to the need to avail of new opportunities to offset anticipated losses through Brexit; the degree to which regional investment in such job creation remains integrally part policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41082/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The economy is in a strong position having recovered impressively from the financial crisis and the subsequent recession. At its peak in early 2012, the unemployment rate was 16% and almost 50,000 Irish people emigrated that year. Currently, the unemployment rate is down to 5.3% in September 2019 and there are more people employed in Ireland than ever before.

Since the launch of the first Action Plan for Jobs in Q1 2012 there has been a 20 per cent increase in employment outside Dublin. The target set out in the Programme for Government is the creation 135,000 jobs outside Dublin by 2020. As of Q2 2019, some 136,000 jobs have been created outside Dublin.

Employment has increased in six of the eight regions over the twelve months between Q2 2018 and Q2 2019. Over the year to Q2 2019 employment grew faster in the West (5.1 per cent), Border (3.9 per cent), Midland (3.3 per cent), Mid-East (3.3 per cent) and Dublin (3.1 per cent) than in the State overall (2.0 per cent). Furthermore, 52 per cent of newly employed people were living outside Dublin in the year to Q2 2019.

At a regional level, the goal is to have a further 10 to 15 per cent at work in each region by 2020 and ensure that the unemployment rate is within 1 percentage point of the State average. As of Q2 2019, six of the eight regions had unemployment rates within 1% or the national average. The exceptions to this were the Midland and South-East regions.

While we can be proud of the progress made, there is no room for complacency. Significant vulnerabilities are evident in the domestic economy such as declining productivity levels in small-to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Infrastructural constraints, skills deficits and labour availability, as well as concentrations in some sectors and markets could, unless ameliorated, impede further progress. Internationally, Brexit, growing trade protectionism and the undermining of the rules-based international trading system threaten our future economic welfare.

The Government is ambitious to build upon the gains we have made in recent years and to ensure our people enjoy higher standards of living and quality of life now, and into the future. By 2025, our workers and enterprises will be operating in a changed economy. As detailed in Enterprise 2025 – Ireland’s National Enterprise Policy 2015-2025 and Enterprise 2025 Renewed – Building Resilience in the Face of Global Challenges, we need to shift our enterprise and jobs focus to ensure quality jobs that will be resilient into the future. For these reasons, earlier this year, the Government launched Future Jobs Ireland 2019 – Preparing Now for Tomorrow’s Economy.

Future Jobs Ireland is a whole-of-Government multi-annual framework designed with the aim of integrating innovation and resilience into our economy and actioning critical elements of our national enterprise policy. It will ensure our enterprises and workers are well-positioned to adapt to the technological and other transformational changes our economy and society will face in the years ahead. Future Jobs Ireland focuses on five Pillars in the areas of:

Embracing innovation and technological change;

Improving SME productivity;

Enhancing skills and developing and attracting talent;

Increasing participation in the labour force; and

Transitioning to a low carbon economy.

Future Jobs Ireland 2019 sets out core ambitions for each of these Pillars, each backed up by a set of specific deliverables representing crucial steps toward achieving each ambition. The deliverables for 2019 represent the first stage of Future Jobs Ireland which will be built upon in subsequent annual editions.

Future Jobs Ireland builds upon and complements several Government strategies which enhance the potential of the regions in terms of economic development in particular Project Ireland 2040 which sets out an integrated spatial and public investment framework for the development of our regions to 2040. The Future Jobs Ireland agenda also aligns with the ambitions of regional initiatives such as the Regional Enterprise Plans and the Action Plan for Rural Development. The Regional Enterprise Plans foster a collaborative approach in each region, bringing together Local Authorities, the enterprise agencies, higher and further education institutions, Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), the business community, and others, to work towards a better future for their region.

A Future Jobs Ireland Summit will be held this November, bringing together key stakeholders, to help develop Future Jobs Ireland 2020. Officials from my Department, alongside officials from the Department of the Taoiseach, are now coordinating inputs from across Government Departments and agencies, business representative groups, social partners, academia, industry and other interested parties in order to develop the next iteration, Future Jobs Ireland 2020 which will be launched in the new year and which will further prepare our enterprises and people across Ireland for tomorrow's economy.

Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement

Ceisteanna (31)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

31. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the progress in strengthening the operation of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40873/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Organisational reforms in the ODCE were commenced in 2012 to enhance the capability of the Office to investigate complex breaches of company law and to ensure a more efficient and effective use of its resources.  These include:

- Reorganising the structure of the Office;

- Recruiting additional expertise, including 8 Forensic Accountants, a Digital Forensic Specialist, 2 Enforcement Portfolio Managers and 2 Enforcement Lawyers;

- As senior-level vacancies have arisen, reconfiguration of the skill sets, competencies, roles and      responsibilities associated with those posts to better reflect the organisation's current needs; 

- Amending the investigative procedures used by the Office so that members of An Garda Síochána take the lead in all criminal investigations; and

- Fostering a greater culture of risk management within  the Office.

To enhance the capability of the staff in the ODCE to investigate complex breaches of company law, specialised training was provided in December 2012 in the Garda Training College Templemore for ODCE staff to assist with statement taking, interviewing of witnesses, preparation of files for the DPP, exhibits handling and disclosure.  Garda Level 1 Interview training was also made available in 2015.

The Director of Corporate Enforcement has undertaken over the last two years a significant restructuring of the Office to better reflect the organisation’s needs in the context of both its strategic shift towards deploying resources towards more serious indications of wrongdoing and the increasingly complex environment within which the ODCE operates.

This restructuring has included the recruitment of a number of additional professional staff, including eight accounting professionals (one of whom was promoted to Enforcement Portfolio Manager), two Enforcement Portfolio Managers, two Enforcement Lawyers and a Digital Forensics Specialist, together with significant investment in a digital forensics laboratory, training and development. The recruitment and assimilation of a large number of new professional staff into a multi-disciplinary organisation that undertakes complex work in a fast-moving environment is a project that requires careful management.

In addition, one of the actions in the Government's package of Measures to Enhance Ireland’s Corporate, Economic and Regulatory Framework, published in November 2017, is the establishment of the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) as a stand-alone agency.

The General Scheme of the Companies (Corporate Enforcement Authority) Bill 2018 to establish the ODCE as a stand-alone agency was published on 4 December 2018.  The General Scheme is currently subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

Changing the structure of the ODCE from an office to a statutory agency will provide greater autonomy to the agency in relation to staffing resources and ensure it is better equipped to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law. Sourcing of expertise and specialist staff, such as forensic accountants, will be enhanced under the agency model.

The transition of the ODCE to an independent Agency will give rise to additional expertise requirements and, as such, it is prudent that those considerations should be factored into developing the roles required for the new Agency , and the associated skill set, required of the appointees.

The establishment of the ODCE as a stand-alone agency is intended to:

- Enhance the ODCE’s independence, by providing it with more autonomy, particularly the ability to recruit the required specialist skills and expertise;

- Build on its existing expertise and experience;

- Strengthen its capability to investigate increasingly complex breaches of company law; and

- Build on the organisational and procedural reforms that have been implemented.

Trade Agreements

Ceisteanna (32)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

32. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the role her Department has played in the Mercosur and Ireland-US trade deals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37382/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Common Commercial Policy, including trade, is an exclusive competence of the European Union under the EU Treaties. The European Commission acts as lead negotiator on behalf of all EU countries in relation to trade agreements with non-EU countries. Member States, in Council, approve negotiating directives (or mandates) before negotiations begin, are consulted with as the negotiations proceed, and have final approval at Council, as has the European Parliament.  I and my Department lead for Ireland on these matters.

As the Deputy will be aware, the EU concluded negotiations for an Association Agreement with Mercosur countries on 28th June, after nearly 20 years and 40 rounds of talks. This marks the EU’s largest trade deal to date and is four times the size of the trade agreement with Japan.

Irish exporters have been subject to trade tariffs, barriers and restrictions when exporting to Mercosur. This Agreement will see a significant reduction, or elimination, of tariffs and barriers to trade which will allow an increased flow of trade an investment between Ireland, the EU and the Mercosur region. The EU-Mercosur Agreement should make exports from Ireland more attractive, and potentially increase the demand for Irish products and the employment that supports.

As with every Free Trade Agreement, Ireland – like all Member States – has defensive as well as offensive interests. The Agreement with Mercosur presents sectoral opportunities for Ireland in areas such as software and services in telecoms, financial services, digital content and travel, engineering products and services, life sciences, food and beverages, and education services.

On the other hand, I was always keenly aware of the potential impact that this Agreement could present to the EU’s and Ireland’s agricultural sector. In that regard, Ireland, along with a number of other Member States, asserted early on in the negotiations that agricultural sensitivities – and beef in particular – must be fully considered in the negotiations.

Ireland has also continually highlighted the cumulative impact of agricultural market access in relation to all EU trade agreements. Our concerns have been raised at all political levels, including by myself and my officials raising the issues with counterparts, both at Trade Council of Ministers deliberations and bilaterally with the EU Commission, and with my Member State counterparts.

Further, I wrote to the EU Trade Commissioner, on 31st May this year to restate my views, which I had previously articulated at European Trade Council meetings, as well as directly with the Trade Commissioner, regarding the current challenges facing the beef sector. I had sought assurances from the Commission that the final offer on beef – an offensive demand from the Mercosur side – would ensure that:

- the tariff rate quota for beef was low,

- that phasing-in periods were designed to allow sufficient time for Irish and EU industry to adjust,

- the Commission continually monitor quota levels taking into account domestic market conditions,

- the composition of beef imports from the region would be limited in relation to fresh chilled beef, and

- robust checks would be established and monitored at points of import to the EU to ensure animal health and welfare standards have been maintained.

As recently as Tuesday of last week 1st October, in my discussions with fellow Trade Ministers at the EU Council, I reminded colleagues that while the Mercosur Agreement offered clear geopolitical and economic opportunities the beef tariff rate quota presented difficulties for Ireland given the current economic viability challenges faced by our primary producers. 

Following the conclusion of the negotiations for the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement, the Government committed to undertake full economic and environmental sustainability assessments of the political agreement. My Department, is working collaboratively with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in this regard.  These assessments will consider the impact the Agreement will have on the Irish economy and on jobs, as well as the environmental sustainability aspects of the deal. It will also consider how the EU-Mercosur Agreement might mitigate/exacerbate the likely impact of Brexit for our economy. This assessment will help to inform our future actions in relation to the EU-Mercosur Agreement.

In relation to EU-US trade, on 25th July 2018, European Commission President Juncker and President Trump met in Washington to launch a new phase in trade relations between the United States and the European Union. In a joint EU-US Statement, they agreed to:

- work together toward zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies (on non-auto industrial goods) and to work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans,

- strengthen strategic energy cooperation to potentially increase US imports of LNG to diversify the EU’s energy supply,

- launch a close dialogue on standards to ease trade barriers, reduce bureaucratic obstacles, and slash costs, and

- work closely together with like-minded partners to reform the WTO and to address unfair trading practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, industrial subsidies, distortions created by state-owned enterprises, and overcapacity.

On the foot of this joint statement, an EU-US Executive Working Group (EWG) was established to carry forward this joint agenda, co-chaired by EU Trade Commissioner and the US Trade Representative.

On 18th January 2019, the EU Commission adopted proposals, or mandates, for two negotiating directives for sector specific trade talks with the United States: one on conformity assessment (making it easier for companies to prove their products meet technical requirements on both sides of the Atlantic), and one on the elimination of tariffs for industrial goods (excluding agricultural products). After discussions by Member States in the Trade Policy Committee on a number of occasions and against the backdrop of the European Council in March 2019 calling for the ‘necessary steps towards rapid implementations of all elements of the US-EU Joint Statement of 25 July 2018’ to be taken, the EU Council voted by qualified majority on 15th April 2019 to approve both negotiating directives. These mandates enable the EU Commission, in consultation with the Member States, to work towards removing tariff and non-tariff barriers to EU-US trade in industrial goods – a key goal of the July 2018 Joint Statement.

The negotiating directives make it clear that agriculture is specifically excluded from these negotiations. This was something I had sought specific assurances on from Commissioner Malmström in Council last year.

I believe a future trade agreement between the EU and US that is targeted specifically at the sectors of conformity assessment and the removal of tariffs on industrial goods, coupled with the lifting of current US tariffs on steel and aluminium products, would be a positive development for our economy and for jobs.  In this regard, a recent economic analysis released by the EU Commission found that a targeted EU-US agreement eliminating tariffs on industrial goods would increase EU exports to the US by 8% and US exports to the EU by 9% by 2033. In this context, where Ireland and the US have a bilateral trading relationship worth more than €100 billion per annum, the potential gains for Ireland, and resultant employment, from an EU-US trade agreement would be very positive.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (33)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

33. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the measures being put in place to assist businesses that may experience unanticipated breaks in their supply chain as a result of a possible hard Brexit despite their best efforts to address these issues in advance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40872/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Since 2016, my Department has worked with the enterprise development agencies, businesses and representative bodies to ensure we have the appropriate mix of supports for businesses to prepare and manage through whatever Brexit we may face over the coming period. 

The most immediate consequences of a hard Brexit are likely to be currency movements, supply chain constraints, delays, duties and tariffs. In the first instance, this will put a strain on the working capital position of businesses. I am progressing legislation to increase the amount which Microfinance Ireland can lend from €25k to up to €50k, which increases support to any microenterprise employing 10 or less. This will support an additional 1,000 enterprises with short term loans.

For higher working capital challenges, the €300 million Brexit Loan Scheme provides loans of up to €1.5 million at a rate of 4% or less and approval is valid for 4 months. I would advise businesses to secure approval now, to be ready for any scenario.

For longer term loan requirements, the Future Growth Loan Scheme, is another €300 million for investment by SMEs, primary agriculture and seafood business. Both Government Schemes are administered by the SBCI and delivered through the banks.

Most recently, the joint Skillnet and Enterprise Ireland Clear Customs Scheme was launched on 7th August to help customs agents, intermediaries and affected Irish businesses deal with additional customs requirements.   This is a free customs training programme delivered nationwide by Skillnet coupled with €3 million funding which I allocated to Enterprise Ireland for a support payment of up to €6,000 per employee to help with extra costs to manage customs compliance.

The large suite of supports available also include the Brexit Scorecard, Grant aid, Consultancy, Mentoring, Advisory Clinics, Agile Innovation Fund, Operational Excellence Offer and Market Discovery Fund. These supports help companies consider various risks such as supply chain vulnerabilities and act to mitigate against them.

 All of these supports are critical for businesses in the highly vulnerable border areas and for exporters who are heavily exposed to the UK market in sectors such as construction, engineering and food.

I recently collaborated with the Accountancy Bodies of Ireland on four breakfast Brexit briefing events between July and September covering a number of counties in the border regions that are likely to be most impacted by Brexit.  The events took place in Cavan (4 July), Monaghan (8 July), Donegal (25 July) and Louth (23 September), with over 500 in attendance.

These Brexit events covered a broad range of important topics to help businesses prepare for Brexit such as customs, supply chain, cashflow and accreditation. The events provided an opportunity for me to speak directly to companies impacted by Brexit in the border region, and for these companies to hear first-hand from a large number of Government Agencies about the range of supports available to assist them with their Brexit preparations. Representatives from the Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland, InterTrade Ireland, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine attended the events to engage with businesses.

Capital Expenditure Programme

Ceisteanna (34)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

34. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the details of each State infrastructure project that is in development or is due for completion in 2019 in which it is in excess of the budget assigned to the project for its current stage to date. [39522/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I would advise the Deputy that my Department does not provide any direct funding to support State infrastructure projects. Capital expenditure by my Department is mainly by way of grants to support the multi-annual capital investment programmes of our Enterprise Development and Innovation Agencies.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (35)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

35. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the supports she is putting in place to help support businesses through Brexit both nationally and in Border counties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40960/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses nationwide are prepared for Brexit. While we cannot yet know the form that Brexit will take, these measures aim to assist businesses in identifying key risk areas and practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Brexit is my top priority at this time and was central to my decision-making on the allocation of the additional €14.2m Current and €65m Capital funding I secured as part of Budget 2019. An additional €5 million capital funding has been allocated to the Local Enterprise Offices, which represents an increase of 22%, and a further €1 million allocated to InterTradeIreland to help SMEs prepare for the particular North-South challenges associated with Brexit.

I have also allocated an additional €3m to Enterprise Ireland and €2m to IDA Ireland in 2019 to expand their global footprints and drive the diversification of trade and investment.  Additional resources have been distributed across Science Foundation Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority and the NSAI for 2019 to support enterprises as they adjust to the new relationship with the UK and pursue new opportunities.

InterTradeIreland’s [ITI] Brexit Advisory Service provides a focal point for SMEs working to navigate any changes in cross-border trading relationships arising as a result of Brexit. As part of this service, ITI has organised a series of awareness-raising events focused on improving knowledge of customs processes and procedures and identifying actions that can be taken in areas such as logistics and supply chain management. This year to the 27th of September, more than 4,500 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service.

ITI’s Brexit Planning Voucher scheme aims to enable businesses to seek professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for Brexit. This support helps businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, and regulatory and customs issues.  Vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. To the 27th of September, 1,893 applications have been submitted for the Voucher, 1,630 of which have been approved.

In March, ITI launched a further financial support in the form of the Brexit Implementation voucher, which offers financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50% towards implementing critical changes in relation to Brexit matters.

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business, including businesses in the border counties.  The LEOs have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. 1,017 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit this year to the 27th of September. Since February, the LEOs have offering customs training workshops to support businesses trading with third countries in advance of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. To the 27 September, there have been 917 training participants.

The LEOs engage in a number of other schemes to help businesses prepare for Brexit. The Technical Assistance Grant for Micro Export is offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. As of 27 September, 729 LEO clients were approved assistance under the grant.

In addition, the six LEOs in the Border region are working together with their Northern Ireland counterparts under the EU Co-Innovate Programme.  The aim of Co-Innovate is to give SMEs from the manufacturing and tradeable services sectors in the eligible regions the tools and tailored support to help them to innovate, differentiate and compete successfully.

In Quarter one of this year, I launched nine new Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, including Plans for the North East and the North West. These Plans build on the very strong progress made on employment creation under the Regional Action Plan for Jobs 2015-2017. The new Plans will ensure that regional stakeholders continue to work together to help achieve the Government’s 2020 targets for regional employment taking account of new and emerging opportunities and challenges, including Brexit.

In June, I launched my Department's new Regional Enterprise Development Fund Call 3 for €45m in competitive funding which has a strong emphasis on building resilience in our enterprise base in the context of Brexit.

The Brexit Loan Scheme was launched in March 2018. It provides relatively short-term working capital, up to 3 years, to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges.  The scheme is open to eligible businesses from all regions of the country, including those in the Border counties. Dublin aside, the most recently available quarterly report shows that the border region is the most active region in terms of eligibility applications for the scheme. As of 27 September, there have been 816 eligibility applications received, of which 738 have been approved and 153 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €43.52 million. It should be noted that 153 of total applications received relate to repeat / duplicate applications.

The Future Growth Loan Scheme opened for eligibility applications in April 2019.  This scheme provides a longer-term facility, 8 to 10 years, of up to €300m to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit environment by business at competitive rates. This scheme has been jointly funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to make available loans of €100,000 (€50,000 for primary agriculture) to €3 million, with loans of under €500,000 being provided on an unsecured basis.  The scheme is open to eligible Irish businesses, including those in the primary agriculture and seafood sectors, to support strategic, long-term investment in a post-Brexit environment.  As of 27 September, there have been 1,353 eligibility applications received, of which 1,283 have been approved and 270 loans progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €43.805 million.

Enterprise Ireland [EI] has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, as well as an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help Irish businesses self-asses their exposure to Brexit and a “Be Prepared Grant” to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit.  It has also launched a new Eurozone Strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK.

Over 6,500 businesses have used Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Scorecard to date and 85% of EI client firms are now taking actions, while 216 applications for the Be Prepared grant have been approved.  288 EI clients have received funding under its “Act On” programme, which supports the engagement of a consultant to help clients identify weaknesses and improve resilience. 

EI’s Customs Insights course helps businesses looking at customs for the first time to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes. The course advises on the key actions companies can take to prepare for Brexit and highlights the various supports available. To the 27 September, there have been 1,706 Customs Insights Course participants.

In order to help build enterprise capability, under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) EI invested in seven successful projects in the Border region with a total funding allocation of more than €10.6 million.  This funding will drive enterprise development and job creation in the Border Region. Enterprise Ireland will continue to engage with its clients to ensure they have the supports required to prepare for any kind of Brexit. In June, at a visit to the recently opened Cavan Digital Hub, I announced that I will be making a further €45 million available under the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF).

My Department and I have participated in the whole-of-Government 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' public information campaign. This campaign features workshop events throughout the country, aimed primarily at business and people most impacted by Brexit, including events in Monaghan and Donegal. In addition to these events, Enterprise Ireland has rolled out a series of Brexit Advisory Clinics to help businesses across the country, including events in Dundalk, Letterkenny and Cootehill over recent weeks.

While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the lasting uncertainty around the Brexit process may be leading businesses to defer their Brexit preparations.  The UK’s exit from the EU will bring change for Irish businesses and I want businesses, particularly those around the Border counties to know my Department and agencies are here to help.

IDA Ireland Jobs Data

Ceisteanna (36)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

36. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of new jobs created by the IDA in 2018; the percentage of these jobs which were outside Dublin; the efforts being made to increase IDA employment in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40961/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Regional development has been a top priority of mine ever since becoming Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. Together with my Department and its enterprise Agencies, I have been focused on strengthening investment and job creation all over the country. That was the case in 2018 and 2019 and our collective emphasis on regional development will continue in 2020.

With respect to 2018 in particular, 56% of all net new jobs created by IDA Ireland were in locations outside Dublin. Similarly, every region in Ireland, including the North-East Region, posted net gains in jobs last year. There are now over 132,000 people employed across approximately 700 firms in IDA client companies outside the capital. In fact, 58% of all IDA-supported employment is now outside of Dublin. This represents the highest number of people employed in the regions by IDA clients in the Agency’s history. It also reflects the absolute importance that the Agency and Government have attached to increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) outside of our main urban areas.

As for County Louth, FDI levels in the County are trending in the right direction. Louth experienced a 3.5% increase in FDI employment in 2018, with 28 IDA-supported client companies now based there. Those same firms employ over 3,900 people, with 139 net new jobs added in 2018. IDA client firms in Louth are continuing to grow and develop. Last year alone saw announcements from Almac, Wuxi and PCI, which will result in the creation of over 700 jobs. The investment by Wuxi was particularly significant, with construction beginning earlier this year on the company's €325 million state-of-the-art facility in Dundalk.

Looking ahead, the IDA will continue to draw the attention of investors to Louth and the Border region. The Agency's Regional Property Programme (RPP) is important in that context by helping provide property solutions for overseas companies considering locating in the area. Construction is progressing, for example, on an office building in County Louth which will be completed this year. The RPP also includes plans for an Advanced Technology Building in Dundalk and construction is expected to begin on this facility at the end of this year. The wider Border region will benefit as well from the RPP, with new buildings planned for Sligo and Monaghan. I am confident that these facilities, together with the wider work the IDA is undertaking to promote the region to overseas investors, will help attract further investment and generate new employment opportunities to the Counties concerned.

Regional Enterprise Development Fund Data

Ceisteanna (37)

Pat Deering

Ceist:

37. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of applications received under the 2019 regional enterprise development fund; when she plans to announce successful applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40964/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) is a competitive Fund that has been introduced to co-finance the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative enterprise projects that can make a significant impact on enterprise development in the regions so as to help sustain and add to employment at county, regional and national level. The Scheme is also aimed at supporting the development of initiatives that help strengthen the capacity of regions to adjust and cope with the potential effects of external economic challenges and opportunities.

The Fund, administered on my Department's behalf by Enterprise Ireland, complements in particular the work underway by regional stakeholders all around the country in implementation of my Department's Regional Enterprise Plans, and more generally, the objectives of Future Jobs Ireland and Project Ireland 2040.

Under the REDF to date, just under €60 million in total funding has been approved across 42 collaborative projects over two completed calls in 2017 and 2018. Projects have been supported in every region.

On 24 June 2019, I announced a further €45m Call 3 of the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF). This call continues to support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects.

This Third Call closed on 25 September 2019, and a total of 57 eligible applications were received by Enterprise Ireland. It is my intention that the successful projects will be announced before the end of the year.

Call 3 of the REDF has sought projects under three Streams: 'Strategic Change Projects' capable of attracting funding of up to €5 million;  smaller scale 'Regional Strengthening Projects' that may attract from €100,000 up to €500,000; and industry led enterprise clustering initiatives that can attract funding of €50,000 to €350,000.

The Regional Enterprise Development Fund REDF also sits alongside and is complementary to the funding opportunities under Project Ireland 2040 (the Rural and Urban Regeneration and Development Funds; Climate Action; and Disruptive Technologies) which collectively provide an opportunity to strengthen the regional enterprise ecosystem throughout Ireland.

State Aid

Ceisteanna (38)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

38. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if she formally submitted a request or is preparing to submit a request at EU level to revise State aid rules as set out in Regulation (EU) No 1407/2013 to protect exposed enterprises and exporters here from Brexit. [41109/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department has been working closely with the EU Commission and DG Competition since November 2017 through the Irish/EU Technical Working Group on State Aid.  The Group comprises representatives from DG Comp, my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Enterprise Ireland.  The objective of the Group has been to scope and design schemes to support enterprises impacted by Brexit in line with State Aid rules.  This includes exploring all opportunities under EU Regulation No. 1407/2013 (De Minimis Regulation).

Through the mechanism of the Technical Working Group Ireland has fully utilised the provisions of the State aid framework to enable the investment by Enterprise Ireland of €74 million in Brexit impacted businesses in 2018.  Options available through the Agriculture Guidelines are also being developed to support large food companies.

State Aid approval was received in February for capital investment by Enterprise Ireland in an Irish cheese producing company, Carbery Food Ingredients Ltd, to help the company towards financing a €65m diversification project to mitigate the impacts of Brexit, and dialogue is ongoing with the Commission to obtain State aid approval for a scheme to support the transformation of companies in the food processing sector.  

On 24th January 2019, I met with the European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager.  The meeting focused on the severe challenges that Irish businesses will face as a result of Brexit and the need for appropriate and timely State supports.  It was agreed that Irish officials will continue to work closely with the Commissioner's team in addressing any State Aid issues that may arise, including the De Minimis Regulation No. 1407/2013, to ensure a rapid and appropriate response as the firm-level implications of Brexit become known.  The Commissioner has emphasised that the Commission stands ready to act urgently in mitigation against the impacts of Brexit on Irish firms, and my officials continue to work with DG Competition, as part of the Technical Working Group.

Work Permits Data

Ceisteanna (39)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

39. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the number of persons currently on work permits and attached to a singular employer and-or sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38877/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The State's general policy is to promote the sourcing of labour and skills needs from within Ireland and other EEA states.  Where specific skills prove difficult to source within Ireland and the EEA, the employment permits system offers a conduit into the Irish labour market for non-EEA nationals with in-demand skills and is operated as a vacancy led system.  

As at 24th September 2019, the number of valid employment permits is 11,436.  Each employment permit links an employee with an employer. This practice is the norm internationally.

Normally the holder of an employment permit is required to remain with their first employment for a period of 12 months after which time there is no restriction on changing employer.  This requirement strikes a reasonable balance between, on the one hand, the employer’s expectations that the foreign national remain in his or her employment for a reasonable period of time given the costs involved in recruiting that foreign national and, on the other hand, not unduly binding the foreign national to the employer.  A new employment permit is required prior to commencement of employment with any new employer.

In certain circumstances, during this initial 12-month period with their first employer, a new application for an employment permit may be considered for instances such as:

- redundancy, or

- where circumstances (unforeseen at time of application) arise in the employment that fundamentally change the employment relationship (e.g. the employer plans to change the location of the business to a site a significant distance from its current location, or the hours of work are being significantly changed, or significant changes are being made to the nature of the work that the foreign national is required to do).

If the criteria in this regard are met then a non-EEA national may submit a new employment permit application following all of the procedures for the relevant employment permit type and it will be considered in line with the provisions of the Employment Permits Acts.  All such applications should include documentary evidence and/or supporting documentation explaining the circumstances in the particular case e.g. P45, letter from the current employer confirming redundancy/change in employment terms etc. .

Statistics in relation to companies issued with permits and permits issued by sector is available on the Department’s website and can be accessed through this link: https://dbei.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Workplace-and-Skills/Employment-Permits/Statistics/.

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Ceisteanna (40)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

40. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to support small businesses in north western areas of County Cork ; the way in which she plans to address the challenges they are facing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41126/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department and its agencies are working hard to support small businesses to give them the tools and assistance they need to grow and flourish. Regional development is a key priority of the Government and I am focused on supporting and sustaining existing employment levels while also working to create new economic opportunities and jobs in the regions, including Co. Cork.  

Earlier this year I launched the Regional Enterprise Plans to 2020, a refresh and refocus of the Regional Action Plan for Jobs, which includes the South-West Regional Enterprise Plan, covering counties Cork and Kerry. The priority focus of the Plan is on building capability and resilience in the region’s enterprise base, developing the region’s enterprise hubs and tourism sector, supporting growth in the region’s marine and maritime sector and ensuring the availability of skills and talent to underpin the region’s economic growth potential.

The enterprise agencies under my remit play a key role in achieving those objectives, with a comprehensive range of supports provided to companies by Enterprise Ireland, the Local Enterprise Offices and IDA Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland is actively working with companies with global ambition in Co. Cork to drive competitiveness, innovation and market diversification. In 2018, 24,444 people were employed in Enterprise Ireland supported companies in Co. Cork. Enterprise Ireland has also approved funding for a number of projects in Co. Cork under Calls 1 and 2 of the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), with the South-West Region securing funding of over €10.8 million.

The network of 31 Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) nationwide is a very useful first port of call for small businesses seeking supports and for people who wish to start their own business. LEO Cork North & West has been engaging extensively with local businesses in the North Cork area this year, with a wide range of programmes delivered, including Trading Online Seminars, Start Your Own Business & 10 Steps to Self-Employment Programme, Management Development Programmes including LEAN for Micro, and tailored programmes to support Female Entrepreneurship.

Last week, as part of the LEO Competitive Fund 2019-2020, I approved funding of €100,000 to support the LINC cluster of 40 engineering firms in the North Cork and East/ West Limerick area. LINC works on behalf of member companies to build and deepen linkages with other businesses, third level institutions and Regional Skills Forums.

Cork has traditionally been a strong performer in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI). This trend is continuing, with a steady and positive increase in employment numbers in IDA Ireland client companies in the County over the past number of years. There are currently 169 IDA client companies in Cork, employing approximately 38,867 people.

While progress has been made in helping to generate new economic opportunities at a regional level, the Government remains committed to achieve even more. Accordingly, my Department and its agencies will continue its efforts to secure quality and sustainable jobs throughout the regions, including in north-west Co. Cork.

Brexit Supports

Ceisteanna (41)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

41. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the various schemes offered to assist businesses in preparing for Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41127/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

As the nature of the UK's departure from the EU still remains to be determined, Brexit continues to represent a significant challenge for businesses in Ireland, one which cannot be underestimated. That is why my Department and its agencies have put in place extensive supports, schemes and advisory resources to ensure that businesses around the country are prepared for Brexit. These measures aim to assist businesses in identifying and managing key risk areas and develop practical preparatory actions regardless of the circumstances of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The Local Enterprise Offices [LEOs] are the first-stop-shop for anyone seeking guidance and support on starting or growing their business. The LEOs have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit.

In addition, over 1,000 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. Technical Assistance Grants for Micro Export are offered as an incentive for LEO clients to explore and develop new market opportunities. 729 LEO clients have been approved for the Grant.

The Local Enterprise Office interactive one day Prepare Your Business for Customs workshop helps businesses understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes required to succeed in a post Brexit environment. 917 Participants have so far attended this Customs Training.

InterTrade Ireland also plays a major role as part of Ireland’s Brexit response and offers Brexit-related advisory services to eligible businesses. So far this year, more than 4,500 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service. 

ITI offers a Brexit Planning Voucher and Brexit Implementation Voucher schemes, which enables businesses to get professional advice on how best to plan, prepare and implement for the UK's withdrawal from the European Union. These supports help businesses obtain advice on specific areas such as tariffs, currency management, regulatory and customs issues and movement of labour, goods and services.

ITI Brexit Planning Vouchers are worth up to €2,250 (inclusive of VAT) each. Over 1,800 businesses have applied for a Brexit Start to Plan voucher, of which over 1,600 have been approved. ITI new Brexit Implementation Voucher provides financial support up to £5,000/€5,625 (inclusive of VAT), with InterTradeIreland paying 50%. This will support businesses in implementing critical changes making them better prepared to deal with a new trading relationship.

In August, ITI launched a new advertising campaign and a new online resource to encourage and assist firms in preparing for Brexit. The online “Bitesize Brexit” resource is a one-stop-shop for cross-border traders, presenting information in easily digestible segments and includes specific actions businesses should take in preparing for Brexit.

The Brexit Loan Scheme was launched in March of 2018. The Scheme, using a combination of Irish Exchequer and EU guarantees, leveraged up to €300 million of lending at a maximum interest rate 4% at a cost to the Exchequer of €23 million - €14 million provided by my Department and €9 million provided by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The Brexit Loan Scheme provides relatively short-term working capital, 1 to 3 years, to eligible businesses with up to 499 employees to help them to innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. Businesses can confirm their eligibility with the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and, if deemed eligible, can apply to one of the participating finance providers for a loan under the scheme. 

As at 27 September, there have been 816 applications for eligibility under the scheme, of which 738 have been approved to date by SBCI. 194 of those applications have progressed to sanction at bank value, to a total value of €43.5 million. It is important to note that 153 of total applications received relate to repeat / duplicate applications.

The Future Growth Loan Scheme launched in March. The scheme provides a longer-term facility, 8 to 10 years, of up to €300m to support strategic capital investment for a post-Brexit environment by business at competitive rates. This scheme is jointly funded by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (€37.2 million) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (€24.8 million) at a total cost to the Exchequer of €62 million.

This scheme is available to eligible businesses in Ireland and the primary agriculture (farmers) and seafood sectors to support strategic long-term investment. The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, the scheme operator, opened for eligibility applications on 17 April and up to 27 September it received 1,353 eligibility applications and issued 1,283 eligibility letters. 270 applications have progressed to sanction at bank level to a value of €43.8 million.

Enterprise Ireland has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, as well as an online “Brexit SME Scorecard” to help Irish businesses self-asses their exposure to Brexit and a “Be Prepared Grant” to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit. It has also launched a new Eurozone Strategy to help SMEs broaden their export footprint beyond the UK.

Over 6,500 business have used Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit Scorecard to date and 85% of EI client firms have a plan in place, while 216 applications for the Be Prepared grant have been approved. 288 EI clients have received funding under its “Act On” programme, which supports the engagement of a consultant to help clients identify weaknesses and improve resilience. EI has also hosted 16 Brexit Advisory Clinics.

EI also launched a Customs Insights Online course at the beginning of the year. This is a new online training support to help all businesses understand how customs work including the documentation and process required to operate and succeed post Brexit. The Customs Insights course explains in clear and simple terms the main customs rules and included the key actions companies can take to prepare for customs after Brexit and the options from Revenue that are available to make the customs process more efficient. This will be available for any company to use whether they are importers or exporters and also whether they are agency clients or not. There have been over 1,700 Customs Insights Course participants.

Enterprise Ireland also recently launched twelve ‘Brexit Essential’ questions aimed at helping exporting businesses further prepare and take action ahead of the UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU.  The Brexit Essentials campaign highlights the key questions and documentation that businesses need to address in order to trade successfully with the UK post 31 October.

My Department, together with the Department of Education and Science, in association with key industry partners, also launched a new support measure to help customs agents, intermediaries and affected Irish businesses develop the capacity to deal with the additional customs requirements due to the UK’s departure from the EU. The new initiative is called Clear Customs, and it comprises of a free customs training programme provided through Skillnet and a financial support payment from Enterprise Ireland to assist with the costs of recruiting and assigning staff to customs roles in addition to necessary customs IT requirements. As of the 27th of September, 168 applications have been made to access financial support through the scheme.

While I have seen a very positive uptake of the supports available, I am conscious that the delays to Brexit may have led businesses to defer their immediate planning. However, the UK’s exit from the EU will mean changes for Irish businesses. I want businesses to know that my Department and its agencies are here to help.  The existing supports, schemes and advice are in place to ensure that businesses are prepared for any Brexit scenario.

Departmental Meetings

Ceisteanna (42)

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

42. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if her Department or the IDA have held meetings or had interactions with business or company regarding the possibility of multinationals providing housing in cities here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41104/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I am not aware of any such meetings or interactions between officials of my Department or the IDA with multinational firms in relation to this.

Regarding housing, the well-documented challenges we have faced in increasing our supply are complex and multifaceted. It is important to emphasise that these difficulties are not attributable to overseas firms or the jobs they have created here.

Housing remains an absolute priority for the Government and intensive work is continuing to provide solutions, both now and in the future. The Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan – which includes a range of initiatives and actions aimed at increasing the supply of affordable and quality homes – is already producing results, especially in terms of completed dwellings. Work on the implementation of that Plan is continuing and the Government is doing everything it can to increase housing availability.

Overseas firms operating in Ireland are aware of the housing challenges we are facing. But they understand too how much of a priority this is for Government and what has been done to increase supply. It’s important to remember as well that many of the countries Ireland competes against for foreign direct investment have difficulties of their own when it comes to residential housing. That doesn’t diminish our own housing challenges – which we remain determined to address – but it does serve as a reminder that these are problems that many other States are also wrestling with.

Taoiseach's Communications

Ceisteanna (43)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

43. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his telephone conversations with the UK Prime Minister Mr. Boris Johnson on 2 October 2019. [41238/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Taoiseach)

I spoke by phone with Prime Minister Johnson on Wednesday 2 October when we discussed the latest UK Government’s proposals for a new protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

I explained to the Prime Minister that the proposals do not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop. However, I indicated that I would study them in further detail, and would consult with the EU institutions, including the Task Force, and our EU partners. I told Prime Minister Johnson that I want to see a deal agreed and ratified, and will continue to work, in unity with our EU partners, to this end.

I spoke to the Prime Minister again on the evening of 8 October when we discussed the latest position on the UK Government's proposals. While there are wide differences between the EU and UK positions on the consent mechanism and customs arrangements, both of us strongly reiterated our desire to reach a Brexit deal. I will work until the very last moment to secure a deal, but not at any cost.

We hope to meet in person later this week.