Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (52)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

52. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the emergency contingencies and supports in place to safeguard SMEs and export businesses here from all Brexit scenarios. [50137/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Government, my Department, our enterprise development agencies and regulatory bodies will continue to be ready for all Brexit scenarios. As announced by the Minister for Finance in Budget 2020, provisions are in place for the Brexit Contingency funding of €650 million, in the event of a no-deal Brexit. As there is no certainty yet on the timeline or likely impact of the United Kingdom withdrawal from the European Union the money will not be made available until it is required. This will be assessed at different stages over the coming months.

If there is a ‘No Deal’ €220 million will be made available immediately from Government. Of this, I will be making €110 million available to help vulnerable but viable businesses. Supports measures will include a €45 million Transition Fund, €42 million for a Rescue and Restructuring Fund, €8 million for a Transformation Fund for Food and Non-Food businesses, together with €5 million extra for Micro Finance Ireland, €5 million for a Local Enterprise Offices Emergency Brexit Fund and €2m extra for Intertrade Ireland. I will also provide €3m extra for Regulatory Bodies.

In addition, the Minister for Finance is providing €40 million in a 'No Deal' Scenario to support Tourism, if necessary. €110m will also be provided through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to support our beef sector and food companies. €410 million is also to be provided for the Live Register and Employment Supports.

We are continuing our engagement with business on preparing for Brexit. The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. The LEOs also offer customs training workshops, and a number of other schemes to help businesses prepare for Brexit.

InterTradeIreland [ITI’s] Brexit Planning Voucher enables businesses to seek professional advice on how best to plan and prepare for Brexit. The ITI Brexit Implementation Voucher offers further financial support.

The Brexit Loan Scheme provides working capital, up to three years, to eligible businesses to help them innovate, change or adapt to mitigate their Brexit challenges. The Future Growth Loan Scheme provides a longer-term facility, 8-10 years, to support strategic investment for a post-Brexit environment. Loans of under €500,000 are provided on an unsecured basis to eligible Irish businesses, including those in the primary agriculture and seafood sectors.

Enterprise Ireland [EI] has established a Prepare for Brexit online portal and communications campaign, and a “Be Prepared Grant” to support SME clients in planning to mitigate risks arising from Brexit.

EI’s Customs Insights course helps businesses looking at customs for the first time to understand the key customs concepts, documentation and processes.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (53)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

53. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the uptake of supports to companies to offset the negative impact of Brexit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49934/19]

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.

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. So far, more than 5,300 SMEs have directly engaged with the Brexit Advisory Service this year.

ITI’s Brexit Planning Voucher 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 date, 2,064 applications have been submitted for the Voucher, 1,780 of which have been approved. The ITI Brexit Implementation Voucher offers further financial support to implement Brexit plans.

The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) have organised various events to enable companies to learn about the potential impacts and opportunities of Brexit. The LEOs also offer customs training workshops, and a number of other schemes to help businesses prepare for Brexit. To date, more than 1,200 LEO clients have received one-to-one mentoring solely focused on Brexit. The LEOs also offer customs training workshops. To date, there have been more than 1,500 training participants.

The Brexit Loan Scheme provides relatively short-term working capital, up to three years, to eligible businesses to mitigate their Brexit challenges. To date, there have been 898 eligibility applications received, of which 810 have been approved and 214 loans progressed to sanction to a value of €46.68 million.

The Future Growth Loan Scheme facilitates longer-term investment, for terms of 8-10 years, for a post-Brexit environment. To date, 535 firms have been approved loans by Bank of Ireland, KBC and Ulster Bank, to a total value of €101.2 million. AIB recently began offering loans under the scheme and have a pipeline of applications from SBCI.

While I am pleased to have seen a positive uptake of the range of Brexit supports available, I am also 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.

Small and Medium Enterprises

Ceisteanna (54)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

54. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the status of the development of a new SME and entrepreneurship strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50117/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I commissioned the OECD to undertake the Review of SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland and I met with the OECD Secretary General Gurria in March 2018 on my key priorities for the review. This Review which I published last month provides seminal new research examining the policy environment for SMEs and entrepreneurship in Ireland, the scale of which has not been delivered before. I commissioned the OECD Review as I wanted an external view of how our SME sector is performing. I wanted to be clear on where the strengths and weaknesses of our indigenous businesses are, where the relevant programmes are working and where we may need to consider policy changes. 

As part of the Review, the OECD met over 100 stakeholders including representative bodies, businesses and officials across government as part of their two study missions in 2018. To consider the emerging recommendations from the OECD,  I hosted a major SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy Conference in July of this year, with the Taoiseach as the Keynote speaker. The final report was considered by Government in October prior to its publication.

I am working with my Department officials on how best to progress implementation of the key recommendations in the OECD report and I intend to bring forward a national strategic document for SME and entrepreneurship policy outlining planned policy interventions in the near future. This strategy will set out the policy vision, objectives, targets, lines of action and performance indicators specific to SMEs and entrepreneurship. It will cover all areas of policy intervention and all SME and entrepreneurship populations. The new SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy will be a living document which will continuously evolve in line with enterprise needs.

The implementation of the OECD Review will be a key part of Future Jobs 2020, which I will publish early in the new year. Future Jobs 2020 will outline the planned policy interventions to support the SME sector and entrepreneurship next year together with targets, lines of action and performance indicators specific to SMEs and entrepreneurship.

To ensure we sustain the excellent stakeholder engagement we have had on SME and Entrepreneurship Policy as part of the OECD Review, I have established a new SME and Entrepreneurship Consultative Group, chaired by my colleague Pat Breen TD, Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection. This new Consultative Group provides a platform for high-level structured engagement between Government, agencies, representative bodies and small businesses.

Over 40 stakeholders attended the inaugural meeting of this new Consultative Group in March of this year and together with my Department, they will provide the essential oversight needed to progress the conclusions and recommendations from the OECD Review. The Group has met twice over recent months and will continue to meet quarterly. My Department provides Secretariat to the Group.

Regional Enterprise Development Fund

Ceisteanna (55)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

55. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when she expects to announce successful projects under the 2019 regional enterprise development fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49960/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Deputy will be aware that the Regional Enterprise Development Fund (REDF) was introduced to support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects that can sustain and add to employment at county, regional and national level.  The REDF, which is administered by Enterprise Ireland, has been an effective instrument of policy particularly as a complement to my Department’s Regional Enterprise Plans where it has served as an enabler for projects emerging from that regional collaborative process. 

The REDF 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 the country. 

To date, the REDF has been delivered through two competitive calls with 42 projects across all regions securing a total of just under €60 million in all regions. 

On the 24 June 2019, I announced a further €45 million Call 3 of the Regional Enterprise Development Fund.  Call 3 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.   This Call will continue to support the development and implementation of collaborative and innovative projects in every region.  To ensure a greater regional spread of the funding, each region has the opportunity to secure a minimum of €2 million in REDF funding once projects have met the minimum qualifying standard according to the criteria set down by Enterprise Ireland. 

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the eligible projects submitted under Call 3 are currently being evaluated and I expect the process to be completed over the coming weeks, which will enable me to make an announcement on the successful projects in the coming weeks.

Commercial Rates

Ceisteanna (56)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

56. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to assist businesses with escalating commercial rates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49943/19]

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 and consumers of high costs. It is important that consumers and businesses can obtain services at a reasonable and fair price.

I have no role with regard to the setting of commercial rates. The rates paid by individual rate-payers is a factor of the valuation carried out by the independent Commissioner for Valuation and the Annual Rate of Valuation (ARV), decided by local authority members. The Government has consistently encouraged local authorities to show restraint in terms of ARV increases, in order to support local businesses.   

In terms of supports for business funding for my Department in 2020 will be close to €1 billion, a 2% increase on 2019. This will enable continued support for businesses by the Department and enterprise agencies. The Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) are the first-stop-shop service assisting in delivering business growth and jobs for the small & micro-enterprise sector. The LEOs undertake a number of activities to support enterprise growth and development. Enterprise Ireland is focused on helping export-focused clients across all sectors grow. Brexit will pose particular difficulties for SMEs and a suite of supports, including the Brexit loan scheme and the future growth loan scheme, are already in place.

Flexible Work Practices

Ceisteanna (57, 65, 86, 93)

Tom Neville

Ceist:

57. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if proposals will be brought forward to encourage remote working among businesses; her views on the way in which remote working can support regional development; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50116/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Deering

Ceist:

65. Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if proposals will be brought forward to encourage remote working among businesses; her views on the way in which remote working can support regional development in counties such as County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50129/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Carey

Ceist:

86. Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when the research work of her Department on remote working will be completed; the steps she plans to take to further promote and encourage remote working here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49997/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

93. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to promote and encourage new and developing work practices in County Meath such as working from home initiatives and working from tech hubs and hot desks. [49963/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 57, 65, 86 and 93 together.

As Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, I understand the opportunities presented by the increased adoption of flexible working solutions in the workplace. This is addressed under Pillar 4 of the Government’s Future Jobs Ireland strategy. Pillar 4 is focussed on increasing participation in the labour force as this will lead to the more equitable, balanced and sustainable development of Ireland’s workforce.

Pillar 4 of Future Jobs Ireland outlines a number of key ambitions and deliverables to help to increase participation in the labour force. A number of these ambitions are centred on flexible working solutions which can offer benefits for employers, employees and wider society in general. Flexible working encompasses a wide range of practices including part-time, compressed hours, job sharing, home-working and remote working. Such solutions allow for tangible benefits for employees including improving their work-life balance. It also provides solutions for those who would otherwise take unpaid parental leave but cannot afford to do so.

A deliverable under this Pillar is the completion of research on remote working. My Department is currently leading on this research which focusses on understanding the prevalence and types of remote working arrangements within the Irish workforce and the attitudes towards such arrangements. The research will identify the influencing factors for both employers and employees partaking in remote working. The research will also include an international policy review which will consider related policies abroad in order to understand the impacts of this on remote working.

To assist this work, an Interdepartmental Steering Group has been formed with representatives from my Department, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Department of Rural and Community Development, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of An Taoiseach. This Group is providing guidance and feedback to the members of my Department who are leading on this report.

To date, the research has included desk research, quantitative research and important engagement with key stakeholders, including employer representative bodies and remote working interest groups. As part of the consultation process, my Department held a Remote Working Consultation Forum on July 18th of this year in Cavan Digital Hub. This was attended by Government Departments, State Agencies, enterprises, and the remote working community. This insights arising from this event will be included in the final report.

Further to this, my Department launched a national Remote Working Employee Survey in October to capture the prevalence and types of remote work that employees are engaging in across regions and sectors. The results of the analysis of the survey will provide data on the range of influencing factors for employees and employers.

The insights arising from the various strands of research will be included in a cohesive final report which will outline the key implications for remote working in Ireland. Based on the report’s findings, which will be published soon, consideration will be given as to the appropriate next steps to be undertaken by Government on this matter. The Department of Justice and Equality will also be launching a consultation on work/life balance shortly which will identify further areas of consideration for flexible working.

Personal Injuries Commission

Ceisteanna (58)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

58. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the progress of the implementation of the recommendations of the Personal Injuries Commission that are relevant to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49932/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Personal Injuries Commission (PIC) was established in 2017. During its 18-month work programme, which concluded in July 2018, the PIC delivered two reports with 14 recommendations.

The First Report of the PIC, published in December 2017 made four recommendations, of which 2 are ongoing, 1 is partially complete and the final recommendation, relating to the Book of Quantum, has been superseded by the PIC’s recommendation that a Judicial Council, when established, be requested, by the Minister for Justice and Equality, to compile judicial guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury.

The Second and Final Report made a further 10 recommendations.  While they are not timebound, I would expect that they should be implemented as soon as possible by the relevant bodies.  Following publication of this Report, I wrote to relevant Government colleagues and other organisations seeking co-operation in advancing the implementation of the recommendations relevant to them.  Progress on implementing the recommendations is reported on through the Cost of Insurance Working Group Progress Reports the most recent of which was published in July 2019.  Four of the PIC recommendations relate directly to recommendations in the two Cost of Insurance Working Group Reports.  Of the remaining six, one is complete, two relate to the development of judicial guidelines, and these along with the remaining three recommendations, are under consideration by relevant organisations.

I believe that the cumulative effects of the implementation of all the recommendations from the two Reports of the Personal Injuries Commission, alongside the reports of the Cost of Insurance Working Group and the measures contained in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019, should bring greater consistency and predictability to awards, faster resolution of claims and ultimately, a reduction in insurance premiums. This will benefit consumers, businesses and society as a whole.

Economic Competitiveness

Ceisteanna (59)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

59. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the actions being taken to reduce the costs of doing business here and reverse Irish competitiveness deficiencies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50138/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Ireland is a competitive economy, as reflected in a range of economic metrics, such as: high economic growth; the strong performance of the labour market across sectors and regions; strong trade figures; and, our productivity levels. For example, CSO’s Labour Force Survey data show that there was a 2.4% increase in employment in the year to Q3 2019, bringing total employment to 2,326,900, the highest number on record. In addition, unemployment rate fell by 11% in the same period bringing the number of unemployed people to 128,000.

At the heart of national competitiveness is the ability of Irish businesses to compete successfully in international markets. Two of the most important determinants of competitiveness are productivity and costs. A competitive economy is one where productivity is not out of line with the cost base.

As a small, highly open and concentrated economy, we are particularly vulnerable to external shocks and cannot afford to be complacent and must continuously strive for improvements in order to remain competitive . The increasingly challenging international environment raises the stakes even further.

Over the medium to long term, productivity growth is the main mechanism to improve competitiveness as it can support cost competitiveness in tandem with high and increasing wage levels and improving living standards for all.

However, our strong competitiveness position cannot be taken for granted – especially because Ireland is a high cost economy (the 5th most expensive in the EU). Improving Ireland’s competitiveness position is a key priority for this Government, and my Department.

Future Jobs Ireland is a whole of Government framework designed to improve our economy’s resilience in the face of emerging and future challenges. Future Jobs 2019 set out 26 ‘ambitions’ to 2025 across five pillars in the areas of innovation; productivity; skills and talent; participation; and transitioning to a low carbon economy. Taken together, Climate Plan 2019, Project Ireland 2040, Global Ireland 2025 and the Future Jobs represent an integrated approach to prepare for the opportunities and challenge of the future economy.

A range of specific deliverables in Future Jobs Ireland 2019 aim to enhance the business environment and improve competitiveness, as well as other factors, that contribute to specific sectorial cost challenges. Some examples include:

- On credit and financial costs , the Future Growth Loan Scheme will provide long term debt financing for strategic investments at competitive rates in a post-Brexit environment;

- On legal services , new business models for legal services will be introduced, including new legal partnerships and limited liability partnerships;

- On construction , an implementation plan for actions to stimulate construction sector productivity will be delivered, including greater deployment of Building Information Modelling.

As a small open economy, we must never underestimate the importance of maintaining competitiveness, and ensuring that the cost of doing business does not impede this. In this regard, Future Jobs Ireland is an integral component of the Government’s over-arching plan for the future of the Irish economy.

Pharmaceutical Sector

Ceisteanna (60)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

60. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation if her Department has examined whether Ireland is approaching a patent cliff specifically in the pharmaceutical industry (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46674/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Budget 2020 Economic and Fiscal Outlook noted that Ireland’s production base is highly concentrated in a small number of high-tech sectors. However, the overall macro-economic risk assessment matrix in Budget 2020 regarded the likelihood of risks relating to our concentrated production base as low.

The pharmaceutical sector in Ireland operates within a broad national and European legislative framework. That legal regime means companies here benefit from a level of patent protection for medicinal products that is amongst the strongest in the world. Protection is afforded, for example, for original discoveries for a period of 20 years. In addition, Supplementary Protection Certificates (SPCs) grant protection for a maximum of five additional years following expiry of the initial patent. This is to account for the time period between patent filing and approval of medicinal products by medicines regulators.

The impact of the patent cliff on the pharmaceutical industry in Ireland was the subject of a working paper produced by the Department of Finance in 2013. That paper addressed the expiry of specific patents and associated issues. My Department also continues to monitor and analyse trends in the pharmaceutical and biopharma sectors on an on-going basis, given the importance of those areas to our economy.

More broadly, the pharmaceutical industry continues to perform well here. The global top ten biopharmaceutical companies all have a manufacturing presence in Ireland, as do many other firms. The sector employs approximately 30,000 people directly in IDA-supported companies. Along with high export figures and high-value employment, the sector also contributes strongly to the Irish economy in many other ways, such as investments in research and development and through sub-supply contracts for goods and services. We also have many highly innovative indigenous firms that are continuing to grow.

It is the case as well that Ireland continues to win new investments in the areas of small and large molecule manufacture and cell and gene therapies. This is a result of IDA Ireland’s strong client engagement across every aspect of the industry, with a view to generating new employment opportunities and consolidating Ireland’s position and reputation in the pharmaceutical industry.

Data Centres

Ceisteanna (61)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

61. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the cost benefit analysis undertaken on the development of data centres pursuant to the Enterprise Strategy in view of the fact that data centre development is projected to add at least 1.5 million tonnes to carbon emissions here by 2030; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [50096/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The enterprise agencies operating under the aegis of my Department - the IDA and Enterprise Ireland - undertake evaluations of grant-aided projects using a cost-benefit analysis model developed by my Department.  However, data centres are not, in general, grant-aided by the agencies. 

Environmental assessments of emissions are made through the planning process where an Environmental Impact Assessment is required for all developments of a certain scale, and further through an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) licensing arrangement where a development is an industrial process with the potential for significant environmental impacts. The Deputy will be aware that policy responsibility for these functions lies with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (as regards the planning process) and with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (for the EPA) respectively.

In June 2018, the ‘Government Statement on the Role of Data Centres in Ireland’s Enterprise Policy’ was published by my Department, following consultation across Government, including with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment. The Statement sets out clearly that the existing demand for data centre development poses opportunities and challenges for Ireland, and that a planned approach to addressing these is required.

I am aware that data centres present challenges given that they are very energy intensive, and in the Dublin region in particular, there are grid infrastructure capacity constraints. Eirgrid have made clear that there will need to be limitations on connecting large new demands. However, data centres are also important to ensuring that Ireland continues to be a leader in the digital economy. The Government Statement sets out how we will strike a balance between the challenges and opportunities.

To address the subject of carbon emissions, while I cannot verify the projection raised in the Deputy's question, I would highlight that many of the large data centre operators in Ireland have made public commitments to using 100% renewable electricity as soon as practicable. Further, as Ireland increases the level of renewable energy on our electricity grid towards the 70% target set out in the Climate Action Plan, all electricity powered operations will by definition become more carbon efficient. I am also aware that a number of data centre operators in Ireland have chosen to sign 'Corporate Power Purchase Agreements' to buy electricity directly from renewable electricity generators. I believe that a more sophisticated 'Corporate Power Purchase Agreements' market in Ireland could act as a catalyst for investment in renewable electricity generation by large data centre operators and officials in my Department and in IDA Ireland are working with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, as well as the SEAI, to enable that to happen.

Additionally, the Government Statement highlights that IDA Ireland has increased its emphasis on promoting a range of regional options for data centre investment. They have identified specific sites in regions throughout Ireland that are potentially suitable for accommodating the sustainable development of large scale data centre projects in terms of proximity to necessary energy and other appropriate infrastructures, subject to the required planning and environmental oversight. IDA Ireland only facilitate investment in projects that are deemed likely to deliver real regional economic benefits - and do not provide any financial supports for data centres in the Dublin region.

While the number of people directly employed in data centres may be relatively small, the fact is there are over 120,000 employed in the ICT sector. Data centre presence in Ireland raises our visibility internationally as a technology-rich, innovative economy, which, in turn, places Ireland on the map as a location of choice for a broad range of sectors and activities that are increasingly reliant on digital capabilities including manufacturing, animation, retail, medical devices and financial services – for both Irish- and foreign-owned enterprises. They also facilitate many other activities across the economy, enabling e-payments, securities transactions, banking, fraud protection, cloud telephony, inbound, streaming, video and outbound IP traffic. The storage, processing and analysis of data is a rapidly growing business sector in its own right, and is the equivalent for digital goods, of factories for physical products. Data centres securely store and manage the data which keeps much of our information-based economy and society moving.

IDA Ireland Site Visits

Ceisteanna (62)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

62. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the most recent occasion on which IDA Ireland visited counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath; the number of new jobs created by IDA Ireland in the past 12 months; the steps it is taking to attract companies to the counties; the success it has had with the strategy for the counties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49709/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Increasing the level of foreign direct investment (FDI) in regional Ireland – including in the Border region – has been a priority of mine since I was first appointed as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation. I know, as an elected representative of Cavan-Monaghan, how important it is to create new jobs and economic opportunities in regional areas. That’s why I am committed to achieving the best possible spread of FDI across the country and to working with our enterprise agencies to generate employment and investment outside of our main cities. 

In 2018, Monaghan experienced an 8% increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) employment, with 12 jobs added by companies in the County. Similarly, Meath saw a 4.5% increase, with the creation of 67 new jobs. While there were no new FDI-supported jobs created in Cavan in 2018, it is encouraging to note the announcement by Liberty Insurance in October that it will create 120 new roles in the County over the next three years. That expansion is a great vote of confidence in what Cavan and the wider Border region has to offer to multinationals.

With regard to site visits in 2019, data is now available up until the third quarter of this year. County Meath has hosted three site visits. It is encouraging to note that there have been four IDA site visits to Monaghan as of Q3 2019 compared to three site visits for the entirety of 2018.  We've already seen a threefold increase in site visits to Cavan with six visits to the County as of the third quarter of 2019 compared to two visits in 2018. While the IDA will continue to promote and showcase locations in these Counties to prospective investors, it is important to remember that the decision as to where to invest is always taken by the companies themselves.

My Department and the IDA have taken a number of steps to attract further investment to Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. The next phase of the IDA's Regional Property Programme (RPP), for example,  includes plans for an Advanced Technology Unit (ATU) at Knockaconny, County Monaghan. I announced the appointment of a design and delivery team for this ATU earlier in 2019 with construction due to commence by year end. These facilities can help to encourage overseas investors to consider regional areas and I am confident that the ATU in Knockaconny, once complete, will lead to further investment and job creation.

In addition to the RPP, the IDA targets further investment for the wider area through its office in the Cavan Innovation and Technology Centre. The Agency has also appointed a new Regional Business Development Manager for the North-East Region. As part of its strategy to promote the area, the IDA is focusing on specific sectors including agrifood, manufacturing, tourism and internationally traded services. The Agency's staff regularly engage with key stakeholders on the ground in Cavan and Monaghan, including with local authorities, public bodies, the education sector and companies from both its own client base but also from the indigenous sector. County Meath, meanwhile, is being actively marketed by the IDA as a location for second sites for multinationals in the Dublin region, with a focus on building clusters in existing sectors like high-value manufacturing and international services.

Flexible Work Practices

Ceisteanna (63)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

63. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation her views on the introduction of a four-day working week as proposed by a number of organisations (details supplied); if she will help to facilitate debate and consideration of this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49931/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

Ireland’s economy is changing rapidly and the world of work is very much part of that change.

Future Jobs Ireland is the cross-Government initiative tasked with preparing Ireland for tomorrow’s economy, and for tomorrow’s jobs. Many of today’s schoolchildren will be in jobs that have not yet been conceived, and these jobs of the future will be a product of advances in areas such as automation, digitisation and artificial intelligence.

It is accepted that technological advances in the digital economy will bring many changes not only to what people “work at”, but to how, where and when they work. Future Jobs Ireland points to increasing participation in the labour force as a key pillar in ensuring that we are prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the economy and workforce of the future.  As the nature of work and society changes, the way we organise work will also change. Flexible working encompasses a wide range of practices including part-time, remote working, compressed hours, home-working and job sharing.  These options can result in a win-win for employers, workers and society as a whole.

My Department is currently facilitating debate and consideration of one of these flexible working options, through its research into the prevalence and types of remote working arrangements within the Irish workforce, the attitudes towards such working arrangements, as well as the factors which inhibit employers and employees to partake in such arrangements. This is a deliverable under Ambition 4.2 of Future Jobs Ireland, around fostering participation in the labour force through flexible working options.

Remote working is a practice that has been associated with benefits such as greater work life balance, cost effectiveness in areas such as housing, reduced commuting times, environmental sustainability through reduced congestion and transport emissions, and enhanced productivity.

These are areas that are being explored in the remote work research being undertaken by my Department, which has included an online national employee survey, as well as engagement with key stakeholders, including employer representative bodies and remote working interest groups. This included a Remote Working Consultation Forum held on July 18th of this year, which was attended by Government Departments, State Agencies, enterprises and members of the remote working community.

Insights from these consultations will be included in the final report on Remote Work, which will outline the relevant policy implications of remote working in Ireland. The report will be completed in Q4 of this year and published soon.   

On the question of transitioning to a four-day week, this is a complex area, and something that will need much discussion, research and debate among all of the key stakeholders.  While I, and my Department, will participate in any such discussion, the issues at the heart of any such proposal are cross-Government responsibilities that do not fall neatly into any one Ministerial portfolio.  Fora such as the annual economic dialogue with the social partners, or the Labour Employer Economic Forum, might be the appropriate fora in which to raise the issue. Moreover, as part of Future Jobs Ireland, the Minister for Justice and Equality will soon begin a public consultation on work-life balance. This presents another route for interested parties to engage.

Trade Strategy

Question No. 65 answered with Question No. 57.

Ceisteanna (64)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

64. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to support businesses affected by the current EU and US trade war. [49683/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

International Trade Policy is a competence of the EU Commission under the EU Treaties and defined as the Common Commercial Policy (CCP).  The Lisbon Treaty extended this competence to cover foreign direct investment, as well as making the European Parliament a co-legislator alongside the Council on trade matters.  Under this architecture the European Commission acts as lead negotiator on behalf of all EU countries regarding trade agreements with non-EU countries.  Member States (in Council) approve negotiating directives (or mandates) before negotiations begin, are consulted as the negotiations proceed and have final approval at Council as has the European Parliament. 

The current international trade environment has seen a rise of protectionism, which is an unwelcome development for Ireland, given our open and globalised economy and has the potential to harm market sentiment and disrupt global supply chains should the situation prolong and/or escalate. 

Co-operation on trade matters is in all of our common interest and Ireland very much welcomed the Joint US-EU Statement following the meeting between President Trump and then Commission President Juncker in July 2018.  The Presidents agreed to work towards zero tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies on “non-auto industrial goods”, to work to reduce barriers and increase trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products, as well as soybeans.  They also agreed to strengthen strategic energy cooperation, to launch a close dialogue on standards to ease trade barriers (regulatory cooperation), and to work closely together with like-minded partners on a reform agenda for the WTO.  They also committed to resolving the steel and aluminium tariff issues and to introduce no further tariff measures unless either party terminated the negotiations.

On the 10th September 2018, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer initiated the work of the Executive Working Group (EWG) to improve current trade relations between the US and EU and address each of the aforementioned topics in the Joint Statement issued by Presidents Juncker and Trump. 

On 15th April 2019 the EU Council voted to approve the negotiating directives for the commencement of limited trade negotiations with the US in the sectors of conformity assessment and the removal of tariffs on industrial goods.  The Joint Statement also referred to seeking an agreement on “non-auto industrial goods”.  As it is important that negotiations focus on a limited range of areas where results could be realistically achieved quickly and without entering areas of significant sensitivity for either sided, Public Procurement from the US perspective and Agriculture from the EU side were excluded.

Technical discussions regarding talks on conformity assessment for the testing and approval of certain products are taking place and progress is being made.  I am hopeful that formal negotiations in this area may not be too far away as the EU Commission has submitted a draft Agreement in this area to the US side. 

Additionally, on 17 May 2019 President Trump announced via Presidential Proclamation that he had delayed by 6 months the imposition of tariffs on automotive and automotive parts imports from the EU to allow US trade officials to attempt to negotiate a solution to what the US sees as a matter of national security, albeit from the EU side we do accept this rationale.  The proclamation provided a 180-day time frame for the negotiation of an agreement.  This deadline has now passed without any formal announcement from the US. 

Separately, as far back as 6 October 2004 the United States requested consultations, in line with WTO procedures, with the governments of Germany, France, the UK and Spain, and with the European Commission concerning measures affecting trade in large civil aircraft.  The US concern was that Airbus were receiving subsidies from these Member States supporting the production of its civilian aircraft and that these subsidies were damaging to a direct competitor, US aircraft manufacturing firm Boeing, and contrary to WTO rules.  In parallel, on 27 June 2005, the EU made its own request to the WTO for consultations citing Boeing’s receipt of non-WTO-compliant subsidies from both federal and state level authorities in the US.

On 15 May 2018 the WTO Appellate Body found in favour of the US/Boeing - that Airbus were receiving non-compliant subsidies from certain EU Member States.  Subsequently, a WTO arbitrator evaluated the claim and reported on the 2 October 2019 that the value of countermeasures that the US can impose commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies is $7.496 billion.  In the parallel Boeing case, the WTO arbitrator’s report is due for finalisation and publication around Q2 2020.

On the same day as the WTO Arbitrators' Findings were released, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) published its final list of products that will be targeted with new tariffs.  The list has 15 sub-sections with Ireland, along with other EU Member States, included in 9 of these sub-sections.  For those products effected by the USTR list, Ireland exported approximately €362m worth of goods to the US in 2018.  My Department continues to engage with industry to fully understand the potential impacts these measures will have.  We are also fully engaged with colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and our Enterprise Agencies in relation to implications for Irish business. 

The Government has highlighted our concerns in bilateral engagements with US interlocuters in Dublin and Washington, intensively over recent months.  The issue of the tariffs was also raised during the US Presidential and Vice-Presidential visits this year.  I and my officials, as well as colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade and Agriculture, Food & the Marine, continue in contact with our US counterparts in Dublin and Washington on these issues.  In addition to raising this matter with my fellow Trade Ministers in Council, I have also recently written to the United States Trade Representative to outline the impact these measures will have on Irish exporters.  I also held a bilateral meeting with Trade Commissioner-elect Phil Hogan while in Brussels in October at which we discussed the WTO Airbus and Boeing cases and the potential impact the imposition of tariffs on Ireland would have. 

Ireland remains committed to a negotiated settlement to this issue as I firmly believe imposition of tariffs will only inflict damage on businesses and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic and harm global trade and the broader aviation industry at a sensitive time.

On another EU-US trade issue, on 14 June 2019 the Commission informed Member States that it had reached an agreement in principle with the United States and other substantial supplying countries regarding the “Hilton” Beef quota.  The agreement does not change the overall volume, quality or safety of beef imported into the EU; rather it allocates a larger share of the quota (35,000 Tonnes out of a total of 45,000 Tonnes) to the United States, phased in over a period of 7 years.  The quota was an interim solution put in place some years ago to address a long-standing dispute between the EU and the US regarding the EU’s ban on the importation of hormone beef into the EU.  The European Parliament voted in favour of this Agreement on 28th November which will hopefully see its adoption by Council in early December and an entry into force from 1st January 2020.  This is a positive example of what can be agreed by the EU and US working together. 

Set against the current EU-US trade turbulence, and also having regard to the impacts of Brexit, my Department through Enterprise Ireland supports Irish based companies in their ambition to internationalise and diversify their export base or global footprint.  This is critical for long term business growth.  In 2018 Enterprise Ireland:

- Supported clients in winning 1,504 new overseas contracts

- Supported clients establish 402 new overseas presences

- Supported 82 first time exporters outside the UK

- Ran 1,023 international buyer visits.

Further, Enterprise Ireland offers a range of supports such as:

- Access to Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre which allows companies access business intelligence in the form of company, market and sector performance.

- Enterprise Ireland’s Exporter Development Team working with potential and emerging exporters to assist them research their global ambition.

- EI's Export capability programmes which offer customised sales training and access to experts to assist companies develop international selling skills, such as Excel at Selling and the International Selling Programme.

- A global network of 33 international offices which provides client companies entering new markets with in-market expertise.

In addition, Enterprise Ireland provides a Market Discovery Fund to incentivise companies to research viable and sustainable market entry strategies in new geographic markets.  This fund provides support towards internal and external costs incurred when researching new markets for products and services.  Support for Market Discovery Fund applies when eligible companies are either looking at a new geographic market for an existing product/service or an existing geographic market for a new product/service.  The Market Discovery Fund is available across three levels involving grants up to €35K, grants between €35K but less than €75K and grants greater than €75K but less than €150K.

In conclusion, I must emphasise that the Economic Trade and Investment Relationship between Ireland and the United States has been immensely beneficial to both countries, and Ireland remains fully committed to a continued strong partnership with the US – both bilaterally and at EU-level.  It is important to appreciate that the European Commission has “competence” on International Trade matters on behalf of the all EU Member States and in this regard, I welcome the progress made on the Joint US-EU Statement agenda to date, albeit, from an Irish perspective we wish swifter progress could have been made in our ongoing dialogue.  I remain optimistic that we will see a return to more usual trade relations between the EU and US that would be in both of our mutual interests, and in the meantime, Government, principally through Enterprise Ireland, has a range of enterprise supports to assist companies diversify their export base.

Question No. 65 answered with Question No. 57.

Job Creation

Ceisteanna (66)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

66. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to support job creation in the midland peat counties following the announced closure of the Lough Ree and West Offaly power stations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49704/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

My Department along with the enterprise agencies are deeply engaged in the enterprise development agenda in the Midlands. The importance of this enterprise development work has been brought into sharp focus in the context of the particular vulnerability, and the opportunities, presented by the transition from ‘brown to green’ in this region.

The Midlands was hit relatively hard by the recession, which affected all regions, but like the rest of the country has made a very strong recovery. The unemployment rate in the Midlands currently stands at 6.1 percent (compared to the State average of 5.2 percent at end Q3 2019). This is a vast improvement on the position at the beginning of 2015 when unemployment stood at 14.9 percent. Since Q1 2015 23,300 jobs were created in the Midlands region.

The IDA supports 42 client companies in the Midlands, employing 5,720 people. The region was the highest performing region from a job creation perspective across the IDA regional portfolio in 2018, with FDI employment growing by 13 percent or 701 net new jobs added.

Over 12,300 people are employed in 247 Enterprise Ireland supported companies in the Midlands, which is up by 4 percent in 2018. LEO supported micro-enterprises added 271 net new jobs across the Midlands during 2018.

The Midlands faces a new challenge however, which will require renewed efforts to grow alternative sources of employment. The enterprise agencies, LEOs and other development bodies are fully engaged and are focused on leveraging the key strengths and potential areas of opportunity. My Department also has close engagement with the Department of the Taoiseach in relation to Just Transition and the Midlands.

The Midlands Regional Enterprise Plan, which I launched earlier this year, and the Steering Committee in place to drive its implementation, has a key role to play. The Midlands Plan, which covers Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath, is one of nine ‘bottom-up’ enterprise focused regional plans that leverage collaborative regional action.

The Midlands Plan sets out seven Strategic Objectives agreed by stakeholders as priority areas of focus and enterprise growth to 2020, spanning areas such as: transition to a low carbon economy; big data opportunities; advanced manufacturing; place-making and marketing; tourism; food; and skills development.

Strategic Objective 1 of the Regional Enterprise Plan aims to ‘ensure that the Midlands is well positioned to address the challenges posed by the transition to a low carbon economy and renewable energy’. The Regional Enterprise Plan for the Midlands  therefore strongly aligned with and supportive of the work of the Regional Transition Team led by Offaly Co. Council.  My Department officials and agencies will continue to work with stakeholders in the region during this challenging period.  

Small and Medium Enterprises

Ceisteanna (67)

Eamon Scanlon

Ceist:

67. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the way in which she plans to overhaul SME policy and entrepreneurship in the wake of findings of the study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; if the interdepartmental consultative group has met to discuss the recommendations of the study; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [49942/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

I have fully engaged with the OECD since I launched the Review of SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Ireland with the OECD Secretary General Gurria in March of 2018. This was pivotal research on the environment for SMEs in Ireland, the scale of which has not been delivered before. I commissioned this Review as I wanted to get an external view of how Ireland is performing. I wanted to be clear on where the strengths and weaknesses of our indigenous businesses are and where the relevant policy and programmes are working and where they need attention. 

 The Review has been a success in bringing together the relevant actors for a wide range of sectors, both public and private. The OECD met over 100 people individually in their two study missions in 2018.

My Department organised the SME Strategy Conference in July of this year, with the Taoiseach as the keynote speaker. We had over 200 in attendance ranging from policy makers to business representatives and from academics to many businesses themselves. We heard about international best practice, which is one of the most valuable elements of the Review. My officials have already engaged with a number of those countries identified and will engage with others on the next months.

I am working with my Department officials on how best to progress implementation of the key recommendations in the OECD report and I intend to bring forward a national strategic document for SME and entrepreneurship policy outlining planned policy interventions in the near future. This strategy will set out the policy vision, objectives, targets, lines of action and performance indicators specific to SMEs and entrepreneurship. It will cover all areas of policy intervention and all SME and entrepreneurship populations. The new SME and Entrepreneurship Strategy will be a living document which will continuously evolve in line with enterprise needs.

The implementation of the OECD recommendations will be overseen by the new SME and Entrepreneurship Consultative Group, which I established earlier this year. The inaugural meeting of the Group took place on Wednesday 27th March 2019 and is chaired by my colleague Pat Breen TD, Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection. The members of the Group were very much part of the consideration of the main OECD recommendations at the SME and Entrepreneurship Conference in July this year and also attended the launch of the report in October and will provide a platform for high-level structured engagement between Government, agencies, representative bodies and small businesses over the coming months.

Regional Enterprise Plans

Ceisteanna (68)

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

68. Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the steps she is taking to make Ireland, particularly rural counties such as County Tipperary, an attractive destination for business and investment (details supplied); the way in which Ireland's economic reputation overseas is being enhanced and promoted; the incentives being put in place; the way in which it is being monitored; and the opportunities she envisions for Ireland as a result of Brexit. [46215/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

As Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, regional development across Ireland, including in Tipperary, has been a key priority of mine. That is why my Department and its Agencies have been doing everything we can to increase the level of employment and investment in every county in Ireland. This has included placing a particular emphasis on boosting foreign direct investment (FDI) in regional areas.

We are making good progress in this regard. 2018 saw more jobs created in IDA client companies outside of Dublin than at any point in the last 17 years. Every region in the country saw FDI-driven job gains and there are now over 132,000 people employed in IDA client firms outside the capital, representing nearly 60% of all IDA-supported employment. It is important to note this represents the highest number of people employed in IDA-supported companies outside of Dublin in the history of the Agency. These statistics show that the investment the Government has made in promoting regional development is producing results and that job creation across Ireland continues to rise.

As for Tipperary in particular, the IDA has been working to increase its stock of FDI in 2019, just as it has been trying to deliver further investment in every county in the country. Tipperary is already home to ten different IDA client firms, which collectively employ over 3,700 people. This client base includes well-known firms such as Abbott Ireland, Boston Scientific and Merck, Sharp and Dohme. Last year saw a net total of 55 new FDI jobs created in Tipperary.

A key focus for the IDA in Tipperary in 2019 has been supporting further job growth in companies already present there. Experience, gained over decades of FDI in Ireland, shows us that overseas companies already in situ are the most likely to generate new employment opportunities. The IDA’s staff work closely with client companies to explore the potential for further such job creation and they are currently doing that with client firms in Tipperary as well. 

The IDA has a number of incentives in place to encourage companies to invest in County Tipperary. In addition to the general support that it provides to client firms through advice and expertise on investing in Ireland, the Agency is authorised by my Department to provide a range of particular financial supports in the form of employment, capital, research and development, environmental and training grants. These grants represent an important means of encouraging companies to invest in Ireland, particularly in regional locations. In 2018, the IDA paid almost €4.4m in grants to client companies based in Tipperary.

Site visits are another important tool in attracting prospective investors. As of the third quarter of this year there have been five IDA site visits to Tipperary. The Agency will continue to suggest suitable sites in the County to investors considering locating in that wider area.

With respect to Brexit, our efforts to win more FDI will be helped by our continued status as an attractive destination for overseas firms. We have already seen over 70 Brexit-related investments and 5,000 associated jobs won since the outcome of the referendum in June 2016. Ireland’s membership of the European Union ensures that companies considering an investment here will gain barrier-free access to the EU market. When taken together with other strengths - such as our pro-enterprise environment and our highly-skilled dynamic workforce - I am confident that Ireland will continue to be an attractive destination for mobile overseas investment in the years ahead.

Personal Injury Claims

Ceisteanna (69)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

69. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the actions being taken regarding personal injury awards. [50141/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) assesses claims in line with the current level of damages. Outside of the detailed data provided by PIAB, comprehensive data on the total number of all claims made annually is not available in Ireland. Since it is believed that a significant number of claims are settled between the parties before entering the PIAB process, there are currently no known statistics for the total of personal injuries claims in Ireland.

In 2018, a total of 33,371 claims were received by PIAB.  The Board made 12,112 awards to the value of €298.55 million, of which 6,206 awards to the value of €153.6 million were accepted. Compared with 2017 the number of awards made and value of awards made by PIAB decreased by 4% and 5% respectively.

My Department has implemented a number of recommendations for which it has lead responsibility from the Cost of Insurance Working Group’s Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance.  These include the establishment of the Personal Injuries Commission, and certain amendments to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003.

The Personal Injuries Commission has made a total of 14 recommendations across its two reports, which are aimed at positively impacting the overall Irish claims environment. These recommendations are being progressed and are reported on through the Cost of Insurance Working Group.

I believe that the cumulative effects of PIAB’s work and the implementation of all the recommendations from the two Reports of the Personal Injuries Commission, alongside the reports of the Cost of Insurance Working Group and the measures contained in the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (Amendment) Act 2019, should bring greater consistency and predictability to awards, faster resolution of claims and ultimately, a reduction in insurance premiums. This will benefit consumers, businesses and society as a whole.