Dáil Éireann - Volume 510 - 04 November, 1999

Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Year 2000 Computer Problem.

5. Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the most recent Enterprise Ireland survey in relation to the year 2000 computer problem; the further action, if any, she proposes to take in relation to this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22019/99]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Mr. Treacy): Both I and my Department have been actively involved in preparing for the Year 2000 computer problem for more than two years. Following the issue of an initial leaflet and subsequent detailed brochures on the subject, together with a series of regional meetings, it was apparent that further action was required. In the past year, a concerted effort has been under way, with many initiatives undertaken.

Our Department has spent more than £800,000 on a series of interlinked initiatives. These include the Enterprise Ireland National Y2K Information Service, specifically geared to the needs of small and medium sized companies. The service includes a telephone help line an information pack including a directory of Y2K consultants and service providers and a dedicated web site. In addition, a series of training workshops was organised and the services of the county and city enterprise boards and other development agencies were also brought to bear in helping their client companies.

To raise maximum interest and encourage action, a very extensive public media campaign was organised. A series of both radio and television advertisements was run which included both national and local radio stations. Outdoor poster sites were also used. Newspaper advertising was undertaken, culminating with full page colour messages in the national dailies. Every opportunity was seized to press home the message that businesses needed to be aware of and to take action to solve the problem.

As it was considered very important to assess the level of actual compliance on the ground, an integral part of this initiative was the undertaking of quarterly surveys by Enterprise Ireland. The results of the most recent of these surveys were published last month. There are many positive trends from this latest research, including the fact that 94 per cent of Irish companies are either very confident or fairly confident that their businesses will be unaffected by the millennium bug or associated issues. In addition, the number of companies that have undertaken contingency planning has risen from one in ten to three in ten.

Despite these positive findings, some results of the survey are a cause for concern. Too many companies are over confident that they will be [332] unaffected. In addition, large numbers are still hoping for a software solution, which seems extremely unlikely to materialise.

In view of these findings, I intend to ensure that the Enterprise Ireland service will continue for the rest of this year and, indeed, into early next year also. In addition, we have been interacting positively with the various organisations represented on the National Year 2000 Committee to ensure that there is direct contact with the maximum number of businesses throughout the country on the importance of the issue. For example, the co-operation of the banks, the insurance industry and accountancy bodies on the committee has facilitated an initiative whereby I wrote directly to every business in the country. More than 300,000 of these letters were distributed by these organisations to their members and clients.

Additional information

This process was undertaken since September last when it became apparent that a further effort was required to spur business forward and it has had the effect of helping some businesses to concentrate more fully on the problem. In addition I will continue to avail of any opportunity to highlight the issue. In recent weeks I have participated in radio discussions and have addressed a number of business events on Y2K.

Ireland's progress has been recognised internationally. Studies by one global observer, have put Ireland in the highest league of compliance achievement, together with Australia, Canada, Holland, the UK and the USA. An international financial grouping rated this country as the first in Europe to achieve the highest rating category across a wide range of sectors.

As has been stated on many occasions, ultimate responsibility for this issue lies with individual businesses and it is they who must ensure that their operations can continue without interruption after the new year. This Government has made every effort and expended considerable sums of money to encourage compliance, but it is only individual business managers who can take the necessary action.

A further survey will be conducted by Enterprise Ireland in December 1999 and I hope that those results will be more encouraging.

Mr. Stanton: I agree the Minister of State has done much work, but is it enough? Would he not agree that much more needs to be done, given the comments in the report? The words “naivety” and “over confidence” are quite frequently used in that report. Is the Minister of State aware that there has been very limited interaction with suppliers? Would he be prepared to tell us what else he can do between now and the end of the year? How serious an impact will the Y2K problem have on businesses that are not ready?

Mr. Treacy: I will continue to avail of every opportunity to highlight the issue. The Deputy can rest assured that Enterprise Ireland and all [333] the people involved with the year 2000 committee will do what they can to ensure the message gets across to as many businesses as possible. It is important to realise that Ireland's progress has been recognised internationally. Studies by one global observer have put Ireland in the highest league of compliance achievement, together with Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Holland and the United States of America. An international financial grouping rated this country as the first in Europe to achieve the highest rating category across a range of sectors.

We are satisfied that the large and medium category of businesses will be compliant but we are concerned about the small business sector. It is up to the managers and directors of small companies to ensure they are compliant. We will continue with our aggressive campaign until the end of the year, but we can only do so much. It is a matter for management to ensure they will survive into the new millennium.

Mr. Stanton: What impact will the failure of these companies to be compliant have on the economy? Has the Minister any idea how many companies might not be compliant at this stage?

Mr. Treacy: I do not have the number of companies which are not compliant, but 94 per cent of those surveyed said they were reasonably confident they would be compliant. We visualise that many companies will probably say their hardware and software are obsolete and should be replaced. It is difficult to know how many companies are not compliant. To lose one job or one company would be too much. We run the same risk as other countries, but we have done well internationally. We have left no stone unturned to get the message across. I thank the business organisations and State agencies for their co-operation and support. Everyone, including Members of this House, must get the message across to business people in our constituencies that 1 January is approaching and that it is up to them to ensure they will survive into the new millennium. Otherwise, their businesses will fail and we do not want that to happen.