Dáil Éireann - Volume 638 - 26 September, 2007
Adjournment Debate. - Industrial Development.
Deputy Dara Calleary Deputy Dara Calleary
Deputy Dara Calleary:Is é seo an chéad uair a bhfuil mé ag labhairt sa Dáil. Dá bhrí sin, gabhaim buíochas le muintir Maigh Eo as ucht an tacaíocht a thug siad dom ag an toghchán deireanach.
Twelve years ago the IDA, in association with Mayo County Council, acquired a site in Ballina to develop a technology park. The site was acquired in the face of considerable local expert advice not to proceed with the acquisition, owing to known difficulties with the title of the site and the fact that, at the time, the site had no services. In the intervening period Mayo County Council invested in the site to install the relevant services. However, the title issue has still not been resolved. Throughout that time the advice provided by the IDA to relevant Ministers and to departmental officials was that it would be sorted or was on the verge of being sorted. That advice might be in the reply to be given this evening by the Minister.
It is local knowledge that the title issues are still outstanding and are just as far from resolution. I call on the Minister and the Department to intervene. We have waited 12 years for a site. The IDA refuses to acknowledge that there are other serviced industrial sites available in Ballina for potential investors and employers. The issue has been highlighted by recent figures from the  Central Statistics Office, which show that 15.8% of the labour force in Ballina is unemployed. It is the largest figure for a town of its size in the country. The average comparable figure is 8.5%.
The reluctance of the IDA and other agencies to invest in Ballina contrasts with the private investment made by local business people in recent years. New hotels, retail units and services have considerably transformed the town’s ability to be an attractive destination. There has been considerable Government investment in roads, broadband and currently in connecting Ballina to the national gas network. The challenges presented to Ballina by the IDA in terms of its infrastructure are being addressed. What is lacking is a willingness on behalf of the IDA to intervene and take a position to resolve the issue. The attitude of the IDA to date has been incredibly disappointing. The advice it passes to officials and Ministers is that it will be sorted. We are extremely concerned when we consider the experience of Castlebar and Westport where technology parks were developed. Were prizes going at the Chelsea Flower Show for the quality of the trees on display the IDA would win. However, no jobs or units are located in the parks. When we get a park up and running we will maintain maximum pressure to locate industry.
The recent decision by Coca Cola to expand its workforce at a time when it was cutting its workforce everywhere else — and we sympathise in particular with Drogheda — demonstrates the quality of the workforce available to any potential investor in Ballina or Mayo. It is extremely frustrating to sit down with parents who make considerable investment in their children’s education only to see it used in cities and towns in other parts of the country because of the lack of industrial and other jobs in the Ballina area.
We have an extremely qualified and willing workforce. What we lack is a proper site and the will and commitment of IDA Ireland to develop the site and Ballina as a location. I ask the Minister of State to intervene personally to resolve the issue. If we cannot have this specific site within the next 12 weeks, the time has come to move to another site. Otherwise, we will have to wait another 12 years before we have a site to put on offer. We waited 12 years and surely 12 weeks can resolve the problem.
Deputy Billy Kelleher Deputy Billy Kelleher
Deputy Billy Kelleher:I congratulate Deputy Calleary on his election to the House. His family has a proud tradition of representing Mayo and I wish him well.
The management of IDA Ireland’s property portfolio, including the development of industrial parks in particular areas, is a day-to-day operational matter for the agency and not a matter in which I or my Department have a statutory function. Overall, IDA invests significantly in the  provision of planned and focused property solutions in the west region and specifically in County Mayo. This is an essential marketing tool in the process of attracting potential new investors to County Mayo. The Government through the IDA has spent almost €6 million in property development in County Mayo, a cumulative spend in the four-year period up to December 2005.
With regard to Ballina, IDA Ireland has been engaged in protracted discussions with Mayo County Council regarding the acquisition of a 27-acre site on the Sligo road in Ballina. The agency requires “unburdened title” to the site before it can begin development work on the land. As the Deputy may be aware, progress in this matter was delayed due to lengthy legal proceedings over which the IDA had no control and to which the agency was not a party. I am now informed by the agency that these proceedings have been completed. It is in regular contact with the council and expects an early resolution of the matter.
The Government is determined to see the emergence of strong magnets of attraction in each region. For its successful development each region needs to develop clear competitive reasons for companies to locate there rather than elsewhere and effective local leadership is vital in this regard. Under the national spatial strategy Castlebar and Ballina form a linked hub. Both these towns, together with the town of Westport, are priority locations for Government. The IDA actively promotes them for new foreign direct investment. The Government recognises the need to provide high-value employment opportunities in the key towns in Mayo which provide sustainable long-term jobs. The IDA on behalf of Government is committed to the development of Mayo and works continually with its existing client base to deepen the global strategic importance of the Irish operations within their parent corporations. At present, 21 IDA supported companies in Mayo employ more than 3,000 people in permanent employment with approximately 500 more in temporary and contract employment.
Working in strong partnership with other organisations at national and local level, the IDA can support and influence the delivery of some of the conditions that are necessary to attract investment. All of the development agencies under the remit of my Department are actively involved in the Mayo County Development Board.
The overall aim of Government policy is to transform Irish companies into market-focused and innovation-driven businesses to increase their exports, sales and employment. The Government, through Enterprise Ireland, has approved funding support of more than €5.3 million and paid more than €3.1 million to companies in County Mayo in the period from 2004 to date. This financial support will facilitate the companies to fund their plans for innovation and new product development. As part of its remit, Enterprise Ireland pro vides preferential funding for companies, with detailed export plans, which are establishing or expanding business in the county as part of the Border, midland and west region.
Community enterprise centres provide a much needed business infrastructure and incentive for small new company start-ups in disadvantaged areas. Working in partnership with the local community, Enterprise Ireland has approved support for a total of ten community enterprise centres in County Mayo, some of which have received support for several different phases of development. These centres are located in Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Brickens, Castlebar, Claremorris, Foxford, Killala and Kiltimagh. In addition, Enterprise Ireland has worked in close co-operation with Mayo County Council in the development of the broadband MANs in Ballina.
Regarding the Deputy’s assertion that Ballina has the largest unemployment problem in Ireland, my understanding is that the CSO data referred to by the Deputy is sourced from the results of the 2006 census, which indicated that, for towns with a population of more than 10,000, Ballina had the highest level of unemployment among large towns. The standard reference used for unemployment data is the quarterly national household survey, not the census. The quarterly national household survey, QNHS, published by the CSO, does not provide data on specific towns and is available on a regional basis only. Under the QNHS, the unemployment rate for the State at the time the census was taken was 4.3%, and the figure for the west region of which Ballina forms part was 4.2%. The August live register data for Ballina shows that 1,445 are on the register, practically the same level as for the same period last year. Comparable live register figures for the six years up to 2007 show that the numbers on the live register for August decreased year on year from 1,976 in 2002 to 1,445 in 2007.
FÁS offers a wide range of supports to people in County Mayo who are unemployed. In Ballina town, FÁS offers a suite of five training courses providing 90 training places. At present one carpentry and joinery apprenticeship exists and it is planned to increase the apprenticeship capacity to 44 places by adding a further two electrical apprenticeship courses in January 2008.
Contracted training in the Mayo region has a capacity for 150 places and recruitment is taking place for eight courses commencing in October and November 2007. Placement and progression from these courses is generally approximately 65%. FÁS has three employment services officers in Ballina who provide a vocational guidance and job matching service for clients. The main challenge to progressing people into employment is the relative lack of new job opportunities in the area. Penneys was the most recent employer to come to the Ballina area and FÁS assisted with the recruitment of approximately 70 staff for its store.
 I will use my office to ensure that the issue is addressed and will respond to the Deputy if it is required.
Dáil Éireann 638 Adjournment Debate. Industrial Development.