Competitiveness Motion

December 5th, 2007 - Pat Breen

^ Private Members’ Business. ^

^ Competitiveness of the Economy: Motion (Resumed). ^

5th December, 2007

Deputy Pat Breen: D-Day has arrived and this afternoon the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, will rise in this Chamber to deliver his Budget Statement. The Minister said during the election campaign, when referring to the economy, “There has been a transformation in Ireland in the last ten years”. There has been a transformation all right, the boom has turned to gloom and doom, inflation is rising, tax receipts are plummeting, the construction industry is under pressure, oil prices are at an all time high, the economic outlook is bleak and uncertain. Over the past ten years this Government has presided over Ireland’s deteriorating competitiveness.

Job losses have become the norm in my region in recent months, 178 job losses at Tyco Electronics, 30 job losses at John Crane Limited, 80 job losses at Thompson Financial and 51 shed at Aer Lingus. Yesterday we heard more devastating news in the region the loss of 500 jobs at Abbott Vascular in Galway. Manufacturing jobs are haemorrhaging fro our region and the Government has failed to act and our region is losing out.

The latest CSO quarterly national household survey confirmed that the mid-west region was the only region failing to show an increase in employment growth with the number of persons in employment falling by 2,700. These figures are consistent with the release of information to me following a parliamentary question that job numbers decreased in the Shannon free zone by 3.8% between 2004 and 2006 with the number of companies operating the Shannon free zone reducing from 112 to 101.

Companies in the Shannon free zone spend in excess of €610 million on wages and Irish sourced materials and general sales of 3.3 billion with 70% of these sales accounted for by the international services sector. The picture is similar throughout the county of Clare. Permanent job losses have fallen from 2,735 to 2,678 in companies supported by the IDA and Enterprise Ireland throughout County Clare, excluding the Shannon free zone during the same period. Significantly though, there has been no growth in the number of companies in the county which totals 142. The IDA supports nine companies in the county, six of which are located in Ennis. I am very disappointed that we have not seen the development of new companies in other areas of the county, particularly in west Clare where the growth and development of industry is vital in ensuring that the benefits of economic and social progress are distributed throughout rural areas.

In January 2007 responsibility for indigenous industry was transferred from Shannon Development to Enterprise Ireland. In this sector prior to this it was one of the areas showing a growth in job numbers rising to 1,674 in 2006 from 1,621 in 2002. It is important that the growth of indigenous industries is encouraged and that Enterprise Ireland continues to support community enterprise centres. I believe that it is currently in discussions with such a group in Kilrush and I hope this project will come to fruition. Kilrush has been transformed in recent years.

There is no doubt the orange light is on in our region but will the Government heed the warning signs. The Government has no joined up thinking when it comes to balanced regional development. Recent months have shown how little our region features on the Government’s radar. The failure to safeguard the Heathrow slots in the region is unnerving the already nervous industrial sector. With 70% of sales from the industrial estate to international markets the loss of this connectivity will add unnecessary costs to doing business in our region.

If our region is to continue to be attractive for inward and indigenous investment we must have first-class services. We must have first-class access by air, road and rail and first-class broadband connections throughout the county. It is vital, therefore, that this region is chosen for a pilot programme for the extension of the new generation network and that broadband is fast tracked to rural communities.

Government action is required to stop the slide. Connectivity to Heathrow must be restored. With 40% of US based companies located in the west of Ireland a daily year round US direct service must be maintained. Infrastructural projects promised under Transport 21 must be fast tracked. I also want to hear the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, announce funding today for the €53 million tourism and economic development plan. The Government has failed to announced this in recent times and I hope funding is provided for this in today’s budget.