This Country is doomed if this Government continues in Office – BREEN.

May 22nd, 2009 - Pat Breen

Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill.  The Minister for Finance claims it is designed to protect jobs and build confidence but this is not the case, it is more of the same of what we have got from the Government over the last two budgets.  It squeezes every last penny from lower and middle income families and does little to stimulate the economy or restore confidence.

  Deputy Michael McGrath mentioned the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meetings and the work Fianna Fáil backbenchers have done to secure U-turns from the Minister on some aspects of the budget.  I welcome some of those, particularly the U-turn on the income levy.

  My constituency colleague, Deputy Dooley, was very concerned about the Fine Gael candidate in Dublin South, George Lee.  He should be more concerned about the Government’s failure to deal with this crisis instead of grumbling about the selection of Mr. Lee as a candidate in the forthcoming by-election.  Mr. Lee wants a new direction for Ireland and the people of the State will soon have an opportunity to pass judgment on the Government’s record.  From what I hear on the doorsteps, the people are waiting in the long grass for the opportunity.

  The Minister has included a welcome amendment to the Bill to extend the deadline for applications for the mid-Shannon corridor tourism investment scheme.  This scheme has the potential to bring significant employment along the Shannon basin, particularly in east County Clare.  Tourism is vital to the area and will continue to be important because it has so much to offer.  There is huge scope for further development.  I welcome the Minister taking on board my concerns for this scheme because projects could have been put in jeopardy had the deadline not been extended.  The success and benefits of the scheme, however, can only be assured if these projects secure credit, something which is proving difficult in the current environment.

  I do not understand why the Minister is persisting with the air travel tax when the aviation sector is in free-fall.  The introduction of any tax on air travel at this time is counter productive.  Yesterday Dublin Airport Authority announced 400 jobs will be lost at Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports.  Questions must be answered about the mismanagement of the authority and the Minister for Transport must explain the situation in the House.

  This is a huge blow to the aviation sector, coming so soon after the major restructuring in Shannon, which led to the loss of 200 jobs.  It is hard to see where further cuts can be made when staff have already made huge sacrifices.  Ryanair has already curtailed services at Shannon Airport, reducing the number of aircraft from six to four.  This morning Aer Lingus announced that it is going to reduce the number of aircraft based at Belfast International Airport.  We told the Minister for Transport this would happen a year ago when Aer Lingus opened a new base for aircraft at the expense of the Shannon-Heathrow route.  It was the first Aer Lingus base outside Ireland and it was the beginning of the end.

  Having said that, we must protect Aer Lingus.  It is a valuable airline and we do not want it to disappear. It is vital for the country to have an airline, particularly on trans-Atlantic routes that could otherwise be cut.  Aer Lingus states there is poor consumer demand but I fear there will be further cut-backs in services at all our airports and as airlines struggle to retain passengers at this difficult time.

  The introduction of tax relief to support research and development, including intellectual property, as a means of supporting the smart economy, is welcome.  The aim is to make Ireland the innovation capital of Europe and the Bill could allow US multinationals that establish Irish subsidiary companies to acquire intra-group intangible assets.

  There is an important research and development facility in my area, the Intel plant in Shannon.  Recently Intel announced an investment of €50 million in the research and development facility, creating 134 extra jobs over the next four years.  I was at the opening with the Tánaiste, Deputy Coughlan, and we were given a tour of the facility, which was very impressive.  It is a state of the art operation and over 75% of the employees have higher level qualifications in science, engineering and technology.  We must continue to invest in third level institutions.  The future is bright for science graduates and the Government must make the necessary resources available to the colleges so we can continue to produce such graduates.

  Three weeks ago I visited Israel with my party leader, Deputy Enda Kenny.  We met the manager of Intel there, which employs 6.500 in Israel, similar to the numbers in Leixlip and Shannon.  The company is looking at employment costs – it has opened a new plant in India, where it can employ ten engineers for the same cost as one engineer in Ireland.  That demonstrates the competition we face.  The good thing about Intel, however, is that many of the Irish workers travel to the plant in Jerusalem for specialised training and any initiative like this would help attract foreign direct investment in this high end of the market and is welcome.

  That is why I welcome the Shannon Development proposal to develop the Shannon estuary.  In February I highlighted the potential of the mid-west region for renewable energy resources and I urge the Minister to support the initiatives to help the region become a centre of excellence.  The Shannon Development proposal points to the fact that there are 100 companies employing 7,100 in the Shannon free zone, generating €3.5 billion in sales, 94% of which are destined for export markets.  It also highlighted the high profile job losses at Molex, Element Six and Avocent.  There is huge potential in this area and I urge the Government to support these initiatives because there are enormous possibilities for job creation in the area.

  The Spirit of Ireland is another programme that could help economic revival in the midwest, particularly in County Clare.  We must make more use of wave and wind energy in the Shannon estuary and, if captured, it could make a major contribution to meet our national electricity demand, making us less dependent on fossil fuels.  The Minister for Finance met the consortium, as did Deputies Coveney and Hogan.  The project is massive in scale and it has the potential to create thousands of jobs.  I ask the Minister to take a serious look at the project and to ensure every support and encouragement is given to it.

  Jobs are the main issue, as we are hearing on the doorsteps every day.  It is vital that we support job creation initiatives if we are to fight back.  The Government has no job strategy and the budget had nothing to offer.  People are losing their jobs every day, they know there is a major crisis but they need hope. It was Private James Frazer in “Dad’s Army” who coined the phrase, “we are doomed”.

 

   Deputy Dick Roche: We thought it was George Lee.

 

   Deputy Pat Breen: We will be doomed if the Government remains in office any longer.  The Minister, Deputy Roche, might fit one of the characters portrayed in “Dad’s Army”, but that is another matter.

  We must be optimistic about the future of this country.  My party is confident that we have a plan to ensure a brighter future for this and the next generation.