DÁIL QUESTIONS WITH MINISTER FOR JOBS ON BREXIT

  1. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the progress of her Department in Brexit preparations to ensure that Irish jobs are protected, promoted and preserved; the additional funding which is being allocated to agencies under the remit of her Department for this purpose in 2017; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33151/16]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The news from the High Court in London this morning, if it is upheld by the Supreme Court, may give the Minister and this House a bit more time to prepare for the enormous challenge of Brexit. I followed the Minister’s earlier response to Deputy Collins and I wonder if the extra €52 million on the capital side, and €3 million on the current side, and the additional 50 posts, are enough across the many agencies the Minister supervises to address this huge challenge, one of the biggest we have faced since 1922.

Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: I am engaged strongly with Enterprise Ireland, EI, and IDA Ireland to ensure that Irish jobs are protected, promoted and preserved. I am in ongoing communication with these agencies, and chair my Department’s Brexit co-ordination group which includes the chief executive officers, CEOs, of the agencies. Enterprise Ireland is working with its 1,500 clients who export to the UK studying the individual challenges faced by companies in every county in Ireland and also on a sectoral level.

From a strategic perspective Enterprise Ireland has a two pronged approach. It is working to assist companies to maintain and grow UK exports and extend their international reach, to diversify. It is also supporting companies in enhancing their competitiveness to protect and grow Irish exports and jobs. In this regard, EI is assisting clients in improving their processes to drive efficiencies and cost reductions and undertake research and development and innovation with a view to improving existing products and processes or developing new ones.

The Department has secured an additional €52 million, which is a 10% increase in capital funding for 2017, the largest increase in the past 15 years to support the enterprise sector and assist the agencies in their Brexit response, and on the current side I have secured an additional €3 million with a view to facilitating up to an additional 50 posts across my Department and the enterprise agencies.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: It is good to hear that the Brexit co-ordination group is in place. How often does that meet and does the Minister intend to publish the minutes or to give us general reports? The Minister told Deputy Collins that she could be making further announcements. Would we hear them before the end of the year or before the British Government triggers Article 50? Will the Minister be making further announcements of supports for our exporters and other businesses? InterTradeIreland’s quarterly business monitor Q2, which the Minister has, showed that 97% of our businesses were not ready for the challenge posed by Brexit. We have seen disturbing trends in tourism even in the Dublin region as well as the threat to Border counties such as Donegal, and to the retail trade in Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. There are enormous challenges. I know the Minister met the British Secretary of State, Liam Fox yesterday. Does she intend to meet him again? The Secretary of State, David Davis, was here previously. Did the Minister talk about the common travel area and the Single Market?

Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: I have only one minute and five questions to reply to so I will talk to the Deputy later. First, I met Minister Fox and Minister Davis, and I intend to meet them again. I invited them to Ireland and they cordially accepted.   The Deputy also asked about job announcements. That is up to the companies. They decide that in their boardrooms outside this country. IDA Ireland would be very respectful of the companies’ wishes.   The Deputy was making statements rather than asking questions but he asked about—–

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I asked about the committee.

Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: We meet once a fortnight, the minutes of the meeting are taken and we work on the action points that come out of the meeting. We are coming close to a point where we will be able to discuss exactly what we need to do. In terms of the targeted response, Enterprise Ireland, together with the other stakeholders I mentioned, namely, the Small Firms Association and the Irish Exporters Association, will work with their client companies to find out exactly what they need.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Was the Minister taken aback by the comments made by First Minister Arlene Foster when she seemed to complain that agencies under the aegis of her Department, such as IDA Ireland and so on, are poaching jobs from the North? Why would Ms Foster say that? Given the special status of Northern Ireland and its critical importance to this country, we have to ensure that the position of its economy is protected in the Brexit negotiations. Will the Minister comment on that? In the first debate we had on that issue, I called for the appointment of a Brexit Minister who would have responsibility for all the relevant issues across Government. The Minister has a plethora of critical organisations in job creation, job protection and so on but I refer also to the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Communications, Climate Action and Environment and a range of others. We spoke recently about what will happen in terms of the Common Fisheries Policy. We always believed we got a terrible deal in that area in 1973. What is the Minister’s opinion? Does she believe we should have a Brexit Minister? She is handling a good deal of it – and I commend her on that – but will that be necessary when Article 50 is triggered?

Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: IDA Ireland co-operates with Invest Northern Ireland, INI – the equivalent body in Northern Ireland – in the context of regional and all-island economic development, recognising appropriate opportunities to pursue mutually beneficial cross-Border co-operation. Where appropriate, IDA Ireland and INI co-operate on company visits where both jurisdictions are being considered by foreign companies. These visits are usually initiated by IDA Ireland’s network of overseas offices. However, the Deputy should be aware that IDA Ireland competes with INI for inward investment in certain areas.

The economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have highly educated workforces. To that end, the skills pools available north and south of the Border are presented to potential investors as a key competitive advantage for investing in the Border regions on the island of Ireland. For example, PayPal, now located in Dundalk, made the decision to invest in that location based on the pool of skilled staff it could recruit from the large catchment area on both sides of the Border.