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Adjournment Debate. - Dundalk (Louth) Unemployment.

Wednesday, 8 May 1996

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 465 No. 1

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Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern Zoom on Dermot Ahern I wish to share my time with Deputies O'Rourke and McGahon.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Treacy Zoom on Seán Treacy Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. D. Ahern: Information on Dermot Ahern Zoom on Dermot Ahern There has been a dramatic rise in the unemployment figures in the past year in the Dundalk area, especially in the most recent months. I made a request for an Adjournment matter on this issue last week as a warning to the powers that be of the gathering storm clouds on the horizon in the area. It is acknowledged by people that it is an unemployment blackspot. The Minister and his Cabinet colleagues should give Dundalk the same attention given over the past number of months to places such as Tallaght because it is recognised that Dundalk has, proportionately, as bad a problem.

The number on the live register in Dundalk increased by 10 per cent in the past year, the highest figure in the last decade. At the end of 1994 the figure on the live register was approximately 4,260. In mid-April this year it was 4,705, a rise of over 450. This is not only against the national trend but also against the trend in Drogheda, the sister town in County Louth, where the figure has fallen from 4,650 to 4,495.

Some 50 per cent of this increase occurred in the last four months. This happened for a number of reasons. In the first instance, there is an ongoing dispute at AIBP in Ravensdale which I mentioned to the Minister some time ago when I raised other unemployment issues in the area with him. The strike may escalate unless there is a dramatic intervention. The matter is dragging through conciliation procedures and people who worked there do not even know if they are former employees; they are very unhappy with the manner in [323] which their dispute is being addressed. Second, community employment schemes under the aegis of FÁS have not been renewed.

These are small aspects. Of greater significance are the dramatic layoffs this year in two long standing industries in the town, Keytronic and Harris Ireland. These major developments led me and my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, to raise the matter after Christmas.

I ask the Minister to adopt a hands on approach and to ensure that the State agencies in the area become directly involved in the creation of an emergency procedure whereby existing companies have an opportunity to avail of State resources to ensure that industries remain viable. We have called for this many times in the past. The Minister must accept that the figures are dramatic. Some attention must be given to getting new industry into the area. The situation needs dramatic attention, including a task force to address matters urgently.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke Zoom on Mary O'Rourke I lend weight to this issue. For many, Dundalk symbolises a town that pulled itself up and decided to shake off the shackles of being an unemployment blackspot. It did so, despite many difficulties, including currency problems. Because of its own ingenuity and the hard work of various employees and firms, it brought itself up and began to present a far better employment picture.

However, the current figures are startling. A rise of over 10 per cent in a 12 months period, from April 1995 to April 1996, warrants a stringent and rigorous examination. Apart from leaks from various firms, there needs to be a keen review of employment in Dundalk. I urge the Minister to give special attention to this area.

The area does not want to slip back into a slough of unemployment. None of us wants this to happen. I am sad that Deputies from the area have to be here urging and willing the Minister to have this problem investigated.

[324]Mr. McGahon: Information on Brendan McGahon Zoom on Brendan McGahon I thank Deputy Dermot Ahern for allowing me to express my concern on this issue. I agree with his sentiments about the unacceptable unemployment figures in Dundalk. However, it is not today or yesterday that Dundalk had such figures. Over the last 25 years we have had double the national average, irrespective of what party was in Government. We were hung out to dry as a result of the Ulster troubles.

In recent times, there has been a better dawn for Dundalk and the economic activity in the town has improved. Nevertheless, I cannot disagree with the concern expressed by Deputy Dermot Ahern and I join him in asking the Minister to address this tragic situation in respect of an area that has borne the brunt of the Ulster troubles without any recognition from Government over the past 25 years.

The same concern and attention should be given to the area as was given to Galway, Cork and Tallaght in recent times. The Border area has, unfortunately, borne the brunt of the Ulster troubles without any measures taken by any Government to counteract them.

The only issue on which I disagree with Deputy Dermot Ahern is FÁS. Despite the figures, we continue to have a large incursion of people from the North still signing on in Dundalk. It is very hard to get a fellow to do a day's work in Dundak and many of the FÁS schemes have difficulty in getting a full complement.

The figures can vary from time to time. In the last year the unemployment levels were also unacceptable, being double the national average. I reject those figures. Will the Minister pay full attention to the Border area, particularly to Dundalk which has 30,000 people?

Minister for Enterprise and Employment (Mr. R. Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton I thank Deputies for raising this issue in the House. As Minister, I am deeply concerned about unemployment. I am, on behalf of the [325] Government, vigorously pursuing a multi-faceted range of policies to address the scourge of unemployment. My Department's mission is to promote employment and we are doing this urgent task by encouraging enterprise, ensuring competitiveness, securing an educated and skilled workforce, tackling exclusion from the labour market, promoting a fair and efficient employment regulatory environment and implementing an effective business regulatory system.

I am conscious of unemployment in Dundalk. My concern is shared by all Deputies in the constituency and Deputy McGahon keeps me in touch with the local situation. Despite the unprecedented job creation performance, with 60,000 new jobs created since this Government came into office, the number of people on the live register in Dundalk was 4,650 at the end of March this year. This, unfortunately, represents an increase of over 400 on the corresponding month in 1995.

There is a range of responses to the serious problems of unemployment in Dundalk. A local employment service is now well on its way to being established in Dundalk. As I have outlined to the House on a number of occasions, this is a new service being developed in the country's 14 worst unemployment blackspots. This service is designed to provide a comprehensive and personalised service for unemployed people, particularly those who are long-term unemployed and in danger of becoming margnalised. It will provide a pathway for unemployed people to access the full range of employment options and is capable of offering a specialised career planning service, including guidance, counselling, access to training and placement in employment. I am confident that the new local employment service, together with the innovative range of measures announced in this year's budget, will have a considerable impact on improving the employment prospects of those currently out of work in the Dundalk area.

I assure Deputies that the industrial [326] development agencies, under the aegis of my Department, are active in promoting indigenous and foreign direct investment in the Dundalk area. Officials from my Department, acting directly or on my behalf, are in constant touch with these agencies about employment in Dundalk. I want to see more investment by enterprise in the town which is fortunate to have a developed industrial estate with a good surrounding infrastructure in terms of roads, telecommunications and access to sea ports and airports.

The north-east region has a significant base of high technology companies which is a key factor in attracting overseas investors. There is an impressive array of over 40 overseas companies in County Louth, including Quantum, ABB, AFL Strible and National Pen. In addition, there was the announcement last November that American Power Conversion Corporation, APC, is to locate its uninterruptable power supplies project in Drogheda. This will result in £14 million investment and the employment of 300 people at full production.

I am aware that a number of companies in Dundalk have experienced difficulties and we dealt with these in the House previously. I assure the Deputy and the House that IDA Ireland is keeping in close touch with them and doing everything possible to assist them and to promote further investment in the town.

As regards indigenous industry. Forbairt, through its north-east regional office, continues to actively promote the area for industrial development. During my visit to Boston with Forbairt officers last November I announced three specific business partnerships between Irish and US companies, including one between Creative Media Training Services in Drogheda and Paradigm Ink of Florida. Forbairt is also working with Dundalk Regional Technical College in seeking to source potential technology based start-up companies. In addition, I draw Deputies' attention to the recent opening of Potato Cuisine Limited in [327] Drogheda which will create over 60 jobs. I assure Deputies that both IDA Ireland and Forbairt will continue to build on the developments in Dundalk and County Louth in general which I have outlined.

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