Following discussions with Waterford TD John Deasy, Enterprise Ireland has agreed to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to determine what benefit the agency can bring to the State’s fishing ports, including Dunmore East.
“Enterprise Ireland is the agency responsible for marketing our export food sector. I felt they should be involved in our ports and seafood industry,” the Fine Gael deputy said.
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee recently published a report on the six fishery harbour centres which shows their economic potential is not being realised.
The problem of idle, under-utilised and badly run properties has plagued many ports for years — “despite the fact that demand exists for these facilities,” the PAC found. Protracted legal wrangles have ensued in some cases, with poor relations between the Department and harbour users in general.
Deasy, who is vice-chairman of the PAC, said: “While the situation is worse in other ports, there are still some difficulties locally in Dunmore East, including complex issues surrounding arrears.
“But we now have a very proactive harbourmaster and the Department is making progress in dealing with legacy issues it inherited on taking over the marine portfolio eight years ago.”
The Committee’s report identified “a history of inefficiency” across the six centres, from poor property management to “archaic” accounts and lax financial controls, with facilities left vacant and revenues due to the State left uncollected.
In formulating its recommendations, and recognising the need for a more strategic approach, Deasy met with Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon — whose background is in the food industry — with a view to utilising its expertise.
“I put it to her that her agency should have a role in the future of these buildings for seafood processing or related commercial activity and her reaction to the suggestion of collaborating with BIM and the Department was positive.”
Briefing the PAC about the progress made in implementing new administrative and oversight structures for the harbours, Department secretary general Aidan O’Driscoll told Deputy Deasy that the involvement of Enterprise Ireland is “an excellent idea… and I am delighted about the idea of involving it in this process.”
The Committee has recommended that the largely-shelved business blueprint drawn up for the six ports in 2009 be revisited by a newly Fishery Harbours Development Board. It also wants a new arbitration-based dispute resolution mechanism established, and a clear segregation between the Department’s control functions and responsibility for harbour development.
Deasy added: “Landings are up but this is about maximising the local economic benefit. A number of people have approached me about processing shellfish and getting involved in seafood for export in the past six months in particular.
“Enterprise Ireland is the obvious agency to look at the assets we have in each of these ports and use their expertise to help market the industry abroad.”
Deputy John Deasy has met IDA chairman Frank Ryan to discuss measures that will assist Waterford and the South East on foot of the agency’s appointment of a new Regional Manager based in the city after a 20-year absence.
“It was a good meeting but it was made clear to me that in some cases companies are ignoring the Regional Aid incentives and are heading to the two largest urban areas in the country, regardless of what financial inducements are available.
“A package of measures will be announced for the regions by the IDA in the next month and I discussed with Mr Ryan specific measures that I felt are necessary for Waterford,” the Fine Gael TD Deasy said.
Having described the removal of the IDA’s South East regional director from Waterford in the mid-nineties as “a disaster”, Deputy Deasy’s efforts to convince government to restore a senior IDA executive to the city culminated in a frank exchange with Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton at the Oireachtas jobs committee last June.
At that meeting Mr Deasy linked the clear decline in Waterford’s fortunes with the establishment of an amalgamated South region, complete with a regional director headquartered in Cork.
That decision, he noted, was made on Richard Bruton’s watch, despite warnings as to what would, and did, happen; resulting in over 80% of all Foreign Direct Investment “going to three particular locations — Cork, Dublin and Galway.”
He told Mr Bruton “there needs to be a restructuring with regard to the seniority of IDA staff when it comes to the southeast, and the situation that was in existence in 1996 when you were minister needs to be reinstated.”
In response, the Minister agreed for the first time at that meeting to review the agency’s executive presence in Waterford — having earlier indicated that an additional 35 personnel approved for the IDA would be deployed overseas.
Deputy Deasy also wrote to both Mr Bruton and the IDA to reiterate that redressing the regional investment imbalance in the southeast’s favour needed a priority, management-led approach given the unique economic difficulties here.
“While we’ve seen some positive announcements and an improvement in unemployment levels over the past 18 months, the fact remains that around 2,500 IDA-supported jobs have been lost in Waterford since 2008, with only about a quarter of that number created over the same period,” he said.
“While enticing FDI isn’t easy, changing the trend that’s developed at our expense required, in my view, a senior influential focus and status on the ground, and with this appointment I think we’ve now got that.”
Ms Tierney-Le Roux — most recently IDA European Director and a former regional executive for Waterford — returned to the city in her new role on Monday, with the task of winning investments for this area.
Mr Deasy said: “I am meeting the new manager this week and it’s critical we tie up the people working in in economic development locally with her office and start improving that relationship.”