Detailed proposal submitted by council; John puts it to CEO
The chief executive of the IDA has told Waterford TD John Deasy that the agency will consider a major re-fit of the former recycling plant in Dungarvan as a base for new industry.
A comprehensive proposal to renovate the vacant Shandon facility was submitted to the agency by senior Waterford and City Council officials last week following contacts between Mr Deasy and the IDA.
He then raised the proposal with IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan when he appeared before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Thursday.
The local Fine Gael deputy has held a series of meetings with senior IDA executives over the past number of weeks: namely, chairman Frank Ryan, new South East Regional Manager Anne-Marie Tierney-Le Roux, and the CEO. He also spoke with Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton last week about the proposal.
These discussions included the possibility of an advance factory for Dungarvan. “While there are other factors involved, the availability of suitable buildings, both office and manufacturing units, is critical to try and draw investors away from the likes of Dublin and Cork,” Mr Deasy said.
"Council officials believe that, properly refitted, it would compare favourably with the new building at the IDA Technology Park in Waterford."
Martin Shanahan told him the IDA is “happy to engage” with the local authority. “We will examine that and come back to the council’s chief executive in relation to the proposal he has put forward to see what can be done... and within what timeframe.”
It was announced last week that a five-year, €150 million property investment programme is to be rolled out by the IDA to attract foreign direct investment into the regions — including another new advance technology building for Waterford in 2017.
While positive, “it’s too far away,” Mr Deasy said. And though hopeful that a client company will be secured soon for the just-completed 25,274sq-ft advance technology building in Butlerstown, the Dungarvan TD said a similar ‘turn-key solution’ is needed in the west of the county.
Martin Shanahan said advance facilities are “hugely important for us”, and agreed that the funding made available to the IDA for property investment could “potentially” be used to upgrade suitable facilities such as the one in Dungarvan.
Deputy Deasy believes revamping the 27,000sq-ft plant, “which started life as an advance factory before being adapted to accommodate the Materials Recovery Facility, would make sense. Returning it to its original purpose does seem a logical move at this stage. It needs an internal overhaul and an external upgrade, and the detail of that has been outlined to the IDA.”
He added: “Council officials believe that, properly refitted, it would compare favourably with the new building at the IDA Technology Park in Waterford. Another plus is that it wouldn’t require planning and could become a ready-made facility very quickly. Also, the unit sits on a fully-serviced site of almost 4 acres, with plenty of scope for expansion.”
Cllr Damien Geoghegan, Mayor of the Dungarvan-Lismore District, says “retrofitting the plant for a new industry would make it a very marketable proposition, and hopefully accelerate the delivery of additional employment to the town and the wider west Waterford area. The proposal that’s being looked at would be an ideal fit with the enterprise agencies’ new regional strategy.”
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.”
Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, has said he will review the IDA’s presence in Waterford after his Fine Gael colleague John Deasy called for a change of strategy and the re-dedication of senior staff to the southeast.
Both attended last Tuesday’s (June 10) Oireachtas jobs committee meeting, at which the Minister took general questions surrounding the proposed redundancies and cost-cutting at Bausch + Lomb.
Raising the issue of inward investment, Deputy Deasy said the situation “changed negatively” for Waterford in 1996 — at a time when Mr Bruton was enterprise minister. That year an internal IDA restructuring saw the agency’s southeast and southwest divisions amalgamated. A new southern regional director was based in Cork — the existing SW headquarters.
“At the time plenty of people, including people within Government, sounded a warning that that was going to have a detrimental effect on the city and county of Waterford, and the southeast,” Mr Deasy said.
He reminded Mr Bruton, “You were the minister at the time those warnings were given. Since then, as it’s turned out, those warnings have proven to be absolutely correct”, with over 80% of all Foreign Direct Investment “going to three particular locations — Cork, Dublin and Galway.”
Referring to the Minister’s approval in February for the appointment of 35 additional IDA staff, Mr Deasy added: “I am of the opinion at this point that 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.”
Mr Bruton said: “I take the point there is a lot of criticism but on the issue of where do you put new staff ... we’re seeking to build new opportunities in new geographies and all of those 35 people are being put into overseas locations to try to win new investment.”
“But,” he told Mr Deasy, “obviously the IDA is undergoing a review of its overall strategy and its regional strategy in conjunction with my own Department, and we will look at issues that are raised here in terms of staffing at that level.”
The Minister insisted: “I’m confident the IDA, under my direction, is giving this the necessary attention it deserves ... I believe in time that those site visits and that enhanced effort will deliver results.
“This year again, through the IDA, I funded an advanced facility in Waterford; precisely because I feel we need something different in the regions to respond to the challenges that the IDA have had in getting the necessary regional spread.”
He added, “we’ll be taking a tough look at our regions, how we’re doing things, and how we can do things better. I will be reviewing, in the context of the [IDA] regional strategy, the appropriate realignment of resources to the challenges we meet.”