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.”
John persuades Failte Ireland to allow council pitch
Deputy John Deasy has reached agreement with Failte Ireland to allow Waterford City and County Council to make a formal presentation — including a full business case — as to why Waterford’s coastline should be included in the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Fine Gael TD held separate meetings in Dublin last week with Failte Ireland chief executive, Shaun Quinn, and CEO of the combined Waterford council, Michael Walsh.
“I’ve been dealing with this for a couple of months now,” Mr Deasy said. “I proposed to Mr Quinn that the local authority be given an opportunity to make a proper pitch as to why Waterford, being on the Atlantic seaboard, should be included in this multi-million euro tourism promotion.
“Michael Walsh has agreed to put the necessary process in train and the next step is to formulate a comprehensive presentation. It will take a few weeks to put together the business plan, which is a critical component of this.
“While there’s no guarantee Waterford’s submission will be successful, at the very least the council will have the chance to make a detailed case for inclusion. It’s up to the officials now to make the best case possible.”
Deputy Deasy stressed that “the inclusion of Waterford will have to make sense in terms of the considerable marketing plan that’s already underway. The concern already raised is that it might dilute the overall concept.”
“We have to be realistic. There are major issues to be overcome if Waterford is to be included. The most obvious problem is that it would have to comprise East Cork’s coastline as well.”
He believes one big advantage Waterford has is the location of the regional airport, which would be an ideal starting point to the tourist route for visitors from the UK and Europe.
“Having this county’s spectacular 147km of coastline as part of the Wild Atlantic Way would also help the marketing of the airport a great deal. It’s very well located and I presume the airport’s access potential will be a key selling point in the presentation the Waterford council makes to Bord Failte.”
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.”
Waterford TD John Deasy has called on the Government to urgently look at deploying a larger IDA staff to the city, as talks continue concerning the future of the local Bausch + Lomb plant.
In a submission to Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, the Fine Gael Deputy pointed to the extra 35 new IDA Ireland personnel announced by his Department in February.
Since the restructuring of the IDA in the mid-1990s — which amalgamated the agency’s south-east and south-west divisions — the Southern Regional Director has been based in Cork. In the intervening years over 80% of all Foreign Direct Investment has gone to Dublin, Cork, and Galway.
An estimated 2,441 IDA Ireland company jobs have been lost in Waterford since 2008, with only around 581 created. There are just four IDA staff responsible for the south-east, all based in the city.
“While the IDA might argue that a director is not needed in every region, and that its preference is for a global spread of staff, the South East is facing unique economic difficulties,” Mr Deasy said.
The IDA is constructing a new advance technology building in Waterford but he feels “an even greater dedication of resources is required” — starting with some of the 35 new approved posts.
Mr Deasy pointed out that last year’s report by DKM economic consultants recommended a number of ‘high-level interventions’ to Government to support the Waterford council amalgamation — including an IDA Regional Director based here to promote FDI.
“I believe it’s imperative that the IDA’s personnel contingent in Waterford is increased and that the level of seniority attached to the Waterford IDA office is reflected at executive management level.”
Also, with new IDA chairman, Frank Ryan, only recently in place and a new CEO, Martin Shanahan, installed this week, Deputy Deasy feels “it’s time that the IDA’s entire strategy when it comes to Waterford city and county was revisited given its lack of success in terms of attracting FDI, ongoing job losses and high unemployment.”
Last week a “disgusted” Mr Deasy requested the Irish Ambassador to the United States to intervene after New York Senator Chuck Schumer revealed he’d directly phoned the CEO of Bausch + Lomb’s parent company Valeant seeking to have Waterford production relocated to Rochester.
Describing it as an “underhand” attempt to “impoverish” Waterford workers, Mr Deasy — a former congressional aide in Washington — contacted Ambassador Anne Anderson, who communicated the Irish Embassy’s concerns to the Democrat Senator’s office.
Irish Embassy contacts U.S. Senator after John registers his disgust at his underhand attempt to take B+L jobs
The Irish Embassy in Washington D.C. contacted a United States senator to raise concerns over his call for more than 1,100 at-risk jobs at Bausch + Lomb in Waterford to be moved to New York.
The Irish Times and Irish Examiner both reported the high-level intervention, made at the request of Waterford Government TD John Deasy.
The Irish Ambassador to the US, Anne Anderson, confirmed in a letter to the Fine Gael Deputy that, at his behest, the Embassy in Washington contacted the New York office of Democrat senator Charles ‘Chuck’ Schumer.
This followed Mr Schumer’s call for jobs at Bausch + Lomb in Waterford – currently the subject of negotiations between management and unions – to be relocated to Rochester, New York, where the company also has an operation.
Ambassador Anderson told Mr Deasy: “The Embassy has been in touch with Senator Schumer’s office to draw attention to the sensitivity of this issue, the ongoing negotiations between management, the employees and their unions, and the concern that these jobs be safeguarded in Ireland.”
Mr Schumer had revealed he had “called the CEO of [parent company] Valeant and urged him to move that work and those jobs to Rochester”.
In a press release to this effect, he also said that, after his phone call with Valeant chief executive J. Michael Pearson, he was “confident that Rochester will have a great shot at adding work and jobs from the potential closure of the Ireland plant”.
However, though Mr Pearson subsequently assured Waterford employees in a memo that Bausch + Lomb was committed to maintaining its presence in the city – provided the company got the €20million in cutbacks it wanted – Deputy Deasy was furious at Senator Schumer’s “sneaky” actions.
In a letter to the Ambassador, Mr Deasy said he found Mr Schumer’s media release “unbelievably distasteful”. Having separately condemned the Senator’s “pathetic” attempt to “impoverish” Irish workers, the Waterford Deputy suggested to the Embassy, “I think the Irish Government should express its disgust as well.”
Mr Deasy, who worked as a congressional aide on Capitol Hill before returning to pursue a career in Irish politics, said that, as a former employee of the Senate, “I never thought that a U.S. senator would act in such an underhand manner.”
He asked the Ambassador, “I would appreciate if you would communicate my disgust at the way he and his office are behaving as it pertains to the Bausch + Lomb workforce in Waterford City.”
He added: “I think the Irish Embassy should communicate to Senator Schumer that it would be better if he allowed those negotiations to conclude before issuing any press statements.”
Explaining why he took such offence, Mr Deasy said: “We all fight for our constituencies, but ringing a company CEO to impoverish Irish workers is pathetic. Senator Schumer likes to portray himself as a friend of Ireland. I hope Irish-Americans in New York get to hear about his sneakiness. He has peddled his Schumer visas for Irish people for years. Irish-American voters have just got an insight into how he works.”
“You consistently gave assurances that you would try to bring the ARV to the lowest level in Waterford – the Dungarvan level – and you did that."
Additional rates reliefs have been included in the new Local Government Bill after Minister Phil Hogan accepted proposals by Waterford Fine Gael TD John Deasy and Labour Deputy for Dublin Mid West, Robert Dowds.
The Minister was thanked for taking the thrust of two joint-amendments they put forward and incorporating them into the new legislation as it passed through the Dáil on Wednesday. Deputy Deasy said Mr Hogan had been ‘as good as his word’ when it came to reducing commercial rate levels in Waterford.
The first change the TDs sought and secured was in respect of a planned rates refund mechanism for vacant premises. In taking their arguments on board, the Minister is to give discretion to elected councillors right across the country to allow owner/occupiers who can’t secure tenants a full rates rebate – not a maximum of 50% as the Bill originally proposed (and which is currently applied in Dublin, Cork and Limerick).
Deputy Deasy said: “The Minister accepted there are areas where there is little or no demand for commercial premises. Councillors will now have the authority to tailor vacancy refunds – from 100% down to zero – to best suit the economic circumstances in particular counties or specific municipal districts.
“While I understand how some local authority officials would have seen a need to have a deterrent to people holding onto sites, to have a blanket 50% rebate would have been madness in this economic climate.
“There is a two-tier economy in this country. In some areas, like my own homeplace of Dungarvan, it’s not a matter of choice. In many parts of Ireland owners simply can’t get tenants for commercial premises. And enabling this to be implemented on a district level will allow for the differences between rural and urban areas.”
Work of Waterford Chambers acknowledged in Dáil
The Deputies – who are colleagues on the Dáil Public Accounts Committee – also proposed an amendment dealing with the issue of outstanding rates charges being passed on to new occupiers; something the Minister was anxious about as well.
“He accepted that maintaining the status quo could give rise to an unfair burden on businesses seeking to expand, relocate or start up. In some cases the arrears on a particular premises were holding up the sale,” Mr Deasy said.
“In dealing with and introducing a reasonable variation of our amendment, he is giving city and county managers the authority to write off arrears owed by previous occupiers – meaning property that may otherwise have remained vacant can now be re-let.”
Deputy Deasy said the Minister had lived up to his word in their interactions on commercial rates over the past year. “You consistently gave assurances that you would try to bring the ARV to the lowest level in Waterford – the Dungarvan level – and you did that.
“I’d like to thank you for following through on what you said you would do... I was keeping a close eye on this situation for the past year. But you were consistent with regard to the issue, and it’s turned out to be, in the case of the city, a really excellent result when you consider ratepayers there received a reduction of 20%.”
While county rates were reduced by 5%, some people felt it unfair that the Dungarvan ARV level should remain as is. But “for the most part the feedback I’ve been getting is that they expected it to go up,” Mr Deasy said.
He told Minister Hogan: “I think it’s worth acknowledging the direction that you gave. And everyone’s taking credit for it in Waterford – councillors, officials – but you were consistent”.
This included putting more money into Waterford’s Local Government Fund allocation with a direction that it be used to reduce the rates level locally.
From the floor, Deputy Deasy also said he wanted to acknowledge “the work of Waterford City Chamber of Commerce – Nora Widger and Nick Donnelly – and Dungarvan & West Waterford Chamber of Commerce – Jenny Beresford and Collette Bannon – on this issue.”
Fine Gael TD John Deasy and Labour Deputy Robert Dowds – both members of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee – are working on proposed changes to new legislation which would allow commercial rates increases to be spread out over a number of years, and alter the planned rates refund mechanism for vacant premises.
The Local Government Bill 2013 was published by Environment Minister Phil Hogan last week, setting down a legislative framework for the new local authority structures being introduced next summer.
One aspect of the Bill relates to how councils deal with commercial rates. However, Deputies Deasy and Dowds – a TD for Dublin Mid-West – are concerned that it doesn‟t take the current Valuation Office review of rental values, nor local economic circumstances, into account.
Consequently, they are planning to submit joint amendments to the Bill when it goes to report stage in the Dáil in the coming weeks.
Mr Deasy said: “For the past number of months I've been highlighting the potentially crippling impact the current revaluation process underway in Waterford – and parts of Dublin – would have. It particularly affects the retail sector, where most businesses locally are facing a significant upward adjustment of their rates bill; a hike of up to 300% in some cases.”
While the Bill provides for phasing in the effects of rates “harmonisation” – i.e. where different local authority areas with different Annual Rateable Valuations will be merged – the proposed legislation doesn't factor in the damaging impact a sudden revaluation hike would have.
Deputy Dowds said: “Even though the Valuation Amendment Bill has been introduced in the Oireachtas and provides for a new system of self-assessment of commercial rates, there needs to be a provision which allows for regular reviews on a statutory basis so that businesses can budget accordingly.”
Mr Deasy added: “What we are looking at is a way of giving councils powers whereby the elected members can decide to allow businesses whose rates bill is being increased as a result of revaluation to spread the 'hit' over a number of years.
“The Bill as published would abolish the refund regime entitling owners of vacant commercial properties to a 100% refund of their commercial rates liability in certain parts of the country. In many cases businesses would not be able to afford that refund regime changing in any respect.
“Once the Minister has given his response in this week‟s second stage debate, we will consider how best amendments might be framed to ease the burden on businesses as much as possible.”
::: Brendan Howlin: message
The Fine Gael Parliamentary Party has unanimously supported a motion by Waterford’s John Deasy requesting that the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform conduct an analysis of the potential impact substantial increases in commercial rates may have on struggling businesses.
The proposal, tabled in the context of the ongoing revaluation process, was passed at Wednesday night’s (July 3) meeting of TDs and Senators in Leinster House.
Deputy Deasy, who has alerted cabinet colleagues to the precarious position on the ground, says the message to Minister Brendan Howlin couldn’t be clearer – and insists the prospect of pushing businesses beyond breaking point can’t be ignored any longer by Government.
“We can’t sit back and allow businesses go to the wall because of rateable valuation increases introduced on our watch,” Mr Deasy said afterwards.
“There are countless examples of how this is affecting retailers in my home town of Dungarvan – a situation mirrored elsewhere in Waterford, not least in the city.
“You’re talking about petrol stations needing an annual turnover of around €1.3 million just to remain viable – or a newsagent needing to put €1.2m through the tills just to cover its €50,000 rates bill. It’s simply unsustainable.”
Deputy Deasy added: “There’s new legislation due to come before the Dáil later this year that will pave the way for self-assessment and hopefully a fairer system that reflects business realities. I’ve already called on the Taoiseach to have the Valuation (Amendment) Bill, 2012 expedited through the Oireachtas.
“In the meantime, given the knock-on effects this revaluation process will have in terms of a lower tax take, and unemployment benefit payments, in my view the Department is now obliged to examine the consequences of the current valuation review at both a micro and macro level.”
When the Public Accounts Committee recently called Frank Ryan, the chief executive of Enterprise Ireland, I took the opportunity to ask him about its position on university-led indigenous job creation.
I began by noting that Mr Brendan Murphy, the president of Cork Institute of Technology, said last summer that creating a vibrant technological university sector is the most important significant recommendation in the national strategy for higher education to 2030.
Mr Murphy highlighted how higher education can make a major contribution to the development of indigenous enterprise by pointing to CIT's association with Enterprise Ireland in operating the Genesis programme, which has resulted in 200 start-up companies, over €100 million in investment and the creation of almost 2,500 jobs.
The HEA and the Department of Education and Skills are adjudicating on applications for the creation of more technological universities, including the joint application for just such a designation by Waterford and Carlow ITs. "If that is where Mr. Ryan thinks the emphasis should be, what role does Enterprise Ireland, with the Department and the HEA, play to deliver on that?" I wondered, saying "the creation of these technological universities is important when it results in such figures."
Mr Ryan said in reply: "We have a long history of working directly with universities and the institutes of technology which we see as an engine of growth in their regions. It is not Enterprise Ireland's responsibility to direct Government policy. We are required to implement it."