The ‘Woman from the IDA’ didn’t quite ‘tut-tut’ when I rang her and mentioned Fianna Fáil’s pesky questioning of the agency’s track record…but I could tell that she was less than impressed.
This year, the Irish Development Authority is 70 years old. Its remit is to try to attract foreign direct investment into Ireland’s cities, towns and villages.
The narrative on the IDA has become very predictable in recent years…the agency tends to be in the line of fire any time the vexed ‘job creation’ issue comes up.
This particularly applies in rural Ireland where the IDA – rightly or wrongly – is very quickly placed in the dock when there’s any talk about jobs, or lack of them.
Politicians (even Government ones) will often point the finger at the IDA, lamenting that the agency is ignoring their area. Readers can decide for themselves whether this is legitimate criticism on the part of the politicians, or merely convenient cover for their own ineffectiveness.
In rural Ireland, the two charges that the IDA routinely faces relate to (1) A perceived lack of site visits and (2) A failure to attract enough jobs outside of urban areas.
Fianna Fáil has been checking out the IDA’s ‘current form’. Readers can decide for themselves whether or not they consider that to be constructive Opposition. Some will feel it is, others may not. The FF man chasing down the IDA is Billy Kelleher, currently that party’s Spokesperson on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
Heather Humphreys, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, gave ‘the man from FF’ a county by county breakdown. The figures for site visits to Roscommon make for grim reading.
2015: 2 site visits. 2016: 1 site visit. 2017: 3 site visits. January-September 2018: 2 site visits.
And FF is claiming that the IDA is ‘sitting on’ numerous ‘idle sites’.
I rang Ellen Lynch – the Regional Communications, Press & PR Executive for IDA Ireland – to see what she thought of all of this. As you’d expect, she knew all about Billy’s questioning of the Minister. I got the impression I wasn’t the first media person to call Ellen on foot of the figures.
And she wasn’t having any of this negative talk…
First, the good news, which we can all surely welcome: according to Ellen, there are 9 IDA client companies in County Roscommon, employing 1,171 people.
I asked Ellen about those site visits…a mere nine in four years (she reported that there were three in all in 2018 by year end).
Very pleasant and helpful, Ellen was at pains to suggest that mere statistics do not tell the full story. She insisted that the IDA ‘sells’ Roscommon at every opportunity. Roscommon is marketed as part of the West Region, which also includes Galway and Mayo. Conscious of what most people will consider to be a very low number of site visits, Ellen said that representatives of foreign companies are usually only in the area for a day, and that they have requirements in terms of criteria.
She confirmed that there were three such visits to County Roscommon in 2018 and the same number the previous year. However, she stressed that the IDA should not be judged purely on site visits, pointing out that a significant proportion of all new foreign direct investment (FDI) comes from existing IDA clients present in the country.
On long-suffering regional locations like Roscommon, she said: “Creating jobs in regional locations is, and will remain, a top priority for IDA Ireland. That said, competition for FDI continues to be fierce and every investment is hard won. In working to attract FDI, we work with our overseas project teams to market and strongly encourage overseas companies to locate in regional areas. It is important to remember however that the final decision on where to locate to, rests with the company”.
She advised on what the key factors are when seeking to attract and retain foreign direct investment, namely: A critical mass of population and urban centres; The ability to attract and develop appropriate skills (talent); The existence of clusters in specific industry sectors/activities; Regional infrastructure and place-making, including social and cultural capital; Availability of suitable property solutions.
Next, I asked Ellen about ‘idle’ IDA sites. According to Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy, 98 of 152 properties owned by the IDA nationwide are lying “idle”.
Not so, says Ms. Lynch, who dismissed Fianna Fail claims of multiple ‘idle’ IDA sites.
“The IDA doesn’t have a single idle site. There would be no point in bringing a prospective client (on a visit) and not have a site available. It would mean that the value proposition is considerably undermined. It is essential that we have sites (for potential investors to see)”.
Later, in an email to the Roscommon People, the IDA spokesperson elaborated: “IDA Ireland’s position in relation to sites is that our strategic sites and business parks provide companies with fully zoned service sites for development of suitable facilities.
“Land and property is sold and acquired each year to ensure appropriate options are available for clients.
“The availability of sites and property solutions for clients is a key element of IDA Ireland’s suite of marketing tools that is required to win projects in the competitive world of mobile investment. It also enables companies to expedite their investments and establish operations quickly. Having available land is therefore essential to achieve regional investment”.
Fianna Fáil’s man in Roscommon, Deputy Eugene Murphy, wasn’t impressed.
“The majority of the ‘idle’ IDA properties – 98 of the 152 they own – are outside Dublin. This confirms that the IDA is ignoring rural Ireland.
“In County Roscommon there is over 4 hectares of land lying idle in the Roscommon Business Park in the Racecourse Road area, with over one hectare in an industrial estate in Castlerea”. There are, he said, further ‘idle’ sites in County Galway (see panel).
Deputy Murphy then turned his attention to Leo & Co. He said that while Fine Gael can point to reduced unemployment nationally, most of the new jobs are in Dublin, many of them part-time, with very few well-paying jobs being located elsewhere.
Deputy Murphy said that the IDA statistics show that there are a considerable amount of commercial properties that could be the ideal location for an overseas company to relocate to post-Brexit.
He called for these “available properties and land” to be marketed to foreign companies with renewed urgency in light of Brexit.
No, I didn’t ring the IDA spokesperson back…but we will keep a watching brief of this one!