IDA must ensure two-tier recovery is avoided as economy improves

Areas that have lagged should not be left behind in an economic recovery

Barry O’Leary, chief executive of the IDA, with Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs Enterprise & Innovation, and Frank Ryan, IDA chairman at a presentation on the organisation’s 2013 end-of-year statement.Photograph: Alan Betson

Barry O’Leary, chief executive of the IDA, with Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs Enterprise & Innovation, and Frank Ryan, IDA chairman at a presentation on the organisation’s 2013 end-of-year statement.Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 01:00

It is hard to criticise the IDA when it creates 13,367 jobs, mostly high-end posts, from foreign direct investment (FDI) in a single year, as it did in 2013.

It led to a net increase in employment of 7,071 when jobs losses are taken into account, and the IDA said 2013 saw its highest level of job creation in a decade.

The number of companies choosing to base themselves in Ireland for the first time also rose by almost 20 per cent compared with 2012, leading Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton to praise “another record year for multinational companies, with targets exceeded”.

The big investments came from leading names such as Deutsche Bank, Twitter, eBay, Facebook, Airbnb and others. All this against a backdrop of stormy weather coming from Europe, even if the US and UK showed some recovery.

But chief executive Barry O’Leary’s announcement yesterday, alongside his retirement from the agency, that the IDA will build manufacturing facilities outside the major urban centres is possibly an indication of a focus on areas that have not seen as much attention as others.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on jobs Dara Calleary yesterday warned against regional neglect. While praising the IDA’s performance, he said “many other areas of the country seem to have lost out entirely”.

Figures provided to him in response to parliamentary questions showed that between 2012 and the first eight months of 2013, the IDA sponsored only one site visit to Leitrim, three to Mayo, four to Roscommon and five each to Donegal and Cavan. “This compares to 50 IDA visits to Limerick, 66 to Cork and 348 to Dublin. In fact, Dublin accounted for 55 per cent of all IDA site visits in the first eight months of 2013.”

He further argued that when the IDA focused on a region it achieved results, such as securing 450 eBay jobs for Dundalk in 2012.

However, the IDA yesterday said it needed to create new “property capacity in regional locations” where “the private sector is unable currently to develop property solutions”.

The developments in Waterford and Athlone will be the first facilities to be built by the IDA in almost five years and are a welcome acknowledgement it will actively target jobs where they are needed.

While Mr O’Leary mentioned possible additional IDA developments in Galway, Letterkenny and Limerick, Mr Calleary makes a valid point. Other areas that have lagged behind should not be left behind, especially now as the economy enters recovery mode. A two-tier recovery must be avoided.

Although O’Leary is leaving the IDA, he will stay on until a replacement is appointed later this year. The agency is in the fourth year of its Horizon 2020 strategy, and a successor plan will have to be formulated.

“We need to look beyond our current strategy and it’s really important that whoever is involved in the formulation of that strategy is involved in the delivery of it,” O’Leary said.

The IDA also announced yesterday it is examining how to bring in new forms of FDI, a process that will have to be driven by O’Leary’s successor.