IDA Ireland has been accused of failing Donegal after new figures revealed how the organisation has helped create less than 200 new jobs here in the past 14 years.
In a further damning indictment levelled at the body set up to attract foreign investment to Ireland, it has emerged that of the 607 new companies that have come into the State since 2008, just two of them have set up in Donegal.
The figures were unearthed by Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn through questions asked in the Dáil.
He described the revelations as “incredible” and said they clearly highlighted how the IDA had neglected Donegal over a long period of time.
Senator Mac Lochlainn also accused IDA Ireland of using the success story of Pramerica to mask the fact the investment body was doing nothing to promote the North West.
According to the figures, in 2002 IDA Ireland supported companies in creating 133,246 jobs across the 26 counties. By 2016 that had risen by 50 per-cent to 199,877 posts.
In Donegal the number of jobs created in 2002 stood at 2,873. By 2016, that had increased to just 3,039 – 166 new positions over 14 years.
In terms of the number of companies enticed into Ireland, statistics show that since 2008, 607 companies have opened for business in the State. But only two of them chose Donegal as their base.
Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the numbers proved that the county had been left behind when it came to foreign direct investment. And he accused IDA Ireland of using the accomplishments of Pramerica and Optum to “cover up” how it had failed Donegal.
Senator Mac Lochlainn said, “Pramerica has been a tremendous success, there is no doubt about that. Optum too has brought a very substantial number of jobs to Donegal. Those two companies are our good news stories and Pramerica has to be held out there as our gold star. I have huge admiration for the people who have built those companies up and what it proves is that we have the potential to attract serious companies to Donegal.
“But why are we not building on them? Pramerica and Optum have both been here quite a while and the question has to be asked, why are we not building on those two companies? Why has there been no new investment on the back of them?
“What we are seeing is that because Pramerica has been such a success, the IDA is utilising that to cover up the fact that there has been a really big failure in terms of job creation in Donegal. We have stood still while the rest of the State has continued to grow.”
It was not only the success of Letterkenny’s ‘big two’ that should be drawing in firms from outside to Donegal either, according to Pádraig Mac Lochlainn. Other factors, including Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) and the county’s proximity to Derry made it an instantly attractive prospect, he said.
Senator Mac Lochlainn said that while the IDA might argue that they can only lay the groundwork and it was then up to the companies where they set up, the Pramerica story disproved that claim.
“The story of Pramerica does serious harm to that narrative,” he said.
“Pramerica is a great story for Donegal and I hold it out there to say to companies you can come to Donegal and you will find an educated and skilled workforce. Companies like Kirchhoff and SITA have been enormous for us too but then you also have LYIT led by really talented people like Paul Hannigan and John Andy Bonar as well as the Colab and the Science and Technology Park to the rear of it.
“When you put it altogether, it shows how the IDA has not done its job in marketing what we have and how it has failed to market this region.
“They need to be challenged on this because they are using the Pramerica success story to cover up their failure in bringing investment to Donegal.”
Calling for a target-based system for the IDA to meet, Senator Mac Lochlainn added, “For seven out of the last nine years the IDA did not bring a single new company to Donegal. No one can stand over that. The two companies that did come, they are very welcome, but I am guessing they weren’t huge employers.
“So we need to start a conversation and we need to talk about the positives of what we have to offer.
“I think Donegal has much to offer foreign direct investors and what we need to be doing is setting job creation targets and then meeting them.
“There is a tremendous partnership there between Donegal County Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council led by two visionaries in Seamus Neely and John Kelpie. There is so much good work going on in the county and there can be absolutely no excuse for not marketing this region.
“For 15 years we have been saving the blushes of the IDA but it is time we started being honest about the situation,” Pádraig Mac Lochlainn added.
A spokesperson for the IDA said that Donegal was being marketed as part of the North West Region along with Sligo and Leitrim. In that region the IDA has 38 client companies, 12 of which are in Donegal.
They admitted though that issues like a lack of infrastructure, lack of a railway link and no national pipeline did make it difficult to attract companies in.
The IDA’s Regional Business Development Manager for the North West, John Nugent added, “IDA cannot work in isolation, the best results can be achieved through a collaborative approach with all stakeholders working together. This is being done on two fronts, through IDA’s own ongoing liaison with stakeholders and also through our involvement in the North East-North West Action Plan for Jobs.
“IDA Ireland engages with all of stakeholders around economic development and is an active participant in the North West Regional Skills Forum. We will continue to work closely with stakeholders in Donegal to maximise future FDI investment potential, in conjunction with other economic development objectives such as indigenous industry and tourism.
“We view IDA Ireland’s FDI targets for regions as collective targets for the stakeholders in each region to work together to achieve,” Mr Nugent added.