A total of 1,269 new jobs were created in 2008. Employment in the services and modern manufacturing sectors experienced growth while employment in the traditional manufacturing sectors such as textiles, clothing and assembly-line operations in addition to construction related businesses experienced a decline.
Overall it is encouraging to see the containment of job losses and the sustaining of our jobs target despite the unprecedented change in the national and global economic climate.
Growing Sectors and Economic Impact
The sectoral composition of Gaeltacht employment has changed considerably over the past decade. Jobs are created and lost each year in every economy as certain sectors contract and others grow. It is the national, as well as the Gaeltacht experience, that the more traditional manufacturing sectors have declined substantially since the mid nineties. Traditional manufacturing employment in Údarás assisted companies declined by 5.5% in 2008. However the modern manufacturing, services and audio-visual and independent tv production sectors increased by 9.7%. Employment in the services industry now accounts for 3,046 jobs or 37% of the total. The majority of these are indigenous enterprises and provide the type of highly skilled jobs that An tÚdarás aspires to support in the Gaeltacht. The figures indicate the gradual restructuring of the Gaeltacht economy from lower technology sectors and therefore lower skills level to higher technology manufacturing and services sectors and therefore a higher skilled and educated workforce.
Results from the Annual Business Survey of Economic Impact 2007 (ABSEI) carried out in 2008 by Forfás in Gaeltacht companies highlights the significant impact Údarás na Gaeltachta has had on the Gaeltacht and indeed the national economy. The ABSEI, which surveyed companies that include approximately 75% of Údarás supported employment, indicates that total direct expenditure into the Irish economy by client companies amounted to €421m, with total sales by those firms at €784m, 44% of which were in exports. The survey also illustrates that 42% of Gaeltacht companies are engaging in R&D activities, with a spend of approximately €11.5m in 2007.
Sustaining Employment and Job Creation
Total employment in Údarás na Gaeltachta assisted companies now stands at 8,193. Employment figures are expressed as full-time equivalent employment, representing the number of full-time employees and the number of part-time aggregated into full-time jobs. Up until now, full-time equivalent figures included were limited to the aquaculture and fish processing sector. Full-time equivalent (FTE) is intended to create a common measure for comparing the flexible nature of employment. This inclusion brings An tÚdarás more into line with the reporting practices of other development agencies and highlights the contribution of the media, hospitality and social economy employment sectors in the Gaeltacht. The FTE accounts for approximately 300 jobs and these jobs were previously included in our part-time figures.
During 2008 a total of 1024 new jobs were approved involving a overall investment of over €100 million. These new jobs are expected to come on-stream over the next three year period. Employment in indigenous enterprises continues to grow and this is evidence that the Údarás strategy of continuous support for local entrepreneurship is bearing fruit. These supports are extremely important to enable companies to maintain their competitiveness and thereby sustain jobs.
The global economic conditions, however, continue to create difficulties for Gaeltacht companies. Towards year-end, a number of Gaeltacht companies trading in the Sterling and Dollar areas were under pressure with their margins being eroded by the weak exchange rates. The current credit squeeze is also another constraint that existing companies have to contend with and An tÚdarás will continue to work with these companies, within the state-aid guidelines, to try to minimise job losses in 2009.
There is no doubt that 2009 will be a challenging year for job maintenance and creation in the Gaeltacht as it will be nationally. It will be a major challenge for us to meet our development and employment targets. The reduced level of funding available from the exchequer, the decline in the sale of assets, and the deteriorating economic climate may impair the organisations ability to achieve it’s job-targets. Job approvals for the first half of the year are expected to be low as the organisation focuses on employment maintenance and reserves resources for what is forecast to be a more difficult second half of the year.
Notwithstanding that, An tÚdarás is determined to pursue a sustained strategy of developing and securing employment in the Gaeltacht. Emphasis will be placed on aftercare support and the focus will be on working to maintain and create new jobs in existing companies. A range of support measures, consistent with state-aid guidelines, will be offered to companies to improve their competitiveness, especially those experiencing severe market pressures. A range of high quality industrial space and modern services buildings are available throughout the Gaeltacht for new businesses.
We acknowledge the support of IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland and the local authorities in implementing our enterprise development programme and look forward to enhanced co-operation with them in the future.
The Aquaculture Sector
Salmon farming remains the main aquaculture activity in the Gaeltacht. The shift towards the production of an organic salmon product has given the industry new momentum and, while some difficulties with disease were experienced in 2008, the general trend is towards growth. The Irish salmon industry has worked in collaboration with the Norwegian and Scottish industries to resolve some disease issues and progress on this matter gives renewed hope that tonnages will recover to levels achieved in previous years.
An tÚdarás has in the past pioneered the farming of novel species in Ireland and this work continues with Gaeltacht fish farmers currently involved in projects growing species such as abalone, turbot and cod. Three abalone farms are currently operating in the Gaeltacht and the farming of turbot in a water recirculation system is being trialled in Acaill, Co Mayo. Success for these ventures could encourage further investment in the farming of these species over the coming years. The pioneering work done by Trosc Teoranta, which was supported by An tÚdarás, on the farming of cod in Connemara has led to the Marine Institute’s Eir-Cod project being supported under the Institute’s Sea Change Programme. This initiative to develop an Irish cod broodstock is further evidence of how joint co-operation between agencies such as An tÚdarás and the Marine Institute can assist in creating new opportunities in the sector.
The decision by An tÚdarás during 2008 to discontinue the activities of its Gaeltacht marine research subsidiary, Taighde Mara Teoranta, was made following an assessment by the organisation of the company’s future in light of changes in the marine sector in recent years. While there can be no questioning the contribution made by Taighde Mara to the development of the aquaculture sector in the Gaeltacht and indeed nationally in the 25 years of its existence, the changing circumstances which now sees a wide range of expertise available from organisations such as The Marine Institute, NUIG’s Martin Ryan Institute and various Institutes of Technology negated the need for An tÚdarás to continue funding a separate research function. An tÚdarás will continue to focus its energy on the provision of support for the development of the productive sector in both aquaculture and fish processing and will draw expertise directly from those specialised organisations as required.
Throughout 2008 An tÚdarás continued in its efforts to ensure that a range of adequate workspace was available, particularly modern industrial and services type facilities, enterprise units, multifunctional centres and business incubation units. New premises were built and others were redeveloped or upgraded. These facilities are an invaluable resource in assisting to attract further investment to the Gaeltacht. These include:
An tÚdarás has repeatedly emphasised the importance of upgrading infrastructure in the Gaeltacht regions so as to facilitate the attraction of investment. We welcome the commencement of the development works at Inis Mór harbour, Aran Islands during the year, the completed upgrade of Inis Meáin harbour and the development plans for the pier at Inis Oírr. These developments will underpin the sustainability of these islands and thus have a positive impact on the island populations. The critical need to develop deep-sea harbour and ancillary services at Ros a’ Mhíl harbour is generally accepted because of the huge potential such a development would have as a driver of economic development for Conamara and the Aran Islands.
The decision by ESB Networks to make two new submissions to An Bord Pleanála for the provision of a 110 kv substation and new 110 kv power-line to Connemara and West Donegal is also welcomed. There is an urgent need for the reinforcement of the electricity network to cater for the increasing demand for power in the Connemara and Donegal Gaeltacht areas to facilitate commercial development and continued investment in the Gaeltacht.
We welcome the allocation of funding for the design of the new Conamara roadway and while An Bord Pleanála’s decision on the Galway outer bypass is disappointing it is hoped that a new application will be prepared without delay for that part of the bypass which was refused planning approval.
Significant advances have been made in the provision of broadband services in both the Galway and Donegal Gaeltacht during the year. A new high speed telecommunications network was provided in the Galway and Donegal Gaeltacht areas as a result of a joint initiative undertaken by An tÚdarás, HEAnet and NUI Galway. The new network, which is operated by Airspeed Telecom in Galway, was provided at six of NUI Galway’s Gaeltacht centres and as a result was also made available to business users in the southern Connemara area. CNS (Community Network Services Ltd) provided the service to the Gaoth Dobhair Business Park and as a result of a joint-funding initiative between An tÚdarás, Donegal County Council, IFI and Interreg has also provided new a broadband network throughout Co. Donegal. Six Gaeltacht Eircom exchanges were upgraded to DSL capacity during the year and another 8 exchanges are due for upgrade during 2009.
The Irish Language
To date An tÚdarás has established 32 language service centres throughout the Gaeltacht and over 900 people attended Irish language courses in those centres in 2008. Approximately 350 of these learners are undertaking accredited examinations such as a third level diploma or the European Irish Language Certificate (TEG). As part of An tÚdarás’ language planning strategy, research was carried out in twenty eight Gaeltacht communities as regards their Irish language requirements in conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. Findings from the research were in turn presented to the relevant language centres and each community’s expressed requirements will be incorporated the into the centres’ work programme for 2009. Language action plans are being implemented in eight other communities throughout the Gaeltacht.
Substantial funding was provided for the provision of third level education courses through Irish in the Gaeltacht where diploma, degree and postgraduate courses are now being delivered. The main provider is Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, NUI Galway, which is developing permanent outreach centres in the Gaeltacht. Third level courses delivered by the Waterford Institute of Technology in association with Nemeton Teo and by Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in association with Europus Teo were also funded. These courses have a significant social, economic and language impact in the communities where they are provided.
During the year, An tÚdarás reviewed its policy for its client-companies regarding their undertakings to promote the Irish language in their businesses. This revision was undertaken to align the state-aided private sector in the Gaeltacht with guidelines laid down for public bodies under the Official Languages Act 2003.
The Comprehensive Linguistic Study on the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, which was published by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in 2007, illustrates the critical and fragile state of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht. During the year a Cabinet Committee was established, under the Chairmanship of An Taoiseach, to formulate an action plan in response to the findings and recommendations of the Linguistic Study. The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs also commissioned specialist language consultants to prepare a 20 year Irish Language Strategy. An tÚdarás is committed to playing it’s own part in the implementation of the strategy to be adopted by the Government.
Exchequer Funding for 2009
The total exchequer funding granted to Údarás for 2009 is €38m compared to €43m in 2008.