Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Éireann:
recognises that getting the economy back on track must be the number one priority and that this requires urgent action to retain and create jobs, to assist struggling businesses and those attempting to establish new enterprises and to ensure that those currently unemployed have the skills required to get back into employment;
402,100 people are now unemployed;
195,100 people have lost their jobs in the year to the end of April;
viable small and medium enterprises are continuing to close because they cannot access credit;
provisions for retraining and up-skilling of unemployed workers and those in vulnerable sectors of the economy have been totally inadequate;
the lack of urgency with which proposed jobs cuts at key employers such as Dell, Waterford Crystal and SR Technics have been met has resulted in jobs that may have otherwise been saved being lost; and
escalating unemployment has resulted in a sharp fall in revenue from income tax while the social insurance fund is at a risk of running out by the end of the year, in part due to the pressure on it from welfare payments to those out of work;
calls on the Government to take urgent action to stem the jobs haemorrhage and put people back to work through, in particular:
the establishment of a national investment bank to invest in our own future and help create jobs including by ensuring access to credit for small business;
the fast tracking of business start-ups by creating one-stop enterprise business points to bring together funding, expertise and advice for entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses or grow existing ones;
taking Eircom into public ownership to provide a suitable platform for investment in broadband;
measures, including tax breaks, to assist employers to retain workers in employment and to take people off the dole;
providing support for Irish manufacturers and producers to export to markets outside the US and Britain including language and regulation support;
setting up a ‘Bridge the Gap’ work experience scheme for graduates and apprentices;
helping people working part-time to train in their time off through an ‘Earn and Learn’ scheme; and
launching a skills drive for people who have lost jobs and those in vulnerable sectors of the economy, including tax back for full-time study and measures to get early school leavers back into education.
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“commends the Government for its management of the economy and the public finances by implementing policies which will lay the foundation for a return to prosperity and which are aimed at stabilising and revitalising the banking system, restoring sustainability to the public finances, underpinning employment creation, assisting those in search of work or in need of training and further developing a green, clean, higher technological economy;
notes in particular:
the approval of the European Commission and support from the European Central Bank for our recovery strategy;
our underlying economic strengths which include world-class modern export industries, a pro-business environment and a flexible labour market; and
our significant international competitive advantage ranking Ireland as:
1st for real corporate taxes;
1st for investment incentives;
1st for foreign investor freedom;
1st for skilled labour;
3rd for flexibility and adaptability of people; and
4th for labour productivity;
acknowledges Government actions in support of activation and training through:
its €1 billion funding for a range of labour force measures which will assist those who have lost their jobs;
the doubling of capacity in job search support, training and work experience programmes;
the Work Place Programme which includes special provision for graduate placement;
special arrangements for over 3,600 redundant apprentices;
re-affirms its support for Government actions aimed at the enterprise sector through:
the creation of a €100 million Enterprise Stabilisation Fund;
the establishment of a Credit Supply Clearing Group to address the credit supply issue;
implementation of the Smart Economy Strategy;
the roll-out of the National Broadband Scheme; and
policies aimed at reducing energy costs in the economy.”
Deputy Simon Coveney: I wish to share time with Deputy English. I am surprised but glad to have an opportunity to speak on this motion and thank the Labour Party for bringing it forward. Anybody who knocked on doors in the recent local, European and by-election campaigns will know there is one issue above all else that families and people in general across the country are concerned about, which is employment. Up to an average of 1,000 people per day have lost their jobs since the start of the year and the response from the Government has been totally inadequate in terms of prioritising the protection of jobs and creating new jobs and opportunities for those who have lost their jobs.
For the people unfortunate enough to lose employment, many of whom are highly employable, skilled and motivated people, the way in which we are treating them in terms of immediate access to social welfare payments, entitlements and retraining is simply not good enough. I have said this repeatedly and my party has argued this since January.
With regard to the challenges that State bodies like FÁS, for example, face, the response is not good enough. At a minimum, we should ensure that people get their social welfare entitlements within a week to provide at least some income into households when people lose their jobs. That has not happened. In certain parts of Cork city and county, it is taking between 11 and 13 weeks for people who have lost employment to access social welfare payments that they are entitled to, which is not good enough.
This party has proposed a job protection strategy to prioritise the needs of employers and small businesses in particular in order to keep people in employment. I ask the Minister to consider those proposals in a serious way because they are meant as a practical response to the challenge of keeping people in employment. It is so much more expensive for the State and difficult for the people concerned to lose their jobs and find new employment than it is to keep people in employment in the first place.
We must be far more imaginative and consider what is working elsewhere in linking attempts to keep people in employment with some form of State sponsorship, which would be an alternative to a person otherwise finding himself or herself on the dole. There are ways in which we can do that and we should act more proactively.
We will reach a figure of 500,000 on the live register by the end of this year, which is a frightening figure. It is our job to find solutions that will look to minimise that figure and, most important, look to dramatically reverse the trend next year of rapidly increasing unemployment in Ireland.
The Government must look at ways to create jobs and new employment that are recession-friendly. The building of infrastructure in a recession makes much sense because it is labour intensive. This would engage people formerly working in the construction sector, from where a significant percentage of the unemployed have come. Ireland needs a dramatic upgrade in its water, rail, or telecommunications infrastructure in particular. It also needs better energy infrastructure.
We have made very proactive and positive proposals as to how we would fund that without requiring the State to borrow more money. The Government should not dismiss those proposals, as has been done by the Minister of State’s colleagues, by arguing that Fine Gael wants to create more quangos. We have focused on the creation of new State companies that would borrow on the basis of commercial return to create the kind of new employment we are talking about. That proposal has been tested and is worth serious consideration by the Government, which it is not getting currently.
Deputy Damien English: I apologise for being a little late and I thank my colleague for taking on the debate. There was a misunderstanding with the timing. I welcome this motion from the Labour Party, which concerns a very important issue. I spoke last week on small businesses and this is another issue I am afraid the Government is just not getting. We must act on it.
We stood here in February and March 2008 with colleagues in the Labour Party and others on this side of the House discussing these problems. Long before the black July, as it has been called, we highlighted the problem of rising unemployment but nobody wanted to listen. It was to be put to one side. Since then there has been inaction from the Government.
We are calling for imagination and new ideas to keep people in employment. We know jobs might not pay as well as they did and that is probably the way life has gone but we must keep people in employment both for financial and social reasons. With a bit of imagination there is no reason we cannot invent new labour activation schemes to try to match people with great skills with jobs that must be done in our communities, towns and throughout the country. Much work needs to be done but much will be left incomplete.
This is the time to act rather than dwell in self-pity and hope our fortunes pick up next year. At the announcement of the last budget, the Government predicted unemployment would probably only reach 8% by the end of this year when the dog in the street knew it could be double that figure. Sadly, there will be 500,000 people unemployed by Christmas, although quite a number would be greatly skilled and want to work. We must find ways to employ them.
I have said to previous Ministers that there are courses of action. The community employment schemes can be expanded for certain individuals and new activation schemes can be introduced. There is any number of schools to be built out there; rather than spending millions on renting prefabs every year and social welfare payments, the two issues should be combined in one budget in order to build classrooms. We should do something in order to look back at these dark times and say that we made some progress in certain areas.
Many of our towns have suffered from bad planning and as a result are missing out on parks, playgrounds and so on. This is a chance to put teams of people together to go into areas and spend time to make them attractive by developing parklands and walkways. The social welfare funding could be supplemented in order to make this activity more attractive to people.
In my own town of Navan there are 100 acres that will sit idle because there is no money to develop it. Planning permission has been obtained for the project and the land was bought years ago so it is ready for the off. It will sit idle because it cannot be developed due to lack of funding, while at the same time thousands of people are being added to our dole queues. Not every one of them would like to partake in such an activity but I am sure there would be enough to work if we could use our imagination and use existing funding in a different fashion. If we could do so, that park could be up and running. That is one idea and I am sure there are plenty more across the country. We must act on them.
The Labour Party includes a reference to subsidising employment in the motion, which we should absolutely do. For many years during the good times, businesses dealing with carpets, for example, were leaving the country and businesses were closing because they lacked competitiveness. Although we felt we did not need to do so, there was an opportunity to subsidise or grant-aid those companies but we must do it now. There is no point in people losing their jobs because their employer cannot afford to pay their wages — which they could if they got a top-up from social welfare — or they cannot get credit from a bank.
Spending money on social welfare must be done as a stop-gap measure but we could get much more benefit from it. People could also benefit both financially and socially by having such money spent on bringing about employment. There is no reason we cannot work with employers and subsidise them.
I know the Taoiseach met with Mr. Jack O’Connor and others to discuss this matter but that is only a full year and half after the problem arose. The reason most of the recent Private Members’ motions concerned employment and small businesses is because the Opposition wants to force the issue to targeting money to keep people in jobs and in community employment schemes.
While there is not much I admire in how China functions, I will admit it has ways of ensuring everyone is at work. While we may not agree with how it is done and that people are not paid enough, it is productive and keeps the Chinese economy going. We must keep people in the labour force at work and making a contribution to society. That is what the majority of those who recently lost their jobs want to do.
Deputy Michael McGrath: The retention of existing employment and the creation of new jobs for the 400,000 people on the live register is the single greatest challenge facing the country. Members all know how devastating the loss of a job can be for any family. Many thousands have been affected in the past several months. It is proper and fitting this debate should take priority and that we give it the attention it deserves.
More than 400,000 people are on the live register. They come from all walks of life, some from professional backgrounds, the self-employed, low-skilled workers and every other sector. There is an enormous pool of talent and experience which must be tapped into because many of these people want to make a contribution to society without seeking extra payments. A contact point should be established where welfare recipients can submit details about their skill sets and the services they can provide to their communities. Groups, clubs and community organisations could submit their requirements to the contact point to match them with such information. Such a scheme would not be in competition with the community employment scheme but could be extended into a return to employment scheme whereby employers could be matched with potential employees.
In a bid to incentivise people to return to work and employers to take people on, April’s supplementary budget changed the focus of the back-to-work scheme. The scheme now supports people returning to self-employment which has had an impact on the employers’ PRSI exemption scheme. We must ensure employers who take on workers from the live register are given every possible incentive. When a person on jobskeeker’s allowance comes off the live register, the Exchequer makes a direct saving of €10,000.
The welfare system’s inflexibility must also be addressed. Some on welfare, particularly those who were self-employed, are concerned about going back to work for a short period as it may take several weeks to reactivate their benefits if they lose their job again. It is acting as a barrier and disincentive to people to getting back into employment.
Given the collapse of the property bubble, thousands of self-employed are now unemployed. They have found that because of the PRSI system their contributions do not entitle to them to any welfare benefits. This is creating a concern among people who would like to become self-employed that if work dries up or they get ill that they will not be entitled to social welfare benefits. We must do better in creating an enterprise culture that will incentivise people to set up their own businesses.
It must be made easier for businesses to create employment and take people off the live register. A balance must be struck between employment rights and over-regulation of the employment sector. The public finances need to be put in order, the banking system needs to be restored and we must ensure we are a more competitive economy coming out of this recession.
Deputy Margaret Conlon: I agree with the Opposition motion’s opening statement that getting the economy back on track must be the number one priority. It is the number one priority for the Government. Its recovery programme is built on four steps which include protecting jobs, improving competitiveness and assisting those who have lost their job so they can return to work.
The reality the Opposition continues to neglect is that nearly every economy in the developed world is struggling to cope with the global economic downturn. Ireland, along with many others, is suffering from a fear among investors and consumers, which in turn is feeding a lack of confidence among these two key groups. Our GNP is projected to experience its sharpest decline on record this year, contracting by 8%. Our economic growth rate, however, is forecasted to turn positive by 2011. This is a long time away, not the instant solution people, including me, want. However, economies go through cycles of negative downturns and positive growth; sadly, we are in the former.
In the interim, we must continue to pursue appropriate policies to have the economy in an optimum position to benefit from the global recovery when it comes. Our many strengths include a highly skilled labour force, wage flexibility in both the public and private sectors, work practices being amended and reductions in costs. We are also maintaining capital spending at a high level by international standards, a vital move.
We must continue to enhance our economic competitiveness. The tough measures taken by the Government in recent months are designed to address our present difficulties. While we would prefer not to have taken these measures, not doing so would have been an abdication of our duty as the elected representatives to govern. The Government is committed to continuing to take the necessary difficult decisions to achieve this goal.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment highlighted the strengths of the economy when she referred to statistics from the World Competitiveness Yearbook 2009. The doom and gloom merchants of the Opposition benches neglected to state our trade performance is still strong and our exports show continued strength. Many of our export-orientated companies are flourishing. We simply must strengthen their potential.
We must acknowledge unemployment is a major factor, being the number one issue in the recent local and European elections. The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment pointed out, however, that last month more than 16,500 people came off the live register because they found work, a glimmer of positive news.
No longer can one expect to have a job for life. We must up-skill those who lost their jobs or are at risk of losing their jobs. Up-skilling must now be the norm rather than exception. People’s skills must be harnessed in a different direction. The ideas campaign spearheaded by Aileen O’Toole and her business partner, Fiachra Ó Marcaigh, was a superb initiative which I urge the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and other Ministers to consider.
As for someone with a business idea, there should be a one-stop-shop help desk for start-ups, with advice on issues such as legal, human resources, patent and accounting matters. Instead, people go to their county enterprise boards but are referred to Enterprise Ireland, the rural development programme or some other agency. The multiplicity of agencies must be streamlined because at present, people are being sent from Billy to Jack, when such support must be centralised in one location in order that potential future entrepreneurs receive all available assistance, as they must be able to access the relevant supports. If they are directed in the right way in a timely manner, they will be in a position to turn ideas into tangible projects that will turn into jobs.
Approximately, 2,500 new businesses are registered in Ireland every month. Last Monday, I heard news headlines to the effect that 38 new jobs had been created. Five years ago, such an item would not have made it into the headlines. Such jobs are important and although all jobs are important, be it a single job or half a job, they do not always make the headlines. In conclusion, as there is plenty of work to be done in the business community, locally by individuals in communities and finally by the Government, let us get on with it. Ireland, despite the gloom and doom, is still a good place to do business and is still open for business.
Deputy Chris Andrews: I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this issue. More than 1 million people in Ireland work in the small and medium-sized enterprise, SME, sector and in effect, it comprises the backbone of the Irish economy. People who start up businesses and who try to create employment have vision and the Government will not be found wanting when it comes to supporting them. Figures released by the Small Firms Association yesterday point to the fact that SMEs are doing everything they can to remain competitive and it is the Government’s responsibility to assist them in this regard. I assure small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as people with the vision to make a difference in the community, the economy and this country that they will have the Government’s support. When speaking with SME owners a number of issues repeatedly arise, the most frequent of which concerns the difficulty of securing credit. The Government clearly is taking difficult measures to ensure that credit will begin to flow and there are signs that this is beginning to happen.
A particular issue that has been brought to my attention by many businesses in Dublin South East concerns rents. In recent months, several traders have contacted me about attempts to increase commercial rents even though trade has decreased dramatically in some cases. The most disappointing aspect is that many of the property owners are the financial institutions or the asset management arms of financial institutions, which are availing of the Government’s bank guarantee scheme. I also was disappointed to learn this week of the difficulties being experienced by traders under the remit of the Temple Bar Cultural Trust. I have called for the city manager of Dublin City Council to take an active role in ensuring that a realistic approach to current rents is taken. Temple Bar Cultural Trust is a not-for-profit organisation under the control of Dublin City Council and although it was set up to promote the area as both a cultural hub and as a bustling thriving small business precinct, virtually since its inception it has failed to understand the needs of small businesses, with the exception of the pub trade, which traditionally has had a disproportionate influence in the Temple Bar area.
In addition, the new Labour and Fine Gael-controlled city council should ensure that Dublin City Council reduces the cost burden on small and medium-sized enterprises. Both rents and rates must be frozen, at the very minimum, in Dublin City Council.
Deputy Chris Andrews: —— it is not of the greatest urgency at present. The most urgent measure that must be taken is to ensure that small business costs are reduced. I advocate pausing BIDS payments, as well as measures such as the fats, oils and grease charges that many small food outlets must pay, which are crippling them. I hope that Fine Gael and the Labour Party will address such charges.
Deputy English has agreed that the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment must induce the main city centre landlords, banks, asset managers and chambers of commerce to appear before the joint committee to address as a matter of urgency issues pertaining to rents. I was amazed by a statement issued in recent weeks by Irish life Investment Managers, which is the landlord of the St. Stephen’s Green shopping centre. It stated that while increases in rent have been moderated or suspended, no rent has yet been reduced. Considering the fall in consumer spending, it is unbelievable that moves have not been taken to reduce rents to reflect the changed economic landscape.
Our economy is flexible in responding to new trends and demands in a global economy. Ireland is in a good position because we are first for real corporate taxes, investment incentives, foreign investor freedom and skilled labour. While the environment is difficult, Ireland is in a good position and as long as we adopt a positive attitude and work together, we can make a difference.
Deputy Niall Collins: Tonight’s debate is highly opportune, given the climate we are experiencing at present. Any job that is lost is a human tragedy for the person who has lost his or her employment and for his or her family and wider community. In common with every other Member, many of my constituents have lost their jobs recently, which is a matter of great concern to me. In mentioning my constituency, I thank the staff of the Department of Social and Family Affairs in the offices of Newcastle West, Kilmallock and Limerick for the humane and efficient manner in which they have treated the many people who have been obliged to present themselves to these offices to access their benefits and entitlements.
This debate is opportune because Members have heard many wild statements to the effect that the Government is not acting in a proactive manner, which I of course completely reject. I will turn this around by asking questions of the Opposition parties. For example, Fine Gael, through its new era vehicle, has stated that it would provide 100,000 jobs. While this sounds great, people in my constituency have heard of it——
Deputy Niall Collins: —— and have asked me how many of the aforementioned 100,000 jobs will be created in County Limerick. What industries will they be in? What skills will they employ? Where will they be located? The time for headline figures and major announcements——
Deputy Niall Collins: A little more detail would be helpful and a little less headline grabbing should be the order of the day. This pertains to people’s livelihoods and families and it is not good enough to be raising their hopes.
Deputy Niall Collins: As for the Labour Party’s comments in respect of Dell, the Government, through Fianna Fáil policy, was responsible for bringing Dell to the mid-west more than 14 years ago and supported it through the provision of State aid worth €50 million over the years. It provided many viable and sustainable jobs for a long time. While it is a source of regret that these jobs have gone, the Government has reacted responsibly and proactively in creating a number of initiatives to try to reskill and upgrade the people who have found themselves displaced from jobs. I did not hear any constructive solutions or propositions coming from the Opposition parties when these people lost their jobs. The Tánaiste and the local Minister travelled to Texas to meet representatives of the corporation. Moreover, the www.túsnua.ie website has been created, as has a task force that is being led by Denis Brosnan, who is renowned nationally and internationally for bringing the Kerry Group to global status.
Deputy Niall Collins: The task force met last week and will meet again tomorrow to bring forward a first interim report, to which I certainly look forward because it is proactive and the people on the task force know what they are talking about.
The mid-west area also has the customs and border pre-clearance facility, which soon is to be established on a legislative footing, at Shannon Airport. Although it can bring another competitive edge to the mid-west region, which will be highly important, it has received very little attention either inside or outside this House. Up to 80 flights per day can stop to access their pre-clearance facilities and this will give our State agencies a viable competitive edge and an opportunity to sell the region. This is highly important and constitutes another demonstration.
On access to credit, people are very quick to say that Anglo Irish Bank should be allowed to go down the tubes, but what would they say to the bank’s 250,000 deposit holders if that were to happen? Would they allow their money to go down the tubes too? Would they be happy to see those who owe Anglo Irish Bank money walk away scot free? Do they want to wipe it all away and let it all go? This day last week, Sweden had to take out an emergency €3 billion loan from the European Central Bank to stabilise its finances. We are not alone in having a banking crisis. The Government has acted responsibly and quickly in setting up NAMA to try to remove the toxic debts from our banking system and to allow credit to flow back to our small and medium sized enterprises.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I am sorry my colleague and friend, Deputy Willie Penrose, is not here because I wanted to compliment him on proposing this motion. I hope nobody will hold it against me if I say that some of my views are compatible with those of Deputy Penrose. As my colleague, Deputy Niall Collins, has mentioned Limerick a few times, I presume I can mention Tallaght from time to time in my contribution. I would like to talk about Tallaght because I am a Dublin-based Deputy. I represent Dublin South-West. I live in Tallaght, which is the third largest population centre in the country. Unemployment is an issue in Tallaght, as it is everywhere else. Over 8,500 people in the Tallaght region are unemployed. I have previously mentioned in the House that I bring to my political life my experience of being made unemployed three times. Some Members of the House think it might happen again.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: That is a story for another day. My experiences help me to understand this big issue. I strongly believe we need to concentrate on job creation. While big jobs have to come, we also have to remember the little jobs. I would like to mention a couple of points in my brief contribution. I had intended to spend some time having a go at FÁS. I was particularly concerned in recent weeks to hear about the problems being encountered by a number of organisations in Tallaght. Representatives of Tallaght Welfare Society and the enhancement projects in Killinarden and Jobstown told me it was proposed to cut the training and materials grants. I am glad it has been confirmed to me over the past couple of days that the cuts in question will not now be implemented. I understand other Deputies have been involved in this issue too. It seems that FÁS management intends to review the matter. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, to remind the Tánaiste that we should not be picking on the vulnerable. I have a strong commitment to social inclusion. I believe FÁS schemes are very important, although they need to be reviewed and possibly redesigned. We need to know what will happen to the job initiative schemes, which are the subject of a great deal of discussion among the various groups. We should not pick on people who need these grants. I hope the Tánaiste will ensure the decision FÁS has made will not be reversed. There should be no more cuts in these schemes.
I would like to speak about the image of all our communities. I do not mind if other Deputies want to make a point about the job creation needs and demands of their constituencies. They will have my support if they do so. I feel strongly about Dublin, particularly Tallaght and the other areas of Dublin South-West. Some Members will be aware that a decision made by Quinn Direct has received a great deal of publicity over the past couple of days, including in tonight’s Evening Herald. It has been suggested that Quinn Direct will no longer offer insurance to people living in certain communities, including parts of Tallaght, Glasnevin and Clondalkin, because of the risks involved. It is disgraceful for any company to pick on communities in such a manner. Tallaght and the other communities I have mentioned do not deserve to be treated like that. They do not deserve the image they have been given. I ask my colleagues to support me in appealing to the Tánaiste to ascertain whether action can be taken against Quinn Direct. I am not a bit afraid to name the company. It is disgraceful to create such an image of any community. People in all our communities always talk about the image other people have of their local areas. They emphasise the need to be positive, especially in the interests of job creation. I intend to be positive about Tallaght every minute I am awake, every day of the week. I will not tolerate companies like Quinn Direct that pick on the people of Tallaght. My colleagues who represent places like Ballymun, Glasnevin and Clondalkin can speak up for those areas. We need to draw up innovative job creation strategies. I am a strong supporter of the county enterprise boards. While I do not want to draw Deputy English on me, I understand that Fine Gael has suggested we should take a different approach to the enterprise boards. Perhaps that is fair enough.
Deputy Charlie O’Connor: That is okay. We will talk about that on another day. I hope the action we take will assist those who are in a position to create enterprise. People in Tallaght and elsewhere should be able to bring their good ideas to our county enterprise boards. I appreciate that there is concern in the system. It is clear that points can be made about the need to rationalise business skills training across the State agencies. There is no question about that. I strongly believe the Government should consider the provision of further financial support capacity to the county enterprise boards. I absolutely believe the ability of the boards to support enterprise should be protected and maintained. I am glad Deputy Penrose tabled this motion, although I will support the Government amendment to it. All of us are concerned about jobs. We should continue to support job initiatives in every way.
Deputy Timmy Dooley: I will speak about the amendment. The biggest impact of the banking crisis and the international recession has been on jobs and employment in general. Recent extremely disturbing job losses have caused considerable uncertainty in the economy. Anxiety among those in the vulnerable sectors has added to that uncertainty and further eroded confidence. That has resulted in a further weakening of the economy. We have ended up in a downward spiral that has to be hindered, stopped and dealt with. The Government is taking the multifaceted approach that is necessary to deal with this crisis. It is assisting those who lose their jobs by providing social welfare. It is helping them to work towards re-employment by providing training and personal development programmes. It is important that the Government has deployed additional resources to deal with the social welfare backlogs that exist. Like others, I recognise the tremendous efforts being made by the staff of the social welfare service to accommodate those who find themselves in difficult personal circumstances.
The Government is supporting viable but vulnerable companies. We need to work with the European Commission and with fund managers to make sure such companies can access credit. Job retention is obviously the best solution. It is difficult to provide funds for all job retention schemes. We have to bear in mind that the State cannot support every job in the State. The Government is continuing to try to attract foreign direct investment through IDA Ireland, Shannon Development and Enterprise Ireland. There are opportunities in a recessionary environment. Many international companies are consolidating. We need to continue to try to create jobs in this sector, particularly to benefit those who are unemployed. The Government’s efforts in this regard were recognised in a recent report on global competitiveness. Ireland was ranked extremely highly in the 2009 yearbook. It is a leader in a number of areas. We have to help indigenous industries to increase employment, for example by supporting their sales and marketing efforts. I suppose our costs needs to be reduced. We have become more competitive. We should help Irish companies to develop overseas markets for their products. It is obvious that opportunities will arise as other international players fail. We have to assist start-up companies. There seems to be a notion that start-up companies and entrepreneurs will resolve this on their own. That is the panacea that has been put forward by the Opposition. It will take start-up companies a long time to reach the point at which they can deal with the crisis we are facing. While we need to assist start-up companies, we should concentrate on retaining jobs in companies that are already employing people and look to the larger multinationals to create jobs on a more immediate basis.
The jobs crisis cannot be resolved without a resolution of the banking crisis. As we try to help the unemployed, we should strive for a more proactive engagement on an individual basis. Training must be focused. Many people are rudderless as a result of the shock of unemployment. People need a period of reflection. They need to be helped to identify a career path for the next phase of their lives, rather than jumping into a training course. Personal development should involve identifying individual strengths and focusing on them to build a strategy that will lead to re-employment, where possible. It is obvious that we should enhance those strengths through further training. It is clear that the economy will only recover when the banking crisis is stabilised. As other Deputies have said, the Opposition has been very disingenuous and mischievous. As Deputy Collins said, the simple reality is that if Anglo Irish Bank had not been nationalised and included in the guarantee scheme, those who would really have suffered would have included pensioners, those with money in credit unions, charities and vulnerable community groups. What Opposition Members have suggested about the Government having erred in some way is mischievous when what it did was protect those vulnerable groups.
Our jobless are heading towards 500,000. We need to create meaningful engagement for those who are unemployed, particularly for those who were employed in the construction sector. They are prepared to participate in their communities in return for the support they receive through social welfare. We can assist them in harnessing that activity.
Deputy Mary Upton: When my colleague, Deputy Penrose, spoke yesterday evening he said, “Every relevant agency and Department of the State should be redirected towards job retention, job creation, training and education.” I want to concentrate on the training and education aspects to which he referred. I raise specifically the uncertainty around the Back to Education scheme which is funded by FÁS. This programme was designed to allow those on community employment schemes, who needed it, the opportunity to get back to learning and to access skills and communications, including reading and writing skills. Some of those participating in CE schemes were unable to avail of the training provided because of their literacy problems. Effectively, they were placed on schemes where the training was of little value to them. They badly needed that upskilling by way of basic English, literacy and so on.
Approximately ten years ago FÁS and the VEC drew up the contracts needed to allow the scheme to proceed. The VEC provided the service, which was funded by FÁS. Many of the participants would have had drug-related problems and many would have dropped out of school. The Back to Education scheme provided them with an opportunity to get back to learning and education. At this stage many of them are able to gain FETAC qualifications at levels 3 and 4. Some of them are taking the junior certificate and some are even taking some leaving certificate subjects. As a result, they and their families have benefited greatly from this programme. In many cases, a parent and a son or daughter are taking the same State examinations. Those delivering the course believe it has been very valuable and worthwhile.
Will the Minister of State indicate the current status of this programme? A number of tutors who provide this course have been left in a state of uncertainty about its future and they have contacted me during the past fortnight. It would be a retrograde step if the programme were to be discontinued. It would affect not only the CE participants for whom it is designed but the tutors delivering the course who also will be left in limbo if its continuation is not confirmed and guaranteed. If the programme is discontinued, it will affect most directly those who have had to struggle to literally get a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder. It makes no sense to withdraw the modest funding for this programme. Those most in need of being kept in education would be the first victims of such a senseless cut if that were to happen.
The programme was designed to give those most in need of a basic education the chance to get value and merit from the CE scheme in which they were participating. In the case of one such scheme, I am aware the tuition cost of the programme is €11,000 for nine participants. This is a small investment of State money for the positive outcome that has been provided by this course to date.
Yesterday I received a reply to a parliamentary question I submitted to the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The reply stated, “I am advised by FÁS that the funding arrangement for CE participants in education is under review.” When I hear the dreaded words “under review”, I wonder exactly what they mean. I hope the outcome of that review will be positive. I sincerely hope the funding will not be diminished or withdrawn.
The people participating in that course and the tutors giving it will be in a state of flux. They wonder what will happen in terms of the course at the end of the summer. Will they be refacilitated, will the necessary funding be in place, or will it be cut and, if so, what will be the impact of that? There is an air of uncertainty about it now. I ask for clarity on it. I urge that those people who most need courses, training and education will be able to continue the programme they have started. I seek clarification of the position for the participants and the tutors. It is most unfair in the current climate to generate that air of uncertainty. Indicating that a scheme is under review without giving a timeframe for it, an indication of what format it will take or when the outcome will be known is an inappropriate way to treat those people who are waiting for a positive result.
Deputy Joanna Tuffy: I want to speak about the Labour Party’s viewpoint on the jobs crisis and the economy and how it differs from the viewpoint expressed by the Government and many other interested parties in our society. We believe that creating jobs and rebuilding the economy go hand in hand. Second, we believe it is possible to build a better society and economy in the process of creating jobs and that issues such as climate change, protecting the environment and building a more sustainable economy for the future can be addressed at the same time. We can build a knowledge-based economy and a society based on good human values such as equality, care for others and fostering a sense of community.
The third aspect of our viewpoint on the jobs crisis and the economy is that lack of action and lack of engagement with people who are becoming unemployed is wasteful of such human capacity. It is wasteful of people’s time. It could be wasteful of years in our history in terms of what we could have done with existing potential. The small amount the Government is doing in terms of people who are unemployed is causing hardship. We will be a poorer society as a result. We will have more people living in poverty and it will take us longer to get out of the recession.
The Labour Party’s approach and outlook is different from what has held sway, and continues to hold sway, with the Government for at least the past 12 years. The Government’s policy now and the policy that many economists, media and other commentators believe needs to be implemented is all part of the same package that has been the economic and political approach. Part of it was that we should spend like mad when we have money and then cut like mad because we are in a recession. We should depend on the private sector to solve problems, let the free market operate, have less regulation, allow crazy land and financial speculation and allow the interests of the few to be the predominant dictator of policy. When Deputy Dooley spoke about what we should do about the job situation, he expressed that point of view because he said the important approach was to first sort out the banking situation and then wait for the multinational companies to step in.
The Labour Party has a fundamentally different view on that and, thankfully, there is more discourse in Irish society now about a different economic outlook and approach. For example, Tasc has set up a website, www.progressiveeconomy.ie, on which various economists express a different outlook to the predominant one that prevailed in recent years. Professor James Galbraith was the guest speaker at a recent lecture organised by Tasc. He gave an alternative point of view and one that, historically, has been successful. It is basically the approach taken by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States when he implemented the New Deal. Professor Galbraith refers in one of his papers to another author who talked about Roosevelt and what he did. When Roosevelt was addressing the problem of unemployment, he hired 60% of the unemployed to do public works, conservation projects and work on projects such as school buildings, maintaining parks, refurbishment of public buildings and so on.
We must do what we can to promote and encourage the private sector to create new jobs but the real driver in creating jobs and dealing with the jobs crisis must be the Government. It must work in a proactive way that we are not seeing currently. The idea that in a recession the private sector will step in and solve our jobs problem is unrealistic. It will not happen. If the money and demand are not there the private sector will not create vast numbers of jobs. That is why we need to do things such as the Labour Party is suggesting. We must build badly needed infrastructure such as school buildings and put construction workers back to work. If we borrow for capital expenditure we will get money back into the Exchequer because the workers will pay taxes and spend money. We should put people to work on projects to do with protecting our environment and place them on community employment schemes. I benefited from a CE scheme, or its equivalent, at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, which meant I was not sitting at home on the dole. However, we now expect people to sit at home until the private sector solves the problem, as usual. It is not going to happen. We need the type of intervention the Labour Party calls for in its motion.
As the Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows there are almost 400,000 people unemployed, which is almost double the number for 12 months ago. Thus, all the good work of the past 12 years of prosperity has now been wiped out in one single year’s catastrophe. Unemployment is not just another statistic; it is the human face of the economic crisis. It is a personal family tragedy involving the loss of a career, damage to family cohesion, and the drastic curtailment of the provision of food, accommodation, education and recreation. The fabric of the local community is undermined and there is a cumulative negative effect on the fabric of society.
The Government’s obsession with bailing out the banks has dominated its approach to the economic crisis to date. It has failed to focus on the only issue that really matters: the effect of the crisis on people’s lives through loss of jobs, which deprives them and their families of economic and personal independence. Unemployment is a national emergency. Every relevant agency and Department should be redirected towards job retention, job creation, training and education.
I have said again and again in the House that the greatest requirement of the Government at the moment is to ensure there is a flow of credit to small and medium-sized businesses, which employ 800,000 people, constituting 64% of the private sector workforce or approximately 50% of the entire workforce. They are the lifeblood of the economy, yet they are haemorrhaging jobs because the banks are simply refusing to provide them with the credit they need to keep their businesses operating efficiently. Surveys conducted by ISME in February and May 2009 show that the credit crunch is worsening and that neither the banks nor the Government are prepared to take action to alleviate the situation. The €30 billion that the EU made available last October to member states through the European Investment Bank has not been distributed in loans by Irish banks to the business sector. That is a disgrace.
Clearly, the private banking system is driven solely by private gain for its shareholders and has no interest in the employment needs of the people. Thus, it is essential that we take the banks into public ownership for the duration of the crisis and that we establish a permanent national investment bank which will invest in the country, its enterprises and its people and help retain and create jobs. In addition, the national investment bank should have the remit of drawing down funds from the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. That is what these banks were set up for.
The local authorities, which have newly elected councillors with creative ideas, should be harnessed in a national job creation campaign. Already the new Lord Mayor of Dublin has announced, at her inauguration on Monday, that she will establish a Lord Mayor’s commission on employment, training and education for the city of Dublin. This job creation initiative will be led by the new council and will involve all stakeholders in the capital in order to focus their resources and energies on job creation and retention. This initiative could and should be replicated all over the country, as there would be great enthusiasm among newly elected councillors and other stakeholders.
In addition, universities, colleges, institutes of education, vocational education committees and FÁS must be harnessed to create new ideas for employment and new learning and training programmes for the unemployed. Finally, the State itself should realise, as Deputy Tuffy said, that the private sector is not in a position to kick-start the economy at present as it is so encumbered by unprecedented debt and market instability. The Government should become the engine of national economic renewal and provide an economic stimulus by directly funding the collapsed public private partnership urban regeneration programmes, providing for a comprehensive programme of home insulation and improvement, and providing — as the Labour Party has called for time and again — a national programme to eliminate poor school buildings and prefabs through a major new schools building programme.
Deputy Martin Ferris: The purpose of this Private Members’ motion is to highlight the root cause of our economic and social problems. The tsunami of unemployment that is spreading throughout the country is causing the economy the grind to a halt. The unemployment figures for my own county are startling. There are currently 15,204 people signing on the Live Register, which is almost double the figure for the same time last year. Thousands more are on short-time working. The overall figure in Kerry has decreased slightly over the last two months. However, all of these decreases have been in towns in south Kerry due to the onset of the tourist season. Unfortunately, my constituency has seen a continuous increase in the number of people seeking State assistance. Almost half of those signing on in the county are from the Tralee area and the surrounding environs, and it is apparent that this is where the focus needs to be if the situation is to improve.
Two years ago I and other politicians were describing unemployment in Tralee as dire when the figure reached 3,000. However, the figure now stands at more than double that, with 6,371 currently on the dole. There are no words available to describe the situation as it currently stands and because of the inaction of the current Government it is unlikely that things will improve over the next six months. It is clear the figures for Tralee will grow substantially when those who have been or will be made redundant are brought into the system. On top of the collapse of the construction industry, upon which this region relied so heavily, we have also seen the closure of a number of major employers in the south west — including Amman in Tralee, Dell in Limerick and Kostal in Abbeyfeale — and we are now faced with the likelihood of the loss of a further 200 jobs at Beru, which is probably the last factory in Tralee.
What our economy needs is sustenance, not further punishment. It needs policies which will seek to maintain existing employment where possible and prepare the ground for new employment. Sinn Féin is the only political party that has set out substantial detailed proposals — 80 of them — to get people back to work. Protecting jobs and creating new employment is an absolute priority for us. Everyone agrees, including the Government, that for a prosperous Ireland we need to attract new innovative industry. For that we need a highly skilled and motivated workforce and we need education, beginning at an early age and going through to fourth level where appropriate.
During the course of the recent local and European election campaign, my party made a number of proposals to help get people back to work. Tralee, the capital of County Kerry, has an institute of technology which could be transformed into a university. This would act as an educational engine to drive a new local economy and put Kerry on the map nationally and internationally as an area that can produce a highly skilled and talented workforce. We need to rethink the construction, service and procurement contracts of local authorities to create a level playing field for small tradesmen and businesses to tender. Breaking tenders into smaller pieces would allow smaller contractors to tender effectively for work.
A comprehensive skills and education strategy would prepare workers to create and take up new employment. This would involve bringing early school leavers back to education, investing in community employment and allowing unemployed workers to keep their benefits while attending college. At-risk jobs could be saved by establishing a State fund. It was in this House that my colleague Deputy Arthur Morgan proposed that we establish a State bank instead of using public money to bail out the banking system that currently exists.
Construction workers can get back to work building schools, insulating homes and delivering much-needed broadband infrastructure. Each county has its fair share of schools which desperately need completely new buildings or upgrading. It is a disgrace that we are paying out hundreds of millions of euro per year on prefabricated buildings when we could provide gainful employment building schools for the future. Investment in major projects with important social gain, such as new accident and emergency units or maternity units, should be followed through. Fast-tracking local infrastructural works is crucial to put people back to work and to remove one of the main barriers to inward investment into the State. One such programme would be to ensure the completion of all necessary access roads, particularly those serving the west coast.
We must move away from the politics of unsustainable development, of an economy run for the golden circle rather than for those who created it. The proposals I have outlined, as well as the 80 proposals contained within our job creation document, would create hundreds of jobs throughout the State and ensure sustainable growth into the future. These proposals aim to build an economy that will reward those who contribute to it.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Thug an cáinaisnéis éigeandála in Aibreán 2009 deis don Rialtas tús a chur le tabhairt faoin ceist rí-thábhachtach sin, aththraenáil agus oideachas, go háirithe dóibh siúd atá tar éis a bpoist a chailliúint le déanaí nó dóibh siúd a chaill iad roimh an ghéarchéim. Theip go huile agus go hiomlán ar an Rialtas sin a dhéanamh. Seasann an ráta dífhostaíochta faoi láthair ag 12% agus tá an ráta fáis dífhostaíochta i bhfad Éireann níos airde ná in aon tír eile san Eoraip. De thairbhe an teip ar gheilleagar sealúchais Fhianna Fáil, tá grúpa mór daoine ann atá ag cuartú post, daoine a bhfuil ardscileanna acu ach nach bhfuil aon áit acu chun na scileanna sin a chur i bhfeidhm agus a chleachtadh.
Tá grúpa eile, grúpa cuíosach suntasach d’oibrithe ón tionscal tógála ag a bhfuil leibhéil íseal oideachais agus traenála acu agus nach féidir leo a bheith úsáideach in áiteanna eile sa mhargadh fostaíochta. Dar ndóigh, tá aththraenáil ag teastáil láithreach dóibh siúd. Tá grúpa eile arís, siúd atá ag fágáil na scoile don chéad uair. Shíl siadsan bliain ó shin go raibh todhcaí mhaith rompu agus go mbeadh flúirse post ann dóibh. Tagann a lán acu sin as ceantair nár thug an tíogar Ceilteach cuairt orthu le linn na blianta go raibh breis agus tuilleadh againn sa tír, nó ar shíl muid go raibh. Níl rompu siúd ach an scuaine dífhostaíochta, an Dole nó an bád bán.
Logical steps like nationalising SR Technics, a profitable company with millions of euro in orders, would have saved more than 1,200 jobs, or five times the 250 jobs the Government is boasting about saving. The cost of unemployment payments for the nearly 1,000 other workers should have been enough to concentrate the mind of the Tánaiste on the logic of nationalisation in this case. However, there is no such thing as logic in the Tánaiste’s head or in the Government’s agenda. They are plain stupid. It is the Government that created the circumstances which led to the property crash. It is Government policy which is causing the continuing increase in unemployment. It is the property boom and boost which is the central cause of our economic crisis, together with the absolute failure of the Government to build a sustainable economy.
The Government can no longer simply wash its hands of the problem of unemployment, as it has done thus far. Its response to the situation suggests that some on the Government benches do not even accept there is a crisis. The word that should spell it out clearly for them is “dole”. That is what the future holds for many people. In my constituency, the dole queues have doubled in 12 months. The numbers unemployed, not including the many whose applications have not been processed for weeks, which is a scandal in itself, are 3,128 in Ballyfermot, 7,609 in the Crumlin-Drimnagh-Dublin 12 area, and 4,169 in the south-west inner city. Those figures do not include the 150 people Guinness plans to lay off in the coming months. Its parent company, Diageo, made a profit of €2.8 billion last year. It is scandalous that such profitable companies are using this opportunity to screw their workers.
Behind all those statistics are real people. Lives are being destroyed by the Government’s inaction. Families are struggling. Food is not being bought, mortgages are not being paid and illnesses are not being addressed. Crime is rising and will continue to rise, as will alcoholism and drug addiction, unless the Government acts. As I have said on previous occasions, if those on the Government benches spent six months on the dole, they might have some understanding of the plight of ordinary people who find themselves unemployed. People want to work and earn a wage. They want to pay their taxes, feed their children and purchase goods in their local shops. Above all, they want the Government to get up off its arse and help them. That is the message the electorate sent out two weeks ago.
It is telling to consider the actions taken by the Government in the emergency budget. Annexe F from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment offered a pathetic 400 places on community employment schemes, which will not even cover the increase of 601 in the last month alone on the unemployment list in my constituency of Dublin South-Central. We were also offered a new ten-week training initiative, which is basically a seasonal or summer course. We seem to be back to the era of the banana telephone classes of the AnCO era. I remember that because I was on the dole at the time. Participants were encouraged to sit in rooms to practise telephone techniques in order to improve their chances of getting an interview for jobs which did not exist. In the absence of telephones to give the trainees, they were given bananas to hold.
The budget also offered a work experience scheme and 277 places for workers on short time, as well as 930 transition courses and 700 places for redundant apprentices. To call this inadequate would be the understatement of the millennium. With 400,000 people unemployed, the best our kamikazeTánaiste can come up with is 400 places on community employment schemes. The earn and learn pilot schemeprovides 277 places, but more than 12,000 people have been laid off in the past month alone. I cannot understand why the Government is so reluctant to invest properly in retraining for sustainable jobs. It has allowed its friends in the financial world to direct billions of euro into the black hole that is the banking sector, but it will do virtually nothing to help job seekers.
We are still awaiting the details of the so-called training initiative to create 12,215 new training places. The Government seems intent on meeting that target by cutting existing places. There is no logic to this approach. Its other method of delivering on this magic number is its promise in the budget to introduce more computer courses. ECDL certification and other computer courses are no substitute for jobs. If no jobs are being created, they are nothing more to the participants than poxy Internet courses, as they have been described to me. How will a short ten-week Internet course be of any use to anybody when there is no prospect of obtaining a job after it is completed? The new measures in third level education indicate the same tokenistic approach. It is as if nothing has happened in the past six months. Some 2,000 new places have been provided at third level and 1,500 at post-leaving certificate level. The reality, however, is that 85,000 people aged under 25 are unemployed.
The main plank of the Government’s so-called plan for economic recovery has been to bail out the banks and developers using unprecedented amounts of public money, while at the same time cutting back on our most basic education, welfare and health services. The outworking of that policy will hamper the ability of any future Government to rebuild the economy. We are one of the few countries to embark on this road. Every other democracy I can think of has launched major investment programmes to kick-start their economies. What the Government is doing is something akin to what happened in the right-wing banana republics of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s.
If the Government does not reprioritise soon and begin to invest in Irish people as opposed to its fat cat friends, there will be unprecedented social problems. In the absence of such change, permanent damage will be done to this State and the crisis in the public finances will be perpetuated.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Deputy Billy Kelleher): I accept that we got a kick from the electorate in the local elections. However, the Deputy’s party did not exactly receive a pat on the back from them.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: It is appropriate that the House is discussing these issues. We have had many debates, in the context of motions of confidence in the Government, on the broader issues relating to the economy. No one has access to a font of wisdom with regard to the suffering people endure when they become unemployed. That is the human face of the recession. It is, to say the least, somewhat disingenuous for certain speakers to suggest that other Members have no knowledge of what people go through when they become unemployed. We are all practising politicians and we are all conscious——
With regard to the issues raised in the motion, it must be stated that there is still no flow of credit to small and medium-sized businesses. This difficulty continues to manifest itself and Deputies on all sides referred to it. Those on the other side of the House have expressed varying views as to how we might address this matter. Certain members referred to nationalising the banks, while others suggested that a bad-debt bank should be established. The Government decided to establish the national asset management agency, NAMA, to remove impaired assets from the banks in order that their balance sheets will look better and so that they might access credit in the international markets and extend this to small and medium-sized businesses. This is the route the Government has decided to take and I am sure its decision in this regard will prove to be correct.
To suggest or infer, as did many Deputies on the opposite side of the House, that we are simply throwing money into a black hole to prop up the banks is disingenuous. Members realise that the banks are impaired and are suffering. They also realise that access to credit and the flow of credit to the broader economy is fundamentally important.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: In that context, the Government has also established a clearing group to monitor the position and ensure that there will be a flow of credit to small and medium-sized businesses. As a result, if blockages are identified, they can be addressed.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: As already stated, a clearing group has been established within the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This group has been charged with monitoring the position, providing assistance and identifying and removing any blockages that arise. This will ensure the restoration of a proper, functioning flow of credit to the economy.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: They should take into account that the European Investment Bank has allocated €300 million, through AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, to assist small and medium-sized businesses.
Deputy Billy Kelleher: As regards training courses for the unemployed, we are facing a crisis situation. We must try to rise to the challenge. Short-term courses are of assistance to those who are unemployed. The Deputies opposite might dismiss the idea of computer or Internet courses. However, such courses are extremely beneficial to those who do not possess computer skills. We do not want to repeat the mistakes we made in the 1980s when people received nothing other than support from the State. We want to give them support, in the form of social welfare payments——
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Sinn Féin and the Labour Party jointly tabled this motion on unemployment to implore, once again, the Government to act effectively in respect of the jobs crisis. The Taoiseach’s prediction that 400,000 people would be unemployed by the end of 2009 has already come true and we have not even yet reached the end of the sixth month of the year. Those people and their families have a right to expect from the Government a sense of urgency, a strategic plan and effective measures to address the unemployment crisis. They, like those of us on this side of the House, are sorely disappointed with the Government’s record in this regard.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment listed a number of measures she claims the Government is either implementing or about to implement to save and create jobs. A glaring anomaly exists in this regard, however, because unemployment is rising on a daily basis. Jobs are being lost each day and there has been no stemming of the tide of unemployment. If one were to ask an employer in any one of our constituencies to name one measure the Government has implemented to assist him or her in maintaining his or her workforce, I warrant they would have great difficulty in doing so.
The measures Sinn Féin has put forward are concrete in nature. Deputy Morgan outlined a jobs retention scheme that would keep workers off welfare and in employment, lower the costs of doing business and assist in keeping businesses operating, as well as ensuring that they have access to essential credit. The Tánaiste claimed that the Government is investing in education at all levels to ensure that the workforce will be suitably skilled to take advantage of the turnaround in the economy. It is all very well making claims, but the Government has seriously reduced the education budget. The claims being made by those opposite do not stack up.
The reintroduction of third level fees — if that is indeed an eventuality to which we can look forward — will further curtail the ability of young people to reach their full potential and prepare themselves for their eventual entry to the job market by denying them the opportunity to improve their skill sets.
The Tánaiste also claimed that adjustments are being made in respect of labour costs to secure employment. It is clear that she is referring to addressing the so-called minimum wage issue. Is it the Government’s intention to cut the minimum wage? Are general wages across all sectors to be depressed? The Government is being completely short-sighted if it proceeds to do these things. Let us make no mistake, the minimum wage is an incentive to work. It gives people a modicum of money over and above that which they require to meet their basic needs. That money helps the economy to thrive because it gives people the opportunity to make choices in respect of their respective spending power. If the minimum wage is taken away, the Government will only succeed in further depressing the economy and making a bad situation even worse.
Much can be done to address the cost of doing business. Sinn Féin has called for the question of energy and other utility costs to be addressed. It has also called for commercial rents to be made negotiable under legislation.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: If the Minister of State listens, he might learn something. Sinn Féin wants the question of indirect value added tax to be examined in the context of the short, medium and long terms. The Minister of State lauds the performance of our trade sector, citing the export figures. Let us not cod ourselves. Some 90% of the exports leaving our shores are the products of inward investment in this State and the reality is that our native producers are not up to the mark because this Government, and traditionally Governments here, have not prepared them well for the task ahead.
Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I will conclude with just one comment. I understand that a number of Government backbenchers have said they have confidence in this Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Let me tell the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, and say directly to the Minister, Deputy Coughlan herself, that this is not what they are saying behind her back in the corridors of this institution.
Deputy Liz McManus: This motion sets out clear measures to deal with what is the biggest challenge confronting us today, unemployment. These measures are about creating jobs and securing existing employment. It is very regrettable that the Government has simply refused to take on board the measures that can make a real difference. We are talking about facilitating enterprise and ensuring that there is investment and assistance for existing businesses.
I represent a constituency where unemployment has now reached 11,000. In the town of Bray the level is over 4,500 and the system is breaking down. As Deputy Stagg has pointed out, people’s entitlements are not getting to them, for weeks and weeks, because the social welfare system simply cannot cope. We need to see action on the ground.
I listened with interest to the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, last night talking about the money for enterprise centres. We do not have an enterprise centre in Bray and I want to challenge the Minister of State to put his money where his mouth is. We need an enterprise centre and we have a surfeit of empty factory space and I will believe him when we can actually see that type of measure being implemented on the ground, as it is crucially important.
We have an issue as regards broadband, not just locally but nationally. Unless the Government confronts the issue of Eircom we are not going to make the leap forward that is needed regarding the next generation of networks and in relation to competing globally in the telecommunications area. Even though the Minister shies away from this time and again, I would recommend that he now establishes a forum of the key players in the telecommunications area to come to conclusions on how the State can involve itself in a productive efficient manner to ensure that Eircom can deliver in terms of the essential infrastructure we currently lack.
Deputy Kathleen Lynch: Like most Deputies I am glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Billy Kelleher, is responding to the debate tonight because the issue I have to raise regards unemployment in his constituency. Little Island is in the heart of the area where Deputy Kelleher gets the majority of his support. As we speak, there is a company, Corden PharmaChem, which has been in the Little Island area for the last 33 years. It was a good company, with highly skilled jobs, and it is now facing the threat of closure, with 100 jobs at risk and in total, given the downstream employment, 600 jobs could go in this area. There was an issue last year, but both the management and workforce put together a rescue package, which has been completely ignored. These jobs are not gone yet, but they are under severe threat. In the little time I have, I am pleading with the Minister of State to intervene, and tell the parent company the Government is prepared to give any assistance necessary in order to retain these jobs because once they are gone they will not be won back. That is the vital ingredient. If we can intervene at an early stage and ensure that these jobs can be saved, we should do it and pull out all the stops.
In the last 12 months there have been a number of plant closures in the Little Island area, Pfizer, Incheera and Swissco, another big company and now Corden PharmaChem. This area and Cork city cannot take any more job losses. The unemployment level in Cork city has now reached 40,000, enough to fill a reasonably sized sports stadium. Those are people with families, commitments and everything else. If the Government put half of the energy into saving jobs that it is applying to saving banks, we should not have half the job losses. I am pleading with the Minister of State to intervene now and ensure these jobs are saved.
Deputy Joan Burton: On behalf of the Labour Party, I want to thank everyone who contributed to the debate, including Sinn Féin and in particular my colleague, Deputy Willie Penrose, for tabling the motion.
Recovery in terms of the economy and Irish society is about jobs — retaining and creating them — and about creating pathways for people who have become unemployed to retrain, upskill and get work experience. Particularly for young graduates and qualified apprentices, it is about bridging the gap and giving them an opportunity to get work experience while the economy is in recession and depression.
I remind the Minister of State that there are now 86,600 young people under 25 on the dole. That is an enormous increase from the 31,700 on the dole at the time of the last general election. All of the research in this country and internationally shows that when a young person goes on the dole and where the period of unemployment passes the six months mark and goes on for over a year, it becomes very difficult for him or her to get back into work, partly because he or she becomes unattractive to employers and demotivated. In particular if he or she lives in an area of high unemployment it is noticeable that the whole psychology of the area goes down.
Deputy McManus has just told the House how, in Bray, a very important town in population terms, there is no proper jobs centre. What is the Government doing in terms of bringing hope and opportunity to people who have been knocked for six by the current crisis in the economy? Most of these young people have gone on to college and held high hopes and expectations. At the moment the Government seems to have nothing to offer them.
With regard to the fourth level research centre initiative, before Christmas the Government launched a report about the knowledge and the smart economy, an idea which the Labour Party strongly supports. In each of our third level institutions and research centres there are hundreds of exceptionally qualified young graduates who are doing research at doctoral and post-doctoral levels. At the moment in many of our institutions they are effectively being let go because they are contract workers. These people are extraordinarily valuable to this economy in terms of building up a world class scientific research base. Many of them were attracted home to Ireland from promising positions across the world and we are now letting them go and leaving them in a state of uncertainty regarding their future. It might be a post-doctoral researcher who finds that his or her contract is not being renewed or a young construction worker who might have left school at 16 or 17, seven or eight years ago and worked hard, became very entrepreneurial and now is being let go. Often such construction workers will have been self-employed and cannot, in most cases, even qualify for a social welfare or job seeker’s allowance for a period of up to six months. The Government seems to have run out of ideas in terms of offering hope to people.
Dr. Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate in economics, wrote today in the New York Times, yet again, that deflation and cutting jobs is not the way to regrow the economy. In the United States President Obama and the new US Administration learned that lesson. However here we have, Fianna Fáil, the remnants of the PDs, who are now independents, and, unfortunately, the Green Party, who seem stuck in the economic dogma of 20 years ago. They are telling unemployed people that they are sorry for their trouble but there is not much they can do for them. This motion very clearly sets out all the alternatives that could be employed to get people back to work, training and education. We say to the Government, “why not have a general election and let us put our plans to the people?” I am very confident the people will give the Government its answer, as they did in the European and local elections.
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