Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 16 April 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs
National Reform Programme for Ireland 2013: Discussion with Department of the Taoiseach
The committee agreed in private session that we will conclude this meeting at 2.50 p.m. because the new Member for Meath East, Helen McEntee, is being welcomed to the Chamber and Members need to be present for that.
On behalf of the joint committee, I welcome Mr. John Callinan, assistant secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach, who, with representatives from other Departments, will brief the committee on the national reform programme updatte for Ireland for 2013. The Government is consulting the Oireachtas on the draft document in advance of its consideration by the Cabinet and its submission to the European Commission in Brussels later in April. As the draft document was circulated by e-mail last week, I hope members have had a chance to review it. The preparation of the national reform programme is a key input for each member state as part of the annual European semester process for economic policy co-ordination. In Ireland's case, the European semester process will assume full significance upon Ireland's exit from the EU-IMF bailout programme. The national reform programmes should reflect the priorities identified in the Commission's annual growth survey, as approved by governments at the European Council summit in March, as well as the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The meeting is welcome in the context of the European semester process as part of the evolving engagement with national parliaments to ensure the necessary democratic accountability and legitimacy of the process.
I remind Members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of section 17(2)(l ) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against a person, persons or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I invite Mr. Callinan to address the committee.
Mr. John Callinan:
I am an assistant secretary in the Department of the Taoiseach with responsibility for economic, international and Northern Ireland affairs. I am accompanied by colleagues from a number of Departments which, in turn, reflects the variety of issues covered in respect of our targets under Europe 2020. They are Mr. John McCarthy, Department of Finance; Mr. Terry Corcoran and Mr. Jim Walsh, Department of Social Protection; Ms Pauline Mulligan, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Mr. Stjohn O'Connor, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Mr. Owen Ryan, Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and Mr. Brian O'Meara, Department of Education and Skills.
On my own behalf and that of my colleagues, I thank the joint committee for its invitation to appear before it and welcome the opportunity to brief it on Ireland's national reform programme update for 2013 which outlines the continuing efforts to achieve our targets under the Europe 2020 strategy. The national reform programme update for 2013 covers a broad range of policy areas, which explains the size of the delegation. I wish to refer to the context in which the update has been prepared and provide an overview of the document, including Ireland's five headline targets, with examples of some of the policy initiatives the Government is following to meet the targets set in each area.
I understand members may wish to ask questions or comment on the update. We will be happy to hear the views of the committee on the draft and provide clarification or answer questions.
Under the Europe 2020 strategy, each member state is required to prepare a national reform programme and make annual reports on progress. In addition, the European Commission can make country specific recommendations arising from the process during its annual examination of the programmes and progress reports as part of the European semester process. Ireland provided a full national reform programme in 2011. As a party to an EU-IMF programme of financial support, we were not required to submit a new national reform programme or a full progress report either for 2012 or 2013, given the rigorous reporting to which we were already subject under the support programme. Furthermore, the country-specific recommendation for Ireland under the process is confined to a recommendation that it continue to implement the measures identified in the memorandum of understanding with the European Union and the IMF. Therefore, the sole requirement requested by the Commission was a letter providing an update on progress in the previous year. However, we considered it was important to demonstrate our strong engagement with the Europe 2020 process, particularly as Ireland's goal is to exit the programme at the end of this year. As a result, it was decided to go beyond providing a letter, as happened last year. The intention is to provide more detailed feedback for the Commission on progress made this year. As a result, while the document being prepared for submission is not a full national reform programme, it nonetheless provides a comprehensive update on the actions being taken.
There is close alignment between the five headline targets under the Europe 2020 strategy which are being advanced through the national reform programme process and Ireland's domestic priorities. This is reflected in our 2011 national reform programme and the subsequent updates. The introduction to the update provides an overview of policies being implemented to promote competitiveness, growth and job creation in line with the priorities set by the European Union annual growth survey such as pursuing differentiated, growth friendly fiscal consolidation and promoting growth and competitiveness.
The macroeconomic context section, as its stands, only provides the macroeconomic outlook to 2015, pending publication of general Government balance estimates by the CSO, scheduled for release next week. The national reform programme update is prepared in conjunction with Ireland's stability programme update. For the first time the stability programme update in 2013 will include economic forecasts for 2016, as well as a broad fiscal strategy for that year and its impact on the debt and deficit. This will also be reflected in the national reform programme update once the CSO figures are available.
Following on from this, the five separate sections, on employment, research and development, climate change, education and poverty, provide details of our progress and the efforts made in achieving each target are set out. The targets should not be viewed in isolation. Effective policy implementation requires a cross-departmental approach and there are key linkages between the five targets, mutually reinforced and supported by common policies. A key driver of this approach has been the Action Plan for Jobsstrategy which targets all 15 Departments and 46 State agencies. Its focus is to ensure all efforts are made to improve the overall enterprise environment, boost job creation and retention and bring about economic growth.
I wish to comment briefly on each of the five headline targets. The first is employment, in respect of which the Action Plan for Jobsis a central policy response to achieving our employment target. Ireland's headline employment target for 2020 is to raise the employment rate for men and women aged 20 to 64 years to between 69% and 71%. The employment rate last year for this cohort was 64%. That was unchanged from 2011, which suggests stabilisation in the labour market after the constant annual decrease from the 74% figure recorded in 2007. In addition, the most recent QNHS figures, for the fourth quarter of 2012, which were published at the end of February, also point to stabilisation in the labour market. The Action Plan for Jobs aims to have 100,000 more people in work by 2016 and a total of at least 2 million people in work by 2020. Assuming the current 20 to 64 year old population cohort holds constant, attaining the Action Plan for Jobstarget would have a significant positive impact for Ireland's employment rate 2020 target, reaching 67.6% by 2016 and 70.1% by 2020, almost exactly the mid-point of Ireland's employment rate range of 69% to 71% for 2020.
As the national reform programme update states, the Action Plan for Jobs is a multi-annual plan and we are already into our second year of implementation. The 2013 plan builds on the momentum gained last year and will continue to support job creation. Among the 333 actions listed in the plan are measures designed to improve access to finance, to help to build competitive advantage and further improve the skills base. The plan also focuses on seven distinct areas in which we have the potential to make a significant difference to the business environment and capitalise on Ireland's strengths in traditional areas such as ICT and innovation, including the JobsPlus initiative. The first progress report, covering the first quarter of 2013, will be published shortly.
A parallel central plank in achieving the employment target is the Pathways to Workinitiative. This policy which is designed to complement the Action Plan for Jobs aims to improve labour market activation measures and supports and help to ensure that, as much as possible, new jobs go to people on the live register, particularly focusing on the long-term unemployed. The strategy includes a new integrated employment and support service involving the transformation of local social welfare offices into a modern one-stop-shop, allowing jobseekers to access their entitlements and receive help in planning their return to work. Quarterly targets in the roll-out of this strategy have been laid down under the strategy, including moving the long-term unemployed into employment and increasing the exit rate of persons on the live register for two years or more.
The employment targets section of the update also details how we are dealing with the principal labour market bottlenecks with targeted initiatives, including the new JobsPlus initiative, the ICT action plan and the Momentum scheme, which provides education and training to the long-term unemployed. It includes the JobBridge internship scheme, which has seen a significant percentage of interns secure full employment following their internships. Finally, the issue of youth employment is covered. There is no doubt the rate of youth unemployment remains unacceptably high and the increase in long-term unemployment raises serious concerns. There are signs, however, that the level is beginning to drop on foot of a number of factors which are addressed in the draft. There are also policy measures under the Pathways to Work initiative, such as Momentum and other education and training schemes which are targeting the problem and aim to increase youth employment rates.
Our headline target for research and development is to improve the conditions for such activity and to raise combined public and private investment levels to at least 2.5% of GNP, which is approximately equivalent to 2% of GDP. The latest available data shows that the research intensity rate for 2012 is now estimated at 2.17% of GNP. The update indicates that if the current trajectory is maintained, we will meet our target close to the end date in 2020. The update outlines the key developments of the last 12 months, which include the work of the research prioritisation group. The group has identified 14 areas of opportunity for Ireland which have the potential to deliver the greatest return to the economy and in terms of employment. The group is developing a framework to monitor the impact of investment in the priority areas. The update also outlines the increase in business expenditure on research and development since the introduction of the tax credit, with the business expenditure on research and development intensity ratio exceeding the EU 27 average for 2011. A review of the tax incentive has been announced and the terms of reference were published in February. The report refers also to various initiatives to encourage students to study maths and science and provides information on the national intellectual property protocol published last June, which includes the establishment of a central technology transfer office.
The third area of targets covers climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Ireland's headline targets here are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the non-traded sector by 20% compared to the 2005 level, to increase the share of renewable energy in the final energy consumption mix to 16% by 2020 and to move towards a 20% increase in energy efficiency. The update indicates that our climate change targets under the Kyoto protocol covering the period to 2012 are expected to have been achieved. However, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet our 2020 targets will prove very challenging. The text sets out details of the programme for the development of national climate change policy published last year, including a public consultation process and the heads of the recent climate change legislation, the climate action and low carbon development Bill. The progress report on the national renewable energy action plan submitted to the Commission on a biennial basis shows that Ireland is on track to meet its renewable energy target. The report highlights the increase in obligations requiring transport fuel suppliers to provide a specific proportion of sales in the form of biofuels. In addition, a new support scheme is to be designed to be operated in Ireland from 2016 onwards to represent the start of a trajectory of revising and reducing price supports for new onshore wind projects over time. We are on course to meet our energy efficiency targets, with programmes such as the better energy homes scheme consistently delivering energy savings across the economy. Given the economic challenges faced by the country, the programme is moving from a grants-based scheme to one that relies on sustainable financing. Other elements covered include the second national energy efficiency action plan, which sets out 97 measures to deliver energy savings.
On education, Ireland's headline target is to reduce the percentage of 18 to 24 year olds with, at most, lower secondary education to just 8% and to increase the share of 30 to 34 year olds who have completed tertiary or equivalent education to at least 60%. Recent figures show a decline in early school-leavers from 11.4% in 2010 to 10.6% in 2011. The percentage of students sitting the leaving certificate examination has risen by more than 60% to over 90% in the last eight years. The report shows that there is clear evidence that the national action plan, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, which targets disadvantaged students, is having a positive effect in tackling educational disadvantage. The average leaving certificate retention rate in DEIS schools increased by almost seven percentage points to just over 80% in that period. A new integrated model of service delivery, called "one child, one team, one plan", is to be implemented this year, which will standardise service delivery across the education system for children. The literacy and numeracy strategy will continue to be rolled out in 2013 at a cost of €6.5 million. The NRP update also provides information on the reform of the junior cycle, which will be rolled out over eight years, beginning with English.
Ireland has held the highest rate of tertiary attainment for the last four years across all of the 27 EU member states. In tertiary attainment for 25 to 34 year olds, the indicator used by the OECD ranks us as first in the European Union and fourth in the OECD. The update also reports that the first pilot survey of employers in December last showed that over 75% of companies were confident that graduates had the right workplace and transferable skills and relevant subject or discipline knowledge. That is a positive message on our labour force. The update refers to the Springboard programme, which offers free part-time higher education courses to unemployed people in areas where skills needs have been identified. A recent evaluation shows that 40% of participants return to work within six months of completing a course.
The final target is poverty reduction. The target was revised last year following a review after the NRP was submitted in 2011. The review involved public consultation and engagement with key stakeholders and was informed by an EU peer review on the setting of national poverty targets. Ireland's revised headline target is to reduce the number of people experiencing consistent poverty to 4% by 2016 and to 2% or less by 2020 from the 2010 baseline rate of 6.2%. There was an increase of 2.6% on the 2010 rate of 31% in the number of people who are in consistent poverty, at risk of poverty or experiencing basic deprivation, highlighting the social impact of the economic crisis. The population affected by basic deprivation has increased, although figures show the rate of increase slowed in 2011. Efforts have been made to minimise the impact of fiscal consolidation on the most vulnerable under the troika programme. The Government maintained the nominal value of minimum welfare rates and pensions under budget 2013 and has undertaken a social impact assessment of the welfare and direct tax components of the budget. The increase in the number of jobless households, the percentage of which has risen from 15% in 2005 to 25%, is a concern. Programme for Government priorities for 2013 include a specific commitment to ensure that economic recovery does not bypass jobless households. The update provides details of measures introduced to tackle this issue, including changes to welfare and employment support services under Pathways to Work and increased provision in budget 2013 for 10,000 extra places on labour market programmes. Access to high-quality services is also part of the measures in place for social inclusion, particularly for children. There is a child poverty initiative, a school food programme and provision of an extra 6,000 after-school child care places. The report also provides information on a new social inclusion monitor which was published last month to report on progress on the national social target.
There is a great deal of information captured in the update. I have tried to set out the key elements to give a flavour of the measures being implemented to reach our Europe 2020 targets. Given the breadth and diverse nature of what the report covers, I have not tried to cover every last detail. My colleagues and I are very happy to address anything in detail should committee members have any comments. We will do our best to answer questions and provide clarifications.
I thank Mr. Callinan for his report. I assume his team is as enthusiastic about the progress that has been made over the last two years as we are in government. It must be very satisfying for the witnesses, as a team of men and women who have endured 14 years of economic decline - plummeting to the extent that we needed a bailout and lost our sovereignty - to experience the hope that at the end of the year we will be out of the programme. We note from the report that there are still many issues to be resolved. We are on the way there and the grass is certainly growing greener for the nation. If we can keep on track, we have substantial prospects of prosperity into the future.
I do not know if it is permissible to ask this question, but do the witnesses have an opinion on, for example, the enthusiasm of people such as Wilbur Ross, who has invested heavily in Bank of Ireland to the tune of €1.1 billion? That is an indication of investor confidence in Ireland. Those familiar with local government will have been happy to learn that the company, Kennedy Wilson, which has €3.5 billion in assets and is acquiring assets throughout the country, intends to invest in the city library project in Parnell Square. Outside investors are coming into the country. When one hears them interviewed on radio, they are excited and enthusiastic about the economic prospects of this country. I hope the witnesses are happy in their work in that, following 14 years of misery, things are slowly turning around and we are on a rise as we move towards the future. Do they have an opinion on when Moody's might move in respect of the junk status it has applied to our debt rating and reinforce the real status of our economy?
The previous Deputy's contribution has provided many opportunities for me to contribute, but I will leave that for another day because there are some very good people before us. I will not engage in commenting on the 14 years of misery that was mentioned.
I thank the witnesses for their report and the work they do. It is hugely important in trying to set a framework in which we can work towards achieving the vision set out in Europe 2020. Have the witnesses done any research about the minimum wage? I have my own view on it but we regularly get anecdotal information from employers that seems to suggest that if the minimum wage was lower we could employ more of the cohort of people mentioned who are long-term unemployed, have little or no skills and may not have a particular educational attainment. That suggestion is often offered to us as public representatives across all parties. I am not making a case for a reduction in the minimum wage but I would like to be in a position to be able to retort on that based on evidence the witnesses have gathered or gleaned.
I thank the witnesses for their comprehensive report. I thank all the staff of all the Departments for the contribution they are making to try to get us out of a very difficult economic situation. My question relates to the area of research and development. We as a country are small in terms of our population and the size of our economy. Mr. Callinan referred to the average spend of EU member states on research and development. Given that we are a small country, should we not be aiming to spend a far higher percentage on research and development than the other member states of the EU? One of attributes we have, which we have been to the forefront in promoting, is our education system. We have people coming through the education sector, and it is now a question of using those young people and trying to keep them in Ireland. Are there other things we could do to expand the area of research and development?
Another issue I have raised previously is the consideration of Europe as a whole. There is far more joined-up thinking in the way research and development is done in the US compared to Europe, where member states do not seem to do as much together in this area as they could. As a result, I understand that approximately 70% of people from outside Europe and America involved in research and development end up going to the United States. We are not bringing them in from outside Europe. Should we not be focused on spending far more on research and development than the EU average rather than simply aiming to achieve that average? That is something we should examine.
I thank Mr. Callinan for his report. It is often said that governments put in place the conditions to create jobs rather than create jobs themselves. This document outlines a number of initiatives in this regard, stemming from the budgetary proposals that were enacted and issues related to research and development and education.
Unemployment remains too high. How much do the witnesses consider our high level of unemployment is related to competency issues within the eurozone and the world economy and their impact on spending? If they consider those issues play a strong part in our level of unemployment, do they believe that these initiatives will particularly target those?
I thank the members of the panel for their presentation. I have long been impressed with the five targets set out in EU 2020 and I was wondering when we might get a progress report on them. It is nice to have this in front of us.
I have a number of short questions. We seem to be doing well in achieving the targets set out in the action plan for jobs. However, the unemployment figure remains very high. Some of that relates to structural change. Ms Pauline Mulligan might answer on this point. Will she comment on how we are faring in achieving change at a structural level that will translate into jobs?
My next question relates to the Momentum placements. My experience of this is that they are excellent but they are for people who are more than one year out of work, which is a flaw. I had reason to meet a group of approximately 90 people recently who begged for these placements, but quite a number of those people were under one year out of work. A good suggestion was put forward in this respect and it might be considered. If all the placements are not taken up and it seems that 20% are not filled by people who are out of work for more than a year, could those placements be given to people who have been out of work for under a year? Will the witnesses comment on that suggestion?
I am concerned about the figure Mr. Callinan gave that one in every 24 of our households are jobless. That is a damning figure. Such unemployment permeates every aspect of life, from the child going to school to the teenager to the ethos of the family. Can the witnesses give us a profile of those families? Are there specific initiatives being targeted at those families? How many of those families have been very long-term unemployed? A profile of them would be useful.
I thank our guests for the outline of the national reform programme. I will make two or three brief comments. To what extent has each Department focused directly on how it can contribute to that reform programme? To what extent have the witnesses liaised with their colleagues throughout Europe to ensure that they and the witnesses are on the same track, approaching the situation in the same direction with the same objectives at the same time, and that no one country or jurisdiction is opting out of certain elements that might be beneficial to the European Union as a whole?
To what extent has the full degree of stress testing required been undertaken by each Department with a view to identifying the weaknesses that were there during the good times and putting in place the necessary structures to maximise the opportunities for growth, development and job creation? I ask that question because it appears that in the past, with regard to the Lisbon Agenda - the previous agenda - we waited until the end of the period covered by it to determine that it had not worked in the way we had thought. To what extent are the witnesses monitoring the performance of every Department and in turn relating to their colleagues in similar departments throughout Europe to ensure we are all moving in the same direction at the same time and that specific targets are being set and achieved along the way? To what extent do they review that on an annual basis and adjust their projections accordingly?
I have one question to throw into the mix. Currently, the country-specific recommendation is that because Ireland is part of the bailout programme we should act in accordance with the agreed programme. We intend to exit the programme by the end of this year. Have the witnesses any thoughts or ideas as to what the country-specific recommendations are likely to be in 2014?
We have 15 minutes left so the witnesses can divide the questions among the people best placed to answer them.
Mr. John Callinan:
I will try to respond to the questions in the order they were asked. I will hopefully cover all of them in my comments or ask colleagues to respond. A question was asked about whether there were encouraging signs of investment in the past while and whether we are happy in our work. Happiness is not a luxury afforded to us but there is no doubt this is a long, slow, gradual process to turn around the economy, build up investment, improve competitiveness and, ultimately, create the employment the country so badly needs. While we are working on all fronts simultaneously, it will not happen overnight. There is a slight tension between the encouraging signs from internal investment, such as the examples mentioned, which we are trying to achieve more of, and the process by which this converts to employment and better living conditions for people, which is not instant. We are encouraged by the signs we are seeing but we will not be happy until we get to the point at which we are back to full employment and improved living standards and conditions for the people of the country.
I do not have a specific comment to make on Moody's. The Minister for Finance has suggested that, in light of recent developments, Moody's might review its rating of Ireland. It would be encouraging if it did so but it is probably best if I do not comment any further in detail on rating agencies.
The minimum wage is part of a broader issue. What are the various issues that may have some inhibiting factor for people in taking up employment across the economy? The Action Plan for Jobs 2013 contains a commitment to assess the impact of recent reforms, including sectoral wage setting mechanisms, and to assess whether further action can be taken to improve labour market competitiveness. Within that, it will be one of the measures examined.
Senator Colm Burke referred to research and development and whether we should aim for a higher target. Very few people would disagree with the principle but, like everything, it is subject to budgetary conditions. We are looking at a steady upward trajectory and we are keen to see it continue. I will ask my colleague to make a further comment on this, including the EU and how we are doing relative to the EU. It is often forgotten when doing comparisons that most, if not all, big-spending research and development countries have a large defence spend. Much defence expenditure is classified. I am not suggesting it should be stripped out but parking it to one side puts us in a more favourable light. With such large expenditure, these countries are in a position to attract the overseas scientists mentioned. This is not a matter of right or wrong but it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of it from time to time. I ask Ms Mulligan to comment further on this.
Ms Pauline Mulligan:
The 2.5% target set in 2011 must be seen in context. The EU target was set at 3%; we set a target of 2.5% of GNP based on the economic and fiscal situation at the time. The target was considered challenging but achievable. We are on track to achieve it towards 2020. In terms of whether we should go further as soon as we reach the target, we should aim higher in general terms. In terms of context and in comparison with other EU countries, we are in the second tier of countries in innovation performance in the EU. The 2012 Innovation Union scoreboard ranked Ireland as one of the innovation followers, alongside countries such as France, the UK and the Netherlands. This shows a performance close to the EU average, which is a significant achievement. We must maintain it and we should have more ambition. We should try to get into the leaders' category. There is room for improvement. The range of policy measures in place is about targeting investment and increasing commercialisation and collaboration in the research we are doing. We have a strategy to improve things.
Mr. John Callinan:
The next question was from Deputy Kyne in respect of the conditions for employment, the factors affecting it and the broader EU initiative. The unemployment crisis is so severe that one of the ideas we keep using among ourselves is to leave no stone unturned. Whether the initiative produces one job or 1,000 jobs, every avenue and angle must be pursued. There is no instant fix so we must fight on every front. That applies to domestic measures and to having the optimal international and European conditions.
In respect of specific initiatives at EU level, I will ask my colleague from the Department of Finance, Mr. John McCarthy, to speak about confidence building and its impact.
Mr. John McCarthy:
Confidence is a crucial factor in the current elevated rate of unemployment. The main channel of its impact is through the very high savings rate. Last year, the savings rate was 12.25%, with households saving one eighth of their disposable income. The long-run average is 7% or 8% so there is a precautionary element, with people saving for rainy day purposes. If confidence was to improve, we would see some fall in that, boosting consumption and domestic demand, which is the most tax or employment-rich component of demand. An improvement in confidence would feed through into labour market trends.
Mr. John Callinan:
Senator Healy Eames asked about the targets in the Action Plan for Jobs, the structural change and how we are doing. This is something we grapple with. The first pass at measuring delivery of the action plan is whether a measure has been done. We have typically hit an achievement rate of more than 90%, but that is only a step. We are trying to put more focus on measuring the consequences, impact and outcomes of the measures and the level of job creation achieved, while bearing in mind my comment earlier that none of these measures produce instant success. It takes time but it is an increasing topic in terms of our work and monitoring activity.
The Senator's comment on the Momentum scheme comes up regularly. It is a dilemma for us. There is no doubt long-term unemployment is a major issue for us so there is pressure to do more for the long-term unemployed, to target more places for them and to have schemes designed for them. Then we hit the problem to which Senator Healy Eames referred, whereby someone who is unemployed asks whether we are telling them they must wait longer. In terms of the resources available, there is no instant fix to the problem but I take the point and the suggestion made that we should look at unallocated places. Perhaps Mr. Corcoran, my colleague from the Department of Social Protection, has something to say on that.
Mr. Terry Corcoran:
The position is as has been described. I am aware that the project, and a number of others, are the subject of representations to the Minister and the Department. They are being individually examined. It is only when it is clear that places cannot be taken up by a sufficient number of people in the area who meet the criteria set down by the Government for the scheme-----
Mr. John Callinan:
Senator Healy Eames also reacted to the point about the high proportion of jobless households. We are starting to examine and have a better understanding of the issue. While the figure is stark, what gets less attention is that at the height of the boom - going back to 2006 and 2007 - the corresponding figure was 15%. In many ways, this is a more stark comment on a time when we talked of having close to full employment. It is a complex issue and a complex area and we need a better understanding of embedded joblessness and what it means. It is being looked at in some detail.
Deputy Durkan asked how we are ensuring that right across the system everything is being done and that we are learning the lessons of the past rather than waiting until the end and looking back, and how we are engaging in this regard with our EU partners. I would like to believe that the answer to the first part of the Deputy's question is "Yes". This initiative is being run on a cross-governmental basis across all Departments and agencies, be it through the Action Plan for Jobs process or the broader national reform programme. The message has gone out that tackling unemployment, creating jobs and the environment for their creation is the priority of everybody across all arms of government.
On the European issue, the answer is the precise reason we are here today, namely, the national reform programme and all of the processes built around it, including the European semester which brings together the 27 member states and the EU, in a collective sense, to monitor the performance, individually, of member states and to cross-monitor all 27 countries. There is no one-size-fits-all process. Each member state is different and their economic circumstances are different. It is question of ensuring that each country is doing what is most appropriate to its particular circumstances and conditions and, as stated by the Deputy, ensuring that nobody is stepping out of kilter with that broad effort. The Compact for Growth and Jobs agreed by the Heads of State and Government in June 2012 also provides an EU-wide blueprint for ensuring every country is doing what it should be doing in this area. The committee should be in no doubt that the job creation agenda is a cross-government initiative, which we are continually monitoring and reviewing.
On the Chairman's question in regard to the country-specific recommendations, the short answer is, "I do not know". We could probably spend a great deal of time speculating on that issue. It is in some way part of a bigger set of issues for us, including what does "beyond the bailout" mean and what does it look like. In simple terms, it means that in this particular process we will, in effect, at that point next year be producing a new national reform programme. The new programme will not be dramatically different but we will have a little more scope and be expected to produce a full document. The country-specific recommendations will to some extent derive from whatever the post-bailout phase looks and feels like because the problems with which we are currently grappling will not have gone away. Whether we are under an EU-IMF programme or operating under own steam in close consultation with our colleagues and partners, the trajectory will be similar.
I thank Mr. Callinan. The delegates will be aware that national parliaments across Europe are interested in the role we play in the European semester. It is an evolving role and one on which we have had many discussions over the past couple of months with our colleagues across Europe. We welcome Mr. Callinan's appearance before the committee today to speak about the programme and look forward to his reappearing before us in the future to speak about future programmes.