Dáil debates

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Job Creation and Economic Growth: Motion [Private Members]


8:30 pm

Photo of Jonathan O'BrienJonathan O'Brien (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:notes that:

— the disastrous economic management of the previous Fianna Fáil Government resulted in unemployment rates rising from 5 per cent in 2008 to 13 per cent in 2009, peaking at 14.3 per cent in September 2010; and unemployment rates have continued at this level under the current Government;

— the rates of long-term unemployment have increased, with almost 60 per cent of all unemployed persons out of work for more than 12 months; and the youth unemployment level is in excess of 27 per cent; and— the levels of emigration have increased over the past two years, with 167,000 leaving since 2011, which equates to over 1,600 people leaving every week;

further notes:

— in 2012 almost 12,800 net full-time jobs were lost in the economy and replaced by 14,000 part-time jobs;

— the rise in underemployment, with almost one third of part-time workers seeking additional hours;

— that the Government Action Plan on Jobs fails to have annual targets for job creation or reductions in levels of unemployment and has failed the test of tackling unemployment;

— the failure of bailout banks to support Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, with increased new lending;

— that as the largest employer, the Government has shredded 30,000 jobs, which has undermined public services;

— that the employment crisis has a differential impact on communities across the State and the Government has failed to address these inequalities;

— the resilience of our SME sector and our workers who have continued to work and produce goods and services in an economy undermined by Government policy; and

— the negative impact of the border with regard to realising the economic potential of our island;

acknowledges that the Government:

— has failed to impact, in a substantive way, on the unemployment crisis;

— has a role to play in creating and retaining jobs; and

— should fully support workers and the SME sector to promote growth and jobs; and

calls on the Government to:

— establish a jobs stimulus fund of €13 billion to reflect the scale of the crisis we face;

— target investment towards projects that will create employment, develop infrastructure and enhance our competitiveness;

— tackle barriers to competitiveness by:

— abolishing upward only rent review clauses;

— addressing excessive utility, legal and insurance costs;

— introducing progressive commercial rates; and

— combatting cartels;

— pledge that citizens are not forced into emigration by economic necessity; and to put in place schemes that will guarantee young people jobs, training or continued education;

— develop regional targets and budgets to promote job creation and tackle economic inequalities; and

— work with the Northern Ireland Executive to promote an all-island approach to skills, job creation and economic growth.”
I propose to share time with Deputies Mac Lochlainn, Colreavy, McLellan and Crowe.

I want to give a voice to the many skilled workers left on the dole queues, the full-time workers reduced to part-time hours and those forced to leave the country out of economic necessity. They are a generation sadly lost to a nation. The Government has made much of the State of the economy it inherited from the previous Administration and there is no doubt the years of the Fianna Fáil Government were an economic disaster. No one on this side of the House will argue with that. The massive job losses from 2007 to 2009 are clearly the outworking of the economic failure of Fianna Fáil policy. However, continued high levels of unemployment are no longer the symptom of a contracting economy. High levels of unemployment are now the cause of continued economic stagnation. An economy cannot grow and deal with the deficit or deliver first-class public services needed while several hundred thousand of our citizens are unemployed. Over 80,000 potential workers emigrate every year. Our families and our communities cannot afford the cost of unemployment yet the Government continues to follow the failed policies of the previous Administration while expecting a different result.

Last week the Government celebrated two years in office, having promised that jobs would be its first priority. After two years of Fine Gael and Labour in Government, unemployment is still at the same levels as the last six months of the Fianna Fail Administration. Some Ministers claimed the Government had brought stability to levels of unemployment. Stability of unemployment is not, nor should it be, a boast. Hitting the bottom and staying there is not a legacy of which any Government should be proud. The Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, said last week that jobs was the first thing on his mind when he woke up every day. This comes from a Minister in a Government that has no issue with shedding 30,000 public sector jobs. These are posts for gardaí, nurses, teachers and doctors. If it took place in any other sector, there would be a call to action against the employer. Last year, the Taoiseach announced the Government would support 100,000 net jobs in the economy by 2016. Last year the economy lost 12,800 full-time jobs. We are further away from the figure announced by the Taoiseach last year.

Over the past two years there have been significant changes in the labour market. We have seen the erosion of workers' rights, the loss of hours for workers, an increase in long-term unemployment, an increase in emigration and some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Europe. The Government has not made good on its promise to deliver jobs and that is not surprising when following the policies of Fianna Fáil.

Job creation is not the first priority for the Government. The strategy of this Government is to sort out the banks, keep Europe happy and hope it all turns out okay. The strategy of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, is to take one for the team in Europe. In doing so, communities, families and the unemployed are viewed as collateral damage. All the while, unemployment and emigration continues and the debt issue remains unresolved. There seems to be an acceptable level of unemployment and an acceptable level of emigration for this Government and that is fundamentally wrong. It is wrong for our people and wrong for our economy. The failure of the macroeconomic policy is replicated in the contradictory policies of various Departments. The Department Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation wants to promote the SME sector yet the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is doing its best to cut the sector out of Government contracts.

In my brief, education, we hear a lot from the Government about a knowledge-based, smart economy that is supposedly based on a well-resourced education system that is flexible enough to produce students with the skills to prosper in an ever-evolving economy. However, the Government is failing in its aim because all of the rhetoric about a knowledge-based economy is undermined by countless cuts being implemented across the education sector. Last year, for example, over 1,000 workers were recruited from abroad to fill IT jobs because employers in the State could not find enough suitable home grown candidates. The number of workers hired from outside the EU has almost doubled in the past year and it is estimated a quarter of all new IT jobs are filled by people recruited from abroad. The growing skills shortage comes when over 434,000 people are on the dole queues yet the Government is trying to entice workers to take up technology careers through conversion courses. The Government is failing to empower citizens and open up new opportunities for them through education because it lacks the vision, implemented in other EU states in recession, to ring-fence funding for education initiatives that can make a real difference. Cuts imposed on the education sector have for example, resulted in the loss of the modern languages initiative, language support services, educational resources for Traveller children and increases in the pupil-teacher ratio in PLC courses, which will lead to a reduction in the type of courses that can be offered. Also, we will lose specialised teachers in the further education sector. These are the specialised teachers we should nurture and rely upon to educate the next generation of the workforce.

Unlike the Government, the starting point for Sinn Fein is jobs. Getting our people back to work will grow the economy and tackle the deficit. It is about investing smartly and investing to get our people back to work and to enhance the competitiveness of the economy. Despite the resilience of our homegrown business sector, the private sector cannot make the investment necessary and at a scale to deliver a substantive impact on unemployment.

Prior to the budget we produced a jobs strategy document with proposals to provide for a €13 billion investment in projects that would create up to 156,000 jobs and sustain employment. They included investments in broadband, transport, infrastructural, school, regeneration, green technology and sustainable energy projects. The strategy document also included initiatives to tackle the barriers to competitiveness such as ending upward only rent reviews, developing progressive commercial rates and tackling regional disparities.

I am not for one minute suggesting we on this side of the House have all the answers in tackling unemployment, but if we consider countries such as the United States, it is clear that investment in a stimulus programme is required to sustain and promote employment. The latest figures from the United States demonstrate that there has been welcome growth as a result of investment in a stimulus programme. That, in turn, will impact on its deficit and generate spending in its domestic economy. It is clear that a new approach and strategy is required from the Government.

Last week Mr. Jack O'Connor spoke at a Sinn Féin conference marking the anniversary of the Dublin Lock-out and used the opportunity presented to call for an alternative to austerity. The alternative to austerity is not further austerity but investment. It is about getting people back to work and resolving the issue of the deficit through generating growth. The alternative is investing in the wealth of the people for their betterment. It is not about continuing the policy of Fianna Fáil in handing that wealth to bankers and bondholders. I urge the Government to stop the spin. I also urge it to recognise that in boxing off the bankers, to describe it in those terms, hoping for growth is definitely not a strategy. I urge it to begin in earnest investing fully in the people and business in order that we can get people back to work.

8:40 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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I had hoped to have an opportunity to discuss the unemployment crisis in County Donegal with the Minister at an earlier stage last year, but his colleague, the Minister of State, took the debate on that occasion. I will take this opportunity to take the Minister through the history of the unemployment crisis in County Donegal as the crisis is not. As he will recall, the Fruit of the Loom textile industry collapsed in County Donegal and the signs of its decline were evident in the late 1990s. It finally collapsed in the early 2000s. An employment task force was established by the then Government to address the crisis caused not only by the collapse of Fruit of the Loom but also the collapse off the entire textile industry in the region. Definite job creation targets were put in place in the next seven years that would have amounted to a net gain of approximately 6,000 jobs. That was the scale of what was required to allow County Donegal to start to catch up with the then employment levels across the State. After a period of almost seven years, however, there was no real progress. Unemployment levels in the county were still at or around 14% to 15% which at the time were almost four times the national average. An interdepartmental group was set up to work across all Departments as there was a unique job creation challenge in County Donegal. As we approached the late 2000s, some 8,300 people were unemployed in the county, a large number of people equating to an unemployment level of 14%.

The level of unemployment in County Donegal today is 28%, which means approximately 23,000 people are out of full-time employment. This presents a profound crisis in the county. Donegal is a county with natural entrepreneurs, people who want to work if they were given the chance to do so. In that respect, there are one or two examples. Primerica stands out as a solid example of what the workforce in County Donegal has to offer, if given the chance.

I will give the Minister some shocking statistics. I remind him that while unemployment levels are bad throughout the country, the unemployment levels in County Donegal are the highest in the State by a mile, while the youth unemployment rate is almost at 50%. I will cite statistics for last year for the job creation agencies. In the case of Enterprise Ireland, there were 129 net job losses in County Donegal. The number of site visits by IDA Ireland in the county in 2012 was zero, despite the crisis we face in the county.

As the Minister will be aware, IDA Ireland was to ensure 50% of jobs would be created outside the major cities of Dublin and Cork. However, outside of Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and County Louth, the percentage of jobs attracted to rural Ireland, including my county of Donegal, which has approximately 50% of the population was 2.5% of the overall number of jobs attracted to the country. I commend IDA Ireland for its work. When I was my party's spokesperson on foreign affairs and trade, I had the opportunity to see for myself in the United States the reputation it had earned and the work it did there, but it is not attracting jobs to the regions. I note in the Minister's latest plan that he has apparently scrapped the 50% target. How can he stand over this? How could he go on a Donegal radio station or visit the county and tell the people there that the Government has its finger on the pulse and that he is aware of the extent of the crisis?

As the Minister knows, there are solutions. He does not need to listen to Sinn Féin in this respect. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and every Nobel Prize winning economist would tell him that we need to reverse the insanity of only having austerity policies. There are billions of euro in the National Pensions Reserve Fund; there is also the European Investment Bank and there are pension funds in Ireland. Therefore, there are resources that could be deployed. People must be given hope. As a representative of the people of Donegal, the level of unemployment in the county has gone from bad to worse. People there want to work and the Government must meet them half way. It must attract investment into the regions and assist employers to keep employees in work. We have given the Minister a range of proposals which we have presented in our jobs plan. I have given him the figures for my county and they are indefensible. His colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, has joined him. I addressed the Minister of State last year and brought these numbers to his attention. The Minister knows the wider issues involved. I cannot stand here and not directly bring to his attention the scale of the crisis in County Donegal and the failure of the job creation agencies and the Government to address it. He must give the people of the county some hope. I, therefore, ask him to take on board what I have said.

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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There are 428,000 people in this nation unemployed, while countless tens of thousands are under-employed. Most of the unemployed have been unemployed for 12 months or longer. Younger people now account for a figure of between 27% and 33% of the unemployed, depending on the way it is calculated. There is this level of unemployment, despite the fact that since the Government came to power 167,000 Irish people have emigrated and tens of thousands continue to emigrate each year.

More than 240,000 jobs have been lost in the Irish economy since 2006, with the majority of these losses incurring in 2008 and 2009. Over the past year 30,000 jobs have been lost in the public service, including nursing, medical, teaching and clerical and administrative posts. Many public service workers who had been working full-time are now working part-time.

Any examination of the statistics on unemployment and job creation shows huge regional imbalances. Rural Ireland has been particularly neglected. Although 49% of the population live outside the cities, rural areas received only 2.4% of jobs created. Whole communities in rural areas are being shut down by neglect, job losses, emigration and reductions in public services through both the closure of facilities and service level reductions. Is it a deliberate plan of this Government to concentrate the Irish population into already overcrowded cities and major towns? It is all very well to blame the last Government for all of this, but last year in Cavan the IDA and Enterprise Ireland between them created 134 new jobs, while 39 were created in Donegal. Leitrim lost 113 jobs and 187 jobs were created in Sligo. What a result for the west and north west in 2012.

Before the election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party promised that jobs would be their first priority. Emigration would be stopped, jobs would be protected and created, and unemployment levels would decrease. This has not happened and is not happening. It is not happening in Cavan, Donegal, Sligo or Leitrim. It is not happening nationally because the parties in Government - just like their predecessors - continue to focus their energies and taxpayers' money on managing the banking and sovereign debt and hoping that magically something will happen to create jobs. How many times must it be said that we cannot fix the national economy by taking ever more money from the pockets of the very people who sustain our local economies before this Government listens and understands? We cannot contribute to fixing the EU economy and banking system by destroying our national economy.

Politics is about choices, and leadership means bringing about the changes necessary to reach the chosen destinations. Sinn Féin has pointed out that there is a different, better way. We have shown during the debate leading to the 2013 budget that there is a way to achieve the fiscal targets set by Government, but a fairer, sustainable way that gives hope to people in despair, that spreads the burden of adjustment more evenly, and that recognises that the ordinary people of this country should no longer have to suffer because of the failures of others - including, or perhaps particularly, the failures of those in political leadership who made the disastrous decisions that led to the economic ruination of this nation.

I remind the Minister, the Minister of State and Deputies in the Government parties - and those in the party that was previously in government who might be listening in, because they are not here - of a very simple question put to me by a member of the public at a recent meeting in Carrick-on-Shannon: how is it that we have allowed ourselves be brought to a state in which the people fear the Government, rather than the Government fearing the people? I remind the Minister that 2016 is coming fast.

8:50 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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Most people would accept that the unemployment crisis is getting worse. It does not give us any joy to come in here and talk about the difficulties facing people who are unemployed. No one receiving €188 a week wants to be in that situation. Most of the people I have spoken to in my constituency do not want to face the prospect of not getting a job. We have wronged these people, because they were promised change. They are constantly being told that their situation is a priority, but we have not seen it being dealt with. That is how we wrong those people daily. One of the difficulties for most of the people I talk to about unemployment is the lack of hope. That is the crisis. People eagerly turn on their televisions or listen to their radios and hear people talking about this or that coming down the track, but the next week - or the month after, or six months after - they are in the same situation. The constituency I represent has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, like that of my colleague, Deputy Mac Lochlainn from Donegal. That is not the fault of the people who live in that area. We have two Ministers and a backbench Deputy in the area but the jobs are not being delivered. In all the years I have been active in the area I have not heard anyone talk about getting a crisis management group together to see what they can do for jobs in the area. The Government is not putting forward any plan.

The Government promised change and said it would revitalise the economy, repeatedly stating that job creation was one of the main priorities. Despite this, it is quite obvious that the process of austerity and debt repayment is its main priority, not jobs. We have not seen the promised 100,000 jobs. The Government has pursued cutbacks and austerity policies with such conviction that over the past year 30,000 jobs have been lost in the public sector, including those of nurses, doctors and teachers. Economic growth has been minuscule and the unemployment crisis has deepened. If job creation is the Government's number one priority, why is it that emigration and the resilience of some of our SMEs have had a bigger impact in reducing unemployment rates than the Government's policy? It is a damning indictment of its performance to date. Most people would accept that the Government has failed to address the scale of the problem facing our people and to invest in job creation. It does not make sense to people that we are not using the funding available in the National Pensions Reserve Fund as a stimulus package for jobs. It does not add up. That money was supposed to be put aside for a rainy day. We have had winters, not just rainy days, over the past few years, yet the Government in its wisdom has decided not to invest the money in a job stimulus package.

Jobs should be the Government's number one priority. Getting people back to work will reduce the deficit, sustain public services and contribute to resolving the debt issue. We have seen unemployment get worse and worse. State employers need to respect the rights of workers. The Government has criticised employers such as Vita Cortex for the growing trend of leaving workers in the cold, but the workers in IBRC were given an agreement on a redundancy package and now the State, through its new legislation, is walking away from that agreement. We cannot give out to employers in the private sector and at the same time turn our backs on workers. If nothing else comes out of this debate, the Minister might at least examine that area. We are tabling this motion on a positive basis. We want to get a discussion going on unemployment.

9:00 pm

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion brought before the House by Sinn Féin. The issue of job creation is arguably one of the most pressing and important challenges that we as elected representatives face. In simple terms, people need work if they are to feed their families and put a roof over their heads. Work or employment gives people the material means to engage actively with all that society has to offer and to lead full and meaningful lives. In psychological terms, work or employment is a key determinant in a person's ability to maintain good mental health, a sense of self-esteem, pride and self-worth. Society places a high value on work and employment and one's identity and societal status is often determined by one's occupation or profession. At a more fundamental level, employment has a significant impact on one's socio-economic status and class position. This position will in turn determine access to life chances, social utilities, education, health etc. In other words, to engage in the many societal strands that give meaning to life in contemporary Ireland, one has to have work, employment, a job - call it what one wishes.

The reality is that almost 500,000 of our people are now out of work while thousands more have emigrated. The end result of this is that we now have a society that aptly fits the dictum of the haves and the have-nots. At one level we still see restaurants and bars in affluent and prosperous areas full of people who can afford to eat out on a night in the middle of the week. These are the very same people who shop for luxury goods in exclusive stores in our major cities. The other side of this coin is that children, lone parents, the working poor and people dependent on social transfers are now more than ever at risk of living in consistent poverty. Put another way, where one is located on the employment ladder, or if they are even on the ladder, will now more than ever determine their class position and the manner in which they will live their lives, be they adults or children.

We now have clear fault lines developing around socio-economic class in society. If we have even the faintest of concerns about issues of social cohesion, societal well-being and, dare I say, social justice then we cannot ignore such fractures. It is now a historical fact that the policies and actions of successive Fianna Fáil-led Governments played a major role in destroying the economic and employment infrastructure of our country. No matter how much Deputy Martin and his colleagues may try to disguise and ignore this fact, the record is clear. Fianna Fáil, Deputy Martin, Senator Thomas Byrne and others played Russian roulette with the lives and futures of hundreds of thousands of Irish men, women and children.

Fine Gael and Labour's response to the maelstrom has been nothing short of disastrous in that they too have decided to continue along the same lines as the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government. Clearly for all three parties, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil, austerity is the only game in town. If by some misfortune one happens to be unlucky enough to lose one's job, or to be a child in a household experiencing unemployment, or to be one of the disabled or working poor, then tough because this Government does not really care.

This profound lack of human empathy and political acumen is clearly evident in the Government's recently launched Action Plan for Jobs 2013. The plan is to create 100,000 new jobs by 2016 and to provide credit to the small and medium-sized, SME, enterprise sector. The information technology, IT, sector and new industries will be the subject of renewed focus while the long-term unemployed are to be offered a range of incentives to upskill with the aim of finding work.

There are several problems with the plan, however. First, it makes no mention of annual targets for a net increase in jobs or a reduction in unemployment rates for this year. This is shocking given that almost 500,000 people are now out of work. What does the Government expect them to do? Flaky policies, procrastination and false hope do not put food on the table or help people to pay the mortgage. In the plan, the Government also gives an undertaking to commission research, monitor bank lending to SMEs and so on. These are actions that any government worth its salt would be doing as a matter of course.

Moreover, if one were foolish enough to believe the Government's spin around employment, then perhaps there might be reason to be optimistic. The reality, however, is far bleaker than Fine Gael and Labour would have us believe. For example, according to the coalition, its actions have resulted in the stabilisation of unemployment. In the real world, we know that levels of unemployment reached the bottom six months before the current Government came into power. Since then it has been virtually static even in the face of ever increasing emigration. Even more alarming is the fact that since the launch of the action plan, there has been a loss of 12,800 full-time jobs and a gain of 14,000 part-time jobs. Added to this, in the past year 9,100 jobs in the public sector have been lost. The bottom line is that since the announcement of the plan, 4,300 jobs have been lost and we are further away from the 100,000 target net jobs than at the start of the initiative.

More fundamentally, if we look at the structure of the labour market what we see is a worrying growth in low-paid, part-time, non-unionised labour which is primarily concentrated in the services sector. Meanwhile workers in construction, industry and agriculture have borne the brunt of the collapse of the economy. As if the collapse in the economy and the restructuring of the labour market were not enough, the policies of austerity that are being relentlessly and blindly enacted by the Government have led to a process of acute regional uneven development and the growth of a surplus population that has no work and few prospects. It is as if the Government is, to paraphrase Reginald Maudling, happy or content to live with an acceptable level of unemployment and emigration.

All the while we see, according to the Central Statistics Office, an increase in levels of child poverty and in the numbers of people living in consistent poverty. We now live in a State where the Government thinks it is acceptable to cut mobility allowances for disabled people and to cut the working hours of thousands of home helps. All of this is done under the mantra of austerity. Meanwhile, 60% of the unemployed have been out of work for 24 months or more with all the evidence suggesting this pattern will continue.

The Sinn Féin jobs document provides a clear alternative to the false projections in the coalition's jobs plan. There are choices and austerity is not one of them.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I wish to share time with Deputies Perry and Lyons.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Minister, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:“acknowledges the Government's recent achievements in:
— renegotiating the EU/IMF bailout to cut interest payments and free up investments for stimulus;

— reducing Ireland's borrowing needs by €20 billion over the coming decade by securing a restructuring of the promissory notes to creditors in Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide banks;

— improving access to finance for business by:

— re-capitalising the pillar banks;

— setting lending targets; and

— introducing new financing options such as the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme, the Microfinance Fund and the Development Capital Scheme;

— placing a whole-of-Government focus on supporting job creation through the cumulative effect of the annual Action Plan for Jobs process, which builds on the initial Jobs Initiative of May 2011; and

— assisting the long-term unemployed being prepared to move into employment through more regular engagement, upskilling and training under the Pathways to Work programme;
— the systematic way in which the Government and its agencies implemented the 2012 Action Plan for Jobs which, in parallel with the recently launched 2013 plan, is helping to transform the operating environment for business, to support job creation and competitiveness; subsequent action plans will build on the work completed by the first two;

— a net increase of over 10,000 jobs in Enterprise Ireland and the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) Ireland companies in 2012, which is the highest level of job creation since 2006 for Enterprise Ireland companies, and the highest level in a decade for IDA Ireland companies;

— the 1,200 increase in employment in the latest Quarterly National Household Survey figures which is the first annual increase in employment recorded since the second quarter of 2008;

— that private sector employment has grown on average by 1,000 jobs a month in the past 15 months; this is in contrast to 250,000 private sector jobs being lost in the three years before the current Government took office;

— the major jobs announcements since March 2011 including: PayPal (1,000 jobs), Kerry Group (800 jobs), Sky (800 jobs), Paddy Power (600 jobs), Mylan (500 jobs), Apple (500 jobs), Northern Trust (400 jobs), EA/Bioware (500 jobs in total), Eli Lilly (200 jobs) and HP (280 jobs);

— the regional spread of these new jobs, including new investments in Letterkenny, Sligo, Mayo, Westport, Galway, Louth, Dundalk, Drogheda, Kildare, Leixlip, Kilkenny, Bray and Limerick;

— the latest goods trade figures published by the Central Statistics Office, which showed that goods exports in 2012 increased on 2011 levels to hit €92 billion, the highest figure since 2002, while services exports for the first nine months of 2012 are up over 11% on the equivalent period in 2011; hence, the annual overall increase in exports for 2012 is likely to be significant;

— that Budget 2013 includes a 10 point plan to support the Small and Medium Enterprise sector;

— the achievement of the Government in securing agreement under the Irish Presidency of the EU for a pan-European fund of €6 billion for a Youth Guarantee Scheme to address youth unemployment;

— that, through a variety of funds and schemes, the Government has managed to provide more than €2 billion of non-bank, new streams of finance into the market through such initiatives as the Development Capital Fund, the Partial Credit Guarantee Scheme, Innovation Fund Ireland, a new Seed and Venture Capital Fund and a variety of National Pensions Reserve Fund SME funds;

— the on-going cross-Border co-operation on economic development, through the work of agencies such as Tourism Ireland, InterTradeIreland and others; and

— the increased expenditure on employment support schemes since the current Government took office, such that total spending in support of people who are unemployed has increased significantly from €958 million in 2012 to €1.045 billion in 2013 with an additional 10,000 work placements as well as support for additional training and educational opportunities; and

commends the Government for:

— restoring Ireland's reputation internationally as a stable economy which is open for business and attractive for investors; with the two major international rankings of competitiveness indicating that our performance is going in the right direction;according to the IMD's World Competitiveness Yearbook, Ireland is ranked 20th in 2012, up from 24th in 2011;

— re-establishing order in the banking system and allowing Ireland to re-enter the bond markets;

— maintaining Ireland's corporation tax rate at 12.5% and keeping income taxes at the same levels since coming into Government;

— the implementation of a stringent monitoring and reporting structure for the cross-Government implementation of the Action Plan for Jobs, led by the Department of the Taoiseach, to ensure that job creation is the number one priority of all Departments and agencies of the State;

— the strategic focus of the Disruptive Reforms measures contained in the Action Plan for Jobs, being implemented in partnership with senior industry figures, which have the potential for significant job creation;

— facilitating growth in employment for the first time since 2008 by systematically tackling issues that have improved the operating environment for business and strengthened Ireland's competitiveness;

— recognising the critical contribution of the micro and small business sector in job creation and commends the Government's commitment to reform of the micro and small business infrastructure, including providing a first-stop-shop to support the sector;

— targeting investment under its Capital Investment Programme at projects that will create employment; and

— addressing the skills needs of the economy through programmes such as Springboard, JobBridge and the ICT Action Plan, which are providing education, training and work experience directly linked to the needs of the enterprise sector.
I thank Sinn Féin for raising this important debate but I am disappointed with its Members' input so far. I listened to five speakers but there was not one mention of enterprise, building new export markets, creating access to finance for small business to build on, how we need to be more competitive, how we drive innovation in our businesses or how we can grow successful businesses that can win new markets. Neither was there one mention of the new sectors which will drive the future economy.

Instead, what I heard was a call to employ an additional 30,000 in the public service and spend €13 billion on a stimulus fund. Rebuilding our economy is not about finding new ways of spending moneys we do not have or recruiting people on to the public payroll who have to be paid from taxpayers' money. That is the very problem we inherited, namely of an economy built on free-flowing public spending, a property boom and a destruction of enterprise, export markets and innovation. That is the shift we have to make. No one ever said this was going to be an arithmetic exercise with 20,000 jobs created in year one and so many in year two.

That is not the way economies work. We need to rebuild a completely devastated economy. It is as if there has been an earthquake and many of the foundations have been rocked to the core. Banking and the public finances have been broken beyond all recognition. Employment is a major issue as Sinn Féin has rightly noted. Some 90,000 jobs per year were being lost in the economy. We cannot turn that around by a simple stroke of the pen. We inherited an economy spending 50% more than it was collecting in revenue. That was the economy we inherited but we cannot solve that by agreeing to spend even more or by raising €13 billion from somewhere or by taking on more public servants. That would simply make the hole bigger.

Sinn Féin does not seem to recall that as a nation we were unable to borrow anywhere at one stage. The only people we could borrow from were those in the troika, which set conditions because we were effectively bankrupt as a nation. That is the economy we inherited and that is the economy we must fix. There is no point in being naive about the solution. It is not a case of back to freewheeling spending in the construction sector or freewheeling spending on new public services. Would that it were that simple but it is not; it is about rebuilding an economy that has been shattered. It must be built on enterprise, innovation, winning new export markets and building strong, successful companies that can carve out those markets and they must be predominantly Irish businesses. We are fortunate to have overseas investment but we need to build a strong indigenous engine of growth that can develop from our own ingenuity and skills base. That is the ambition. Addressing this will require and has required considerable changes in the way we conduct our economy.

It is a pity Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is not here now because he used a phrase to the effect that we are continuing with the failed policies of the previous Government, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have determined that we will not build over the same fault lines that destroyed our economy, the fault lines of freewheeling debt, a construction sector that was too big and selling houses to one another at ever-inflated prices. That is not the economy we intend to build; we are going to build a different economy.

We have had to do things which for many were unthinkable. The first thing we did was renegotiate the deal with the EU and the IMF. I have listened to speaker after speaker from Sinn Féin pretending that in some way we have been saving bankers but the bankers got wiped out. Anyone who had shares in the banks lost virtually everything and bondholders have had to stump up €15 billion. One could argue that the credit guarantee given by the previous Government exposed the Irish taxpayer and naturally it did, but the job of this Government has been to redress that. We have renegotiated the interest rate on the bonds, which was worth €10 billion. Now, we have renegotiated the promissory note which will mean we need not go into the market to raise €20 billion. Now, as a sovereign State, we can borrow in the open market at reasonable rates of interest again. This effort has involved considerable rebuilding and it has taken great deal of work to fix our public finances and fix the way our banks have behaved. It has involved a good deal of work but we have made real progress.

I recognise that Sinn Féin is, rightly, impatient for employment and I am impatient for it as well. That is the job I and the Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, get up to do every day of the week. We are trying to promote more job opportunities in the country, whether for small or big enterprises, whether they are foreign-owned or domestic. That is what drives us. However, to do that requires fixing things that were broken.

Some Sinn Féin speakers referred to the need to use the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the European Investment Bank money and they are correct but I did not hear any reference to the fact that we are using EIB money to fund a stimulus package and PPPs. I heard no mention of the fact that the National Pensions Reserve Fund is now putting money into funds to drive and small and medium enterprises. Some €2.5 billion worth of new money is going in to fund small and medium enterprises and this is completely aside from the banking sector. This money is being generated by the State's ingenuity. The process involves coming up with new models that can help to fund business. It is using money in a creative and sustainable way rather than spending it today such that it is gone tomorrow. We are putting it into funds that can build strong enterprises that will drive our future. That is what we are doing and that is what stimulus means. That is the way to stimulate the economy, which we must rebuild properly rather than simply indulge in freewheeling spending. It must involve the smart use of public funds, infrastructure funds, small and medium enterprise equity funds and restructuring funds for small businesses which have got into trouble and need fresh equity. That is the route we must travel and we must work to develop strong enterprises which can recreate all our communities rather than only some of them.

We have also had to focus on restoring competitiveness and rebuilding our export potential. We spend a good deal of time on trade missions, relentlessly supporting good Irish companies which are trying to win new markets. We are opening up those new markets. Let us consider the work of Enterprise Ireland and the structure of Irish-owned companies and where they are selling. The United Kingdom is diminishing in importance because we are now carving out new markets whether in Canada or the United States. This week I was in Texas and the south-eastern states of the United States. These are new strong growth markets where we can bring innovative companies and win fresh business. That is the route we are travelling.

We must reorient our welfare services as well and the work of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, is decidedly important in changing the notion that our welfare services are about insisting that people be idle in order to get paid. She is reorienting the whole system with an emphasis on helping to develop people. She has introduced schemes, including JobBridge and the momentum scheme, which also involves the Department of Education and Skills and the Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, and the Springboard initiative, which I heard Deputy Jonathan O'Brien speak about disparagingly. These are real schemes to help re-skill people who perhaps committed themselves to the construction sector and related sectors. They will allow these people to re-skill and enter into the new employment areas and we are seeing these new employment areas beginning to develop.

Let us consider what our plan is delivering. The IDA has had its best years in a decade in the past two years, one has been better than the other. Enterprise Ireland has had its best year in more than five years. Sinn Féin speakers quoted from the quarterly national household survey but they overlooked the fact that the past two quarters have seen employment growth for the first time in five years. Sinn Féin speakers overlooked the fact that the private sector is expanding and has been for 15 months. We are seeing the results of slowly creating a new environment whereby businesses can win new export markets and we must continue with that work.

We have ambitions and the work we did last year has been helpful in this regard. The Action Plan for Jobs saw a new approach. Sinn Féin maintains we are not making jobs a priority but we are. Every Department has committed to actions to make it easier for businesses to create jobs, whether the Department of Finance and the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, with his small business package in the budget or the Department of Health and the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, with the health innovation hub, which is designed to take innovative companies and get them to embed within our hospital system. All these initiatives are contributing to the changes that we must make. We have brought in initiatives relating to micro-finance and temporary loan guarantees. These are new ways of trying to deal with the problems that companies face. We have introduced a first-time exporters division to take companies which had never looked abroad but which, given the constrained domestic economy, must carve out new markets. We are helping them to make steps into those new markets and helping them to fund the process. That is the route we must travel.

It is disheartening that there is no understanding of what needs to happen to change our economy among the Sinn Féin speakers. It will not be simply about finding new ways to spend public money; that is not the solution. The nation is still spending one third more than it collects in tax revenue. That is the sad truth and we must continue to correct and deal with these problems. The way to deal with these problems is to build strong enterprises that take people on and open up new opportunities. I believe the Action Plan for Jobs was a success last year. It was not a dramatic success but a real success. We delivered more than 90% of the actions we took on. We brought in the type of innovations to which I have referred. Now, we want to build on that. We will be more ambitious in 2013. We have carved out areas where we believe there is real opportunity. The JobsPlus scheme being introduced by the Department of Social Protection is a recognition that we need to do something special to encourage employers to take on the long-term unemployed, to which Sinn Féin speakers have adverted. It involves a simple subsidy of €75 per week to take on someone who is 12 months out of work, or €100 per week for someone who is two years out of work.

That is a solid proposal which favours the people Sinn Féin rightly argues have been displaced and damaged by this recession. We are trying to give a leg up to people who are in that category. That is the purpose of the recently launched Momentum scheme which mixes on the job skills with off the job training. That is innovative thinking.

The development capital fund which we launched last year is aimed at companies which are basically sound but have weak balance sheets and require capital to expand into new markets. We are putting in place a fund with private sector leverage so that we can get more out of it. We put forward €50 million and are leveraging it up to €200 million. That is the sort of smart thinking required from us in the context of limited resources.

There are real opportunities in practical areas, such as reforming licensing in the retail sector. The Minister of State, Deputy Perry, is committed to simplifying the way in which business is done and making it easier so that people do not have to comply with 25 different licences when they want to open a retail store. The action plan for jobs tries to carve out new niches. There are opportunities in big data and in the green sector. We are doubling the ICT skills base in the coming years and offering conversion courses in areas of real opportunity. We can green our buildings by developing higher standards of energy efficiency while employing people in the process. This is an innovative approach. I acknowledge it may involve a lot of small proposals but we never said there would be a big bang.

The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is making our research expenditure more forensic by focusing on areas in which we can add value and create opportunities for our businesses. The Minister of State, Deputy Perry, is introducing a one-stop-shop through which small businesses can find out the supports on offer from the State. These practical measures are not as glamorous as announcing a €13 billion fund but we cannot play in that arena. We have to rebuild brick by brick, starting with a solid foundation for strong enterprises which export and are innovative. One would be proud to accompany Irish companies to Texas, China or India because of the quality of our people and the companies they are building. We have pledged to row in behind them. God willing, we will deliver on our targets. If we fail it will not be for the lack of commitment because we are putting all our efforts into achieving them. We are open to new ideas. One of the features of the action plan for jobs is that every year is a new year and when ideas spring up we will seek to adapt them. Today we announced the bringing in of industrial partners to help us drive those new ideas. That is the route to reforming our economy, rebuilding our society and creating opportunities for our people. I know the Deputies opposite genuinely crave that change as much as we do.

9:20 pm

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I commend the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on the great advancements he has made. This is an uphill struggle but we cannot respond with negativity all the time. I have toured the country to meet business people and employers. Yesterday I was in New York where I meet 20 Enterprise Ireland companies which left this country as part of the wave of emigration and are bringing people from Ireland to Irish-American companies. These are bright, new and intellectual companies which are doing exceptionally well.

This Government has considerable respect for the role played by small businesses. We still have 1.8 people at work. We have no fear of 2016 because we understand it is a question of creating jobs, cutting red tape and improving access to finance. The business sections of today's newspapers reported that banks in Northern Ireland are not giving money to business people. There is massive emigration from Northern Ireland and the unemployment rate there is high. There is no point in the Deputies opposite saying they have all the answers or the policies when they are part of a Government in Northern Ireland which is presiding over high rates of emigration and banks that are not supporting SMEs. Deputy Colreavy and I share a Border constituency. It is important when we speak about job potential that we tell it as it is. We must be positive. Business people want confidence and credit in the economy. They do not want constant pessimism. When we go abroad we see the capability of Irish companies.

The Government is working on the issue of access to finance. The banks have been recapitalised. We have developed microfinance schemes and loan guarantee schemes. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, has dealt with these issues. We are cutting the cost of business by reducing the administrative burden. I am working to reduce the current 50 licences required for retail operations and plan to establish one national body by the end of the year. Tomorrow morning I will chair the high level group on business regulation. We are cutting red tape and the cost of doing business. That will make a real change. We are also working to reduce legal, insurance and energy costs. People can reclaim VAT. On upward only rent reviews, a code of conduct has been drawn up for NAMA properties. Rents have dramatically decreased in the NAMA property area. All around the country rents are being reviewed downwards because it is better to get some rent than to have an empty unit.

I am amazed at the commitment on display from Enterprise Ireland. Earlier today I received a call from a company in Spiddal which has taken on additional staff with the support of an Enterprise Ireland investment fund. How many Sinn Féin Deputies go into factories to meet their proprietors? I also got a call from a company in Sligo with greatly enhanced potential. Go into the companies to meet the operators and staff. Last week I was in the Mansion House. It was a tonic to see high potential start-up companies doing extraordinary things. These are the people we should be discussing instead of coming out with negativity. We have 1.8 million people working and people do not want this negativity. The last several years have all been negative. We want the positive. One positive leads to another positive. It is about getting people spending for Ireland. We have consumers who want to shop in the community but there are negative stories about pessimism. Certainly there are people who are unemployed but our job is to get them back to work.

The one-stop-shop for business will be rolled out in every county to deal with mentoring, administrative, banking and legal costs, loan guarantees and microfinance. The banks are engaging with the Credit Review Office. If people are refused credit they can appeal the decision but banks are not going to give money to a proposal if it is not viable. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is working tirelessly to get foreign direct investment. He returned from Texas this morning and has been working all day. He is still on a mission in terms of meeting foreign direct investors. Barry O'Leary is attracting foreign direct investment. It is an uphill struggle but we are only 100 weeks in Government. Miracles take a while longer and Deputies are wrong to assume they will get to the top of the hill simply by entering Government. We are not taking over the policies of Fianna Fáil in any sense.

Cross-Border economic development is close to Sinn Féin's heart. I visited Newry last week with InterTrade Ireland. There is close cross-Border co-operation with Northern Ireland companies in the South. InterTrade Ireland is the best cross-Border body of them all. The Sinn Féin Deputies should meet its CEO and the companies it supports. I met a host of companies from the South and the North. The Opposition is spinning the motion to suggest it is all negative.

The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, mentioned Springboard, the ICT action plan, the Momentum plan, the Youth Guarantee for those under 25 years, JobBridge, Intreo - a fantastic concept - and emigration. Emigration from Ireland is not forced. I found the people whom I met in New York and Philadelphia a tonic. I met some of Deputy Michael Colreavy's colleagues there also. I found it a sheer pleasure to meet Irish people who were there legally working in companies. Over 88,000 jobs have been created in the United States by Irish companies and jobs are also being created in Europe. We no longer live on an isolated island. Ireland is part of Europe in which there 23 million SMEs. Ireland is not just a small village and this is not the Ireland of 30 years ago. Ireland has a population of 4.5 million and 98% of what we produce is exported. A report issued last week indicated the value of our exports last year was €193 billion. Therefore, it is not all bad news.

I get annoyed when Sinn Féin tables a motion such as this because it does not stack up in any way, not for the people I meet who are confident business people who see a bright future for Ireland and believe in job creation. Our job in government is to promote them. The backbone of the economy is small business, in which we are making a massive capital investment, as stated by the Minister. This investment is being made by non-banking sources, but we are also dealing with the banks. The Taoiseach and the Minister are meeting the banks to discuss the loan guarantee. We are not being fobbed off by them.

Sinn Féin needs to examine seriously its own policies. It should not come down here to say this is what it is doing in opposition, when where it is in government it is not doing anything. In Northern Ireland there is massive unemployment and masses of people are leaving. Sinn Féin should not think it has the answers for here when it does not have them in Northern Ireland where it is certainly not providing them. It should state the facts. I know the situation only too well. I visit Enniskillen frequently and other areas across the Border and know exactly what is going on. Sinn Féin is in joint government in Northern Ireland and does not have a magic wand. The matter is not as simple as that.

Ireland holds the EU Presidency and will host the Competitiveness Council meeting in May at which it will deal with the issue of SMEs internationally and the issue of access to credit. While we welcome Sinn Féin's sentiments in this regard, it has come up with some very poor arguments. Where is its plan? It is a voodoo plan and does not stack up. If we ran with it, the country would be totally bankrupt. It suggests we borrow to employ more State employees when the objective is to cut costs and get people back to work. That is what we are doing and we will succeed. We will have our job done by 2016, by which time we will have Ireland back working again and recognised in Europe. I am very happy to support the Minister on this issue.

9:30 pm

Photo of John LyonsJohn Lyons (Dublin North West, Labour)
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The Minister of State, Deputy John Perry, has expressed his frustration at the motion and I feel the same way. I was watching the debate on the monitor before coming to the House and could only wonder what was the purpose of the Sinn Féin motion, apart from kicking the Government in an opportunistic way, as Opposition parties do. I can see no other reason for it. With no disrespect to Deputy Dara Calleary, the only part of the motion with which I can agree is that the mismanagement of the previous Government was horrendous. It would drive anybody insane delving into what went on that allowed 250,000 jobs - 90,000 or so a year - to be lost. What happened was embarrassing.

I would like to refer to two points made by Deputy Sandra McLellan. She described the response of Fine Gael and the Labour Party as disastrous and said we did not care. As a backbencher who works his backside off, like the Minister and Minister of State, I find it incredibly insulting that it is thought the Government does not care. I live in an area in which the people would agree with many of the points made in the motion. I can see poverty and unemployment all around me, in particular youth employment. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is the successive bad decisions taken by the previous Government. If the Government did not care, does Sinn Féin think it would have developed a Youth Guarantee scheme? Does it think the Ministers, Deputies Richard Bruton and Joan Burton, would have been in Brussels last week brokering a €6 billion deal to deal with the biggest issue we face in Ireland and Europe, youth unemployment? Would we be introducing a pilot scheme in Ballymun to give the people about whom Sinn Féin talks the opportunity to upskill in order that they can find jobs for which they are not qualified currently? Would we be implementing social clauses to allow new jobs to be taken up by unemployed persons? Would we introduce the likes of the jobs plus scheme which provides incentives for businesses that cannot afford to take on new workers to encourage them to do so? Would we have developed the JobBridge scheme for people with all of the qualifications theyed need from university but who lacked experience? That scheme has a 52% success rate and within five months of somebody leaving it, the success rate rises to 62%. Deputies might ask about the people who left the JobBridge scheme or were not part of that 62%. When all of the people who had not completed the scheme were asked why, two thirds of them said they had left the scheme to take up a job. If we did not care, we would not develop a Youth Guarantee scheme or social clauses to try to get people back to work and give them the skills they need. We would not develop Springboard or Momentum which is being developed to cater for long-term unemployed persons about whom Sinn Féin says we do not care. If we did not care about them, we would not develop these courses to help them to upskill for the jobs available. We know from private industry that if there were more people with these skills, these industries would come here and invest.

If ours is not a caring Government, why is it doing all of these things? It is insulting and demoralising to hear an Opposition party such as Sinn Féin state the Government is uncaring. I have the height of respect for Deputies Sandra McLellan and Michael Colreavy, but politics are being played tonight. They are pulling a fast one. They are looking for an opportunity to say the Government is not doing a good job, but the facts speak for themselves. We are doing one hell of a good job in the bad times in which we find ourselves. We have brought the country from a place where more people were leaving than we wanted to leave. We are turning the boat around. Some 250,000 people lost their jobs during the term of office of the last Administration. During the past 15 months there was a net increase in jobs of 15,000. Ours is a caring Government. We care about society and the people. That is why we have the Pathways to Work programme and the Action Plan for Jobs, part 2. Given time, these programmes will deliver. We inherited a disastrous situation and are doing the best we can to turn it around. We see the shoots on the ground, but God forbid that an Opposition politician would come here and be honest and admit this. We are making changes for the better.

I have a reason for not believing in Sinn Féin's motion. I stood in the general election in 2011 and all over Ballymun and Finglas I saw on huge billboards promoting Sinn Féin the phrase, "We will reverse the budget cuts". That was what Sinn Féin promised the people, but it is being opportunistic. It knew then that it could not reverse the budget cuts. In its stimulus plan it realises we still need to meet a €3.5 billion deficit. It told the people fibs at the time and has told them fibs constantly since. Tonight, it is telling them again, saying the Government is not doing a good job. It should wake up and join us. It should engage in some constructive criticism, less of the fantasy economics and more of the sound, grounded economics that will give life and dignity to the people about whom we are talking about. The best thing we can do is give them €1 in their pocket and the dignity of work. That is what the Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work have been doing and what every Government backbencher, the Minister and the Minister of State have been doing for the past two years. We are trying to turn the economy around to give people a reason to participate in society.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil has also proposed an amendment to the motion. I wonder whether somebody injected gas into the Chamber in the past few minutes, as we have witnessed some passion, which is good. It is the one good thing Sinn Féin has done tonight.

For the last few months, we have been going through the motions when the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has taken parliamentary questions, particularly on the graveyard shift on Thursday evenings. I hope those watching this debate see some passion.

I have enormous respect for the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, and the Minister, Deputy Bruton. We have just heard a lecture on negativity from the Minister of State. I was in his seat in the last Dáil. I saw what he did and what the Labour Party did every time they got an opportunity as we approached the 2011 general election. There was no question of them putting on the green jersey. The same business people were doing the same wonderful work abroad. I commend the Minister, who is just back from Texas, and the Minister of State, who was in New York, on attending tonight's debate. The same business people were doing the exact same work. The same brilliant companies were doing wonderful work. The same high potential start-up companies were doing a great deal of really good work then as well. They had to deal with two parties that were determined to get into government and were prepared to say anything to that end, even if it involved talking this country down.

That is why I am a little sceptical of what the Minister of State said about negativity. I believe in the Minister and the Minister of State. I believe in the quality of our people, our agencies and their staff. I had the honour of working with Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and enterprise boards the length and breadth of this country. I am familiar with the excellent work they do with companies to get them to accompany Ministers on trips to every corner of the world. It is fantastic that the Government parties have woken up and seen the value of travelling abroad. When they were in opposition, one could not leave the country without one of them giving out about expenses. At one stage, one could not cross the Border without being the subject of a freedom of information request. We need to be out there. I salute them for going abroad to work to sell the message of this country and its companies.

The Minister spoke about the Department's key strategies. The last Government and its predecessor laid the foundation for the work the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, is doing on the research and development and science sides. The Minister knows that companies did not decide in March 2011 to go to Ireland. The work of IDA Ireland started before that. IDA Ireland is currently building much of its attractiveness on the innovation island platform, which started before March 2011. Its work to expand the existing client base of IDA Ireland companies, encourage research and development and help companies to move up the value chain started long before then. I accept that the Minister has brought some new thinking into the Department and I welcome that. It needed to be reformed.

I welcome the work the Minister has done on retail licensing, the basis of which was a report that was commissioned in 2009. He has done fantastically to take it on board. He has run with the ball. We will have a single portal. However, he knows that the notion he loves to propogate - that the last 14 years were a disaster - is absolutely wrong. The work on many of his policies, including JobBridge and Springboard, was started by Batt O'Keeffe and Mary Coughlan under the previous Government. The reorganisation work that has led to the establishment of Intreo was started by Mary Coughlan in the last Government. I ask the Minister and the Minister of State to stop suggesting that a crock of Fine Gael and Labour Party gold was at the end of the rainbow that came in on 9 March 2011. Much of the work they mentioned started under previous Ministers and Ministers of State in their Department. I absolutely accept that they have added to that work. I am not into slamming them for the sake of it.

The difficulty is that the parties which are now in government suggested in advance of the 2011 election that there was an easier way. I remind Deputy Lyons that Sinn Féin was not the only party to do this. The Labour Party, in particular, was not immune from this. They targeted the unemployed, in particular, by saying they would create 100,000 jobs by 2016. The jury is out on that. We will measure it in 2016. We all want to sign up that target. Nobody is happy that 430,000 people are unemployed, some 330,000 of whom are full-time unemployed. Nobody wants such human waste and misery. I have a difficulty with the use of that cohort of people for electoral gain by suggesting to them that there is an easier way. Two years on, nothing major has been done to address their plight.

The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is absolutely right when he suggests that progress will be made by means of a collection of small things. I remind him that not too many small things were contained in his party's five-point plan, which was supposed to bring an end to all suffering and misery across the world. The plan did not apply to Ireland alone. It was going to bring world peace and employment. We did not hear too many small ideas then. The notion that was propagated for a year in advance of the 2011 election campaign and during the campaign itself was that everything would be easier. It has not been easier. The Minister knew it would not be. In fairness to him, he did not sign up to the particular creed to which I refer. The difficulty with the jobs action plans and the big announcements associated with them - we heard that 94% of the ambitions have been achieved - arises when the 330,000 people who are full-time unemployed look at them and ask whether there is something in the plans for them. There is probably something, in fairness, but these people are looking for jobs so they will have the spending power to help their communities. This is the difficulty with the promises, the spin and the hype.

The Minister and the Minister of State spoke passionately about what the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is doing. There is a lot of good stuff going on. My difficulty is that a whole-of-Government approach is missing. I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Burton, is doing some things. The further education colleges are absolutely essential if people who find themselves in a sphere in which their skills are no longer relevant, for whatever reason, are to be upskilled and brought closer to the jobs market. It is ridiculous that we are talking about skills shortages across the economy at a time when 430,000 people are unemployed. It is really wrong that the Department of Education and Skills has cut the ground from under the further education colleges that should be training those who are trying to acquire the skills needed to fill one of these vacancies. As a result of the decision to cut by 500 the number of people employed in these colleges, fewer courses will be available in areas of growth and jobs potential like cloud computing and pharmaceuticals. Many of the colleges in question will not be in a position to offer such courses this year. The options of those who want to upskill are being limited because another Department is acting in a way that is contrary to the spirit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation's action plan for jobs.

I accept the Minister might be constrained in what he can do about the cuts in the capital programme, but he should look at the way the capital programme is spent. Towards the end of last year, an embarrassing number of Departments came in with an under-spend on their capital budgets. The capital budget is where we get the jobs. It opens the opportunities for employment creation. Estimates come into this House every September, October, November and December, to be agreed on the nod or rushed through committees, in order to reallocate money from capital expenditure to current expenditure. That cannot happen this year. The Minister should send a clear message now, in the third month of the year, that the Department will not send back any capital money. It should be spent and jobs should be created in the process. This is an issue in other Departments too.

The Minister and the Minister of State have both attended meetings of the Joint Commmittee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, which is a very good committee. We leave our party jerseys outside the door and try to get around all of these issues. Why are we cutting the legs off many small companies that are involved in procurement? Many schools give business to small local companies. Those companies, in turn, sponsor the school jersey or take out an advertisement in the programme of the school play. They are there all the time. The bizarre procurement rules are being interpreted by someone who is not in the real world of business. Schools want to spend money locally to support local jobs and investment, and possibly get a return for the school, but are unable to do so. The Minister of State, Deputy Perry, could help small businesses by taking this issue on and asking officials in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform what they are at.

9:40 pm

Photo of John PerryJohn Perry (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I met them last week.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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If we do not take action, we will cost small suppliers around the country jobs and we will lose businesses. Ultimately, English-based suppliers and stationery companies will benefit. Jobs will be lost and money will leave local economies.

If the jobs action plans are to mean anything, we will have to move away from the silo way of doing government. I always make this point. I do not mean it in a political way. I welcoming the opening of the silos in the case of the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Social Protection. The rest of the silos are still closed, which means Departments are operating in isolation from one another at a time when we have the biggest national crisis on our hands. We need the kind of effort that is currently being made to reorganise our banking system to be made with regard to joblessness and unemployment.

We need to know that just over 5,000 extra activation places were created last year, according to CSO figures. I am a fan of JobBridge and I make no apologies for that. I believe the more work experience a person has and the closer he or she is to the labour market, the better the chance that person has of getting a job. Deputy Lyons has given the figures in this regard. However, we need more JobBridge places. There are communities around the country screaming out for CE places because they have worthwhile local projects but they cannot get the places. I know of a group that was willing to sponsor materials and cover the insurance but it could not get the places. I do not believe there has ever been a situation in the history of this country in which there has been such a skilled group of people on the live register, with skills in many sectors that they want to use. They want to gain new skills, but while they are waiting for that, can they not use those skills they have for the development of community and social facilities and in our health and education services? The answer is "No," they cannot, because Department A will not speak to Department B or C to come up with joint programmes to allow that to happen. If a whole-of-government approach is to mean anything, it will mean that silly barriers such as this are torn down.

I welcome the news today of the group appointed by the Minister. It consists of six very impressive people who have given enormous service to this country and who will now be in charge of monitoring the so-called disruptive reforms. Let them disrupt the system of government, which is the most disruptive reform we need, so that these barriers, these silos, are knocked down. Let them not be trapped by the system. I have asked the Minister previously what kind of support will be available to them. Will they be swamped within the big system of government? While I know some of them will not let themselves be swamped, when one gets stuck in quicksand, there are very few ways to get out, no matter how strong one is. It is up to the Minister to protect them. It is up to him to ensure their skills, talents and ambition for this country do not get lost in that system, that they have the chance to be disruptive and that we celebrate the fact that they can be disruptive. The Minister owes it to those six individuals who have had the courage to stand up and put their names to this initiative, and to businesspeople around the country, to ensure this works and to ensure they have the protection they need to avoid being drowned within the system. If they can work, there is hope and there is a chance of job creation. At the end of the day, that is what we are all about. The Minister can have his big PR occasions and the Taoiseach can write articles for The Irish Timeson every anniversary of the election of the Government claiming that employment is its number one priority. However, until we start denting those figures, and until the 330,000 people who are depending on this Chamber for a job, or at least for the conditions that create jobs, see that figure going down, we are not getting anywhere. The Government has nobody to blame but itself for creating the expectation that it would do this in the first place.

9:50 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary South, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. I make no excuse to Deputy Lyons or anybody else for saying this Government does not care. The fact is that if this Government cared, it would stop destroying jobs and creating unemployment in this country. The first thing it would do is to stop the destruction of jobs in the public service, where 30,000 jobs are already gone and another 8,000 jobs are targeted for this year, 4,000 of those in the health service. That is job destruction, not job creation. If this Government cared about job creation it would stop that destruction of jobs, stop throwing those people on the live register and stop creating unemployment. It would start creating employment and allow the State to start creating employment.

The private sector has failed under the last Government and under this Government. It is not creating jobs and it will not create jobs. The State will have to get involved in job creation and should have done so long before now. This is because there is a huge investment strike among private industrialists, who are not prepared to create jobs. The Government will simply have to step forward and allow the State to do the job because, as I said, private enterprise has not done it and will not do it.

Austerity did not work under the last Government and it is not working under this Government. Extracting billions of euro from the economy did not work under the last Government and is not working under this Government either. As we all know from walking down the main street of any city, town or village in the country, the extraction of billions upon billions of euro from the economy is creating further recession, further closures and further job losses. We see what has happened. It is the policy that was pursued by the last Government and it is the policy pursued by this Government. When they stood in the last election, Fine Gael and the Labour Party said they were going to change things. We were going to have a democratic revolution and it would all be different. Of course, the minute they came to power, they took on the Fianna Fáil-Green Party clothes and implemented austerity and cutbacks. That policy has created an appalling vista, with over 14% of the population, or 430,000 people, unemployed, of whom 60% are long-term unemployed, and 27% of young people unemployed. Last year, 12,800 full-time jobs were lost and 14,000 part-time jobs were created, which means we are effectively standing still. This is an admission that the Government itself simply must get involved in job creation. We need an economic stimulus and economic growth to create jobs. Until we have that, we will simply have huge numbers of people on the dole queues and leaving the country at a rate of 200 per day.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary South, Independent)
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I have watched the debate and I compliment the proposers of the motion. I look across at the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Perry. They have a huge job on their hands and they will have to deal with the bureaucratic system, the red tape and the inertia that exists, which is preventing job creation and driving out the spirit of entrepreneurship.

I took two telephone calls in the last half hour about the Construction Contracts Bill, which was supposed to be introduced this week but is again delayed. I raised that issue in the House the morning Pierse Construction went out of business, with 550 subcontractors left high and dry. These issues must be dealt with, as this is where the jobs are. These are the companies that create jobs, the small employers and subcontractors who will take on people. I looked for tax incentives in the budget and also from the previous Government, although I did not get them, for employers who employ people, for example, to carry out home improvements, so long as they are tax-compliant and have a C2 and so on. The black economy is thriving, sadly, and people do not have jobs. If small businesses took on only one person extra, the dole queues would be halved.

Businesses need to be unshackled from the burdens of the State, such as NERA and the other agencies which go around driving businesses mental. The Minister can smile but he knows what I am talking about. They were needed at the time but they should be converted to a national employer support agency in order to support people in their jobs. They should ask how they can help employers and not come with the cars flying, showing their business cards and badges and threatening employers. Employers must be supported and nurtured. It must be rewarding for people to take up a job and go to work, although not in the black economy. If there is a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, people will work. Employers will not be found wanting if they are allowed to be unshackled, as the Minister of State, Deputy Perry, should know, being a small businessman himself.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 March 2013.