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Government foolish to depend so heavily on construction for economic growth – Ferris

2 April, 2008


Speaking in the Dáil this evening on a Private Members' Motion on unemployment Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris described the Government as foolish for relying so heavily on the construction industry for continued economic growth. He went on to accuse the Government of knowing little of international markets and economic history.

Deputy Ferris said, "This Government has been riding on the crest of an economic wave for the last ten years, but what did they do with the surplus in our economy over that time? They allowed our economy to become almost completely dependant on an unviable construction sector and put in no provisions for when that sector would slow, as it is doing now. How foolish of a first world government to invest everything in property. How little they must know of international markets and economic history.

"After ten years of pushing this sector, what have we got? We have thousands and thousands of new build houses with no road or rail infrastructure, with not enough schools, with no local community services. We have a third world health service. We have no investment in the retraining of construction workers for alternative employment. Essentially we have failed to provide any of the seven pillars that lead to increased ability to compete and now we are running out of money to provide them.

"The Government's short-sightedness and mismanagement of the economy can be seen in the promises made in the Programme for Government, which include a reduction in PRSI. With unemployment on the rise, the Social Insurance Fund is needed more than ever, yet this Government only last year wanted to slash contributions to it. As recently as two weeks ago, Government officials said significant, additional funds would be needed to meet growing unemployment payment. The Government has yet to admit the folly of its PRSI plans." ENDS

Full text of Deputy Ferris' contribution is below

Full text of Deputy Ferris' contribution is below

I welcome this opportunity to address the Dáil on the increasingly worrying issue of unemployment and this Government's mismanagement of the economy.

As a member of the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, my colleague Arthur Morgan recently undertook a visit to East Cork, Waterford and Tipperary to visit some of the state's worst job loss black spots. During that trip, he, along with members of the Government parties, met with chambers of commerce, unions, workers, business people and community groups to establish what was, or wasn't, happening in these areas to bring about job creation.

The report that was compiled out of that trip is a damning indictment of this Government's ability to keep and create jobs in this state. Ten points were listed as being urgently needed to stimulate the local economy. They include

· a full roll out of broadband

· an investment in incubator units and research and development facilities

· local authorities to receive adequate funding to help reduce rates on businesses

· decentralisation to proceed

· land to be made affordable

· greater co-operation between government agencies

· gas lines to be extended

· the building of fast and efficient road and rail infrastructure

· education and training to become a priority, with investment in third level facilities and upskilling courses.

These demands aren't peculiar to that region. From my own constituency of North Kerry, to Dublin, to Donegal, we are a state lagging behind in infrastructure and skills.

This Government has been riding on the crest of an economic wave for the last ten years, but what did they do with the surplus in our economy over that time? They allowed our economy to become almost completely dependant on an unviable construction sector and put in no provisions for when that sector would slow, as it is doing now. How foolish of a first world government to invest everything in property. How little they must know of international markets and economic history.

After ten years of pushing this sector, what have we got? We have thousands and thousands of new build houses with no road or rail infrastructure, with not enough schools, with no local community services. We have a third world health service. We have no investment in the retraining of construction workers for alternative employment. Essentially we have failed to provide any of the seven pillars that lead to increased ability to compete and now we are running out of money to provide them.

The Government's short-sightedness and mismanagement of the economy can be seen in the promises made in the Programme for Government, which include a reduction in PRSI. With unemployment on the rise, the Social Insurance Fund is needed more than ever, yet this Government only last year wanted to slash contributions to it. As recently as two weeks ago, Government officials said significant, additional funds would be needed to meet growing unemployment payment. The Government has yet to admit the folly of its PRSI plans.

While we agree with the sentiment of this PMB, we do not agree with some of the solutions put forward in it.

Yes, competitiveness will be restored if we invest in infrastructure, but wage moderation alone cannot control inflation. Workers' rights cannot be the first point of call for sacrifice when we discuss competitiveness. In most countries which lie ahead of us in the competitiveness tables, workers' rights and conditions are protected as a content workforce in seen to contribute to a stable and successful economy.

Lower wages are not an option when the cost of living in this state is so high.

I am also concerned at the reference to competition in sheltered sectors of the economy and public sector reform to boost efficiency and productivity.

We had a state-run communications network and airline. They were opened up to privatisation and now we have the worst broadband provision in Europe and vital flight routes being pulled from rural airways because they're not seen as profitable enough. Workers' rights have been eroded and the threat of strike is always present.

The public health sector is in the process of being reformed to boost efficiency and productivity and again, we have seen what an absolute disaster that has caused for the state.

Finally, while I agree that our regulatory system is complicated and costly, we must be careful that in cutting some of the red tape we do not create loopholes that can be exploited.

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