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Real and effective employment strategy glaringly absent from Government approach – Ó Caoláin

24 March, 2009 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking in the Dáil this evening during pre-budget statements Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said:

“At the end of February we were presented with catastrophic unemployment figures. There were then over 350,000 people out of work and we are losing jobs at a rate of 1,000 per day. Predictions of well over half a million people on the dole by Christmas must now be regarded as conservative.

“This will mean tens of thousands more families becoming dependent on social welfare. When I asked the Taoiseach in the Dáil before the St. Patrick’s Day recess, and again today, if we would have a new Social Welfare Bill arising out of the Supplementary Budget he answered the question in the context of expenditure cuts and revenue-raising.

“The Taoiseach’s replies were an ominous signal that social welfare will be included in expenditure cuts.

“Already arising out of last October’s Budget newly unemployed people have been penalised. They now have to have been in employment for two years before qualifying for Jobseekers Benefit, as against one year, before the Budget. The payment period has been shortened to 12 months for Job Seekers Benefit from 15 months, after which, the unemployed person has to drop to the means-tested Job Seekers Allowance.

“Newly unemployed people are also facing very long delays before their claims for social welfare payments are assessed.

“Low-income families have also suffered disproportionately from VAT increases, health charge increases, the cut in Child Benefit for 18-year olds, and the cut-off of childcare supplement at five years of age.

“Many of these families still do not qualify for medical cards because the threshold has been allowed to stay at a disgracefully low level. The Government has been strangely silent on this major issue. I challenge Government speakers to guarantee here in this debate tonight that existing levels of service for medical card holders will not be cut and that those who become qualified for medical cards through unemployment will not be face with a diminished service after the 7 April Budget.

“In its panic and unnecessary Budget last October the Government lashed out at public services, cutting health and education. This was followed by public transport cuts with a hypocritical Green Party standing over the attacks on bus services and jobs in Bus Átha Cliath. These were instinctive acts by a Government that does not value public services for what they are - essential services for our society and economy - but sees them as goodies to be doled out when the revenue figures allow.

“The Government must ring-fence social expenditure to support all those who are on the threshold of poverty. Revenue must be raised through taxing those who can afford to pay, through eliminating waste in public expenditure and through job retention and job creation.

“We need a real and effective employment strategy and it is glaringly absent from Government. With regard to job retention we need only look at the scandal of SR Technics to see how the Government has failed to be pro-active and has allowed a situation to develop where a big multinational company can take over the operation and then force it to close, even though it is a very viable business.

“The owners of SR Technics are mostly oil billionaires based in the United Arab Emirates. They have no interest in or knowledge of Ireland. They want to close the Dublin operation because their long-term plan is for a massive aircraft repair facility in Dubai. Yet what has the Fianna Fáil Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment done? She has allowed the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to refer directly to SR Technics’ owners all potential investors who have expressed interest in taking over the company or parts of it.

“As the workers have pointed out, it is they and the local management in Ireland who are the real stakeholders in SR Technics. Their plan for the survival of the company should be fully supported by Government and the Tánaiste should instruct the IDA and Enterprise Ireland to work directly with them.

“These jobs can be saved and I urge the Government to act effectively to that end. 

“We in Sinn Féin have pointed the way with our ‘Time for Action’ proposals, including an Employment Fund to help struggling and viable businesses to retain their workers. This is far preferable to allowing people to be added to the ever lengthening dole queues.

“I urge the Government to take on board our proposals. I urge them also to take on boards the constructive proposals of the trade union movement and I commend trade unionists for their campaigning for a better way forward. Workers are now being vilified in some sections of the media for preparing to take strike action next Monday. But remember this strike is in opposition to the disastrous policies of this Government AND in support of the better and fairer way forward that is possible.” ENDS

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