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Morgan jointly moves Dáil motion on job creation and retention

16 June, 2009

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, on a joint Sinn Féin and Labour Party motion on job creation, Sinn Féin Finance Spokesperson Arthur Morgan criticised Minister Mary Coughlan’s handling of the unemployment crisis. He said the country is facing an economic crisis of unparalleled proportions caused by government mismanagement and made worse by government inaction.

Deputy Morgan set out a number of measures that Sinn Féin believes should be taken urgently in order to stem the loss of jobs and to start creating new jobs including the establishment of a jobs retention fund to subsidize workers in SMEs struggling to keep their employees.

Full text of Deputy Morgan’s speech follows:

“I welcome the opportunity to be once again bringing forward a joint motion with Deputy Penrose and the Labour party – and particularly to be doing it on this the most important issue facing us today – unemployment. We have been forced to put a motion down on this issue because the government response to the crisis has been totally inadequate – it appears they need to be forced to act on this issue. This motion demands action from government to halt growing unemployment and to get Ireland back to work. It highlights the extent of crisis we are facing, its implications for the public finances and sets out a number of straight forward steps that need to be taken to get the economy back on track.

“Figures released by the CSO at the start of this month revealed that unemployment had surpassed 400,000. That figure represents 402,000 families with all of the social, family and financial commitments we understand. This is without doubt the biggest challenge facing this state. Tackling it has to be the government’s number one priority. Those who have lost their jobs over the last 18 months are waiting for a government response – they are losing all hope that the government is capable or willing to act to retain and create jobs.

“Almost 200,000 people have lost their jobs since the present Minister, Deputy Coughlan, took up her position. The Minister should be ashamed. Yet she seems almost oblivious the depth of the jobs crisis we are facing. Does she even realise that in her own county of Donegal 18,000 people are now unemployed? Where is the job creation strategy? Where are the supports for struggling SME’s? Why with all the money poured into the banks are small businesses still denied access to credit?

“Unsurprisingly the public do not have confidence that the Minister has the grasp of her brief or the resolve required to address the jobs crisis. What the public sees is a Minister and government bereft of proposals to get the country back to work. This Government has been compared to a rabbit in the headlights – the worse things get, the less moves it makes to address the problems that we are facing.

“Minister Coughlan needs to explain to this House exactly what it is that she has been doing over the last year.

“I come from a small business background. I understand the pressures facing small family enterprises – good employers who want to create employment in their local community but whose backs are against the wall due to a lack of access to credit and the high cost of doing business. I understand their frustration at this government’s response to current economic crisis. Like them I know that if we are to stem the rising tide of unemployment it is crucial that government supports existing enterprises that are providing employment.
We all know people who have lost their jobs – in construction, in retail, in manufacturing and in many other sectors.

“The growth in unemployment over the last year has been astounding hitting the 400,000 mark for the first time at the start of this month. Even those of us who warned repeatedly of the dangers inherent in an over-dependence on the construction sector and the need to protect workers in vulnerable sectors of the economy have been shocked at the speed at which unemployment has risen.

“We are facing an economic crisis of unparallel proportions caused by government mismanagement and made worse by government inaction.

“Yes other countries are facing severe economic difficulties – but none to the same extent as here. Economic mismanagement by present government has meant that we were least prepared, compared to our EU counterparts, to deal with a global economic downturn. Contrary to what Fianna Fáil argued, particularly in the run up to the 2007 general election, the economy was not based on solid foundations. Policies pursued by Fianna Fáil led governments have undermined our ability to ride out an economic downturn – take for example the impact in terms of broadband accessibility of the privatisation of Eircom or how the dependence on ‘fair weather’ taxes has resulted in an unprecedented collapse in exchequer revenue.

“Every day more people are losing their jobs. And even when they lose their jobs the government is not ready to help them – people are forced to queue for hours on the street to sign on to the dole. Waiting time for processing applications for unemployment assistance are unacceptably long for people struggling to meet bills and pay mortgages – why can more staff not be transferred from others section with the department or from other departments to ensure people are treated in a dignified manner? Why has there been no action to address the plight of the thousands of construction workers denied benefits because they were coerced into putting themselves down as self–employed by unscrupulous sub contractors?

“Getting the economy back on track must be the number one priority.
· No SME should be shutting down because it cannot access credit.
· No business should be failing to increase it exports because of a lack of knowledge of regulations or language of the country they are seeking to export to.
· No potential entrepreneur should be sitting on their hands because the funding, expertise or advice is not there to bring their idea to fruition.
· No worker should be prevented from accessing alternative employment because they have been unable to access retraining or upskilling.

“This requires urgent action to retain and create jobs, to assist struggling businesses and those attempting to establish new enterprises. It is vital that Government intervention ensures that those currently unemployed have the skills required to get back into employment. It is possible to do this. The Government often accuses the opposition parties of not putting forward constructive solutions. This is most certainly not the case on this issue. Earlier this year Sinn Féin brought forward an 80 point job creation plan ‘Getting Ireland Back to Work – Time for Action’ that we believe has the potential to retain and create jobs.

“These included the establishment of a jobs retention fund to subsidize workers in SMEs struggling to keep on their employees. We proposed that this fund should be time limited and should be implemented in conjunction with an increased Revenue and Labour Inspectorate. And that the subsidy would apply to each individual job and would be no greater than €200 or 20% of the wage and reviewed after 6 months.

“We are also calling for a body to be set up to actively pre-empt job losses by going into companies where jobs are in jeopardy to trouble shoot and offer advice, similar to the functions carried out by the Industrial Credit Corporation in the 1980s. The ICC was a publically funded source of credit for Irish companies. There’s a whole generation of people who have never managed a business during a recession, and a whole generation who have – the new businesses could do with advice and expertise to get through this period.

“It has become clear that a change the law in relation to the leasing of commercial property is needed to allow tenants to seek a rent review to reduce the rent which they are paying as economic circumstances and market rents change/fall. Viable retail outlets are being put out of business due to the excess rents which they are being forced to pay.

“Ensure access to high speed, low cost broadband – this should be done as proposed in this motion through the re-nationalisation of Eircom.

“There needs to be a particular focus on the agri-food sector – this sector can and should be boosted by introducing an improved country of origin labelling immediately and addressing anomalies in relation sell by dates for imported produce.

“There is a strong case for using the public sector and direct public employment, to kick start the economy. This makes sense now in the same way as the Works Progress Administration (WPA) did in the 1930’s in America. The WPA had the affect of stimulating the private sector during the depression years - it focused on tangible improvements (roads, highways, streets, bridges, public buildings, parks, reviving forest, and rural electrification). Areas that could be focused on would include energy efficiency measures, infrastructure (including tourism infrastructure) and high-speed broadband rollout.

“The current crisis offers an opportunity - an opportunity to reshape this state. We need to be coming out of this crisis with the infrastructure, skills and public services that will put us at the top of competitiveness rankings and that will deliver improved quality of life for all our citizens. That is why we should be focusing on using this period to invest in the delivery of essential, labour intensive infrastructure and prioritizing investment in key areas where we have a comparative advantage and can compete on the international stage such as renewable energy. Priority has to be given to our education system – this is key to our future economic recovery and is an area – particular school buildings – that was disgracefully under-invested in during the celtic tiger years. A minimum of 150 school building projects should enter the architectural and planning stage each year, so that school projects are ready to proceed as quickly as possible to the construction phases. In 2007 €119.5 million was allocated to the Summer Works Programme. This should be repeated in 2009 and maintained until 2013. The national insulation programme should be expanded to cover 100,000 homes by the end of February 2010 and 150,000 in subsequent years, creating the potential for 12,000 jobs by the end of 2010.

“Sinn Féin is proposing that local authority and public sector construction, service and procurement contracts be adjusted to create a level pitch for small businesses to tender. Breaking tenders into smaller pieces allows contractors with less significant turnover to efficiently tender for work. By not doing this we are allowing procurement contracts to go overseas to those with the capacity for tendering for bigger jobs.

“Crucially we need to fast track business start-ups – create one-stop enterprise business points to bring together funding, expertise and advice for entrepreneurs who want to start new businesses or grow existing ones. We need to create a Sales Ireland strategy to help Irish firms access export markets outside the US and Britain and to help Irish firms looking to set up manufacturing businesses with the potential to compete with our largest imports, including R&D funding. Currently almost 90% of exports from the south come from foreign owned multinationals. And foreign owned firms import over 86% of the materials they use bypassing Irish firms.

“Sinn Féin’s job creation plan included proposed supports for Irish manufacturers and producers to reach economy of scale, including on an all-Ireland basis, enabling them to compete with cheaper products both abroad and domestically, through investment in new technology and production methods. We need supports for Irish firms and entrepreneurs looking to set up manufacturing businesses with the potential to compete with our largest imports, including R&D funding and supports for Irish manufacturers and producers to access export markets outside the US and Britain, including language and local regulation support, and increased use of Irish embassies to access local market knowledge and management personnel. It would also make good economic sense to give tax credits for Tax credits for MNCs, which source Irish raw materials as opposed to importing.

“Each sector of the economy needs to be examined – those sectors where there is a potential for expanding employment need to be identify and targeted. We need to identify the needs of businesses – what can be done to ensure they make it through the current economic crisis. We need a plan to expand jobs in sectors such as agri-food, tourism, green technologies and the knowledge economy. We must never return to a dependence on unsustainable economic activity – such as was the case with the building boom of recent years. The government must take responsibility for what happened in those years – for the wasted potential as young people left schools without completing their education to take up jobs in the construction sector. They must address this by ensuring that these people get back into education that they will need if they are to get back to work.
The potential exists to get the economy back on track – we have skilled and energetic workers; innovative would-be entrepreneurs who are eager to establish new businesses that will create employment in their communities; and unmatched renewable energy resources. We need a job creation strategy that harnesses that potential. We need to do what we did not do during the celtic tiger era.

“We cannot afford to lose a generation of young people to emigration as was the case in previous times of recession – generational emigration was in part responsible for holding back the economic development of this state by decades. This is what will happen if the Government continues to fail to act – skilled educated young people will not be prepared to accept a future on the dole queue.

“I would say to back bench deputies in both Government parties to consider their positions carefully before voting to support the government amendment to this motion. If you vote with the Government on this issue you are affectively telling the 400,000 unemployed people in this state that the government’s response to their plight is adequate. You are condemning them to a future on the dole queues with no hope that they will be able to get back into employment or education any time soon.

“The economy can be got back on track. Jobs can be saved. Jobs can be created. Ireland can be got back to work. This can be done. There are 402,000 good reasons for it. If we do not start solving the jobs crisis we will not be able to address the black hole in the public finances. 400,000 people out of work means far less tax in and far more payments out of the social insurance fund. I urge the Minister to take on board and act on the proposals put forward by Sinn Féin and the Labour party during the course of this debate. If this government and this Minister is not up to this challenge they should step aside.” ENDS

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