TAOISEACH Enda Kenny piled pressure on Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and her pace of reforming welfare as he opened the Fine Gael national conference in Limerick tonight.
As Budget negotiations enter their crucial final weekend, Mr Kenny said social welfare needed to be reformed, and said "long term unemployment has become a long term problem for Ireland".
Ms Burton's efforts at tackling long term unemployment have been criticised on numerous occasions, particularly by the Troika.
"This is very damaging for our society and is unacceptable," Mr Kenny said. "The fact is that without significant reform of the social welfare system Ireland could face a prolonged and unprecedented period of long unemployment so changing that system is not only desirable but is inevitable and essential."
The Taoiseach also said people must be locked out of "a range welfare traps" and the Government must "break the cycle" where generations of families fall into unemployment.
And he said "social employment clauses" should be introduced to show that work pays.
Mr Kenny also said anyone getting welfare benefits must engage with State services or have their payments docked.
“If people want to continue to receive benefits then they must engage with services," Mr Kenny said. "It’s compulsory. Work must pay and be seen to pay. The vast majority of our jobseekers want to get back to work as soon as possible but because of a culture fostered by the previous government they are locked in a range of welfare traps. The traps take opportunities away from them and their children and we need to remove those traps and break that cycle.”
Fiach Kelly, political correspondent