Crucial visa and work permit services cut back
Foreign firms hit out at 'laborious process'
A pledge by the Taoiseach that Ireland is "open for business" has been exposed with the revelation that crucial visa and work permit services have been dramatically suspended or reduced since his Government came to office.
In stark contrast to the constant message sent out by Mr Kenny that Ireland is ready and willing for investment, an absence of adequate resources has forced several departments to drastically cut their facilities, putting Ireland's chances of recovery in jeopardy.
Vital visa application services in Alan Shatter's Department of Justice have been suspended since last July while job permit application services in Richard Bruton's Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation have been slashed to just nine hours a week, making it virtually impossible for queries to be answered.
A number of leading international businesses seeking to invest and relocate to Ireland have contacted the Sunday Independent to voice their anger at the "laborious, farcical and shambolic" impact of the cutbacks.
Yesterday, Willie O'Dea, Fianna Fail's Jobs and Enterprise spokesman, described the situation as chaotic, and said the revelations badly exposed the Government's preference for spin over action.
Only last Monday, in his speech during the visit of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping at Kilmainham, Mr Kenny lauded Ireland's "business-friendly environment" and "the agility and ease of access to Government that comes from being a small country".
However, last Thursday, Mr Shatter's Nationalisation and Immigration Services website had a notice stating the visa application telephone helpline had been suspended.
"Due to an increase in the volume of visa-related applications it has become necessary to temporarily suspend the visa customer helpline facility," it said.
"This is so that priority may be given to the processing of visa applications by available staff members."
A spokesman for Mr Shatter told the Sunday Independent: "A decision was taken in June 2011 to move, exclusively, to using the dedicated email address as the primary customer support and to close the telephone helpline. The vast majority of queries to the dedicated email inbox are dealt with within one working day."
Some 24 hours later, on foot of the inquiry from the Sunday Independent, the suspension notice was removed.
"A revised notice to go on the website will state, however, that it is open to persons making enquiries to include a contact telephone number in their email for further communication," the spokesman said later.
"What an admission of guilt," Mr O'Dea said yesterday, responding to the withdrawal of the suspension notice. "For 12 months we have had plenty of talk from this Government about jobs but precious little action. It is an absolute farce."
It has also emerged that the number of hours allocated to queries on employment permit applications in Mr Bruton's department has been reduced to just nine a week due to inadequate staffing.
"A backlog of permit applications built up which reached 12 weeks. As a result, it was decided in 2010 to restrict the opening hours of the employment permits call centre to three half days a week," Mr Bruton's spokeswoman said.
Several employers, who contacted this newspaper in confidence, and who are seeking to relocate and invest in Ireland, said the overly laborious process of visas and permits is an obstacle to job creation here.
Next week, Mr O'Dea is bringing an entrepreneurial visa bill before the Dail aimed at encouraging foreign businesspeople and top international graduates to locate here.
Leading economist Jim Power of Friends First yesterday also severely described the visa services cutbacks as "ludicrous" given the state of the Irish economy.
"I have dealings with companies who are literally banging their heads off the wall because of this," he said.