Gilmore accuses Cowen of ignoring jobless
Barrage of criticism as unemployment soars
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was accused of abandoning the jobless to look after bankers and developers as unemployment soared to a 15-year high.
Latest figures reveal 436,900 people are signing on the dole -- a third more than the same period last year.
But despite unemployment standing at 12.7pc, a level not seen since 1995 and higher than Iceland's and Greece's, Mr Cowen insisted people "recognise the country is being led in the right direction".
The swelling jobless rate presided over by him was described as a "disaster" and a "litany of despair".
The number of people drawing the dole when he took over as Taoiseach from Bertie Ahern in May 2008 stood at 202,000. It has more than doubled since then to just shy of 440,000 and, in the past year alone, 111,000 jobs have been lost.
Dole queues have jumped by 13,300 since December, with economists citing post-Christmas lay-offs and the effects of the big freeze as factors.
The seasonally adjusted increase for January was 5,800, the biggest since August. It followed a number of months in which the figure seemed to be stabilising. The year-on-year increase was 34pc, down from 46pc in December.
Mr Cowen was faced with a barrage of criticism from all quarters yesterday -- with the opposition, unions, businesses and community groups lining up to decry his handling of the economy.
"The Government has looked after banks, builders and developers," Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said. "It has looked after the better off and it has ignored, neglected and abandoned those who are out of work and need some hope."
Mr Gilmore said one-in-three men aged between 21 and 24 were on the dole, and asked how long that could be economically and socially sustained.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said half a million people would be on the dole if tens of thousands of young workers had not emigrated in search of a job.
Mr Kenny said there were 60,000 mainly young people working in jobs they were overqualified for in places such as the United States, Australia and Canada.
But Mr Cowen said tough decisions were needed to ensure more jobs were created. "Our refusal to defer those necessary decisions and our effort to secure people's futures by taking the right decisions now are the means through which we can ensure jobs are created again in the future," the Taoiseach said.
Spain had a higher jobless rate and it was wrong to suggest Ireland was on the "outlier of unemployment", he added.
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) said a jobs 'think thank' was needed to tackle the unemployment crisis, since social partnership had failed. The think tank would be made up of business and union representatives as well as the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Central Bank and Forfas.
ISME chief executive Mark Fielding said ministers were like "rabbits in a headlight" who could not address the jobs problem.
The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed said the triple blow of the increased live register figures, the plummeting exchequer returns and climbing redundancies showed the Government lacked a coherent strategy. It said the focus needed to shift to education and job creation.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions said the "deflationary policies" of the Government were driving the country deeper into recession.
General secretary David Begg said Ireland's jobless rate was worse than that of Iceland or Greece. "This rise should serve as a dramatic wake-up call," Mr Begg said.
"Alone among developed nations, we have no plan to save or create jobs and no economic stimulus package to boost economic activity. The latest job losses in the retail sector are confirmation you cannot cut your way out of a recession."
Ulster Bank economist Lynsey Clemenger said post-Christmas lay-offs in retail and construction, as well as the bad weather, contributed to the spike in unemployment.
The jump of 13,300 in the numbers signing on was the second highest January increase ever. Ms Clemenger called the figures "weaker than expected" and predicted the unemployment rate would peak at 13.4pc this year. The Government estimated in December's Budget that it would hit 13.2pc.