Jobs summit is not a stunt -- Cowen
Published 23/09/2010 | 05:00
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night claimed his jobs summit was organised weeks before his leadership crisis and denied it was a publicity stunt.
Fighting back from the damage inflicted last week following his radio interview debacle, Mr Cowen met with the bosses of 11 state job creation and training agencies in Government Buildings.
Mr Cowen was immediately accused of trying to spin his way out of his leadership crisis by opposition parties.
But Mr Cowen last night insisted the jobs meeting was pencilled-in before the August break -- a claim confirmed by a number of state agencies to the Irish Independent last night.
A spokesman for the Taoiseach said the meeting was organised in July and all agencies were officially notified in early September.
The high-level meeting came as Mr Cowen prepares for the first snapshot of public reaction to his infamous interview when an opinion poll is published later this evening.
Amid opposition claims that the Government had hastily organised a "glitzy press opportunity", Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Mr Cowen insisted that meetings with state agencies take place on a regular basis.
However, the particular group of 11 agencies that met yesterday had never met before in this format.
The meeting was about ensuring there is a "sharp focus" on jobs and is not the first or last such meeting, Mr Cowen said.
And he said it was "absurd" of the opposition to claim he had been doing nothing to address the fact there are 450,000 unemployed.
"Today's meeting is about bringing them (state agencies) all together and having a comprehensive discussion on the jobs question," Mr Cowen said.
But Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny accused Mr Cowen of doing nothing over the last two years to create jobs.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore waded in claiming the meeting had come two years too late, while Fine Gael's Richard Bruton claimed the meeting was little more than a "glitzy press opportunity".
Fine Gael's Deirdre Clune said she was stunned that Mr Cowen was only now taking action. "What exactly has the Taoiseach been doing since he took office 28 months ago?" she asked.
The opposition repeatedly pointed to the fact that there were 201,800 people on the live register when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach. That has now more than doubled to 466,923 in two years.
But the Taoiseach hit back and said: "It's facile. It's an absurd proposition to suggest that nothing has been happening in Government."
The head of the country's largest union SIPTU, Jack O'Connor, welcomed the meeting but said it would have been better when the recession struck.
Agencies attending the meeting included IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Forfas, FAS, Bord Bia, Failte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Higher Education Authority and City and County Managers Association.
Following the meeting, Mr Cowen said there is a future for the young in this country and that Ireland is "on the road to recovery".
Discussions with state agencies are ongoing and yesterday's meeting was designed to see what more can be done in the context of preparing for the Budget, Mr Cowen said.
The first opinion poll since Mr Cowen's 'Morning Ireland' interview will be announced on the 'TV3 News' at 5.30pm.