TAOISEACH Enda Kenny today sets out his Government's new plan to take 75,000 long-term unemployed off the dole queues.
In an exclusive interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Kenny pledges that the Coalition's focus on jobs will be "relentless" – making it the Government's "sole priority".
Moving on from the energy-sapping EU presidency and the bitter controversy over the abortion legislation, the Taoiseach reveals the Government's three-step plan to tackle the scourge of long-term unemployment.
There are three key points of the Government's plans, described by Mr Kenny as "essentials":
* Engage differently with people who are unemployed.
* Revive the construction sector.
* Demonstrate that work can actually pay.
"Our target here is to take 20,000 off the long-term unemployed in the course of the next 12 months and to take 75,000 off the long-term unemployed by 2015. And that's a pretty ambitious target, but we think it's achievable," he said.
The plan includes reforms of social welfare to ensure a worker who comes off the Live Register doesn't immediately lose benefits, such as rent supplement.
The Government will also use private sector companies to help unemployed people get back to work – along with the new form of social welfare offices.
The Coalition will also consider ways to deal with the black economy, such as offering tax credits for people who employ registered contractors.
Mr Kenny said Government had not and would not cut core social welfare payments. And he said he wanted to see the system support those going to work.
"There is always the shock and the change of losing something if you move into the world of work," he said.
He said the principle of those who moved off the Live Register into work holding on to their medical cards for a number of years needed to extend to other benefits.
"In the same way, we want a tapered system of not losing the housing support assistance that they get. So that if they take up a job, it's going to continue in a reducing form over a period.
"But it means that you can say to a person: 'Look, you are in a situation here, you have three children, you now have an opportunity for a job, you are not going to lose your rent supplement like that, it will taper off over a period.'
"So in the same way as the medical card applies and those who go on the Jobs Plus, it's a comfort to people to be able to say: 'Look, if I do this, I am going to be in a different situation, but I am not going to lose all the support that I was actually getting," he said.
"The focus of the Government from now on will be relentless in the pursuit of jobs, opportunities for work, sorting out our economy and providing opportunities for people," he said.
"So this is the start of a number of serious analyses about what this Government can do to provide employment opportunities for people.
Mr Kenny will chair a special Cabinet meeting on jobs this morning and launch the Government's new plan for getting the unemployed back to work.
"The Live Register shouldn't be seen as a list of people who should be discarded . . . it's a case of Government being creative in how you deal with it," he said.
Mr Kenny said there had to be a new form of regulated engagement with the construction sector – not the same as the Celtic Tiger.
He said the Government would be focusing on stimulus plans, as well as trying to get private investment in the area.
He pointed to the need for modern offices for foreign companies. "We need to look at constructive ways whereby there can be incentives provided here that people can understand that where there is qualified competence, that when you get a bit of confidence flowing again that the construction sector can take off," he said.
"I am acutely aware of the enormous sacrifices people have made as we continue on the road to recovery, and the best way to repay their patience and resilience is to ensure that this Government is unrelenting in its drive for jobs.
"That is the best way to secure a sustainable recovery and I can assure people that this Government will retain an unremitting focus on that objective," he said.