Taoiseach backtracks on plan for full employment
‘2020 is now a more realistic target’
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has backtracked on a promise to deliver full employment by 2018, pushing the target date back by two years.
Fine Gael believes its joint plan with the Labour Party to replace every job lost during the economic downturn within the next three years was too ambitious.
In an embarrassing U-turn, Mr Kenny now says that a "more realistic" target for bringing the unemployment rate close to 6pc is 2020.
The Irish Independent understands that Mr Kenny's decision to move the goalposts has caught many within his own party unaware, with one minister last night expressing surprise at the timing.
Just days before Christmas, Fine Gael's director of elections, Brian Hayes, publicly indicated the party was still committed to 2018.
But Mr Kenny said it is "more difficult" to get the unemployment rate down from 10pc to 6pc than it has been to get from 15pc to 10pc.
"So we've revised that target to 2020 - to have it down to 6pc. And that's going to be practically full employment," the Taoiseach said.
The original target for full employment was 2020, but following a special meeting of the Cabinet last January the Government made a much-heralded announcement that the target would be moved forward.
At the time Mr Kenny said 2.1 million people would be at work by 2018, while Labour Party leader Joan Burton described the deadline as "a very realistic target".
Last night, a spokesperson for Ms Burton said that she still views full employment by 2018 as "possible and desirable".
Seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for November stood at 8.9pc, down from 10.4pc a year ago.
However, the rate of decline has slowed in recent months, with just 700 people coming off the Live Register between October and November.
Mr Kenny said the long-term unemployed are still struggling to get back into the workforce.
"And the Tánaiste, in fairness to her, has led a great number of initiatives in the welfare area in terms of reform," he said.
"But to get people from long-term unemployed and put them out front in terms of the jobs queue, it is a real challenge."
The Government is working on the details of a new national action plan for jobs that will be signed-off in the middle of next month.
It will include a 'pathways to work' strategy, which the Taoiseach said "will put long-term unemployed at the front of the queue for new jobs".
"It can be difficult to get people trained up again properly and to get them sufficiently motivated. I would expect next year, in 2016, another 30,000 reduction in the total numbers of unemployed people - including short-term unemployed people on the dole - bringing the levels down to about 160,000, which is below 8pc of the workforce," Mr Kenny said.
He said the Government is also working to promote 1,500 apprenticeships "for new 21st century activities".
A new apprenticeship council is working on training opportunities in financial services, IT, engineering and manufacturing.
Mr Kenny is also to invite industry leaders to a jobs summit on January 12, where he hopes they will contribute ideas for growing further employment.
"We've done this over the last number of years in different venues," Mr Kenny added, "by talking to industry and saying 'do you have any proposition or view on how government might be able to create the environment for jobs?' - be that a reduction in red tape, or making it easier to employ people, or access to credit and all of these things."
He defended the revised 2020 target by saying it is still "ambitious".
"If we can keep this recovery going, have stability in government to actually make the decisions and move it on, we can replace every job that was lost during the course of the recession.
"Essentially, the message is we need more jobs that pay, are seen to pay, less taxes to pay as a consequence and therefore more opportunities to invest in many of the challenges that we still face out there," Mr Kenny said.