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5,700 more jobless signing on

The number of people signing on for benefits increased by more than 5,700 in the last 12 months, official figures revealed today.

There were 442,677 people on the dole in January, taking the unemployment rate to 13.4pc - a slight fall on the previous month.

Separate figures compiled by the Government revealed there were 4,893 redundancies in January.

Labour enterprise spokesman Willie Penrose said more than 400,000 people have been on the dole for 20 months.

"Everyone knows that the figure would be even higher, were it not for the phenomenon of resumed emigration," he said.

"Nothing summarises the dismal failure of this Government as much as their record on unemployment."

The Live Register - which recorded a fall of 6,900 people signing on last month alone, according to new measurements of seasonal factors - has seen its smallest overall increase for January in three years.

Avine McNally, director of the Small Firms Association, said it appeared the unemployment crisis has stabilised.

"Small firms are the 'engines of recovery' and real and meaningful growth will come from the small business sector, but that is unlikely to happen for some time yet, as many firms are struggling to survive, due to cashflow difficulties, input costs from Government-administered sectors, and restricted access to credit," she said.

Umbrella trade union group Congress said the harsh fact was that the true number of people signing on increased by thousands last month.

Paul Sweeney, the group's economic adviser, said: "The cold fact is that that there are a frightening 273,000 less people at work today in Ireland compared to 2007. Furthermore, net emigration will be over 60,000 this year.

"Jobs are the biggest challenge for any new Government."

Youth Work Ireland, which represents 22 voluntary youth groups, said unemployment is the number one issue in Irish society.

Spokesman Michael Mc Loughlin said: "If young people drift into long term unemployment in substantial numbers it may be hard to rescue that situation when any recovery occurs."

He added: "There must be a dedicated jobs strategy for young people if we are to avoid a return to the massive emigration of the 1980s which so decimated communities.

"Increased emigration amongst young people is a major economic issue as this group has been very well educated, now a different country will reap the benefit of this investment and Ireland will lack the people and the skills to build a smart economy."

Reetta Suonpera, senior economist with business lobby group Ibec, said: "Although some sectors such as construction will continue to lose jobs during 2011, overall the situation in the labour market is stabilising and unemployment is now nearing its peak."

Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Richard Bruton said emigration was acting like a pressure valve on the unemployment figures.

"This is a crisis. Ireland's unemployment crisis is crying out for a targeted solution," he said.

Mr Bruton claimed Fine Gael was the only party to have put forward a credible jobs plan which it could implement if put into power.

"The other political parties just don't have the plans for jobs," he said.

"Labour's high-tax approach won't get people working, and Fianna Fail is a busted flush on the economy. Fine Gael is the only party with a credible plan to get the economy working."

PA Media