THE social-welfare system is still a disincentive that stops some people taking up jobs and needs to be overhauled, according to the boss of one of Ireland's largest privately owned companies.
Sean O'Driscoll, the chairman and chief executive of consumer electrical firm Glen Dimplex – which employs 12,000 people around the world and has annual sales of €2bn – says there are jobs available but that many employers can't get people to take them.
"There is a huge number of people in this country who are in very difficult circumstances and I know some of those people," said Mr O'Driscoll in a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Independent.
"So I'm not in any way talking about those unfortunate fellow citizens.
"My real issue is around youth unemployment and some of the longer-term unemployed. Regrettably, we've got ourselves back into a situation in Ireland where there is a disincentive to work, with the way the social welfare system is structured."
Mr O'Driscoll is one of six industry partners appointed last month by the Government to assist with the implementation and monitoring of reforms under its Action Plan for Jobs, which aims to create 100,000 jobs by 2016.
"I'm not saying there are 430,000 jobs out there. There aren't," said Mr O'Driscoll.
"But I am saying there are jobs out there. There are business people running restaurants, for instance, and they can't get people."
He said the reason was because the disparity between the social welfare benefits that some people receive, including a weekly payment and other supports, relative to what they would be paid in a job is still too great.
Mr O'Driscoll's comments come as Eurostat said this week that youth unemployment in Ireland – the rate for people under 25 – was running at almost 31pc in February. That is one of the highest rates in the European Union and 31pc higher than the EU average.
"I think the Government in the circumstances, in certain areas, such as the business environment, has done a lot of heavy lifting," said Mr O'Driscoll.
"We're in a troubled place, but it's not as nightmarish as it was two years ago. The country was like a drifting ghost ship.
"I'm apolitical but the new Government has stopped the drift. We're on a course and it's important that we finish it. I would say that we're probably 80pc of the way there."
But Mr O'Driscoll also hit out at the role of trades unions here, but concedes that they had been more constructive in the past year or so.
"The highest percentage of union membership is in the public service. Those words define what the job is: to be a public servant. As a consequence of that, I don't believe a public servant should ever hold the country to ransom.
"Just as I blame the chief executives of Ireland, who allowed our costs to get out of control during the boom, I also blame the unions, with their demands which were made on the back of unsustainable sources of revenue from the property market and financial services.
"The unions participated in leading us to where we all ended up."
Interview, Page 5