Visas for low-skilled migrants may be loosened
The Government is to review the current employment permits regime as the economy booms and unemployment falls.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation claims to be coming under pressure to open up the permits system to allow "lower-skilled workers" in certain sectors.
The unemployment rate is forecast to fall to around 5.5pc this year. Wage growth has also intensified, rising four times faster in the period between the end of June 2016 and the end of June 2017.
The department said it was now "timely to fundamentally review the policies underpinning the current employment permits regime, to ensure that it is fully supportive of Ireland's emerging labour market needs, be they skills or labour shortages in certain sectors".
It is to establish and chair a cross-departmental group, with input from the Departments of Justice, Finance, Health and Agriculture among others.
"Its principle objective will be to consider the rationale for an employment permit system where the economy is improving and the labour market is tightening," the department stated, in a brief written last month for the newly installed Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys.
As the economy registered strong growth last year, the number of people out of work continued to decline. In November, the number of people on the Live Register, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, was 244,300.
In October, it was 246,900. That was the lowest number in the seasonally-adjusted series since October 2008.
The department stated in the brief that it needs to be prudent in considering whether to open up the labour market to "unskilled non-EEA workers".
"On the one hand DBEI needs to ensure that labour shortages in key sectors do not stall economic growth; conversely it also needs to ensure the Irish labour market is not disrupted," it said.
More than 10,500 work permits were issued overall last year.
Adrian Cummins, chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, said it had been lobbying the Government to change the permits regime to deal with shortages in his sector, particularly the shortage of chefs. He said the review should focus on allowing in more workers with specific skills.
"A report in the department stated that we needed 5,000 chefs alone in the restaurant industry," Mr Cummins said.
"It's not just us, it's the farmers as well, the construction industry is crying out for staff and we are nearly at full employment.
"(The department) is going to mess up our entire growth in our economy by being stuck in the dark ages around work permits."
Meanwhile, Exchequer returns for December show that the tax take was slightly above target as the year drew to a close.
Income tax receipts of €1.726bn were collected in December, coming in €15m above profile for the month.
This equates to a 6.3pc increase compared to December 2016. But they were 1.2pc below where they had been expected to be for the year at €20bn.
Vat receipts were 0.5pc below target for the year at €13.3bn, but up 7.1pc compared with December 2016. Cumulative tax revenues of €50.737bn were collected in 2017, an increase of 6pc on 2016.
An exchequer surplus of almost €2bn was recorded, primarily due to the sale of over 28pc of the State's stake in AIB. Overall receipts are now 60pc above the 2010 low point.