Saturday 20 January 2018

Forgotten by the recovery: How south-east is still worst for jobs

Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor has a €60m plan Picture: Tom Burke
Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor has a €60m plan Picture: Tom Burke

Anne-Marie Walsh

Unemployment has fallen to the lowest level since 2008, according to official figures, but there are regions that are still suffering from the effects of the recession.

The Department of Jobs has admitted the unemployment rate in the south-east is "still too high" after it was revealed it is the worst in the country.

The 9.4pc unemployment rate in the region that includes Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford is almost 3pc higher than the average rate of 6.7pc, which the Government lists as one of its greatest achievements.

It is well above the lowest 5.3pc rate in the neighbouring mid-east, which includes Kildare, Meath and Wicklow.

In response to a query from the Irish Independent, the department admitted it had not yet achieved an ambition set out in a Government plan to reduce its joblessness rate to within 1pc of the national average.

However, it said just over half of the jobs which it had hoped to create in the region in a plan announced by former jobs minister Richard Bruton two years ago have been realised.

The south-east has been described as one of Dublin's "poor relations" after an analysis revealed that along with the highest unemployment rate, it is among three regions whose recovery rate is below average since unemployment was at its peak.

Although there has been a dramatic recovery in all regions since unemployment hit 15pc at the end of 2011, the Border area has bounced back most slowly, followed by the west and south-east, according to the Central Statistics Office figures.

The average fall was 54pc since the height of the recession and the mid-west, covering Clare, Limerick and north Tipperary, has enjoyed the best recovery rate of 62pc.

The announcement of mass layoffs at HP and Coty will pile pressure on the department which has been seen as a "good news" area as the economy began to recover.

Ignored

There is deep concern that Brexit could trigger job losses and wage cuts, while President Donald Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer has warned that his administration wants to bring American jobs based here back to the US.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on jobs, enterprise and innovation Niall Collins claimed peripheral regions have been ignored and forgotten by Fine Gael "across nearly all metrics".

He noted that the Border and western regions, despite seeing welcome reductions in unemployment, saw far lower reductions than Dublin and the mid-east.

"In terms of unemployment, IDA investments, and economic activity, these regions are the poor relations of the Greater Dublin Area," he said.

"The Government needs to prioritise these regions more by targeting the resources and focus of the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and other state agencies.

"[Jobs] Minister [Mary] Mitchell O'Connor can spin the national unemployment rate as much as she likes, but there are vast areas of our country where the economic recovery hasn't taken hold yet," he said.

The Department of Jobs said the core objective of its Southeast Plan, which was launched in September 2015, is to see a further 25,000 at work in the region by 2020 and reduce the unemployment rate to within one percentage point of the State average.

It said its first progress report showed good ground had been made.

It said the south-east had the fastest rate of jobs growth of any region in the country with 18pc growth since 2012 and 215,000 people were now at work.

However, this has not led to a sharper fall in the rate of unemployment than anywhere else since the end of 2011, suggesting job losses may be wiping out the effect.

In its statement, the department said Ms Mitchell O'Connor was finalising plans to provide €60m to grow and sustain jobs across all the regions.

Irish Independent

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