Noonan says 'modest' €2bn package is just first step in tackling crisis
FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan declared yesterday that his "modest" jobs package was the first step toward getting the unemployed back to work.
He avoided making any direct promise of how many jobs it would create -- as the opposition heckled, "Where are the jobs?".
The total cost of the plan will be €393m this year and €2bn over four years, but Mr Noonan warned the resources were not available to introduce large-scale projects because everything had to be "Budget neutral".
"That in turn means the effect of the package of initiatives will be modest and there will be no extravagant claims made in that regard," he said.
Mr Noonan announced a list of measures to reverse the decline in tourist numbers, including slashing the lower VAT rate from 13.5pc to 9pc for restaurant meals, hotel stays and even sports match tickets.
"Even by recovering the ground it has lost in recent years, tourism can make a substantial contribution to our economic recovery and to the creation of employment in all parts of the country," he said.
Fine Gael and Labour had both promised during the election campaign to reverse the cut in the minimum wage.
Mr Noonan confirmed this would take place in July. He also delivered on another election promise by halving the lower rate of PRSI for employers on jobs that pay up to €356 per week.
But he signalled there could be reductions in pay for the 300,000 workers covered by joint labour committee agreements -- which was a commitment under the IMF-EU deal.
Mr Noonan also focused on the area of training and work experience as another way of helping the 430,000 people out of work.
He said there would be an extra 20,900 places made available this year in skills training courses, the Back to Education scheme and a work placement scheme for graduates.
"We must avoid, at all costs, the risk that people who are long-term unemployed will find it difficult to secure meaningful employment again," he said.
Mr Noonan announced that he was going to "tilt the balance" away from large building projects to "minor" capital works such as local road repairs and small school-building projects.
"These schemes will have a real local impact both in the provision of direct employment and enhancing the quality of local infrastructure," he said.
Mr Noonan said the economy had seen three successive years of declining economic activity.
"But this year, we can look forward to growth which we fully expect will accelerate as we move into 2012," he said.