O'Keeffe jobs storm
IDA fury as minister fails to act on staff shortages
THE flagship agency tasked with creating more than 100,000 jobs in the next four years has told the Government it cannot do so because it is being starved of staff and resources.
The chairman of the IDA, the most important state agency for new jobs, wrote to Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe in May to express serious concern over its ability to meet targets.
An exasperated Liam O'Mahony told Mr O'Keeffe that chronic staff cuts had left the development agency unable to act adequately on the biggest issue facing the country.
"Minister, on behalf of the IDA board, I cannot overstate the gravity and urgency of this situation," he concluded.
The stinging letter was written after almost nine months of fruitless efforts by the IDA to get extra staff.
The correspondence, which was obtained by the Irish Independent, was written by Mr O'Mahony but was sent on behalf of IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary and the board of directors.
It paints a deeply disturbing behind-the-scenes picture of months of government inaction and red tape which is jeopardising the chances of attracting much-needed jobs and investment.
"The current impasse will almost certainly lose FDI (foreign direct investment) for Ireland and result in the IDA being unable to meet its targets," Mr O'Mahony bluntly told the minister.
Mr O'Mahony's strongly worded dispatch on May 20 was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The IDA told Mr O'Keeffe it needed a serious staffing boost to cope with its new workload. It had 258 personnel, a drop of 50 posts since 2008, Mr O'Mahony said in the letter.
The letter also said:
- Without more staff, the IDA cannot adequately implement the Horizon 2020 strategy -- the Government's plan to create 105,000 jobs by 2014 and re-boot the economy.
- Job-creation plans will have to be shelved, including initiatives in Sligo and Limerick, still reeling from a massive jobs cull at Dell last year.
- The lack of staff will have an "enormous impact" on the agency's ability to staff overseas offices as they work to tempt investors to Ireland.
There are now more than 450,000 people on the dole and Live Register figures out next week could see more joining the queues.
The Government has assured the public it has an impressive jobs strategy in place to reverse the unemployment crisis.
Mr O'Keeffe has used the Horizon 2020 jobs target in his public announcements on the Government's strategy to halt the haemorrhage of jobs.
In June, Mr O'Keeffe wrote back to Mr O'Mahony and said he was "aware of the difficulties faced by IDA Ireland, particularly in light of the key role entrusted to IDA Ireland and other enterprise development agencies in generating economic renewal".
"I can assure you that this matter is being pursued as a matter of the utmost urgency by my department," he said.
However, the IDA confirmed yesterday there was still no agreement on staffing levels.
A spokesman for Mr O'Keeffe said talks were continuing with the IDA on the staffing issue, but confirmed agreement had not been reached.
The spokesman said the minister would maintain "current levels" of staffing consistent with the IDA's foreign direct investment objective.
It has been a rocky few months for jobs. Just this week home-builder McInerney Holdings and Aer Arann went into examinership, with the future of 400 jobs under threat.
Mr O'Mahony said the IDA supported government ambitions to encourage growth in the enterprise sector, but warned it was "vital that this is backed up with prioritising areas that will give a def- inite payback to the Exchequer".
Mr O'Mahony spoke of enduring "many months of frustration" at talks with the enterprise department and Department of Finance over its lack of resources since last September, which went nowhere.
"Since September 2009, discussions and negotiations with regard to IDA staff numbers have taken place with your department," he wrote.
"After many months of frustration we believed that a decision on staff resources between your department and the Department of Finance would have been reached last week.
"Unfortunately, this is not the case and it seems that we are back to the drawing board in this respect."
All public-service bodies have suffered a drop in staffing because of government initiatives to cut the headcount, including a ban on hiring.
But Mr O'Mahony said the number of staff reductions as a percentage of overall staff was significantly greater in the IDA than in other public bodies.