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Rise in unemployment disappointing admits O'Keeffe

The unemployment crisis deepened further last month with about 6,000 more workers forced to sign on for benefits, official figures revealed today.

Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe said the increase was disappointing as the total hit 437,922 despite dole queues previously stabilising for several months.

The minister was forced to defend the Government's record on job creation and protection on several fronts.

Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar said there was a lack of planning to tackle the record numbers signing on.

"Ireland urgently needs a jobs and competitiveness strategy. Bailing out the banks is not an investment in the future," Mr Varadkar said.

"In the week that €2bn was poured into Anglo Irish Bank, the Government's failure to provide a stimulus package for growth looks incredible.

"We need to invest in the real economy in order to get people back to work. That will clearly never happen under Fianna Fail and the Greens."

The Central Statistics Office said the unemployment rate was 13.7pc.

Mr O'Keeffe hit back at Fine Gael, accusing the party of trading on the worries of the unemployed.

"In another typical bout of hyperbole, the party's enterprise spokesman uses the plight of unemployed workers as political leverage in the race for the convenient soundbite," the minister said.

"While the relatively modest increase in today's live register figures is disappointing, we should recall that they follow two months of solid stabilisation in the live register."

Michael McLoughlin, of Youth Work Ireland, warned that the 85,620 under-25s on the register were being ignored.

"We all know unemployment is the number one issue in Irish society today but youth unemployment needs special attention as nobody wants to see a whole generation cast aside during this recession," Mr McLoughlin said.

"If young people drift into long-term unemployment in substantial numbers it may be hard to rescue that situation when any recovery occurs."

Mr O'Keeffe said the number of redundancies notified to his office last month was the lowest since December 2008.

"The trends show that the labour market is beginning to reflect greater economic stability and signs of recovery," the minister insisted.

And he said steps have been taken to protect and grow employment.

"We have done that by focusing on the priority areas of competitiveness; human capital; innovation; infrastructure; green economy; and trade.

"We will continue to lead Ireland's economic recovery and tackle unemployment - while Opposition politicians play on public anxieties," he said.

Labour enterprise spokesman Willie Penrose said the Government had failed abysmally in getting to grips with the jobs crisis.

"This Government has run out of ideas and has run out of steam," he said.

"While they are perfectly happy to pump billion after billion into zombie banks, they are doing virtually nothing to invest in job creation."

Sinn Fein marked the monthly unemployment figures by delivering 10,000 postcards from out-of-work people around the country to Taoiseach Brian Cowen's office.

The party's enterprise spokesman Arthur Morgan said: "The Government take no issue with dropping two billion euro of taxpayers' money into Anglo Irish Bank at the drop of a hat, but for them creating jobs and stimulating the economy is akin to drawing blood from a stone."

Mark Fielding, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), warned that a generation could be lost to emigration.

Avine McNally, director of the Small Firms Association, backed Fine Gael's claim that the Government lacked a strategy on jobs.

The business lobby group Ibec predicted that unemployment was reaching its peak while Ulster Bank said the rate would keep increasing this year but at a slower pace.

PA Media