Saturday 14 December 2019

Willie O'Dea: Enda is an expert in stating the blindingly obvious

Last Wednesday the Taoiseach travelled to Strasbourg to tell members of the European Parliament how his Government will use Ireland's six-month EU presidency to tackle the European jobs crisis.

It was a tall order, and like most of the tall orders the Taoiseach encounters these days, it was another one on which he failed to deliver.

Not that his speech was bad. Far from it. He delivered the well-crafted script with conviction and passion.

He told the assembled MEPs that the deepest hurt of the current economic crisis is unemployment: "Facing a day with no work to go to. Particularly for our young people. Their confidence corroded. But worse, their hopes eroded."

Anyone who has spoken to any school leaver or university graduate in recent months will readily attest to the indisputable truth of this.

He went on to say: "No unemployment figure is acceptable... we cannot and will not as democrats allow a generation to grow up believing that their political leaders have failed to give them a reasonable chance in life."

Again, no one could disagree with him on that.

But Mr Kenny had more to say: "What matters most to our young people leaving school and university? The chance of work. The dignity of a job. This is the challenge of our generation. There is no simple solution to this problem, but it is a challenge we must meet head on."

If, based on his Strasbourg outing, the Taoiseach is ever asked to appear on Nora Owen's Mastermind quiz, his specialist topic will be the blindingly obvious.

His Strasbourg address was as full of gushing rhetoric as it was lacking in specific proposals.

Having failed to advance the policy debate on joblessness in Europe, it was small wonder that he was asking ministers to bring any ideas they might have on helping create jobs at home along with them to Cabinet the next day.

Two years in power, and after years in opposition supposedly preparing for office, and still this Government is floundering when it comes to tackling the great economic and social problem facing the country: unemployment.

The Irish jobs crisis is worsening, not improving.

Irish unemployment continues to grow. The rate of long-term unemployment has continued to rise over the past two years, with the number of people in long-term unemployment now accounting for 60 per cent of all of those out of work.

The only reason why the unemployment figure has not smashed through the half-million barrier is because of the tragic reality that – every day of the year – we see 200 more people leave Ireland in search of work abroad.

With the possible exception of a few ultra laissez-faire types, no one is in favour of unemployment – that includes the Taoiseach and the members of his Government – but being against it is no substitute for doing something about it.

The Taoiseach is right when he says that there is no simple solution to the problem of unemployment, but it will not be solved with fine words or good intentions whether they are uttered in Strasbourg or Swinford.

Special Cabinet meetings, repackaged initiatives and relaunched schemes are not the answer.

Both parties in Government came into office saying that job creation would be at the centre of their policies. They told the people that not only were their strategies and policies crafted to stop the increase in unemployment, they were engineered to get Irish people back to work.

As we can see now, they haven't worked. What we got was a series of piecemeal and inadequately resourced schemes that were so out of scale to the size and extent of the crisis as to be almost derisory.

The much-vaunted jobs initiative and the establishment of the NewERA Agency in their first year in office were more about generating headlines than getting people back to work.

Most of the money raised from their pension levy did not go to generating jobs, it ended up being used to mask difficulties in the Exchequer figures.

Not only did they not stem the tide, it increased. Their predicted growth in employment of 0.5 per cent for 2012 turned out to be a decrease of 1.2 per cent. Their predicted fall in unemployment to 13.7 per cent ended up as an increase to 15 per cent.

These statistics are not despite the Government's policies – they are because of them. Over the past two years they have frontloaded a major VAT increase, removed investment funds from the economy with their levy on pension funds and threatened employers with extra costs for every employee.

The Government's jobs strategy is failing.

The first step is to change it radically, not to repackage it – and certainly not to urge it on the MEPs in Strasbourg.

Willie O'Dea is a Fianna Fail TD for Limerick City; willieodea.ie

Sunday Independent

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