Does the Minister think FÁS expenses are acceptable?

The series of revelations in relation to FÁS has been commented on in the media over the past 10 days. Yesterday, the Seanad called the Minister for Labour Affairs, Billy Kelleher to attend a debate on the body. Below is my own contribution.

We are all aware we are in a serious economic crisis. On 15 October the House had statements on unemployment. When I rose to make my contribution then, I complained that the Minister of State’s speech did not seek to address the jobs crisis and the growing problem of unemployment. I invited my colleagues on the other side of the House, and the Minister of State, to show me anything that was new in that speech. It was tacitly accepted there was nothing new.

I was listening with heightened interest to learn if there would be anything new in this speech. I accept the Minister of State is dealing with the specific area of FÁS and the question of job creation and the Government’s economic policy extends further than FÁS. However, the Minister of State claimed “the Government is putting measures in place to ensure those who become unemployed are provided with effective employment service and training supports.” He also referred to the increased budget allocations provided to FÁS, an additional €5 million for training the unemployed and an additional €4 million to subsidise redundant apprentices in 2009. Whereas I am not suggesting these points were made in the debate in October, they seem not to include anything new in the past six weeks.

The Taoiseach has said Ireland is in a dire crisis. The people look to the Government to come forward with proposals as to how we can address this. There is no sign of the Minister of State or the Government doing this. From his speech today, there is no evidence, with all respect to the Minister of State, of anything new being presented to us regarding the deepening employment crisis, which all commentators agree will get worse in early 2009. I accept the Minister of State can criticise me for not resisting the opportunity to make a political point. The Government announced last week some initiative on research and development. When can we expect a plan from the Government? When can we expect direction and policies from the Government to address the unemployment crisis? Will it be next week or in January? Will it ever come?

It is not just the case that unemployment is rising but the type of unemployment. A few days ago David Begg of the ICTU pointed out that unemployment is biting at the new services industries, such as financial services, legal and architecture, that have located in Ireland in the past 12 years and account for much of the expansion in employment. There are large numbers of young people in their 20s and 30s, highly trained and educated, who are losing their jobs. I am not arguing that the Minister of State can employ them all but what I am looking for is some sense of initiative, urgency and concrete proposals from the Government.

The Minister of State said the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is carrying out a review into the efficiency and effectiveness of labour market programmes delivered by FÁS and Skillnets from which a new labour market strategy will be completed by the middle of 2009. That is too far away - up to six months. It is not good enough. This issue does not appear to be treated with a sufficient level of urgency given the ferocity of the problem with unemployment.

I am sure there will be a measure of political co-operation across the board in the event of a serious economic crisis. However, we look to the Government in the first place to come forward with the proposals. It is not happening. I hope it will happen sooner rather than later.

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