Ladies and Gentlemen
I am delighted to be here today, for the announcement of what is an innovative response to the greatest challenge facing us today: unemployment.
Last year, this Government was tasked, by the people, with fixing the most profound crisis in the history of the State.
That crisis is a banking crisis, a fiscal crisis, and it is jobs crisis. We cannot solve our country’s problems, without tackling all three. But in my opinion, the most pressing – the most urgent human and economic challenge facing us today – is unemployment.
Too many of our fellow men and women are without work. Too many children are growing up in households where no-one has a job. And too many of our young people are being forced to leave their families behind, to find work abroad.
We cannot stand for that, as a people. And we will not stand for it as a Government.
Creating jobs and tackling unemployment is critical to everything we, as a Government, are trying to achieve.
There is no one simple answer to the problem – we have to work on a number of fronts at once. You cannot build a thriving economy on rotten foundations. We have made significant progress in normalising our banking sector, stabilising the public finances, and repairing Ireland’s reputation as a place to do business.
We can see the results of that work in the steady flow, since the beginning of the year, of investment by major international companies in Ireland. Our export sector is also going from strength to strength.
However, we know that not everyone is going to work in a multinational company, or in a sector of the economy that sells goods and services overseas. We have to boost demand and support businesses at home, too.
That is why, this summer, we introduced an investment stimulus programme, focused on projects that would be job-intensive, and that would produce a social dividend – like schools, and healthcare.
The Government has also taken a number of steps to normalise the property market, and we have seen some movement return.
This week, we will sign the Personal Insolvency Bill into law, which will help to deal with the problem of personal mortgage debt that, that is crippling too many households and acting as drag on the economy.
And ten days ago, in the Budget, the Minister for Finance brought in a set of measures to assist small and medium-sized companies, building on previous Government initiatives, like reducing the VAT on tourism-related services.
Working to stimulate the economy, to boost consumer confidence, and to help small businesses to grow, is just one side of the equation. The other is to help match the people who are out of work today, to the jobs that will be created tomorrow.
This is at the heart of the Government’s radical overhaul of how we think about, and deliver, social welfare and training services – a reform programme called ‘Pathways to Work’. At its most simple, it boils down to a belief that a person’s first day of unemployment, should be their first day on their way back to work. And we need to make it as easy, and as seamless as possible, for people to do that. The new Intreo offices that are being rolled out around the country – ‘one-stop shops’ that provide both welfare benefits, and advice on training and job opportunities – are a practical example of what we mean.
So too is MOMENTUM – a smart, flexible approach, that is responsive both to the needs of job-seekers, and the employers who are looking for them.
I want to congratulate Minister Quinn, Minister of State Ciarán Cannon, and Paul O’Toole for the work they are doing in this area, together with Minister Joan Burton in the Department of Social Protection. There is no more important job facing this Government, than getting our fellow men and women back into employment, and ensuring that our country offers opportunities for our young people. That is our focus – every Minister, every day, every week – until we succeed. And I believe that we will.
Go raibh maith agat.