Govt under fire on unemployment figures

The Government was today accused of abandoning those on the dole to look after bankers and developers as the unemployment rate hit a high not seen for 15 years.

The Government was today accused of abandoning those on the dole to look after bankers and developers as the unemployment rate hit a high not seen for 15 years.

And despite a shocking 436,900 people signing on last month – up a third on the same period last year – Taoiseach Brian Cowen said people recognised the country was being led in the right direction.

The unemployment rate stands at 12.7% – a figure not seen since 1995.

The total Live Register figure last month was 436,936, an increase of 13,341 on December and a jump of 110,664 since this time last year.

According to the Central Statistics Office, the seasonally adjusted figure, updated twice a year, stands at 434,700, increasing 5,800 in the month with 2,400 men and 3,400 women signing on.

Mr Cowen said last month was the second highest January Live Register increase on record.

Amid rowdy scenes in the Dáil, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the Taoiseach’s economic plan had failed and questioned what the Government was doing to tackle the problem.

“If you’re serious in Government about making things happen, you need to change your way,” Mr Kenny said.

“You need to bring about a stimulus, and an injection of Government action here, so that people all over the country will have some hope, or some confidence that this Government is in fact in control of the Irish economy.”

Facing down a barrage of heckling from the opposition benches, Mr Cowen said people recognised the country was being led in the right direction.

The Taoiseach said the Government was stabilising public finances and growth was expected to return to the economy this year because of the tough budgetary decisions.

Mr Cowen said Government policies were boosting competitiveness and protecting jobs, but the Labour Party accused him of using “abracadabra economics”.

Leader Eamon Gilmore said: “You’ve looked after bankers, you’ve looked after builders, you’ve looked after developers. You have abandoned the people who are out of work and who need some hope in this country.”

Mr Gilmore said 319 people lost their jobs every day last month, with one out of every three men in the country between 21 and 24 now on the dole.

“For how much longer do you think we can sustain that, either economically or socially?” Mr Gilmore asked.

The Labour leader said other countries that had entered recession after Ireland were now out of it.

“You seem to think you can wish away the amount of people out of work,” he said.

Mr Cowen said the country would have slipped further into recession were it not for Government action.

“Unless we took the decisions that we took, then we wouldn’t see growth coming, we would see Ireland going deeper into recession,” the Taoiseach said.

Leo Varadkar, Fine Gael’s enterprise spokesman, said never in the history of the State had so many people been out of work.

“Every job loss is a tragedy for the individual and their family,” Mr Varadkar said.

“There were 202,000 on the Live Register when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach.

“This has more than doubled to almost 437,000 under his tenure.”

But Tánaiste Mary Coughlan backed the Taoiseach, saying every effort is being made to get people back to work.

Meanwhile many analysts responding to the latest figures commented on the disparity in the number of females signing on during the month (3,400) compared to the number of males (2,400).

This figure suggested that "construction was not responsible for the bulk of the payoffs" according to Davy stockbrokers.

"Retail may have been a bigger culprit," Davy economist Rossa White said.

"The January increase is not overly surprising given that a similar experience occurred in January of last year with a spike in post Christmas layoffs," said Deirdre Ryan of Goodbody.

"Further job losses are expected this year although at a much reduced rate to that than seen in 2009."

Lynsey Clemenger of Ulster Bank meanwhile took "modest comfort" from the figures, saying they "were not quite as bad as the leaks suggested."

"An employment shakeout after Christmas looks to have taken place, with adverse weather conditions likely to have added to the extent of the job cuts," Clemenger said. "One month’s data does not make a trend."

"While the monthly additions to the Live Register in January were certainly higher than we had been expecting, we remain of the view that the underlying trend will continue to be one of improvement in the quarters ahead."

However business groups and other organisations found little comfort in the data, calling for action to tackle the jobs crisis.

ISME, the Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association, called for the immediate introduction of a jobs "think tank" to prevent "further haemorrhaging of jobs".

"The major concern is that there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel, with policy makers caught like ‘rabbits in a headlight’ not knowing how to address the issue," said ISME chief executive Mark Fielding.

"This is the biggest danger and the issue that irrevocably threaten the livelihoods of thousands of people throughout the country.

"What is required is a clear and targeted policy to include employment maintenance, job creation and invariably moving individuals from the dole queue back into employment."

ISME said a new grouping - to include SME representatives, unions, ESRI, the Central Bank and Forfás - was urgently required to assist the Government in implementing the appropriate measures, "before it is too late".

The Small Firms' Association (SFA) described the figures as "frightening but not surprising".

SFA Assistant Director Avine McNally called on the Government to take action to reduce the cost base of small businesses.

"Whilst small Irish businesses have taken a series of actions to regain cost-competitiveness within their own businesses, many costs remain which are outside their control as they are government controlled," McNally said.

“In the absence of reductions in these costs, small businesses will have no option but to further reduce the costs that are within their control, and this will inevitably mean a further loss of jobs.”

The SFA called for a reduction in energy costs and commercial rates, and for the postponement of the carbon tax.

The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) meanwhile accused the Government of "lacking a coherent jobs strategy".

"Even if the ‘smart economy’ concept get off the ground as hoped it will not create sufficient employment," the INOU said in a statement.

"And the development of the knowledge based or smart economy demands considerably more investment than this State is currently putting into education.

"The endless focus on the banking and public finance crisis is to the detriment of unemployed people who are paying the ultimate price for this recession."

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up