Contrasting faces of Ireland

Starkly contrasting faces of Ireland were plain to see yesterday as a cutting-edge company which began life as a cattle breeding society announced new jobs on a rising tide of economic optimism while, simultaneously, a social justice think-tank released a stinging report showing poverty levels increasing across the country which now ranks among the worst in Europe.

Contrasting faces of Ireland

Thanks to its visionary strategy, a remarkable rural company, the Clonakilty-based South Western group, decided to expand and diversify having put down its farming roots 57 years ago. Now one of Ireland’s leading outsourcing operations, it provides services which range from health claims administration to debt collection and helpdesk services for clients in both the public and private sectors.

For Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, whose portfolio also embraces Food and the Marine, yesterday’s official opening of a South Western office at the Little Island industrial zone near Cork City, was something of a reprieve from a recent wave of protests by irate farmers over what they see as the low prices being paid by Irish beef factories and by angry fishermen opposed to his support for the development of huge salmon farms off the west coast. Enjoying a good news day for a change, he also announced the creation of 300 jobs in small artisan food enterprises, each employing a handful of people.

Already boasting a workforce of more than 1,000 people in Ireland, Poland, and England, South Western’s new centre will mean the immediate creation of 100 jobs, with 160 more to follow over the next two years. Illustrating the breadth of its activities, it counts the Department of Agriculture, Bord Gáis Energy, and the HSE among its clients.

Yesterday also brought further encouraging news on the general economic front, specifically in the technology sector where three out of four firms say they will take on more staff during the next year. However, despite feeling buoyant, a survey shows they still have difficulty recruiting staff — a hangover, no doubt, from the exodus of bright young graduates seeking jobs abroad in the wake of the banking disaster.

Even more worrying, perhaps, the survey also highlights how hard it is for new firms to get start-up investment. When one considers the way people have been squeezed by government austerity programmes to pay off bondholders and bail out banks, the Coalition’s failure to force them to release funds is outrageous. That firms have to look overseas for investment is an indictment of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

In blunt contrast with the general mood of confidence evident in the technology sector, the reality is that most people don’t see it. Weighed down by mortgage debt, many struggle to put food on the table.

According to Social Justice Ireland, a think-tank which has become the nation’s conscience, more than 1m Irish people are now below the EU measurement of grinding poverty. Its latest report estimates that 120,000 more people have fallen below the poverty line set by all 28 members of EU. One in every five Irish children lives in poverty today.

Fr Sean Healy, relentless critic of government failure to properly address this malaise, puts the EU poverty line at €202 a week for a single person and €469 for a household of two adults and four children. Imagine a TD trying to get by on that.

Rising crime

Judges must crack down

The sharp rise in the number of murders in Ireland is a worrying development. According to the latest figures from the CSO, murders have increased from 44 to 60, a significant 22.5% jump over a 12-month period and a rate of more than one a week.

Taken with the increase in kidnappings, particularly of young children, and of aggravated burglaries, the figures reflect a troubling upsurge of violent crime. It is a revealing comment on the direction Irish society appears to be following.

Thankfully, however, there were reductions in 10 of the 14 groups for which figures are recorded, a trend welcomed by acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan.

But with knife crime becoming more prevalent by the day, especially among teenagers, it is time judges cracked down on this worrying trend.

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