Sinn Féin needs to get the numbers right on the jobs front

Deliberately misleading the public in terms of the true employment figures is a cheap political stunt by Sinn Féin, argues Labour TD Arthur Spring

That political parties trade blows, even insults, and fight their corner with their own distinctive views and approaches, is a normal feature of democratic debate.

But when a political party uses figures to deliberately mislead the public, they should be called out for it, and that is precisely what Sinn Féin did earlier this week in relation to employment.

The facts are these. As the economy recovers, employment is increasing nationally and unemployment is falling. Unemployment has fallen from a peak of 15.1% to 10.6%, and independent figures from the Central Statistics Office show that, crucially, the overwhelming majority of people returning to work are returning to full-time jobs.

The national picture is replicated in Kerry, the constituency I and Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris represent.

Yet in an article in this paper, Deputy Ferris used a smoke and mirrors approach to suggest that unemployment in Kerry is increasing, when the opposite is the truth.

In a classical piece of political misdirection, Deputy Ferris pointed to the Live Register figures from September to December 2014 to suggest dole numbers are on the increase in Kerry.

But as any economist would tell you, there are seasonal variations in the Live Register in every part of the country— for example, teachers on temporary contracts often sign on in the summer, resulting in an increase in the Live Register from, say, June to July.

The same economists would tell you it would be wrong to selectively compare these months to suggest overall unemployment is increasing. A monthly or seasonal increase in the Live Register is not representative of a general trend. The only way you can accurately reflect what’s happening on the employment front is to compare the year-on-year figures.

To give other examples, a significant number of people find part-time work in the run-up to Christmas, with that work coming to a finish towards the end of December, which would mean a resultant temporary increase in the register. In Kerry, in particular, seasonal movements in the register over September-December tend to be upwards because of the impact of tourism jobs during the summer season.

But seasonal movements such as this don’t show you the overall pattern, which is that, year on year, the Live Register is falling at a strong pace, and the figures speak for themselves.

In Kerry as a whole, from December 2013 to December 2014, the Live Register fell by just under 9%.Tralee and Listowel saw falls of 7% and 6.9% respectively in the same period. Killarney and Kenmare saw falls of 15% and 10.7%.

Overall, the register has been falling more rapidly in Kerry than in the country overall; the December figure for Kerry has fallen by 18% over the last two years, as compared with a fall of 16% in the national figure.

This matters, because behind what appear to be dry statistics are real people’s lives. The impact on a person’s life of finding a job and returning to work is massive. It’s also hugely significant for their families, communities, and the country as a whole. That is why the Government has made creating jobs and tackling unemployment our number one priority. The figures show clearly that this work is paying off.

Deputy Ferris is making a lame attempt to manipulate them for political gain. But perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything better from Sinn Féin, a party with nothing of any substance to say on the question of creating jobs, and whose central policy has been to advocate defaulting on our debt, an approach which, when implemented in Argentina, caused unemployment to skyrocket.

By contrast, under the Labour-Fine Gael Government, we are making real progress in bringing down unemployment and getting people back to work.

For all this, it is clear that while the major urban centres are performing well in terms of jobs announcements, these tend to be fewer in rural areas. This is a gap my colleagues in Government are only too well aware of and last week the Taoiseach and Tánaiste confirmed a strategy to focus on balanced regional development

This can only be a good thing for rural areas, and I will be pushing for Kerry to be at the heart of that strategy. One of the bedrocks that we can build this is on is a redrawn Regional Aid Mapwhich allows Kerry to receive maximum capital aid grant.

We need to see more flagship jobs announcements in Kerry, and in particular Tralee, and the IDA must continue to bring foreign direct investment to the county. It’s important to remember, however, that job creation is not the sole preserve of foreign multinationals. In fact, the jobs recovery we are seeing across Ireland is being driven by SMEs, the backbone of the economy. Small companiesthat take on a worker here and two there, are doing the heavy lifting in terms of job creation.

We can and will continue to put forward our different views on the economy, and have a debate on how best to create prosperity. But that debate needs to happen on the basis of reality, not manipulated statistics. To paraphrase the late US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the opposition are entitled to their own opinions, however economically illiterate, but not to their own facts.

Arthur Spring is a Labour TD


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