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Senator Mark Daly: I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Emigration is the most pressing issue in Ireland. The CSO indicates that 87,100 people emigrated from Ireland between April 2011 and April 2012. This harks back to the worst days of the 1950s, when 1,000 people a week left our shores.
In addition to this brain drain of the best and brightest of our youth, the level of youth unemployment reached 40% last year. Unemployment rates climbed as high as 50% among those aged between 15 and 24 years in Limerick city and County Donegal. The census revealed that 82,000 people under the age of 25 years were out of work. An entire generation of highly educated and motivated people face a drastic choice between emigration or unemployment at home. The Government’s pre-budget initiatives and the famous jobs initiative promised much, but they have had little impact on the live register in respect of those under the age of 25 years. All around Europe huge numbers of young people are unemployed and today the President of the European Parliament stated youth unemployment was Europe’s biggest issue. Despite this, the Government’s promises have not materialised and the jobs plan became an initiative. Where are we going from here and what is the real plan to reduce historically high rates of emigration and deal with the issue of youth unemployment?
Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy John Perry):
I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. The statistics released by the CSO last month reveal that just over 87,000 people emigrated from Ireland last year, of whom almost half were non-Irish nationals. Many of these non-Irish nationals are likely to be individuals who came to Ireland in search of work in the previous decade and are now either returning home or moving to another country to take advantage of new opportunities in the globalised economy.
An analysis of the CSO figures shows that almost 53,000 people came into Ireland last year, with 39% of them being Irish nationals returning home. Many of those who previously emigrated in search of work are coming home having gained skills abroad. We can now capture that expertise to strengthen the operation and management of companies based here. We must remember that emigration has been a consistent feature of Irish life. Even during the Celtic tiger years, Irish people chose to emigrate for career or personal reasons. Nevertheless, the Government is committed to ensuring emigration returns to being an option rather than a necessity.
I wish to remind the House of the position this Government inherited when it came into office. Some 300,000 jobs had been lost in the three years prior to March 2011. Our banking system had all but collapsed. We were in the middle of a worldwide economic downturn. Transformational and structural change has been required to rescue our economy from this situation. We had become too dependent on a small number of sectors to support our economic performance. This approach was neither wise nor sustainable. The new economy we must build will be based on enterprise, innovation and exports. In promoting this transformation, the Government will have to make progress on a number of fronts, for example by improving our competitiveness, ensuring businesses have better access to finance, embedding a jobs agenda in the fiscal consolidation which must be carried out, and taking action to facilitate growth in every sector. We have introduced the annual action plan for jobs to ensure these requirements are delivered to support the creation of employment by the enterprise sector. We have developed the Pathways to Work initiative to transform our engagement with those who are unemployed.
The progress we have made in our first 18 months in office has been encouraging, but there is a long way to go. Despite the very difficult domestic and external economic environment, we are beginning to see the positive impact of the Government’s policies. There was an increase of 6,000 jobs in IDA-supported companies in 2011. This compares with net losses of 15,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010. So far this year, the IDA has announced investments that have the potential to create over 6,000 further jobs as the projects come on stream. It was announced this morning that 30 jobs with Hittite Microwave Corporation are coming to Cork. It was announced yesterday that 44 new jobs with Aspen Pharmaceutical are coming to Dublin. Jobs in Enterprise Ireland companies started to grow in 2011 for the first time in three years. In the first eight months of 2012, a total of 4,669 job commitments over the next three years, linked to Enterprise Ireland approvals to client companies, have been secured.
We are seeing a stabilisation in the level of private sector employment, particularly in areas targeted by the action plan for jobs. For example, employment in the tourism sector increased by 6,300 in the period between June 2011 and June 2012. This growth was supported by the measures taken by the Government in cutting VAT rates and reducing by half employer’s PRSI on earnings up to €356 per week. Employment has also increased in the agriculture, accommodation food services and information and communications technology sectors. This underscores the shift in activity away from the old failed economy, which was based on property, banking and debt, towards a new sustainable economy that is based on enterprise, exports and innovation. Furthermore, we are creating and maintaining links with Irish people who have left the country. We have always had a good relationship with the diaspora. We have been able to build on our relationships with those who have reached the top levels of companies across the globe. We have now formalised this process of engagement through the Global Irish Network. At home, we will continue to do all we can, through initiatives like the action plan for jobs and Pathways to Work, to facilitate the return to work of those who have lost their jobs and provide opportunities for all those who want to stay here.
Senator Mark Daly: What happened the NewERA plan? The current Taoiseach said in May 2010 that it would create 105,000 jobs. I am concerned about the brain drain. We are sending highly educated young people abroad. I will give an example of the Government’s lack of joined-up thinking. I would like to hear the Minister of State’s view on it. The Government’s internship programme has been made available to the public, semi-State and private sectors, but it is not available in Leinster House. We are not giving graduates an opportunity to see our Parliament from the inside, and make changes to it, under the JobBridge scheme. The point I am making to the Minister of State is that we are not leading by practical example in our Parliament. This Government initiative is supposed to give graduates an opportunity to stay in Ireland and engage meaningfully with—–
Senator Mark Daly: What happened the 105,000 jobs that were promised? What happened the jobs initiative and the jobs plan? It was forecast that 80,000 jobs would come. What happened them? How can we keep our young people in Ireland? The numbers of jobs mentioned by the Minister of State in his reply are not of the scale that was promised.
Deputy John Perry: The scale of the job losses before we came into Government was immense. There are opportunities for small companies at the moment. Some extraordinary companies are creating jobs every day. We must recognise the roles of small and medium sized enterprises and foreign direct investment. Significant announcements have been made by IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland. The backdrop we inherited has meant that our job has been very difficult. It is important to note that additional jobs have been announced by IDA Ireland since we came into Government. In 2011, the number of jobs in IDA-supported companies increased by 6,000. This compares with net losses of 15,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010. I mentioned the job announcements that were made by Hittite Microwave Corporation and Aspen Pharmaceutical in recent days. The number of jobs in Enterprise Ireland companies increased in 2011 for the first time in three years. Some 4,669 job commitments linked to Enterprise Ireland were made in the first eight months of 2012. It is a very difficult job.
The Deputy mentioned that 87,000 people emigrated from Ireland last year. I remind him that almost half of them were non-Irish nationals who were going back. They might have come here during the boom years to work in the construction sector. It should also be borne in mind that 53,000 people came into Ireland last year. The global economy gives people opportunities to go to the UK or the US. Many young people like to travel when they are educated. They like to see the opportunities that exist for them. Many of them come back into the Irish economy again after they have had their experiences. It is very much a global world now. There is no comparison with the 1950s. People are highly educated and skilled now. They have the ambition to travel to New Zealand, Australia or the US. I am confident that the Government’s plan of action will ensure there is a bright future of many opportunities for them in this country when they feel like returning home. I see the emergence of such opportunities on a daily basis as I do my job at the small company desk. Extraordinary companies in the high-tech, information and communications technology, health care and life sciences sectors are achieving extraordinary things every day and week of the year.