Acting Chairman (Deputy Robert Troy): Deputies Tommy Broughan and Catherine Connolly are sharing time. I call Deputy Broughan.
Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the topic of delivering full employment.
I congratulate the new Minister on her appointment. I welcome the CSO’s report which states the rate of unemployment continues to fall and now stands at approximately 7.8%, amounting to fewer than 170,000 people last month, which marks a decrease of approximately 40,000. The news that the unemployment rate is at its lowest since the end of 2008 must be welcomed. We have had many devastating years of employment contraction. The outgoing Government which the Minister strongly supported was responsible for many of the job losses because it took more than 30,000 jobs out of the public sector, the multiplier effect of which was devastating. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, in particular, have a huge responsibility for the employment losses. We had just reached the 2 million mark for the number of people in employment at the time of the onset of the crash and have been struggling for the past four or five years to increase the number in employment.
The Minister mentioned, in particular, the tourism, hospitality and construction sector, as well as administrative and support service activities. Several years ago the then Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, announced that there would be social clauses in public construction contracts, particularly for school project bundles, in order that if, for example, one was building on the north side of Dublin, unemployed building workers in the area would be directly employed during construction. By and large, this has not happened. The debate we had this week on the Private Members’ motion which had been initiated by Deputy Brendan Howlin had a surreal Alice in Wonderland atmosphere. Deputy Brendan Howlin and his colleagues had an opportunity for five years, with Fine Gael, to do all of the things they spoke about doing but did not do. Suddenly, they have had an incredible transformation after a few weeks out of government. It has been a road to Damascus conversion for Deputy Brendan Howlin and the Labour Party. We have not seen social clauses, but it is welcome that construction is beginning to start at long last. Pompey told the Roman Senate at one stage that “Rome must build, build, build.” A clear objective of the Government and the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, must be that we “build, build, build,” but we also need to ensure unemployed building workers from deprived communities get a chance to find a job in the schemes which are going ahead such as those in my constituency across the north fringe.
Youth unemployment remains far too high, at 15%, although there has been a welcome decrease since the height of the recession. The numbers I received last week, in conjunction with the National Youth Council of Ireland, in a parliamentary reply from the Minister showed that several months ago the number of people under the age of 26 years in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance was more than 35,000, with 7,000 in receipt of the full rate, 4,500 in receipt of the €144 payment and 23,000 in receipt of the lowest rate of €100 per week. There are many areas where the level of unemployment is significantly higher such as some of the areas I represent. The length of time the young people concerned experience unemployment is worrying. The Minister told me that, on 30 April, more than 26,000 people had been in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance, jobseeker’s benefit and credits for six months or more. Many young people are becoming endemically unemployed. This relates to the speech made by Deputy Mick Barry. We need to provide opportunities in these districts, in particular, to avail of third level education and apprenticeships. The apprenticeship system seemed to fall apart during the crash. We could not find sponsors for young people who wanted to become carpenters or electricians or enter any of the other skilled trades. This is something to which the Minister should give her absolute attention immediately.
Female workers were damaged during the recession. Their wages were damaged severely. The Minister could do something – I hope she will – for women returners, as we called them in our northside community work projects. They should have access to community employment. They do not because they do not have a social welfare record. The former Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, had five years in which to do something about this, but she did nothing. I ask the Minister to take it up.