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12 June 2008 Edition

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Jobless rise exposes wreckless policy

The most significant news this week, apart from the Lisbon Treaty referendum, was undoubtedly the alarming rise in the numbers unemployed in the 26 Counties. From January to May 2008 the number of unemployed people claiming benefit rose by almost 48,000. This was a rise of 31% and the biggest increase since records began in 1967.
Unemployment now stands at over 200,000 for the first time in nearly a decade. This is 5.4% in the 26 Counties. It should be pointed out that while the actual number unemployed is reaching the level of the 1980s the working population is far bigger so that the percentage rate is lower. Nonetheless this is a very serious situation and an indicator of fundamental flaws in the economy for which successive governments since the mid-1990s bear full responsibility.
Those who have advocated a ‘Yes’ vote on Lisbon threatened voters with the prospect of widespread job losses. This threat was deeply insulting to those who lost their jobs over the last twelve months while the government failed to take any action whatsoever to protect vulnerable workers and to create alternative employment. If jobs continue to be lost in the months ahead it will have nothing to do with how we voted in the referendum.  It will be the result of government inaction.
A great proportion of the numbers joining the dole queue have come from the construction industry. A slowdown in that industry was inevitable. Simply put there are only so many houses that can be built. But the decline in construction has been made far worse by the wreckless policies pursued by Fianna Fáil-led governments. They have placed far too much reliance on construction, and in particular the private speculative housing market, for economic growth.
This was bad policy on two counts. Firstly, it failed to meet housing needs equitably with tens of thousands of people left on local authority waiting lists for accommodation and low to middle income families unable to afford homes or else saddled with massive mortgages. Secondly, it was bad employment policy because it has left masses of young workers unprepared for employment in other sectors.
There is now a whole sector of people in their late 20s and early 30s who left school a decade ago and went into relatively well-paid jobs in construction during the boom years and have not known unemployment since. They are now experiencing the first shock of joblessness. Many of them are now heavily indebted thanks to the policy of easy credit. The real winners in the boom years were the biggest property speculators and developers and the rapacious financial institutions.
This requires a major change in government policy. Workers must be re-trained. Local authorities must be financed to construct social and affordable housing, including the completion of the long-promised housing redevelopments in Dublin city which have been scuppered by the pull-out of McNamara’s from the ill-advised public-private partnership projects in Dublin city.
The new Taoiseach Brian Cowen recently announced the ending of the Fianna Fáil tent at the Galway Races. The party’s developer friends were wined and dined there for the past decade. But their interests still dictate government policy. This week’s jobless figures show the long-term consequences of handing the Irish economy over to them. It must be reclaimed.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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