15 October 1998 Edition

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Nothing for Strabane

IDB spent nothing in jobs blackspot

By Sean O'Tuama

Recent figures have revealed that unemployment blackspot West Tyrone has been virtually neglected by inward-investment agancy, the Industrial Development Board. The IDB's annual report which showed that out of an investment budget of £155 million, nothing was spent in Strabane, the town with the highest unemployment in the Six Counties. Nearby Omagh received just £1million. IDB-organised visits to the region to promote employment have fallen dramatically with only two potential investors visiting Strabane and just five going to Omagh.

West Tyrone Assembly member and Sinn Fein vice-President, Pat Doherty, said ``how can the IDB have the audacity to write in its annual report that `this has been another very successful year with the IDB?'''

The type of economic investment currently being encouraged for the north is centred on the agenda of the business community rather than the needs of the people. During the NIO's investment `roadshow' staged in eleven cities across North America recently, IDB chief executive Bruce Robinson cited low labour costs as a primary reason for American businesses to set up shop in the North of Ireland. This was echoed by David Trimble, who was also on the `roadshow', when he described the Six Counties as `more economically fertile than ever' with a `readily available' source of labour.

This was the main theme of the events which included Seamus Mallon, Mo Mowlam and business leaders from Ireland and America.

The strategy of encouraging investment in the north on the basis of maximum profit for minimum pay was meticulously outlined by Mowlam.

She detailed a number of tax free grants and various other backhand subsidies which are available to businesses here. She announced with pride that a company in South Carolina had lost more days due to snow than the North had due to `labour difficulties' because business and trade unions work together.

To further emphasise the British government's commitment to giving the business community a free hand in running the economy in the North, at the expense of working people, the Training and Employment Agency published a design document a few days before the US venture.

£42 million has been allocated to the `New Deal' initiative. Under this scheme 30,000 unemployed people over twenty five will be allocated places on government programmes or given subsidised, generally low paid, jobs with private companies. Coercion is a primary feature of this initiative with those being `offered' places being threatened with benefit cuts lasting up to six months if they leave the scheme or are reported by their employers for `misconduct'.

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