A case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 11th August, 2010 5:00pm

A case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns

Ireland is inexorably moving towards the point where half a million people could be unemployed. Seasonally adjusted, the live register figure now stands at 452,500, some 8,000 more than last month, and bringing the rate of joblessness to 13.7 per cent.

What are the thousands of school-leavers awaiting the results of their Leaving Certificate next week to make of such a depressing statistic? Are they, too, destined to emigrate in the next few years - along with the thousands of college graduates who have already done so in the past two years - just as previous generations of young people have been forced to do in order to earn a living? Can this Government, or any Irish Government, given them the hope that things will start to improve soon?

The scale and depth of the unemployment crisis is truly shocking. More than 1,300 jobs have been lost each week since January and the total number of redundancies has reached 39,000 for the first half of this year. Although job losses have slowed by about 10 per cent, the number of jobs shed this year is not far off the total number of job losses in all of 2008.

Of course, the true state of unemployment is likely to be higher than the official figures given that emigration is a facet of Irish life once again, as some of our brightest and best graduates pack their bags and try their luck in Canada, the US or Australia. Indeed, one notable feature of this recession is the number of well-qualified, middle class employees who have been forced onto the dole and who are finding it extraordinarily difficult to secure any type of meaningful work right now.

The figures for Meath also make for grim reading. Some 12,000 people are now on the live register in the county - that's an extra 370 compared to a month ago. Two years ago, the numbers signing on were half that. Over half the people who are unemployed are in Navan, with a further 3,900 in Trim and almost 2,150 in Kells. Of particular concern is the number of long-term unemployed, with that figure climbing by over 1,500 between January and June of this year in Meath.

Tackling unemployment has to be the Government's top priority, but the perception is that little is being done, save for tinkering around the edges, because there is no grand plan to get people back to work. The implications of the country's jobless crisis for individuals, families and communities is quite stark.

The scale of the problem demands a far more coherent approach than has been in evidence so far. A jobs stimulus package that features dynamic ideas and energy would at least be a signal to people crying out for leadership that we, as a people, can overcome our present travails and look forward to a future with some kind of optimism rather than the intensely negative outlook still being presented.

Ireland's jobless situation remains an incredibly serious crisis and one it may take years to recover from once sustained growth returns to the economy. Many thousands of people are strugging to put food on the table each evening at the same time as keeping a roof over their heads. As alluded to by Navan Fianna Fail councillor Shane Cassells on our front page this week, for most people, the impact on their lives of proposed mortgage increases is what is dominating their lives right now. Yet the news has been dominated in the past week by a senator and false mobile phone invoices and a minister who used a government jet to get to a summer school in Donegal to make a speech at a cost to the taxpayer of €13,000.

Given what ordinary people are faced with day in, day out in this country in 2010 to make ends meet, it is no wonder the electorate is seething with anger at a Government which has long ago lost touch with the citizenry.

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