By Owen Ryan
THERE were fewer people on the live register in Clare last month than was the case in any month of March since 2008. Figures from the Central Statistics Office showed that last month there were 9,023 people signing on in the Banner county, down from 9,242 in February.
That drop of 239 equates to a drop of 2.5% in a single month, and, when compared to the figure of 9,869 in March of last year, the decline in the number signing on is slightly over 8.5% in one year.
Comparing the figures for the month of March over the last number of years is quite telling. In March 2007, with the country still in rude economic health, there were just 4,102 people on the live register. Twelve months later, the number was almost 25% higher at 5,126. Over the next year, the economy would decline dramatically and, in March of 2009, the number on the live register stood at 9,361.
However, things continued to get worse and, in March 2010, the number had reached 10,633. There was virtually no change by March 2011, when the number was just 10 lower, at 10,623. In March 2012, the figure was down to 10,167. The downward trend continued as the number fell to 9,869 in March of last year, before hitting 9,023 last month.
Undoubtedly, emigration has had a significant effect on reducing the numbers but, with the economy adding around 60,000 jobs last year, there are other factors also.
Lahinch hotelier, Michael Vaughan has just finished a term as president of the Irish Hotel’s Federation and he believes that tourism has started to pick up. “If you look back, you had the Clare Inn closed but it has now opened as the Inn at Dromoland. You have the enthusiasm about the Wild Atlantic Way encouraging people to open that bit earlier. The extra flights into Shannon have given a huge boost to business.
“Overall. I think there’s a fairly positive vibe going around about tourism and what the season ahead is going to bring. I think employment will look good and this is the time of year when we start hiring staff. I have 15 people employed this week who wouldn’t have been employed previous to this.”
Rita McInerney, chief executive of Ennis Chamber, agreed that the outlook for business is improving. “Definitely we’re looking at some green shoots. Things are still very tough out there but they aren’t getting any worse and there seems to be a little bit of improvement.”
However, she said that Clare businesses are being adversely affected by commercial rates, which haven’t been cut since the recession started. “There needs to be more support for businesses. In particular, in Ennis and Clare, the rates are a big issue for businesses. I suppose most can have a little bit of leeway with their costs. They can change electricity supplier or look at different options in terms of their baseline costs or have a conversation with their landlord. Even in terms of wages, they can look at their staff. But when it comes to rates, they have no choice in the matter.”
Ms McInerney also said that there needs to be more support for businesses who are interested in hiring staff on a part-time basis.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.