THERE was a slight drop in those signing on the Live Register for 2012 at the Tulla Social Welfare Office, with 56 fewer people signing on in December 2012 than in 2011. However, the number of young people signing on remains static.
There were 1,437 people receiving the dole from the Tulla Social Welfare Office in December 2012, compared to 1,493 in December 2011. Month on month, the Live Register figures for 2012 were lower than 2011.
Over a 10-year period, those signing on the Live Register at the Tulla office peaked in December 2010, when 1,578 were in receipt of the dole.
In December 2011, that figure dropped to 1,493. However, since then the number came close to the 2010 figure, when it reached 1,501 in July 2012 at the East Clare office.
According to the Central Statistics Office, the number of young people signing on both years has not seen much change in the East Clare area, with 200 people under the age of 25 signing on in December 2012, compared with 201 in December 2011.
In 2012, the number of people under the age of 25 in receipt of the dole in East Clare fluctuated between 171 and 222 overall, with July and August being the peak months.
Statistics also show that the number of unemployed men outnumbers women at the Tulla office. The number of men on the Live Register rose to 906 in July 2012, while the number of women signing on reached 598 at its height in January 2012. A total of 859 men and 578 women signed on in Tulla in December 2012.
Speaking on the issue, Fine Gael Deputy Pat Breen said the number of young people long-term unemployed is a source of concern. However, he said the outlook for 2013 is “far more positive”.
“The end-of-year Live Register figures, nationally, indicate that the unemployment situation is stabilising, with 12,000 less on the register compared to last year. While the overall figures in East Clare confirm this trend, the number of young people under 25 on long-term unemployment is a source of concern.
“Traditionally, the Live Register peaks during the summer months when college students sign on. However, the collapse of the construction sector has had a huge bearing on youth employment. Quite a number of young people left school early to work in construction and they are now finding it very difficult to get back into the employment market,” he said.
He said creating job opportunities, particularly for young people, “is a key objective of this Government”, adding that during Ireland’s EU Presidency, the Government will be placing job creation at the top of the EU political agenda.
“Traditionally, a large number of people from the East Clare area have worked in Shannon Airport or in tourism-related businesses in the East Clare area. Given the reduced tourism activity, following the reduction in access into Shannon Airport over the past number of years, tourism providers in East Clare have witnessed a sharp decline in visitor numbers to the area.
“However, the outlook for 2013 is far more positive. The new airport structure at Shannon Airport, together with the Gathering tourism initiative, will see new routes and additional capacity available into Shannon Airport and this additional access into Shannon Airport will have a positive spin-off for tourism providers in East Clare.
“Creating new jobs and bringing our finances into balance are essential as we tackle our unemployment levels. I am very hopeful that the progress we have already made in creating new jobs in 2012 can be improved upon in 2013,” he said.
East Clare-based TD, Timmy Dooley, was less optimistic and highlighted that the inability to find a suitable replacement for the now-closed Finsa plant shows “a lack of commitment by Government to job creation” in East Clare.
The Fianna Fáil deputy said, “The numbers that appear to be reduced are minimal. What seems to be keeping the numbers static is that you have huge emigration in the last 12 months and you have a huge amount of young people from the East Clare area and right throughout the county who have left to find employment, particularly in Australia and New Zealand and throughout continental Europe.
“There has also been an increase in the number of people who have been able to get on the jobs placement programme, which involves the retraining programme and these are not counted in the figures.
“The statistics are masking the continuing underlying level of lack of jobs. It’s the single biggest issue across the entire country,” he said.
He added that the domestic economy, driven primarily by the retail sector, is extremely flat and that small businesses continue to find it extremely difficult to access credit to allow them to manage their business, retain employees and grow in a meaningful way.
“Certainly, the loss at Finsa has been a huge strain and the lack of any initiative by Enterprise Ireland or the IDA to find a suitable replacement really shows a lack of commitment by the Government to job creation in the East Clare area.
“In addition to that, East Clare is suffering the same as every other area of the county because of the fall-out in the domestic economy and I think it is incumbent on the Government to try to deal with the crippling level of unemployment there is,” Deputy Dooley concluded.
Deputy Breen said, “Our Government is not sitting on our laurels. Recognising the need for our workforce to have the right skills to match the new employment opportunities which are arising, we are providing an additional 6,500 places for the long-term unemployed in education and training places,” he said.
He added that under the Momentum initiative, programmes will be provided across 36 education and training providers focusing on ICT, digital media, healthcare and social services, the green economy, food processing and sales and marketing.
East Clare Labour Deputy Michael McNamara said he is well aware “of the dire necessity to create employment in East Clare”.
He said the fall-out following the closure of production at Finsa in Scariff had a huge effect on employment levels in East Clare and replacing this void is a priority for him personally.
“I think we have to look beyond replacing Finsa with another wood chipboard factory. If there was a market for chipboard at a suitable price, then Finsa would still be operating in Scariff, so we have to look at alternatives.
“There have been developments there. Somebody has been looking at the plant to see if it is suitable to set up operations,” he said, adding that it is in the early stages.
Deputy McNamara said the number of unemployed under 25 is of concern but could be explained with the collapse of the construction sector.
“The vast majority of under 25s last worked on building sites and that building boom will not come back quickly, if ever. So we need to find alternative, sustainable employment for these people,” he said.
“There are less tourists in East Clare than when I was a child and I think it comes down to product and marketing. If you compare the product in West Clare and East Clare, the product being provided is unfortunately far greater in West Clare. Two or three innovative people can make a difference,” he concluded.