Statements on the Government’s priorities for the year ahead- 6th March 2014

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak today and I do so with considerable happiness, given the way we are performing. Since taking office in 2011, we have restored Ireland’s international reputation, successfully exited the bailout and our economy is experiencing growth for the third consecutive year. Approximately 61,000 new jobs were created in the last year, at a rate of approximately 1,200 per week and the number of people on the live register has dropped for the twentieth consecutive month and now stands at 11.9% – a little below the European average – having reached a high of 15.1%. I am also very pleased to say that in Cavan, the numbers on the live register have dropped by 5% in the last 12 months. Our public finances are on course to reach a 3% debt to GDP ratio by 2015. While there were many doubting Thomases at the time, we also secured the almost-forgotten promissory note deal which effectively meant a €3.1 billion per annum saving to the economy.
This year we will focus specifically on growth and jobs in the domestic economy, which is how it should be. The Government is mindful of the fact that many sacrifices were made by many people. It is important to acknowledge the awful sacrifices made by people but even more important to make sure those sacrifices were not made in vain. We must honour those sacrifices by getting results. The Taoiseach made reference to the fact that there is the potential to create 25,000 new jobs in the agri-food sector in the next seven years and I believe that is very achievable. The agri-food sector is very strong nationally and particularly so in Cavan, where twenty large food and drink employers in the county provide 1,860 people with jobs. We have 5,279 farms in Cavan with approximately 15,000 people employed directly from them, giving us an income from farming of €74 million a year. This is something that we should be very proud of and do everything we can to support, protect and encourage.

Several schemes under Pillar II of the CAP will provide a major new injection of funding into the rural economy and the small towns of rural Ireland. Young farmers will receive top-up payments of up to 25%, which equates to €3,000 per annum over five years. A new agri-environment scheme, GLAS, will give farmers a minimum payment of €5,000, with a potential for a further €2,500 in some instances for additional works. A new €52 million beef data and genomics programme will translate into approximately €80 per calf and the dairy sector will enjoy a number of targeted measures. All of that will result in additional money in the local economy of those parts of rural Ireland which do not readily attract inward investment. The measures outlined in the rural development programme are all designed to help our agricultural sector to grow in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way while at the same time meeting out Food Harvest 2020 objectives of smart, green growth, innovation and competitiveness.

I am happy to see that there is continued support for the vulnerable sectors of our farming community and further protection for the incomes of family farms. Late last year the EU Parliament approved proposals for a new round of structural funds which will see Ireland’s share increase to just over €1 billion. These funds will be used to support a range of projects to promote jobs and growth. I was particularly pleased to hear the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Paschal Donohoe that during our EU Presidency, the European Council decided to include a special allocation of €150 million for a new PEACE programme, which has huge implications for Cavan and Monaghan.
I was particularly happy to learn that there will be a special allocation of €100 million for the border, midland and western, BMW, region. The importance of adequate funding for this region, of which my constituency is part, cannot be overestimated. So far, more than €340 million was spent on cross-Border PEACE and INTERREG projects and we have seen the development of several valuable cross-community projects as a result. The Castle Saunderson international scouting centre is one of many projects of which I am proud. For every job that is created resulting in someone leaving the live register, the Exchequer saves €20,000.

Investors are free to go where they want but inland areas do not have the same pull for job creation as the densely populated east coast centres do. I regularly discuss this at meetings with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to ensure Cavan and Monaghan are included on IDA itineraries. Cavan, Monaghan and the wider BMW region has the excellent College of Further Studies in Cavan, the M3 motorway to Dublin and the new education campus in Monaghan, as well as good industrial relations.
We transitioned from the old, failed economy based solely on property, banking and debt to a new, sustainable economy based on enterprise, exports and tourism. The Government can be trusted to do what is right, not what is popular. We have a moral duty to do that. While we can never return to the reliance on construction, I note the Government has a strategy to create between 40,000 and 60,000 jobs in the sector with many in it who want to get back to work, as well as a housing shortage in Dublin.

We are undaunted by this task and will continue to work to create 100,000 new jobs by 2016. We are stemming the tide of unemployment while we are all working hard to get the country and our constituencies back to work. All the strategies are designed to arrive at one outcome, that people can work in Ireland and that if someone emigrates, it is by choice only. We are on route to have full employment by 2020 if we maintain our strategies and keep our focus. I am proud that this year’s priorities of the Government are so designed.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website