Averil calls for cross-party cooperation on youth unemployment (12/06/2013)

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Fianna Fáil strongly supports the motion.  The Minister has picked holes in the statistics, but there is no doubt that people of all ages and their families have been devastated by the economic crisis.  Young people have suffered the greatest toll by far in recent years.  This is true across Europe.  The Minister cited some statistics and the Sinn Féin motion cites others, but the statistics do not capture the scale of youth emigration.  Often, this element underplays the extent of youth unemployment, as tens of thousands of young people who have left Ireland are unaccounted for in the statistics.  They are not present to raise this issue because they are struggling to make lives for themselves elsewhere.  They worked hard to get the best possible education and enough points for college and they put in the effort and commitment required to get good degrees, only to find that there were no opportunities for them.  This is an important point.

The National Youth Council of Ireland, NYCI, published an excellent report recently entitled “Time to Go? A Study of Youth Emigration in Ireland”, on the impact of emigration on young Irish people.  We can argue the figures, but this debate should be taken as an opportunity to put our heads together and come up with solutions, not to make party political arguments.  This is my party’s stance.  The motion made excellent suggestions.

I welcome Senator Reilly’s comment on young entrepreneurs.  There is significant potential in harnessing their creativity and ideas.  With little investment or support, we could give them the tools necessary to create the businesses of the future.  They are well placed to do so.  We should use the remainder of our debate to make constructive suggestions.

Last year, Fianna Fáil published a paper on youth unemployment.  We have the same concerns as those that have been mentioned.  For example, the Government has published a number of jobs initiatives in recent years, but no specific strategy on youth unemployment has been proposed.  While I welcome the Minister’s initiatives relating to other aspects of her brief, for example, JobBridge, her willingness to review and change them to ensure they are fit for purpose and her overall commitment to the area, there is a wide cross-Government gap, in that a specific strategy on youth unemployment has not been introduced.  The European youth guarantee is a positive initiative, but it is significantly underfunded, given the figures announced today.

More than 7 million young people are unemployed in the EU so the figures announced so far are probably only a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.

It is important to acknowledge how good it is that work is being done on this on a European level, and that there is a co-ordinated response, because we are not in this on our own.  Other European countries are facing exactly the same problems we face and therefore we should put our heads together on an international level and come up with the most sensible strategy for addressing this on a continental basis.  At the same time there is no excuse for delay on a national basis.  There is nothing to stop the Government bringing forward a specific national strategy.  Of course each country will be required to submit implementation plans and suchlike as part of the European process but that is for down the road.  It is clear from the Minister’s opening address that the process has started but there is still a way to go.  I fully support the efforts of the Minister and her colleagues to use the Irish Presidency to try to accelerate this pan-European effort.  That is very important but there is nothing to stop the Government focusing on the bringing forward of a national strategy ahead of what emerges in that regard.  We have already lost time in this area and cannot afford to lose any more.  To reiterate, too many young people have already left this country and they wonder if they will ever have a future here.  They are looking to us to put initiatives into place now, not next year or two, three or four years down the road.

Last year, for this reason, Fianna Fáil published a specific strategy on youth unemployment.  I ask the Minister to take the time to consider some of the initiatives we put forward, in regard to internships and improving and extending the JobBridge programme, to ensure that people are offering real jobs.  I welcome the fact that many young people who are taking part in internship programmes get real jobs but there are also those who are being abused in the process.  I know several young people who are on their third or fourth internship, which I do not think was the original intention.  Internship should be for people who have the relevant education but need to get work experience that will help them to get inside the door elsewhere.  It is important to review the internship schemes and change them, but much more important is the need to create real jobs.  Instead of having people wondering if they are going to be volunteering endlessly or getting a slight top-up on their social welfare, we should create real jobs for young people.  Many of them cannot afford to stay here and will end up leaving if their only real choice is to find employment elsewhere.

I welcome this debate.  My party wants to be part of the solution to this problem and we see that as part of our role in constructive opposition.  I hope all of us can do the same, both in the remainder of this debate and in the future.  We should all put ideas out and work together on this.  There is a temptation for us to argue about the causes of the crisis and be party-political about its impact but people are looking to us, to Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin, to put aside the politics and work together on sorting out the problem.

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