I am aware of the level of job losses recorded in 1998, referred to by the Deputy. This data was mentioned in the recently published Forfás 1998 Review and 1999 Outlook statement. While the level of job loss recorded by Forfás's annual employment survey has been the highest since 1992 it must be seen in the context of overall strong economic growth, declining unemployment and sustained employment expansion throughout the economy.
Employment is dependent on the success or failure of individual firms in the market economy and it is inevitable that some firms will fail as, indeed, many thrive and generate additional employment. The job losses mentioned by the Deputy must be looked at in the context of 1998 job gains where total permanent employment in IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland assisted clients rose by almost 13,000, to 250,000, its highest ever level. Furthermore job gains in permanent full-time employment amounted to over 28,000 in 1998, of which just over 24,000 were new first time jobs, the highest level achieved over the past ten years. Irish owned companies accounted for just under 12,000 of the total job gains, the second highest level on record.
Notwithstanding the considerable success in employment growth, the increase in job losses reflects the impact of unfavourable international market conditions on Irish-owned firms and, particularly, on some overseas companies. It highlights the need for continued focus on actions by firms at operating level, and by Government at policy level, to improve and sustain competitiveness. I can assure the Deputy that this focus will not be lacking under this Government.