As regards the overall position of women in the labour market, the participation rate has increased significantly from 39.5% in 1995 to 47.9% at present. There were 700,000 women in employment at the end of 2000 compared to 550,000 five years ago.
The thrust of national policies to assist the increased female participation in the labour market is set out in the Employment Action Plan 2000. In summary Government policies are based on: reform of taxation to increase the reward for work; provision of suitable child care facilities; promotion of a family-friendly workplace; and provision of appropriate education and training.
It is through these policies that equal opportunities for women and men to participate in the labour market will be achieved. The national development plan envisages spending of the order of 120 million in the Border-midlands-west region on equal opportunities measures over the period 2000-06.
In so far as my Department's immediate responsibilities are concerned, FÁS plays a key role in the delivery of training measures generally, and in respect of specific courses to assist, for example, women returning to the labour market. Outside of apprenticeship training, almost half of FÁS training places are occupied by females. Programmes are administered on the basis of the needs of individual regions with the application of resources in particular areas of the country being a day-to-day matter for FÁS.
In terms of jobs being created and the gender breakdown, industrial development in particular areas is a day-to-day matter for the industrial development agencies and not one in which I have a direct function.
However, the Government through its enterprise support agencies is committed to ensuring the most equitable distribution of job opportunities both in terms of gender and geographically. IDA Ireland's current strategy to encourage a greater proportion of new overseas investment to locate outside the larger urban areas is gaining momentum and showing results in terms of the calibre of overseas companies currently looking at alternative locations within Ireland. This is being achieved by focusing on the main population centres in each region. In this connection, IDA Ireland is reorganising its internal structures and plans to place greater resources in Athlone from 1 September to achieve maximum impact at regional level.