I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 14 and 15 together. The rise in unemployment, while regrettable, must be seen in the light of the unprecedented growth in the economy and in employment in the past number of years. Overall employment growth was driven by significant growth in employment in the construction sector. Such levels of growth could not last indefinitely. The resultant rise in unemployment is now compounded by the downturn in the global economy and a general slowdown in employment in all sectors. Ireland is not alone in finding itself it this position; many countries throughout Europe and around the world are experiencing similar difficulties in their labour markets.
FÁS, as the national training and employment authority, is providing a range of proactive job-related services, supports and programmes, to assist individuals to return to the labour market. Last month's budget contained an additional €9.5 million allocation to FÁS specifically to fund additional initiatives to help those who have been made redundant. FÁS and the Department of Social and Family Affairs are working together so they can respond quickly to the increase in unemployment.
FÁS has, with the local employment services provided by area-based partnerships, geared up its employment services further to provide increased capacity for expected increased referrals from the live register and will be providing a range of certified, short, flexible, modular programmes in construction sector activities which are expected to remain buoyant despite the slowdown in construction, including, for example, in sustainable energy and environmental and related activities. These programmes are designed to activate the unemployed to re-enter the labour market in another job role. A number of programmes are already in place and the frequency and range of these will be expanded over the coming months.
In 2009 FÁS will open evening classes to people who are unemployed without payment of a fee. This intervention is aimed at meeting the needs of those who were recently active in the workforce and who now find themselves unemployed. FÁS and the Department of Social and Family Affairs have agreed that redundant apprentices will be referred immediately to FÁS rather than wait for three months on the live register. FÁS has also established a training fund to enable a speedy response to identified re-training needs for low skilled and redundant craft workers.
FÁS has also put in place a series of actions to facilitate redundant apprentices in completing their studies. These include redundant apprentices being allowed to progress to their next off-the-job phase of training without having to do the next on-the-job phase. A register of redundant apprentices has been established to identify these people at the earliest possible point in time and FÁS has prioritised the need to locate an employer to sponsor the completion of the apprentices' off-the-job training.
In addressing the issue of redundancies, FÁS liaises with other relevant stakeholders such as Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the city and county enterprise boards and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. It also works closely with the agencies to identify and support individuals who wish to start their own business.
The enterprise development agencies of my Department, including IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, are working to ensure we continue to grow the economy and jobs, even in the current more challenging environment. The pipeline of new business for which IDA Ireland is competing is as strong as at any time in recent years. To facilitate this, we need to ensure our competitiveness is sustained into the future.
There is uncertainty around the number of job losses that may occur in the construction sector, with various labour market projections available. The latest FÁS Quarterly Labour Market Commentary, for the third quarter of 2008, estimates that construction employment will fall by 11.2% this year and by a further 19.4% in 2009.
These are challenging times and Ireland, as a small open economy is particularly prone to the effects of a global economic downturn. However, we are continuing to develop the necessary policies and initiatives to tackle rising unemployment.