I have consistently said that addressing the deterioration in the labour market is the key macro-economic objective of the Government. All of the economic policies being implemented by the Government – restoring order to the public finances, repairing the banking system, promoting competitiveness improvements – are designed to generate sustainable economic growth, so that employment growth is sufficient to make inroads into current unacceptably high rates of unemployment. I would point out that progress is being made. For instance, employment has been expanding since the third quarter of last year, and the unemployment rate in May – at 13.7 per cent – was lower than the peak of 15.1 per cent recorded early last year. Having said that, I fully recognise that there is a long way to go and that much more needs to be done.
I am also conscious of the disproportionate impact that the crisis has had on the young, and in particular the rise in youth unemployment, both in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union. This is why the European Council last week agreed on a comprehensive approach to combat youth unemployment and identified a number of measures to be implemented, including launching a new ‘investment plan’ to support SMEs and boost the financing of the economy.
Finally, I would like to emphasise the Action Plan for Jobs 2013 which set out over 333 actions to be undertaken in the coming year to support job creation and complement measures already undertaken in the Jobs Initiative and the Pathways to Work.