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Enda Needs Jobs, Not Photos

Posted on: March 8th, 2012

Okay Enda, but what about the jobless back home in Ireland? They are beginning to repeat an old joke around Leinster House: Taoiseach Enda Kenny will soon be paying a State visit to Ireland — he wants to reconnect with the problems of his native people.

Kenny is on a global roll. Last week, after waving goodbye to his new friend, Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, he announced that he himself would be heading over to China pronto — next month, presumably before the jet-lagged Xi forgets who he is.

Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Enda dropped into Dail Eireann to answer a few questions before jetting over to Berlin for dinner with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Last Friday he flew to Rome to share his thoughts with the Italian premier, Mario Monti.

The photos were good.

The meeting with Merkel was not as exclusive as we were led to believe. Enda was lumped in with the third division European premiers of Latvia and the Czech Republic. The dinner wasn’t a one-to-one with Angela, but he still made it into division three.

The photos were good.

This week the Taoiseach is popping over to Brussels to tell all 27 European premiers how Ireland is toeing the European line.

The photos will be good.

Enda, the newly born statesman, has only just returned from the US pow-wowing with ex-president Bill Clinton, his second transatlantic visit in two weeks.

Kenny the world leader will be barging his way into the White House in three weeks on St Patrick’s Day to greet his old friend Barack. Hopefully he will manage to squeeze Barack in between his return trip to China and Easter recess. Earlier this month he was in Downing Street rubbing shoulders with David Cameron; in January he hosted a visit to Dublin for the UK’s deputy PM Nick Clegg.

Xi’s visit to Ireland was probably the highlight of Enda’s weeks of mixing with international statesmen. It has been hailed as “historic” and maybe it will be — but you can be sure that the only aspect of the Chinese VP’s stay in Ireland that will be remembered by the masses will be the photos of his gallant attempts at kicking a football and swinging a hurley.

Is Enda’s hob-nobbing with the mighty doing Ireland’s economy any good? It certainly gives Kenny a wonderful profile. It let him be pictured with Paypal’s vice president, the vivacious Louise Phelan, at a press conference announcing 1,000 jobs. It supposedly adds to his stature, to be greeted by Obama, Cameron, Xi, Merkel and Monti on equal terms. But is it reducing the jobless numbers at home?

Whether Kenny played any part in delivering the 1,000 Paypal jobs to Dundalk is unknown. The success is more likely to have been the result of solid work by the IDA over a number of years. Work that has brought Google, Facebook, Twitter and others to Dublin. But Enda is in the right place at the time of the arrival of more jobs. So he might as well cash in on it — call in the cameras and claim the credit.

God knows how the IDA’s reporting minister, Richard Bruton, feels about Enda stealing his thunder. Maybe Richard will be allowed to get in on the act soon as (according to the most successful of all State agencies) there are more in the pipeline. It is unlikely that the next jobs announcements will be on the same scale, so Richard will probably be allowed a slice of the action when it breaks.

Is there any substance behind the euphoria and the Kenny spinfest of recent events? Or is it just a ball of smoke?

Of course the Paypal expansion is great news. Jobs are gold dust and multinationals come bearing gold. These are genuinely good jobs. They are not part of Enda’s fantasy ‘Jobs Plan’ initiative, with its 270 measures unveiled amid great fanfare just 10 days ago. The 270 measures are unlikely to create even 270 jobs. Nor does the hard-nosed Paypal fit into the fairyland ‘Pathways to Work’ programme launched by Enda and Minister Joan Burton last Thursday.

Multinationals are the saviours of the economy. Without them we might see another 250,000 of our sons and daughters on the dole. One in seven Irish jobs exist courtesy of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Without them, emigration would have erupted, turning a flood of Ireland’s departing youth into a tsunami. US companies are keeping thousands of our sons and daughters at home.

So Enda’s and Richard Bruton’s efforts to bring foreign investment to Ireland should not be greeted by begrudgery. Nevertheless we need not take their role too seriously. Opportunist politicians invariably pop up when the IDA delivers the jobs. The photos fool plenty of people.

The spin is working, but the economy is not.

Amid all the bubbly comment about multinational jobs last week came a reality check.

The domestic economy is as flat as a pancake. Small business is in tatters. Jobs are being lost.

The unhelpful European Commission and the ESRI pricked Enda’s balloon. Both issued gloomy reports. The latest projections for Europe are depressing. The report from the Commission asserted that Europe was now in a “mild recession”; that Irish export growth will slow in 2012; that domestic demand will fall even further because of higher taxes, increased unemployment and households paying down debts.

And what about growth?

The European Commission manages to hold out the hope that it can reach 0.5 per cent. The ESRI puts it as high as 0.9 per cent. Bad news for Enda, who still insists that it will reach 1.3 per cent.

And jobs? The European Commission expects unemployment here to rise again this year. The ESRI anticipates an almost unchanged jobless rate of 14 per cent. It expects a small fall next year, but only because there will be further mass emigration. Even the government poodles in the Department of Finance admit that unemployment will stay above 14 per cent in 2012.

Has the Government simply given up the ghost on the jobless? Small and medium-sized businesses, critically important in the employment game, are closing their doors by the day. The Government is unmoved. The revival of an earlier discarded plan for the Government to dump the cost of statutory sick leave pay on businesses will bury a few struggling outfits and ensure that others lay off staff.

The Government should remember that the problem of absenteeism and statutory sick pay was created by Irish governments, not by small and medium-sized businesses.

Enda will be adding to the jobless numbers if he goes ahead with this.

Two seemingly paradoxical words — “jobless growth” — are creeping back into the economic debate. Decoded, they mean that exports may improve, but that the backbone of employment, the small and medium-sized businesses, are being sacrificed.

Successive governments, including Kenny’s, have played the multinational game skillfully.

Maybe all those trips overseas are paying off, but when Enda next spots Ireland from the government jet, he should ask the pilot to bring him down to earth in a small business park.