Employment Situation in the Gaeltacht
A total of 710 new jobs were created in Údarás assisted-companies in 2009. However, Gaeltacht companies were seriously affected by the national and global economic downturn and as a result net employment in Údarás supported companies fell by 721 or 8.8% from the 2008 base. It is important to note that the 8.8% fall in net employment reflects the trend of the Irish economy in general, which saw a 11.8% drop in full time employment in the past year. Total fulltime employment in Údarás na Gaeltachta assisted companies now stands at 7,472.
The main job losses occurred as a result of Gaeltacht enterprises restructuring, downsizing or cutting costs to maintain competitiveness. Many Údarás-supported deferred expansion and capital investment plans. The fact that a large number of losses were due to companies shedding jobs in an attempt to sustain their business rather than going for closures is encouraging. An tÚdarás believes that many of the jobs lost in the past year may be regained in due course as those companies reposition themselves and capitalise on the recovery.
Gaeltacht companies faced challenges which mirrored those faced by other companies in the Irish economy during 2009. The lack of access to business credit, the sustained pressure of weak exchange rates which eroded profitability margins and the fall-off in global markets continued to create difficulties for companies. The figures show that employment in the services industries and modern manufacturing continued to increase during the year whereas enterprises in the construction related and traditional manufacturing sectors continued to decline.
Economic Impact for the Gaeltacht and the State
The average life span of a job in Údarás-supported projects is approximately 8 years. Typically, the Exchequer investment is repaid on average in approximately 3 years. An average of 12% of jobs in Údarás client companies are lost as a normal part of the business lifecycle as sectoral trends change, enterprises restructure and companies streamline to improve their competitiveness.
Results from the Annual Business Survey of Economic Impact 2008 (ABSEI) carried out in 2009 by Forfás in Gaeltacht companies highlights the significant impact Údarás na Gaeltachta has had on the Gaeltacht and indeed on the national economy. The ABSEI, which surveyed companies that include approximately 79% of Údarás supported employment, indicates that total sales in client companies amounted to €834m, of which 47.6% was in exports, an increase of 9.4% on the previous year. The survey also illustrates that 43.5% of Gaeltacht companies are engaging in R&D activities, with a spend of approximately €17m.
We are satisfied that these results indicate that the State is getting good value for money for its investment in enterprise development and job creation the Gaeltacht areas.
A Strategy of Sustaining Businesses and Maintaining Jobs
During 2009, An tÚdarás pursued a strategy of securing, maintaining and developing jobs in existing companies. A considerable portion of the available resources were directed towards servicing prior year approvals in respect of new and expanding businesses which came on stream in 2009. Emphasis was placed on aftercare and support measures to assist companies improve their competitiveness. An tÚdarás also administered The Enterprise Stabilisation Fund and the Employment Subsidy Schemes in the Gaeltacht in association with Enterprise Ireland. These two initiatives were established by the Government to protect jobs and sustain viable but vulnerable businesses. Under these initiatives a total of €5.4 million in funding was approved to 23 Gaeltacht companies and resulted in the sustaining and maintaining of 605 jobs (375 & 230 respectively).
Enterprise Ireland is responsible for the administration of these programmes on a national level and Údarás na Gaeltachta administers the programmes in the Gaeltacht. An tÚdarás will continue to implement the current programmes and administer the second call which was announced recently under the Employment Subsidy Scheme. These initiatives taken by Government to protect jobs in the current crisis are extremely important as evidenced by their impact in the Gaeltacht.
Substantial Reduction in Funding Restricts New Job Approvals
2009 was a particularly challenging year in terms of job approvals. For quite a number of years now, Údarás na Gaeltachta has been supplementing its capital funding budget through a programme of asset sales. The substantial decline in the sale of assets, brought about by a weak property market, allied to Exchequer cutbacks greatly restricted the operations of the organisation and its capacity to approve new projects and investments. As a result of those funding constraints, new job approvals for 2009 had to be restricted and were down considerably from previous years to 352 jobs. Similar funding challenges will continue in 2010 as a result of further Exchequer cutbacks and the stagnant condition of the property market. The total exchequer funding granted to Údarás for 2010 is €30.4m compared to €37.6m in 2009.
Consequently, it will be very difficult for An tÚdarás to meet it’s employment targets over the next few years despite having a healthy pipeline of new business enquiries. Experience from previous years has demonstrated that close to 1,000 new jobs approvals are required to ensure that job creation targets are reached annually.
For 2010 An tÚdarás’ main focus will be on maintaining existing employment levels. This will be achieved by working closely with companies, maintaining investment contacts, limiting new contractual agreements which would increase the organisation’s current year commitments while at the same time maintaining as many as possible of those initiatives which are important to maintain economic, social and cultural activity at community level.
20 Year Irish Language Strategy
Údarás na Gaeltachta welcomes the recent publication of the draft 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030. The Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, published in 2002, focused attention on the fragile state of Irish as the community language of the Gaeltacht and of the need for emergency measures to protect and strengthen it. The draft 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language is the Government’s response to that ‘call to action’ and an tÚdarás welcomes the Government’s approach as outlined in the draft Strategy.
Important core principles are recognised in the Strategy including the need for a strong Gaeltacht agency with a wide range of powers and functions to address the language and enterprise development challenges of the Gaeltacht; the need for a radical approach to buttress the place of Irish at every level of the education system; the need for a restructuring of the approach to language promotion and development nationally and the use of Údarás na Gaeilge/Gaeltachta as a national agency in that context; and above all else, a clear ambitious target of 250,000 daily Irish speakers as a national target by the end of the 20 year strategy.
It is encouraging that, among the recommendations in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language, it is stated that the Higher Education Authority will have a more significant role in the funding of Third-Level education through Irish. For the past six years Údarás na Gaeltachta has provided substantial funding to support the development of Third-Level education provision through Irish in the Gaeltacht. The objective was to kick start the development of these courses until such a time that the necessary policy changes were formulated to provide funding for qualifying courses in outreach centres being mainstreamed through the HEA.
As a result, a wide range of diploma, higher diploma, degree and post-graduate courses are now being provided in centres throughout the Gaeltacht by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge primarily. There are also courses run by the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in conjunction with the language specialist company Europus Teo and by the Waterford Institute of Technology in conjunction with the independent TV production company Nemeton Teo. These Third-Level courses are of the utmost importance in regard to Third-Llevel education provision, the Irish language and employment and they also generate considerable socioeconomic benefits to the areas in which they are delivered.
A new era in the history of the Irish Language will commence with the implementation of the 20 Year Language Strategy. An tÚdarás will be restructured at Board as well as at executive/staff level to accommodate its role in this new era. The role delineated for Údarás in the draft 20 Year Language Strategy is a vote of confidence in the organisation. An tÚdarás is already preparing itself for it’s new expanded role and both board and staff are greatly encouraged by the fact that the agency will not only have a continuing enterprise development function but also a national role in relation to language development projects.
Statement issued by Pádraig Ó hAoláin, Chief Executive and Liam Ó Cuinneagáin, Chairman, Údarás na Gaeltachta