In its 2009 Annual Report and Accounts and Tables published this week, Údarás na Gaeltachta states that 710 new jobs were created in Údarás client-companies in 2009. The report indicates however, that 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%. Total employment in Údarás client-companies stood at 7,472 at year end.
Referring to last year’s results, Liam Ó Cuinneagáin, Chairman of Údarás na Gaeltachta said that the 8.8% fall in net employment reflected the trend of the Irish economy in general, which saw a 11.8% drop in full time employment in last year. He said that the main job losses occurred as a result of Gaeltacht enterprises restructuring, downsizing or cutting costs to maintain competitiveness. He said that Údarás “is confident that many of the jobs lost in the past year may be regained in due course as the national and global economy recovers and Údarás will work with those companies as they reposition themselves and capitalise on the recovery”.
He referred to results from the Annual Business Survey of Economic Impact 2008 (ABSEI) carried out in 2009 by Forfás in Gaeltacht companies which highlights the significant impact Údarás na Gaeltachta has had on the Gaeltacht. “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. These statistics illustrate that the State is getting good value for money for its investment in enterprise development and job creation the Gaeltacht areas”, he said.
The CEO of Údarás na Gaeltachta, Pádraig Ó hAoláin, explained that 2009 was a particularly challenging year in terms of job approvals due to the reduction in the capital funding available to the organisation, which was brought about by the substantial decline in the sale of assets and a weak property market, allied to Exchequer cutbacks. He said “this greatly restricted the operations of the organisation and its capacity to approve new projects and investments and as a result of those funding constraints, new job approvals for 2009 were down from previous years to 352 jobs. 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. When these targets are not met, difficulties are created and as a result it will be very difficult for An tÚdarás to meet its employment targets over the next few years despite having a healthy pipeline of new business enquiries.”
An tÚdarás’ main focus throughout 2010 has been and 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. Reference was also made by the CEO to the need for sufficient investment to allow an Údarás to refurbish its old factories and buildings to the standards required by today’s modern enterprises.
20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language
Speaking about language related issues, Pádraig Ó hAoláin referred to the plans to restructure Údarás na Gaeltachta as proposed in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language which is due for submission for Government approval before the end of the year. He said that the language challenge for the State and for An tÚdarás in the Gaeltacht is to demonstrate that with community support the language erosion can be halted and that any regression within community networks can be regained and restored without diminishing the efforts to generate investment and create new employment. “While it is proposed in the Draft Strategy to extend the Irish language function of An tÚdarás nationally, the report also strongly recommends that ‘Údarás na Gaeltachta retain its primary function of developing the economy and infrastructure of the Gaeltacht’, and this is completely in accordance with the wishes of An tÚdarás”, he said.
Recent Media Coverage Regarding Foreign Travel
The Chairman of Údarás took the opportunity to make reference to and refute the serious, damaging and sensationalised allegations made in the media in recent days regarding Údarás expenditure on overseas travel. “Údarás na Gaeltachta wishes to state categorically that there is no question of any instance of malpractice being committed by either its Executives or Board members in relation to costs. We take issue with the references and comparisons made to instances of misuse of public funds by another public organisation in articles published in the media in relation to this matter, some going back to a year ago which were clarified and publicly corrected in the media, and by the media themselves in some instances.”
“For the record, we would again like to reiterate that Údarás na Gaeltachta is an open, transparent organisation that complies fully with all Department of Finance guidelines. Údarás retains a professional and independent firm of accountants to carry out its internal audit functions. The Comptroller and Auditor General audits the annual financial statements of the organisation and reports thereon once a year to the the Houses of the Oireachtas. These audits show that Údarás abides by best practice and departmental guidelines.”
“Údarás na Gaeltachta expenditure on travel fully complies with Department of Finance guidelines. Longhaul flights to the USA and non-European destinations were and are made in accordance with those guidelines regarding foreign travel. European shorthaul flights are booked economy or budget according to the same guidelines. All overseas trips are assessed with regard to benefits to the Údarás’ remit and approved beforehand at the most senior level. It is the policy of Údarás na Gaeltachta to reimburse only the costs necessarily incurred to perform the purpose of the business of the travel, as authorised. This never includes the costs of any other members of family. Údarás na Gaeltachta keeps foreign travel to the minimum necessary to fulfil its remit regarding the needs of attracting potential overseas investors and growing the business of existing clients.
A full statement on the matter, which contains information regarding specific questions raised, is available our website.”