Unemployed workers may be required to take up new positions in 26-County local authorities from early next year, working on projects such as drainage schemes and outdoor maintenance for just one euro an hour, or face cuts to their dole payments.
The coalition government plans to pay up to 3,000 unemployed people a token sum to carry out services which city and county councils cannot currently deliver.
Some 351 people have already been referred for police ‘vetting’ under the program, and the first placements have already commenced.
The so-called ‘Gateways Initiative’ is designed to support local councils in meeting the demands of voters for community improvements. Controversially, Ireland’s major trade unions have agreed to the move, according to reports.
Those who refuse to engage in the ‘initiative’ face the prospect of social welfare payments being reduced, or having payments suspended.
“We’re working with the Minister for Social Protection to develop opportunities,” Environment Minister Phil Hogan said. “We have 1,500 places already identified in local authorities for people to be employed on a social employment scheme to do certain environment works.
He claimed those unemployed being placed on the program would not displace existing jobs.
“The payment will be [euro]20 per week on top of the dole. It’s training for people through local authorities who would not be gainfully occupied otherwise, and it will keep their skills going in preparation for the upturn.”
Each participant will work for an average of 19.5 hours a week, and the placement will last for 22 months.
Among the types of projects which those targeted could be required to carry out are village-enhancement schemes, landscaping or library work. They could also be made to work in the control of animals, or most bizarrely, serve as meet-and-greet ‘tourism ambassadors’.
Faced with a growing number of such ‘back to work programs’, many of those on the unemployment lines are opting to emigrate. An outflow of between 200 and 250 emigrants per day in the past year has seen Ireland’s unemployment rate fall to 12.5%, down from almost 15% at the peak. However, support services for Irish emigrants in Britain and elsewhere are now struggling to cope with the influx.
The low level of preparation for emigration among some who have arrived from Ireland has caused some despair among staff at the London Irish Centre in Camden, which is to embark on a public information campaign in Ireland in coming months.
“Time and time again people will get on the ferry or the plane with 200 euro in their pockets and a promise of a bed from an acquaintance,” Barlow said.
“Then the acquaintance doesn’t turn up. By the Monday morning the 200 euro is long gone and the person is on the street, needing emergency accommodation.”
People are sometimes given vouchers to return to Ireland. Others who might be best advised to return to Ireland insist on staying.
“People come thinking it will be a new start, that it will be better for them but the reality is often very different,” said welfare director Jenny Dunne.