Ministers, a dhaoine uaisle, good afternoon. It’s a privilege to be here to launch the Open Doors Initiative. And thank you for inviting me!
They say ‘Old ways won’t open new doors’. This initiative provides new ways of opening doors both old and new, doors which have been closed off to some people for far too long. It is about giving everyone the opportunity to meet their full potential so that no one gets left behind. In Ireland, Every day, new opportunities are being created. We are currently one of the fastest growing economies in Europe. And, because of that, Ireland is now close to full employment, so we need to ensure that we involve all our people – and make the most of all of their skills and talent. So our mission is to build a country where every individual and every business can reach its full potential, in which all parts of the country share in our prosperity.
To achieve this, our economic strategy is based on six principles.
The first is prudent management of the public finances and reducing our national debt. This means a balanced budget in 2 weeks time, not a give away budget. No return to boom and bust.
Second, we want to continue to raise living standards in a sustainable way for all our citizens. This includes, reducing income tax, sustainable pay increases, reducing the cost of childcare and healthcare.
Third, we are investing in public infrastructure, driven through our ambitious Project Ireland 2040 plan. It’s an investment of €116 billion over ten years in modernizing our public infrastructure, in housing, healthcare facilities, education, transport, broadband, and climate change.
There’ll be a 25% increase in investment in public infrastructure next year alone.
The fourth principle is our commitment to reforming and modernizing our public services. Better value for money for the tax-payer, for patients, for students, for families.
The fifth relates to our role internationally, as an island at the centre of the world committed to free trade, free enterprise and multi-lateralism. Staying at the heart of the EU, deepening our engagement with the United Nations, the United States, Asia and Africa and expanding our presence overseas.
The sixth and final principle, and the one driving this Open Doors Initiative, is achieving full employment with good jobs. There are now almost 2.3 million people at work, more than at any point in the history of this state.
And, as we move closer to full employment, it is important that we make use of the human resources we already have, bringing more people into the labour market including those excluded in the past so they can have more economic opportunities and so our society and economy can gain form their untapped abilities.The Government is developing a new long-term economic development policy, the Future Jobs Programme. It will set out a vision for the next phase of Ireland’s economic and enterprise development. It will focus on improving productivity, building resilience, creating and maintaining quality employment. Jobs that will still exist in 20 years time and those that don’t exist yet. The Open Doors Initiative is exactly the kind of thing that will help us achieve our objectives. So I would like to thank all of the founding organisations for signing up to this initiative.
I would also like to recognize Minister Stanton in particular for his leadership on this initiative.
We all know that many people face barriers before they can enter the work place:
· People with disabilities;
· young people with educational barriers; and,
· migrants and refugees who are not native English speakers.
I want to remove those barriers. I want to ensure that if young people do not go into higher education they are not excluded or left behind altogether. We want to ensure that people with disabilities who want to work do not have obstacles put in their path. So, we’ve made some changes. Now, people with a long term disability retain their free travel pass for 5 years after returning to work, and there is a fast-track return to Disability Allowance, if securing a job doesn’t work out.
Today, we have almost 300,000 non-Irish nationals at work in Ireland, representing about 15 per cent of the workforce. When there are language barriers or issues with qualification recognition, migrants’ existing skills are not used to the fullest. Opening doors means increasing the level of migrant representation in public office and in the public service. Gaining access to employment helps refugees to integrate and provides self-sufficiency and confidence. So I am happy to see the inclusion of asylum seekers in this Open Doors Programme. It provides an opportunity for people awaiting a decision on their protection application to improve their quality of life and to maintain their skills. To date, the Minister for Justice has granted almost 1,300 labour market access permissions to eligible asylum seekers.
I believe today’s initiative will have an impact at all levels: on individuals, on Irish society, and on the businesses that engage with it. In addition, the JobsPlus incentive provides a grant to employers who employ jobseekers. The Government’s Youth Employment Support Scheme – known as YESS – will provide young people who are long-term unemployed or who face barriers to employment a work experience opportunity. And over the next three years some 2,600 young people with disabilities aged between 15 and 29 will be provided with pre-activation assistance through the new ‘Ability’ programme.
We also provide assistance for employers who recruit and employ people with disabilities, including:
· a financial subsidy to private sector employers who take on people with disabilities through the Wage Subsidy Scheme; and,
· grants to enable a person with a disability to access employment through the Reasonable Accommodation Fund.
The best kind of leadership is leading by example. I believe this is an area where the Public Service and Government can do more. Currently, public service bodies are required to meet a target of 3% of employees with disabilities. We have exceeded this target and it now stands at 4.5%. But we want to do more, and we intend to reach 6% by 2024. I also want us to set a target for new Irish in our civil service. The great Bob Marley once sang about the need to come in from the cold, recognising that when one door is closed, another one needs to open.
Opening doors opened Irish trade to the world, and prosperity followed. Opening doors within this country made us more tolerant, and respectful and diverse. This Open Door Initiative, and others like it, will help ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to meet their full potential and no one gets left behind.