A FORMER junior minister has called on the banking sector to start showing confidence in the small business sector before further jobs are lost.
Fianna Fáil Deputy Dara Calleary said job creation will continue to be stymied until financial institutions start to function as business banking systems.
Speaking in the aftermath of the closure of a number of long-established retail and commercial outlets throughout the county, the Ballina-based TD said there was an urgent need by the Fine Gael-led government to give top priority to nurturing existing jobs as well as creating new ones.
He elaborated: “Now that international investors have displayed fresh confidence in our banking system, it is time for our banking system to show confidence in Irish business, particularly in our SME sector.
“I met a man last month who employs 80 people producing a world beating product in the electrical field.
“He has contracts throughout Europe and could have many more. He has a working capital requirement of €600,000 annually. However, he can’t even get €5,000 from his Irish bank.
“He started out with a plan and a passion 20 years ago which drove him to be an employment creator and he completly changed his business when new technology overtook him.
“Now when he wants to be ready to overtake technology rather than the other way round, he cannot get the financial support he needs.
“It’s all because of the absence of a functioning banking system that recognises the kind of business he is in.
“Unfortunately, he is now travelling in the slow lane of international business and unable to create employment.
“There are many others like him. The retail and service industry is haemorrhaging jobs, many of which could be saved in the event of bank support.
“I put my hands up and admit that, in the last government, we didn’t get a handle on this issue. However, we had begun to prepare the groundwork for a small credit insurance scheme.
“I welcome the fact Minister Richard Bruton has got a similar scheme over the line and it will be rolled out in September.
“But it will only be a drop in a large ocean unless our banking system realigns itself to support viable small businesses.”
Deputy Calleary said with some 460,000 people claiming some form of unemployment payment on a weekly basis, there is a need to think outside of the box.
“The potential of job creation in the renewable sector has long been talked about but we now must act.
“A report on the Irish renewable energy sector by the high-level action group on green enterprise estimates the sector has the potential to create over 50,000 direct jobs by 2020.
“There are already more than 6,500 people directly employed in the green economy in Ireland. Potential exists to create 1,900 jobs by 2020 in wave technology.”
He called for the establishment of an all-island renewable energy company tasked with harvesting the potential and ensuring job creation.
“The job creation potential is especially significant given the high level of unemployment amongst young males and former construction workers.
“Targeted training programmes can be put in place to ensure this cohort receives the benefit.
“This all-island company should be ambitious and seek to push the boat out in terms of challenging current policy positions.
“We have all the assets but, unless we move to harness them, we will be overtaken by Scotland and the Nordic companies. Equally, we have huge opportunities in agriculture.”
Deputy Calleary said the education system and its role in preparing people to access employment opportunities also needed to be examined.
“We have a serious problem with maths education at Leaving Certificate level in this country.
“Without maths education we will unable to provide the engineers, the high tech specialists or the pharmaceutical experts that are going to lead us out of our current impasse.
“The project maths initiative is crucial in demystifying honours maths at Leaving Cert level. It is in all our interests for it to succeed.
“The recent comments by Minister Ruairi Quinn about his determination to focus on the basic skills of writing and arithmetic are, personally, very welcome.
“There are many other areas where we can create jobs, including tourism, education and medicine. We may need to re-imagine a lot of things. There can be no sacred cows in the Ireland of 2011,” he added.
Deputy Calleary made his comments at the McGill Summer School in Donegal.