Today marks a year since the announcement of Dell's closure in Limerick. Unemployment has since soared in the region, particularly among young men. The (interim) findings of the Dell Taskforce have not been implemented, the 21 million Euros earmarked by the EU and the Irish government for Dell workers has not, to my knowledge, made its way into the real economy.
The people of Limerick deserve an explanation for the government's failure to implement the Regeneration plan, which would reduce the youth unemployment by creating construction jobs for several years, as well as stimulating the local economy. The people of Limerick deserve an account of what will be done with the 21 million Euros, and by when. The people of Limerick, and especially their unemployed, deserve more than an empty set of toothless recommendations put together by an overpaid committee 7 months after Dell decided it would leave.
In the Irish Times, a year ago today, I argued that a focused strategy could help resolve Limerick's unemployment difficulties, with off-the -shelf employment schemes and business creation initiatives, and shovel-ready projects like the Regeneration initiatives put into motion, with increased borrowing from abroad, if need be. In the case of Limerick, I believe the borrowing would return its investment into the local economy.
I have long argued that Dell's leaving of Limerick is part of a cyclical process. In 1978 the region's major employer, Ferenka left, costing 1900 jobs, and devastating the local economy. In 1998, Krups left, with the loss of 1400 jobs. In 2009, Dell left, and at least 4000 jobs were directly and indirectly lost as a result. One large employer is not what Limerick needs. We need a series of initiatives to sponsor indigenous industry in Limerick to break this cycle.
I believe a fundamental problem in Irish life is our lack of memory. We are quick to judge, to castigate, mutter 'this is terrible', and to move on, without demanding accountability, recompense, or satisfaction from our government and its representatives. Most of the time, when a serious problem presents itself, the will (and responsibility) to affect a change is lost in a quagmire of state agencies, even if the funding is available to the agencies in question. Take the Dell Taskforce. As well as the authors of the report, stakeholders included: Enterprise Ireland, UL, LIT, several county enterprise boards, Shannon development, IDA, FÁS, Fáilte Ireland, and Tourism Ireland. Bureaucracy and inefficient overlaps abound. One year on from Dell's announcement, nothing has been achieved by any of these agencies. Nothing. The lack of memory, and also the lack of any outrage at the lack of work done, is unbelievable.
Inquiries in to Ireland's recent flooding have shown our agencies are skilled at inter-quango buck-passing, rather than delivering effective flood protection measures. Primetime's expose of the overlaps between the various agencies involved in flood protection shows one thing clearly: not only is there no accountability, there is no responsibility felt by the councils or the quangos to those damaged by the floods. There is only the limitation of liability.
Two constructive lessons can be drawn from these experiences. First, the Irish solution to any problem-- setting up a committee--doesn't work, unless its members are tasked with enforcing any recommendations they might make. Second, accountability needs to be increased, with appropriate penalties for those who fall short of delivering the services they are mandated to provide. Only when we begin remembering just what we were promised, can we exact a punishment for our government's failure to live up to our legitimate expectations.