CO MEATH, Ireland - Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says Ireland cannot afford to be complacent about the strong performance of its economy.
The Irish leader was speaking Friday after a Special Cabinet meeting in Trim, Co Meath, where the government addressed measures for job creation, rural development and new technology to be delivered in 2020.
The agenda included:
- Helping people to get a better work-life balance with more flexible working conditions and more remote working: doing your job at home or in other locations away from the main office, or with a more flexible working week. New research being published today shows that 60% of remote workers say it improves their work-life balance
- A roadmap for the connected autonomous cars sector in Ireland: today Cabinet agreed to amend legislation to allow for the testing of autonomous cars on public roads
- Delivering the next phase of Future Jobs Ireland, the Government's strategy to make our economy more productive, sustainable and better able to withstand shocks
- Finalising a new rural development policy which allows people to pursue careers in rural areas and strengthen our rural communities
- With 95% employment, we will ensure there are real employment opportunities for the remaining 5% through tailor made programmes targeted at those who are underrepresented in the labour force
"Ireland is nearing full employment. We have never had so many people at work, in education and taking on apprenticeships. As a result, living standards are rising and poverty and deprivation is falling. But we cannot take the progress made in recent years for granted. There is a danger that complacency can set in when an economy is performing well. We are determined to ensure that doesn't happen. Future Jobs Ireland shatters any complacency and will put our economy in a better place to withstand shocks if and when they come down the road," Varadkar said.
"I want the people of this country to go into 2020, a new decade, feeling confident about their future and to have a better quality of life than they did in the past. The Government is planning ahead for a low carbon, highly productive and technologically advanced economy and society. We want to facilitate remote working, help people to upskill, improve work-life balance, provide more family time and ensure new jobs being created are high quality and sustainable."
The Cabinet discussed a new report on remote working commissioned by the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys which examined international flexible working practices and considered how to increase remote working.
New research on remote working in Ireland, conducted by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, shows 43.5% of workers identified greater flexibility as their primary motivator for working remotely, while 40.5% identified reduced commuting time and 60% said work/life balance was the key benefit.
The report found that although remote working is not without its challenges, it has the potential to bring significant benefits to both businesses and workers. On foot of the report, Humphreys says she is establishing an Interdepartmental Group to develop official guidelines for employers and employees on remote working so that Ireland can reap the full benefits of the practice.
"As we approach full employment, there is no doubt that increasing labour force participation will be good for the economy. However, the impact of remote working is much broader than this," Humphreys said.
"The world of work is changing and technological and digital advances present us with new opportunities, particularly in rural Ireland. Remote working can breathe life into our towns and villages right across the country by allowing people to work and live where they're from. It can also take pressure off our cities and bring environmental benefits with reduced commuting times."
"It's clear from the research that remote working can bring many benefits to workers including improving their work/life balance and allowing them to spend more time with their families. Businesses can also benefit from having a flexible and more productive workforce. The National Broadband Plan will open up a world of opportunities in this space so now is the time to develop official guidelines for employers and employees," the minister added.
The Future Jobs Initiative includes a range of deliverables led by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, in the fields of Connected and Autonomous Mobility and Transport, tourism, electrification of taxis and hackneys. In particular, three of these will support the development and use of more intelligent transport.
The Government has agreed that the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be amended to facilitate the testing of autonomous cars on public roads. This is to be complemented by delivery of strict guidelines for testing, a strategic roadmap for CAVs (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) in Ireland.
"Of course, our priority is always the safety of our roads for all users. But this is a rapidly developing sector right across the globe, including in the EU, and it is important that we make the most of these developments for not just transport, but also the wider economy," Minister Ross said Friday.
The Road Traffic Bill also provides the legal basis for the deployment of active traffic management on key roads, such as the M50, through Variable Speed Limit and Lane Control Signalling. These will be deployed next year. The Department will also develop a policy direction document, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, in relation to drones.
Minister Humphreys also provided an update on Future Jobs Ireland, the Government's strategy to future proof our economy by embracing innovation and technology; improving productivity; enhancing skills; increasing participation in the labour force and transitioning to a low carbon economy.
Work is now ongoing developing Future Jobs Ireland 2020. High impact initiatives which will be delivered in 2020 include:
- Build and sustain infrastructural capacity in research areas including microelectronics, Artificial Intelligence, High Performance Computing, Cybersecurity, the bio-economy, food innovation and Nutraceuticals.
- Establish Top Teams in new areas. Opportunities being considered include Data Science, Agtech, climate mitigation, and manufacture of cell and gene therapies.
- Fund a second tranche of industry-driven RD&I projects under the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund.
- Further develop entrepreneurship in Ireland by increasing the number of High Potential Start Up aids, implementing the Enterprise Ireland Women in Enterprise Strategy and revising engagement with targeted LEOs.
- Enable SMEs to identify their skills needs and provide linkages with appropriate education and training providers.
- Begin reform of the Career Guidance system, including a consultation on establishing a new organisation to oversee technology-facilitated career guidance services.
- Publish guidance to facilitate employers to offer more family-friendly working options.
- Assist enterprises to meet the climate challenge and to realise opportunities in transitioning to a low carbon economy through the Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland and the electric vehicle grant scheme.
The Government also considered progress in the development of a new policy for rural Ireland. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, told the Cabinet that the new policy will succeed the Action Plan for Rural Development and will cover the period 2020-2025. Given the importance of achieving real and lasting impact on rural Ireland, the policy is intended to be forward-looking and ambitious. It is currently in the final stages of development and is expected to be published in the New Year.
"I was delighted to discuss the development of this policy which will have such an important bearing on the future of rural Ireland. It will contain commitments designed to have a transformative effect on rural Ireland by building the resilience and sustainability of rural communities and economies. Measures for delivery include, improving quality employment and career opportunities in rural areas; assisting the regeneration and repopulation of rural towns and villages and optimising the opportunities from high-speed broadband and technological advances," Ring said Friday.
The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Regina Doherty, provided an update to Cabinet on the state of the labour force
"Thanks to the economic policies pursued by this Government and the job activation measures of my own Department, we now have had 29 consecutive Quarters of decline in the numbers of those unemployed and the greatest number of people at work in the history of the state," Doherty said Friday.
"With 95% of those who are available to work now working, we are at what is statistically considered to be 'full employment'. However, we cannot be complacent. I am currently finalising our Pathways to Work strategy, a framework to ensure that we leave nobody behind and that there are real employment opportunities for the remaining 5% as well as making sure that our labour force is well positioned to respond to the changing nature of work and future economic challenges and developments."
"In particular, I want to introduce tailor-made programmes which will help those groups who have so far found it difficult to access the job market including the over-55s, women who wish to return to the workforce after a prolonged absence and young people who for reasons of confidence or poor experience - are especially challenged or deterred from entering the jobs market," the minister added.