Minister Martin Cullen has spoken of his disappointment with the deepening jobs crisis in Waterford while Senator Paudie Coffey has described the Government as ‘hopeless gawkers’ standing idly by as the situation deteriorates.

“Any job lost is a cruel blow to both the individual and to the family,” said Minister Cullen at the opening of Saint Brigid’s Children Centre last Friday.

“We are in a very difficult situation here in Waterford and indeed nationally as well, and that’s evidenced by the very significant rise in unemployment.”

An incredulous Senator Coffey said the region’s workforce was being obliterated while, in his view, “the Government stands idly by, gawking hopelessly into the future”.

The Fine Gael Senator added: “It is now estimated that one in every 10 people are on the dole and that our unemployment rate is twice that of the economically infamous Iceland. All the while, the Government is standing idly by, devoid of any plan to bring this total economic meltdown to an end.”

Minister Cullen, “glad to be among the living” after the helicopter drama of Monday week last, said the Government was doing all it could to consolidate existing employment.

“Obviously we’ve got to do everything we can to sustain the number of jobs we have and create new jobs where we can,” he continued.

“A lot of the new jobs that we will get will obviously come from small and medium enterprises here in Ireland and we’ll be trying to create resources and funding to support the creation of those jobs.”

The job losses at Bausch & Lomb exercised both Waterford Oireachtas members.

Said Minister Cullen: “For the 195 people that have lost their jobs, it’s a huge blow. Bausch & Lomb, like every other company, are facing significant competitive challenges internationally, of that there’s no doubt.

“It is still one of our major employers – it’s a jewel in the crown here in Waterford and obviously we want to see that company here for the long term.

“The company have announced what they’ve announced but clearly there are challenges for all companies working in Ireland and competing internationally and that is the fundamental problem.”

Reflecting on the B&L losses, Senator Coffey stated: “My heartfelt sympathies go to the workers and their families who are attempting to come to terms with this distressing news and the prospect of long-term unemployment in the absence of any Government action.”

Given our ongoing economic difficulties, Senator Coffey outlined what Fine Gael would do if in power.

“We would waive PRSI on new employees recruited over the next two years to encourage the creation of new jobs,” he began.

“We would set up a Government-backed loan guarantee for viable small and medium enterprises. We would freeze all Government-controlled prices and charges to drive down business costs and immediately cut back on red tape for businesses.

“We would also reverse the VAT hike in Budget 2009, which has resulted in a reduced, not increased, tax take.”

Global ecomonic difficulties had left Ireland in a considerable bind, in Minister Cullen’s view.

“As international markets contract because of the global recession, it’s more and more difficult for all companies to sell their goods and services because there’s no markets there to sell to.

“That’s the real problem at the moment, which is extraordinarily difficult for Ireland because we’re the most open economy in Europe and all of our goods and services are dependant on export trade.”

Putting the world picture to one side, Senator Coffey said the job losses at Bulmers, Bausch & Lomb and the ongoing uncertainty over Waterford Crystal demonstrated the long standing position of the powers that be.

“The south east has been an afterthought for the Government for years but its inability and unwillingness to take even the first step along the road to recovery is frustrating beyond belief,” he claimed.

“In the absence of any clear plan from Fianna Fáil and the Greens, and in the interest of the offering a glimmer of hope to the despairing 357,000 who are taking the hardest hit,the Government should immediately implement Fine Gael’s proposals.”