'There are long-standing problems in Wexford' - Varadkar shares Wexford TD's employment concerns
Wexford is 'a county of high unemployment which hasn't done as well as it should have for decades'.
Minister Leo Varadkar, responding to a question from Deputy Mick Wallace about the fact that 18 per cent of the workforce in Wexford is on the live register, accepted that trends in the live register can give an indication of underlying trends in unemployment.
Deputy Wallace said that the Government had no problem crowing about a national unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent but were sheepish about acknowledging the live register figure in Wexford, which didn't even take into account the number of people on job activation schemes such as Community Employment, TUS, JobPath etc.
Minister Varadkar said he didn't believe 'that everything is rosy in the garden of Wexford… I appreciate that there are long-standing problems in Wexford. As Deputy Walllace knows, I lived there for a few months while I was a hospital doctor. I got to know the county and liked it a lot. It has a lot to offer. It has not done as well is it should have done for decades now and has a lot of the problems that the Deputy mentioned.'
Speaking after the debate in the Dáil, Deputy Wallace said: 'In fairness to Minister Varadkar, at least he has acknowledged Wexford faces major problems. That's more than any other Minister in this Government or the last has acknowledged. It's a cliche, but the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem and I think the Minister has done that. Given that the Minister has more than 50-50 chance of being the next Taoiseach it might count for something. We'll wait and see.
'Sadly, Wexford is facing the same problems today as outlined in a rural development strategy prepared by Peter Bacon back in 2001. At the time Bacon stated there was evidence of high levels of deprivation and exclusion in Wexford when the trend nationally was for a decline in levels of deprivation and exclusion. Here we are sixteen years later and very little has changed.'
Deputy Wallace also endorsed the Minister for Social Protection's suggestion that more should be invested in Rosslare Port.
Minister Varadkar told Deputy Wallace there was potential for 'Rosslare Port to become a more important sea facility because we may, depending on trade arrangements with Britain, need far more direct links with France.
'We should invest more in Rosslare Port. We are somewhat constrained by EU state aid rules and by the port being attached to Irish Rail. Part of the response to Brexit could be a recognition that if Britain continues on its current course, a transition fund will be needed.
'We will need to look at facilities like Rosslare Port and say that we will need special investment, with the support of the EU, in direct links between the island of Ireland and the Continent of Europe. Perhaps there is an opportunity there which should be pursued.'
Deputy Wallace said it would be wonderful if there was investment in Rosslare Port, but cautioned that it wasn't a complete solution to the county's economic, social and mental health problems.
'Whatever funds the Government have should be diverted towards an autonomous, strong third-level facility for Wexford and/or upgrading our rail and port infrastructure so workers and students can viably commute to Dublin.
'Currently we're spending hundreds of millions building a new courthouse, a new Garda station and roads. I've yet to come across the research that shows a new courthouse contributes positively to a region.'