Slow grind of system revealed in report

Sat, Aug 25, 2012, 01:00

There is frustration among the troika at the pace of change in how jobless are assisted

WHEN, ON a Friday afternoon in August, a ministry releases lots of documents that have not been flagged in advance to the media, one could be forgiven for suspecting that ministry might not want the contents to be given excessive scrutiny in the press.

In Ireland, such an occurrence is as likely to be a cock-up as a conspiracy, so poor is media “strategy”. Usually, it simply never occurs to Government press officers to do something as radical as informing the press that important events are coming up.

And so it was yesterday. In the afternoon, the latest quarterly revision to the terms of Ireland’s EU-IMF bailout was published by the Department of Finance. It came out of the blue.

Among the sheaf of documents are three reports and two letters to the troika members from the Minister of Finance and the governor of the Central Bank.

The trick in interpreting these documents is to compare them with the previous quarters’ versions to see what has changed, such as whether new conditions have been included or existing ones removed.

The changes from quarter to quarter are usually small, and most are not of great significance. That reflects the generally good relationships between the troika on the one hand and the Irish political and administrative system on the other.

If there are contentions, they are less because the troika doesn’t trust the Irish side to do what has been agreed – as has been the case so notoriously in Greece – and more to do with how slowly the system here moves.

A case in point is the manner in which the jobless are helped and pressurised to seek work, via the training and welfare systems. The current set-up is an antediluvian disaster zone, light years from the intelligently designed systems of our northern European counterparts. It is very slowly – four years into a jobs crisis – beginning a modernisation process that will see it help people in their job searches rather than just mindlessly dispensing cash to benefit recipients.

There is no little frustration among the troika at the pace of change. That was evident in the yesterday’s version of the memorandum of understanding, the troika document setting out the schedule of reforms to be implemented and targets met.

These include the introduction of one-stop shops for jobseekers so that they don’t have to waste their time going to one office for benefits and another for training and job-search advice. Another is the insistence that those being supported by the State engage with it or face a cut in benefits.

Every one of the measures and targets that were set down in the last memorandum for April-June were rolled over to the July- September period in the latest version. The repetition is designed to maintain reform momentum. To add to the momentum, some new measures were included too.

If – and it remains a big if, despite the successful re-entry to the bond market – Ireland exits the bailout on schedule at the end of next year, the pressure the troika exerts to push ahead with reforms will disappear.

The reform-minded in the system will lose vital allies. The risk is that an already slow pace of reform will slow further. Or grind to a halt.

The full MoU document can be read on www.irishtimes.com

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