Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has hit out at Labour Party Education Spokesperson, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, accusing him of “virtue-signalling” on the issue of youth unemployment.
Speaking in the Dáil, Ó Ríordáin raised the fact that youth unemployment in Ireland now stands at 59%.
“I want to raise with the Tánaiste the issue of youth unemployment,” he said.
“The youth unemployment rate in Ireland now stands at 59%, which means that for every five young people in Ireland, three of them have no job.
The EU average is 17%. It is considered to be extremely high in Spain at 40%, while in the UK, the rate is 14%.
“I am sure the Tánaiste will agree that young people have been unfairly targeted over the course of this pandemic…Our fear in the Labour Party is that we are losing a generation again, as we did ten years ago…The Government needs to take this issue seriously.”
“I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin for raising this issue, which is really important to him and really important to me too,” replied Varadkar.
“It is true young people have suffered a lot in this pandemic. Different people and different sectors in our society have suffered in different ways. Women have suffered differently from men, and older people have suffered differently from young people.
“Certainly, when it comes to the health impact, older people have borne the brunt of this pandemic in terms of lives lost and people hospitalised or made very sick as a result of the virus but the economic impact has fallen disproportionately on younger people in terms of jobs lost.”
The Tánaiste went on to say that Ó Ríordáin’s figures on youth unemployment were “not correct”.
“Deputy Ó Ríordáin said in his opening remarks that we have 59% youth unemployment, meaning that three out of five younger people are out of work – but that is not correct. We calculate youth unemployment in a particular way in Ireland and do not include people who are in education or training.
“When we say that 59% of young people are unemployed, that does not mean that 59% of all young people are unemployed. It means that 59% of young people who are in the workforce are unemployed, or 59% of young people who are not in education or training.
“Of course, a very large number of them are out of work because they would have tended to work in areas like retail, construction and hospitality, most of which will re-open, we hope, over the next couple of months. Typically, youth unemployment is double the older people rate but that is actually not what it seems because of the way it is calculated.”
At this point, Ó Ríordáin shot back that youth unemployment was clearly “not a priority” for the Tánaiste, because his tweets hardly mentioned the issue since January.
“I know this is not a priority for the Tánaiste because I took the time last night to go through every single one of his tweets this year,” said Ó Ríordáin.
“Since January 2021, the number of times he mentioned youth unemployment came to the grand total of zero, while the number of times he referenced Sinn Féin came to a grand total of 12.
“If I was a young person in Ireland, I would come to the conclusion that the Tánaiste’s obsession is not with young people, youth unemployment, getting people jobs and saving this generation, but with a political game with Sinn Féin.”
Varadkar responded that this was a “cheap shot” and an example of “virtue signalling.”
“I just think that is a very cheap shot,” he said.
“The Deputy once again is engaging in virtue signalling, trying to make out that not only do we disagree with each other, he is also a better person than me and he cares more. That is just cheap politics, I believe. The number of times one tweets about something is not necessarily a reflection of how important one regards it.
“If the Deputy wants, he can go back and read a speech I gave to the Young Fine Gael conference only last Saturday. A large section of that speech specifically dealt with this issue, namely, how young people have been impacted by the pandemic and what we intend to do. It was covered in the media and the fact that it was not tweeted is irrelevant. That was just a cheap shot, unfortunately.”