Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen has said he is extremely concerned that the government is neglecting the employment crisis in the Midland region after the latest Live Register figures revealed that it was the only region to record an annual percentage increase in the number of people signing on.

Deputy Cowen said: “The figures from the CSO today show an increase of over 500 people signing on the Live Register in the Midlands in December to over 33,300. While the annual increase is very marginal at 0.2% it shows there is no clear progress being made on tackling the jobs crisis in the region.

“I was part of a cross-party delegation that met Minister Richard Bruton last year who conceded that the Midlands region was playing second fiddle to the cities when it came to attracting investment but it’s up to the government and the state agencies to counter that with state investment and stronger promotion of the region.

“IDA visits to the region for investment potential have been going down gradually in recent years and there is genuine concern that the region is being left behind. I also believe the loss of the contract for Irish Water to Bord Gáis, as opposed to being awarded to Bord na Mona, was also a major blow to confidence in the midlands.

“Despite all the headline-grabbing action plans and jobs initiatives by the government over the past 18 months, Fine Gael and Labour have failed dismally to make any dent in the jobs crisis. Most worryingly, long term unemployment has got considerably worse across the country and we know from bitter experience the scar that this can leave on society and the economy.”

Deputy Cowen concluded: “The Taoiseach has indicated that the Cabinet will discuss its jobs strategy at the end of this month. In light of the evidence in the latest CSO report the Midlands must be a major part of any new approach the government takes. All Ministers need to agree a change in direction on tackling unemployment that is focused on bringing about new jobs in communities across the Midlands and around the country.”