Tempers flared at a Carrick Town Council meeting over the Government’s controversial Gateway jobs scheme for unemployed people when a Sinn Fein councillor denounced it as “slave labour”.
SF Cllr David Dunne and Independent Cllr Patsy Fitzgerald locked horns in the Council Chamber over the merits of the job placement scheme.
Cllr Dunne tabled a motion calling for the local authority not to get involved in Gateway because he claimed it “forced” long-term unemployed people to do 19.5 hours council work a week for just €20 on top of their dole.
He said he opposed the scheme as a trade unionist and shop steward and described it as “slave labour”.
Cllr Fitzgerald responded that Cllr Dunne should be addressing the meeting as a councillor and not as a trade union official.
Cllr Dunne shot back that he was very disappointed with Cllr Fitzgerald and accused him of being “very facetious” in his comments towards him at council meetings.
Cllr Fitzgerald rejected the Sinn Fein councillor’s claim that Gateway was tantamount to “slave labour”. He said the same regulations applying to Community Employment Schemes also applied to Gateway. He was involved with CE schemes since 1981 and participants were delighted to get the training they received on them.
He singled out the Solas Local Training Initiative in the town where people received training in horticulture and some had progressed to Kildalton Agricultural College.
“We have a list of people waiting to come and join our projects and if we had the money from the Government we could run another three to four projects in the town. People want to be doing something and have something on their CV,” he argued.
Cllr Dunne said Cllr Fitzgerald was talking about schemes that he (Cllr Dunne) admired and supported. He claimed that unlike CE, Gateway wasn’t providing any training and was just “massaging” the dole figures. People on the dole were simply doing 19.5 hours Council work for €20 alongside Council staff. “I don’t think anybody here would work for less than €1 an hour,” he declared.
The Council didn’t vote on the motion after Town Clerk Michael O’Brien advised them that any vote would be non-binding on the Town Council. Retired Town Council workers Cllr Richie O’Neill supported Cllr Dunne’s criticisms of the scheme but other councillors joined Cllr Fitzgerald in supporting it though some agreed participants should be paid more for their work.