Údarás na Gaeltachta: total wage bill of €8.5m for 112 people

THE number of people employed in companies which were assisted by government agencies declined by 148 during the height of the boom, despite expenditure of more than €500m during the period.

According to the annual reports of Údarás na Gaeltachta, the number of jobs in companies which were in receipt of grant assistance fell from 8,183 in 1999 to 8,026 by 2007, the year before the recession began.

During the same period, Údarás spent massive amounts of taxpayers' money, expending significant sums in grant aid and building work.

It has also come under criticism for other aspects of its expenditure, which included €170,000 in overseas travel over just two years, as revealed by the Sunday Tribune in May of this year.

An analysis of its annual reports for more than 10 years shows that investment throughout the Celtic tiger years did bring jobs to the Gaeltacht but the numbers employed in Údarás-assisted companies did not change significantly.

Ironically, the latest year for which figures are available shows a small rise in the number of jobs to 8,193, as figures for part-time jobs were "aggregated into full-time equivalent figures".

Tom Fitzgerald, the head of Gaeltacht firm Bard na nGleann, said his research of the figures showed that Údarás had made "no impact" during the boom. "The bottom line for me is that over a 10-year period, when the rest of the Irish job market grew by more than 35%, Údarás was actually losing jobs in that time period," he said.

"Pure overflow from the rest of the economy would dictate that the number of jobs in the Gaeltacht would grow by 5% to 10% but obviously that did not happen.

"The problem it seems to me has been a total lack of strategy or tactical approach on how to build a Gaeltacht or regional economy.

"Their goal is to fill 800 jobs a year and oftentimes they have relied on unreliable jobs to fill those numbers with a particular push towards call centres, which were notorious for being easy-in and easy-out of the economy.

"There was a lot of money available and it did not seem to matter how much money was received; it was not making any long-term impact."

Údarás defended its performance during the Celtic tiger era by saying it had consistently met targets on job creation while conceding the Gaeltacht had at times been hit hard by a decline in manufacturing.

Average salaries at Údarás na Gaeltachta have shown a significant rise, with the average pay at the agency climbing from below €40,000 to above €70,000 in less than a decade

The body, which would benefit from its rural location and a consequent lower cost of living for employees, now pays a mean salary of €75,893 and has a total wage bill of €8.5m for just 112 people.

Údarás na Gaeltachta was the subject of sharp criticism in a report prepared by the Department of Finance for the work of An Bord Snip Nua.