TAOISEACH Brian Cowen yesterday strongly defended his government's record on jobs, insisting that long- term sustainable job-creation could only come about by putting the public finances back in order, fixing the banking system and restoring competitiveness.

"The truth is that the purpose of our entire economic strategy is to sustain and generate jobs. Those who say we can save jobs while allowing financial institutions to fail are closing their eyes to the most basic necessities of a market economy like ours, that is built on international trade and sustained by the free flow of capital and commerce," Cowen told a Fianna Fáil conference in Athlone.

Emphasising the importance of confidence, credit, cost base, foreign investment, infrastructure and small businesses, the Taoiseach also said the government would provide the training and education supports that those who lost their jobs required.

The collapse of the construction sector was the "single most significant factor in the labour market", he said. And finding alternative jobs, in sustainable sectors, would be "the defining challenge over the next few years".

"We are not promising overnight solutions but I can assure you that we are, as a priority, tackling the issue by improving competitiveness, protecting existing jobs and improving the conditions for new jobs to be created," he said.