FÁS is both under-appreciated and over-used by the Irish State- TCD Policy Institute Study

Posted on: 14 March 2005

FÁS’s role in contributing to the current positive economic climate has been underestimated, according to a report launched today. Since its inception, FÁS has developed into a highly flexible, multi-functional instrument used by the Irish state to address a myriad of policy problems from hi-tech skill shortages to functional illiteracy. So states the study ‘FAS and Active Labour Market Policy 1985-2004’ by Professor Nigel Boyle, launched by Senator Mary O’Rourke at Trinity College’s Policy Institute. The study argues that FÁS has fundamentally reshaped the architecture of the Irish welfare state. In the absence of alternative mechanisms, FÁS remains the key instrument used by the state to tackle policy problems ranging from under-investment in training by Irish employers to social exclusion. However, the study also suggests that the state’s reliance on ‘quick-fix’ solutions generated by FÁS may have inhibited efforts at more fundamental policy reform of education and social policy in other government departments. The report notes criticisms of FÁS from the education, employers and community sectors. It argues that such criticism is often justified insofar as, for example, employers have been manipulated into paying for an apprenticeship system that FÁS controls while under the framework of the Community Employment scheme, and community organisations have been manipulated into becoming employment/training organisations, increasingly detaching them from their original purposes. Nevertheless, the study notes that FÁS and its activities enjoy widespread support amongst elected politicians. FÁS is supremely well adapted to the highly responsive nature of Irish electoral politics, the report argues. Whilst institutional analysis such as that presented in this paper cannot provide specific policy recommendations, two key issues are highlighted for consideration by policymakers: 1. In the absence of radical institutional change within the Irish public sector, institutions such as FÁS provide an effective, if not optimal, means of addressing policy problems. 2. FÁS is well adapted to the ideological, fiscal, and clientelistic realities of Irish politics. In the absence of other mechanisms to address policy problems ranging from labour market to education and social exclusion issues, it appears that FÁS will continue to play an important role in addressing these policy issues. The study is the 17th in the series ‘Studies in Public Policy’ published by Trinity’s Policy Institute. The series aims to bridge the gap between the academic and professional policy communities and to make a real difference to public policy debate in Ireland. Copies of the report can be obtained from The Policy Institute (www.policyinstitute.tcd.ie). ENDS For further information, please contact: Mr. Nigel Boyle, (author of report) Professor of Political Studies, Pitzer College, Claremont, California 00-1-909-607-3770. Email: nboyle@pitzer.edu Sinead Riordan, Research Co-ordinator, The Policy Institute, TCD Tel: 01-608-3482. Notes for Editors: The Policy Institute is an independent source of public policy research, innovation, advice and evaluation in Ireland. It is based in TCD’s Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Studies.