I am delighted to speak on the Microenterprise Loan Fund Bill which is a welcome addition to the work we must do to increase the number of people who are back in employment.
Deputy Buttimer remarked that there are not many Opposition Members present. I recall Deputy Wallace mentioning on a number of occasions when he stood to speak in the Chamber that there were no Members present to listen to him. I assume he is at his VAT free wine bar tonight looking at us on a screen, but we will keep going.
I welcome that the Minister is providing funding and that, most important in that regard, he will able to leverage additional funding associated with it from the European Investment Fund. I welcome also that the Minister has involved the county enterprise boards. As a former member of a county enterprise board I thought the work they were doing was extremely worthwhile in grant aiding small businesses to get up and running.
I would like the Minister to take on board the following proposal regarding young people, which he might bring forward in an amendment. Statistics show that 33% of young people, those under the age of 25, are unemployed. They are a vital sector for the future of the country but with 33% of them unemployed we must examine ways in which we can get them back to work. Many of those young people have entrepreneurial skills. It is a well known fact that since 2008 when figures were prepared there has been a 50% drop in the number of young people who got involved in small enterprises who have shown they have entrepreneurial skills. What is the reason for that 50% drop? Is it because banks have ceased lending to young people and are not willing to take a risk with young people with good ideas? Prior to 2008 banks were taking risks with those young people. Some of them will fail and some will progress, and as a result the banks are reducing the amount of money they are lending to young people with good ideas. The result is a 50% drop in the number of young people starting up their own enterprises. What can we do to return to the number that pertained in 2008? Would it be possible to ring-fence some of the fund that will be available to microenterprises specifically for people under 25 years of age? I will give the Minister a good reason for doing that.
The county enterprise boards run a student enterprise scheme. In recent years thousands of young students and entrepreneurs participated in that scheme. Only last year, Tara Haughton from Kildare set up a company, RossoSolini. The female Members present will be familiar with shoes that have red coloured soles. She came up with that idea and luckily secured finance to pursue it through the county enterprise board. If she was not able to access finance from that source, she would have been unable to export 65,000 pairs of those coloured sole stick-ons. It is people like her for whom we should be providing funding.
The Young Entrepreneur Competition is excellent for people in third level education and below. Some 2,500 young people participated in that scheme last year. To reduce the number of unemployed people under the age of 25, it would be helpful if some of the funding available under the microfinance scheme could be ring-fenced specifically for young people under the age of 25. I hope the Minister will consider bringing forward an amendment in that respect.