Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams drew attention to the alarming rise in unemployment in Westmeath when he visited the county this week.
Speaking in Athlone on Wednesday evening, Mr Adams said that figures released last week indicate that the public finances are in freefall.
"In one year alone unemployment in Westmeath has nearly doubled. Unemployment figures for the county in February 2008 were 4,574. In January of this year that figure had risen to 8,042. In February that figure was 8,620. That is nearly 600 jobs lost in just one month!” said Mr Adams.
"We need to remember that these are not just mere statistics but real people who have families to care for and financial commitments to meet. Due to the policies pursued by the present government these commitments often include exorbitant mortgages and astronomical childcare costs.”
The Sinn Fein president said his party has been calling for ‘business starter centres’ to be established in the county’s towns in order to provide much-needed employment.
"Many people in towns such as Mullingar are forced to commute to work in Dublin every day. Counties like Westmeath need a government-led strategy to provide employment here in the county itself.
"Sinn Féin has called for business starter centres to be established in towns such as Athlone and Moate to help restore employment in Westmeath. But this has to be part of a much wider drive to create and retain jobs. Action by the Government is key to this,” he said.
Mr Adams said that the Government's budget last October had done nothing to stimulate the economy nor protect and create jobs, and that the number one priority should be retaining and creating jobs.
“We need a plan to hold onto or create the 1,000 jobs a day that are being lost. We need to fast-track business start-ups. We need to develop our indigenous export market.
"It is time to provide hope and opportunity at this time of economic uncertainty. The Government needs to act but it is failing to do so. If it cannot do the job it should step aside."
The Sinn Féin leader, who has come in for some criticism following his response to this week’s killings in Northern Ireland, also took the opportunity to express his hopes for the future of the peace process there.
“The recent attacks on the peace process have created an unprecedented degree of unity between political parties in the North. I am confident, that without minimising the challenges, the popular resolve will prevail and that the process of change will continue.
“A similar approach is needed to tackle the economic crisis. This means that those parties who have an alternative vision for the future should forge an alliance for political change based on values of fairness and decency.”
Mr Adams attended a number of engagements in Athlone on Wednesday evening and in Mullingar on Thursday.