Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has been likened to Margaret Thatcher after claiming the dole has become a lifestyle choice for some school leavers.
Sinn Fein said the Labour minister's comments were akin to those of Britain's Conservative prime minister during the recession-hit 1980s. An unemployed support group and opposition politicians also rounded on Ms Burton, claiming those out of work faced few job prospects.
Aengus O Snodaigh, Sinn Fein's social protection spokesman, accused the Labour Party of abandoning its working-class roots.
He said: "The comments of Joan Burton over the weekend in which she described dependence on social welfare as a lifestyle choice were outrageous and another example of the Labour Party moving to the right. It was like listening to Margaret Thatcher during the 1980s."
The unemployment rate stands at 14.2%, with 457,948 people signing on for benefits last month.
Ms Burton said she was trying to end the situation where young people leave school without qualifications and end up forced to rely on the dole.
She told RTE Radio: "I meet the mothers of young people and particularly young men who end up slipping out of the school system, who end up with short-term jobs and end up then actually being on social welfare. I don't think that that particular lifestyle is good for anybody."
Socialist TD Joe Higgins said: "The statement by the alleged Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, that young people are choosing to go on the dole as a 'lifestyle choice' is an arrogant and gratuitous insult to a generation cruelly betrayed by the current economic system and totally let down by a government that is floundering in face of the need to create tens of thousands of new jobs."
The Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed said those out of work faced a lack of choice.
Policy officer Brid O'Brien said: "I think it's an extraordinary statement given the fact that we've so few jobs."