Finance officials tried to get me sacked over criticism -- economist
Published 20/07/2010 | 05:00
A government department has admitted it contacted the employer of a top economist who publicly criticised its performance but denied that officials tried to get him sacked.
The extraordinary behind-the-scenes intervention was revealed by Jim Power, economic consultant with Friends' First, who has been a frequent critic of government policies.
He told the opening day of the MacGill Summer School yesterday that he had "dared to criticise" the Department of Finance 18 months ago for not covering itself in glory.
"They made a formal complaint to my employer and tried to get me sacked, so you dare not criticise the Department of Finance," he said.
Responding, a spokesperson for the department said it merely contacted Mr Power's employers to "find out if his criticisms were being expressed in a personal capacity or on behalf of his company".
The revelation came as Taoiseach Brian Cowen launched a broadside on the media here for its "pervasive negativity" about the economy.
Commenting on the downgrading of Ireland's credit rating by Moody's, Mr Cowen said the National Treasury Management Agency had made it clear that Ireland had a very stable economy.
Professor John FitzGerald, senior economist with the Economic and Social Research Institute, told the school that raising the retirement age was a key requirement, but should be done gradually.
"It needs to be signalled very far in advance. It is going to be really unpopular and probably unfair if you try to do it too rapidly," he said.
Prof FitzGerald predicted that the number of people in consistent poverty, which had fallen during the Celtic Tiger years, was set to rocket because of the rapid rise in unemployment.
To tackle the current crisis, "substantial increases" in taxation were required, but they should be "job friendly".
Prof FitzGerald also argued against the current trend of sweeping cuts. "We need to reform the public service but it will involve cutting more in some areas. That will allow us to keep dealing with key areas in health and education.
"We need an active management of the cut process, not a salami-style approach," he said.
Also calling for the widening of the tax burden, Mr Power told the delegates that fundamental reform of the way taxes were collected was required. "We are now in the situation where half the workforce does not pay income tax. That is an unsustainable situation," he said.