News Editorial

Friday 29 August 2014

Editorial: Time EU Commission got off our backs

Published 14/06/2014 | 02:30

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Minister for Finance Michael Noonan pictured at Government Buildings
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan pictured at Government Buildings

The European Commission's obscure approach to assessing Ireland's budgetary position is hardly helping the Government in reassuring the public there is less austerity on the horizon. Known for preferring to under-promise and over-deliver, Finance Minister Michael Noonan has been upbeat in his early assessment that less than €2bn of cutbacks will be required in next year's budget for the country to meet the required deficit reduction target. Mr Noonan has added the caveat that the final figure is dependent upon Exchequer figures as the clock ticks down to the October delivery of Budget 2015.

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Nonetheless, the Finance Minister was conceding no such ground this time last year so he is clearly confident of continued progress in the public finances. Not only is the Department of Finance showing uncharacteristic optimism, but the country's leading independent economic thinktank, the ESRI, also feels a lesser adjustment will be adequate.

The Fiscal Advisory Council is also supporting the Department of Finance figures. Along comes the European Commission with its first inspection report sincer the bailout on Ireland saying the Government needs to make an adjustment of more than €2bn in the next budget if it is to bring the deficit below 3pc of GDP.

In a classic example of overly administrative bean-counting, the European Commission is employing a different approach.

The European Commission said talk of cutting taxes or hiking spending can create expectations that may be "difficult to manage". The Government has dismissed the European Commission's claim that tax rises and spending cuts should go further than the €2bn already pencilled in for the Budget.

But the Department of Finance explained the Commission is basing its projections on different economic forecasts from the Government. The Government has consistently hit deficit reduction targets, resulting in the exit from the bailout.

The overarching budgetary strategy remains to reach the 3pc of GDP deficit target. Despite the political walloping of the local and European elections, there is no change in this regard.

When there is no sign of the Government straying from these targets, the European Commission could do with cutting the Coalition some slack.

HEALTH IS TOO IMPORTANT TO SETTLE FOR SECOND BEST

Complaining is a healthy activity, Ombudsman Peter Tyndall has assured us. And if more of us complained about public hospitals, they would be even healthier places. The logic is that public institutions will learn from their mistakes and put things right. It seems that as a nation we need his assurance because his experience to date is that the volume of grievances he is getting about the health service is too low.

So why are more of us not bringing our grievances to the Ombudsman? Could it be that the HSE has such a poor reputation for customer relations that people feel there is little point in raising issues? Are they admitting defeat too early on? Others may feel grateful to the hospital staff who cared for them and fear they will be caught up in any action that may follow.

Whatever the reasons, the Ombudsman is convinced it is not because our health service is any better than its counterparts abroad. His wide-ranging investigation will look at how public hospitals across the State manage and investigate complaints from patients and their families.

Significantly, his staff will also do site inspections of selection hospitals and interview frontline and senior staff. The entire exercise is sure to yield valuable information and is long overdue. The Ombudsman has considerable powers and it is good to see his office use them in a proactive manner, rather than waiting for the complaints to come to him first.

Irish Independent

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