Sunday 21 December 2014

Editorial: Tough decisions remain despite positive outlook

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan

IT was impossible to escape positive economic news yesterday. The Central Bank raised its forecast for economic growth to 2.5pc this year as part of an upbeat assessment of the economy that harked back to the Celtic Tiger days. Finance Minister Michael Noonan reiterated that his Budget will be mild and spoke of repaying debts to the International Monetary Fund early to save money. Ryanair posted bumper profits and promised a special dividend to shareholders.

Elsewhere, retail sales for the first six months of the year showed solid growth thanks to car and furniture sales while visits from abroad continue to increase as economies in the UK and US expand at a fair clip. A sign of this economic confidence could be found in a report by rating agency Standard & Poor's which concluded that house prices in Ireland grew faster than in any other country it examined in Europe last year.

Ireland is in a sweet spot right now. Years of austerity here and in our biggest markets such as Britain are beginning to pay off. As a small trading nation, we are well poised to benefit as the global economy picks up steam.

The temptation to ease off the austerity is almost irresistible. We have seen plenty of examples of this in recent days. Hospital consultants look set for massive salary increases that will once again ensure they are the best paid in the world, while the ESB has cancelled the sale of assets promised to the troika. The Government, meanwhile, seems determined to tinker with the property tax ahead of the 2016 elections.

This rapid unwinding of austerity is unwise at many levels. The global economy remains fragile and exposed to political or economic shocks. The tragedies in the Middle East and Ukraine are just the latest reminder of how vulnerable we are to outside events. Closer to home, we need to continue to make difficult reforms if we are to fix our economic and political systems. To relax now, to slide back into the old ways of doing things, would be a terrible mistake that could quickly undo all the progress which has been made so far. The Government faces plenty of hard choices. Improvements in the economic outlook should not be used as an excuse to duck these choices.

Callely sentence is a victory for accountability

THE jailing of former Minister of State Ivor Callely is a personal tragedy. It is also a rare victory for the public interest and open government. It was a Freedom of Information request that uncovered Mr Callely's unsophisticated crime of fraudulently claiming mobile phone expenses while he was a member of the Seanad.

And although Mr Callely's five-month jail term may appear at first blush to be harsh, Judge Mary Ellen Ring's carefully constructed sentence captures the harm inflicted on the public interest by a former senior politician.

For decades, politicians and others who occupy special positions of trust – such as financiers and solicitors – appeared to be untouchable.

Only a handful of elected officials, including former Fianna Fail Minister Ray Burke, have been jailed.

The six-month sentence for tax offences handed down in 2005 to Mr Burke was described by then Tanaiste Mary Harney as a watershed in Irish life.

Mr Callely's crimes are perhaps not comparable to Mr Burke's.

But Judge Ring, who sought guidance from the prosecution and defence in advance of her sentence, was correct to home in on the breach of trust at the heart of Mr Callely's fraud.

The judge found that the fact Mr Callely was a senior politician at the time of the offence was an aggravating factor.

She was right to do so.

Politicians are elected to make laws, not break them and they must – because of the trust and privilege they enjoy – be held to a higher standard when that trust is broken.

Irish Independent

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