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Government's time of procrastination must come to an end

It's time to start cutting. Really cutting. There is always a reason in politics to delay taking the difficult decisions. The latest reason is the Lisbon Treaty and fears that severe cuts before the referendum would encourage voters to reject the treaty.

Previously, it was the local and European elections. Other deadlines include NAMA or the latest report on tax cuts.

Any ex-smoker will tell you that there is never a good moment to give up smoking. There's a wedding coming up, or somebody's ill or you've lost your job or you've just got one.

But the truth is that every day's delay is a wasted day.

You've just got to stop.

Especially when you have cancer and the situation may be terminal. We can't keep postponing the inevitable.

The final report from An Bord Snip Nua is due to be presented to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan this week.

The cabinet is certain to reject some of the proposals but with the need to reduce spending by €4bn this year, room for manoeuvre is limited.

The sheer magnitude of the task makes beginning all the harder.

It is time to begin slashing the size of the public sector and wages paid to employees. This should be done through benchmarking and this process should be put in train over the summer and should not be delayed further by summer holidays. It is the same with a property tax. Last week's pathetic attempt to charge a measly €200 per holiday home is ridiculous.

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It's going to be almost impossible to say what a second home is. It can no more be policed than the people who drive foreign-registered cars for years. We simply don't have the technology to do it.

We all know we need a property tax. Let's introduce it immediately and then at least people who want to buy or sell houses will understand the charging mechanism. Right now, it is just one more drag on the dire housing market.

Child benefit is also an area being earmarked for a cut. In its current format, it's an inefficient method of protecting children. It must be scrapped and it will be.

Last week the IMF report concluded that social welfare expenditures must effectively target the vulnerable.

"Means-testing or taxation of child benefit is under discussion," the report said.

With this seal of approval from the IMF, Mr Lenihan can tackle child benefit. But let's not wait until December. If we wait until Budget day, what we are really saying is that we are waiting until the middle of 2010, when many Budget measures finally take effect (such as this week's second-house tax).

By then, it will be far too late.

Martin Luther King once said: "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step."

And it's a message that the Government would do well to heed.

April's emergency budget was a baby step in the right direction but there has been slippage since then. We are in a national emergency. We need to see action every day and every week. But instead, all we are getting is silence.

We must act now.


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