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Economist hits out at 'amateurish' think-tank over report

A LEADING academic whose politically sensitive report on working families was withdrawn by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has described the think-tank as "amateurish" and has sharply criticised its director.

Prof Richard Tol, an economist who left the ESRI in January, has said he will "never really know" whether political interference was involved in the decision to withdraw a paper which said a large number of working families would be better off on the dole.

Speaking to the Irish Independent yesterday, the Dutch national, who now works in the University of Sussex, said he had not been told why the ESRI withdrew the report.

"They did not tell me what they think is wrong with the report. They just decided to withdraw," he said.

When Prof Tol left the ESRI earlier this year, he lambasted it, saying the institute's independence was compromised because it got so much of its funding from the Government.


Yesterday he reasserted this criticism, saying the latest events confirmed his views. He claimed director Frances Ruane impeded original thinking. His relationship with her prior to his departure had been "strained" he said.

The ESRI countered that claim last night, saying the "sole reason" for withdrawing the paper was the analysis it contained was "seriously flawed".

Prof Tol said that he did not know whether political interference had been behind the move.

But the ESRI insisted: "Any suggestion that the paper was withdrawn because of pressure, of any sort, from government, or any other source, is entirely unfounded."

Prof Tol said he stood fully behind the findings of the report and said the journal which was reviewing the study -- 'The Berkeley Electronic Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy' -- had issues with the flow of the writing in the report but not about the conclusions.

In a statement last night, the ESRI said: "The Working Paper entitled 'The Cost of Working in Ireland' was removed from the ESRI website because senior ESRI researchers, who are experts in this area, concluded that the analysis it contains is seriously flawed.

"Professor Tol did not follow ESRI procedures when submitting the Working Paper, which is how it came to be posted on the website."

Irish Independent