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Lack of qualified finance staff 'damaging economy'

Just one civil servant in over 600 staff at the Department of Finance has the top-level business qualification -- a PhD in economics.

As the department grapples with issues like the recapitalisation of the banks and a collapse in confidence in the regulatory system, it seems that the minister may be going into complex negotiations without the backing he needs.

Labour Finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said: "He urgently needs to hire some fiscal hit-men if he is serious about getting tough on our banking culture."

Former Taoiseach Dr Garret FitzGerald recently drew attention to the lack of qualifications among staff at the Department of Finance.

"When I was Taoiseach there were 17 economists working in the department. When I last checked a few years ago, there were only three, only one of whom was working on macro-economic issues -- on policy issues relating to the performances of the economy," said Dr Fitzgerald in a column in the Irish Times.

He said that he was raising the issue because of "some very wide margins of error" that had occurred in the government Department's financial forecasts.

Less than 10 per cent of the Department's 614 employees have any qualifications in finance or accountancy.

According to Joan Burton, the lack of qualified people may hamper the department in dealing with the worst recession in the history of the state and the ongoing collapse of the banking system.

Over the last seven years alone its financial forecasts have been wrong by a staggering €20bn.

"The Department has brilliant people who are superb administrators -- but they may not be the sort of people needed for this crisis,'' said Ms Burton.

"Basically we need some sheriffs to sort out the cowboys.'' She also warned that many departmental advisors are "academic economists" who were recruited from college and spent their entire careers in the public service.

"They are very traditional civil servants who are superb political analysts but who have absolutely no experience of dealing with the sort of negotiators the banks are sending in,'' she claims.

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"This has been an absurd, ramshackle and dangerous approach to policymaking," said Dr FitzGerald.

"The absence of an adequate number of qualified staff on the macro-economic side of the Department policy area is indefensible -- and has contributed significantly to our current economic difficulties."

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