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'At that Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting last week it also emerged that the Department of Finance's Brexit unit comprises just four people' (stock photo)

'At that Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting last week it also emerged that the Department of Finance's Brexit unit comprises just four people' (stock photo)

PA

'At that Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting last week it also emerged that the Department of Finance's Brexit unit comprises just four people' (stock photo)

In the modern age, by far the greatest issue facing this country will be the consequences of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union, otherwise known as Brexit, the potential implications of which were outlined in startling terms by the Chief Economist at the Department of Finance at a meeting of the Oireachtas Finance Committee last week.

In an assessment of the economic impact on Ireland of the Brexit scenario outlined in a speech by British PM Theresa May last Tuesday, he said that the emerging Brexit scenario will reduce Ireland's economic output by 3.5pc over five years, result in 40,000 fewer people being employed, increase the national debt by €20bn and reduce exports to the UK by a third.

The focus of attention this weekend is understandably on the United States following the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Friday. From his stated policies, and general rhetoric to date, it is evident that Ireland's economy, and therefore society at large, faces a further threat from events stateside, not least to the pharmaceutical component developed within the country's successful Foreign Direct Investment policy.

It remains to be seen whether the new US President's rhetoric is matched by actual policy, but there is no reason to doubt that he intends to proceed if, not quite with protectionist policies, then certainly with policies which will seek to unpick negotiated international trade agreements which will, ultimately, have consequences for economic policy here.

The Government has gone beyond what some critics have deemed necessary to reach out to and develop a good relationship with the new administration in the US. We do not criticise the Government for its approach. The opposite, in fact: at a time of great uncertainty worldwide and, as a result, here at home, it is right and proper that the Government does everything within its reach to foster and develop such relationships. The safeguarding of this country's economy will not be assured by diplomatic relations alone, however. The Government must be prepared to also do whatever is necessary, whether prudent or radical, in terms of economic policy to meet the challenge that will, almost inevitably, be thrown down by the era of Donald Trump.

The new US President has also shown himself to be a supporter of Brexit, in the process throwing into the air decades of US foreign policy in favour of a developed European Union. His stated position on Brexit is worrying, indeed, but not the most immediate concern to the Government here.

At that Oireachtas Finance Committee meeting last week it also emerged that the Department of Finance's Brexit unit comprises just four people. The Department of Finance is responsible for shaping our economic strategy and has a central role to play in designing and implementing our response to Brexit. In addition, the Secretary General of the Department has confirmed that his overall staffing complement is about 10pc below where it needs to be. This is simply not good enough at a time when we are facing such serious economic challenges.

The standard of economic expertise at the Department of Finance was found to be woefully lacking in various inquiries subsequent to the economic collapse. It would be negligent in the extreme were that still to be the case at a time when the country is facing a challenge, indeed multiple challenges, comparable to if not potentially more grave than the grievous crash from which we have emerged, albeit in a rather lopsided and still unsatisfactory fashion.

Sunday Independent