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Now we're back to the future

SO we are to find out, early next month, precisely how the Government intends to get the public finances under control and to bring down exchequer borrowing to 3pc of GDP by 2014.

In effect, we will learn the details of Budgets 2011, 2012 and 2014.

It is a tantalising prospect, and not a little intimidating, but it is much better to know the hard facts and the Government will simply be responding to repeated calls, from at home and abroad, for greater transparency.

We have known the big, headline figures that will have to be raised in three more tough Budgets, but the Government has been under pressure for some time to spell out exactly how those vast sums will be raised and saved.

Both the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, in recent months, have called on the Government to provide more clarity. Most recently, the markets showed their scepticism about the Government's bank reform plans and its will to impose austerity measures over two weeks in which bond interest rates rose to new highs.

Consequently, the National Treasury Management Agency has ceased borrowing for the time being, confident that the country is sufficiently funded until the middle of next year.

Yesterday the Minister for Finance revealed that detailed measures would be published in a few weeks time as part of a four-year budgetary plan.

This is a unique move for an Irish Government, given that it will offer hostages to political fortune and present opposition parties with a ready-made shopping list. In effect, the Government is being forced to show its hand.

The move will also impose some realism on an opposition that may find itself in government next year, perhaps even at a time when the country has to resume borrowing. The markets would not look kindly on a softening up of a clearly defined recovery plan. When opposition spokespersons inevitably criticise the austerity measures to be announced next month, they will have to bear in mind that they may soon be called upon to provide their own alternatives.

Some called it Black Thursday, but yesterday may turn out to have been a true turning point, the day on which the Government laid its cards on the table.

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