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Our biggest fear is still fear itself

The president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, claims that Europe is slowly but surely overcoming the debt crisis.

His claim carries very little credibility in the countries worst affected.

Statistics tell us that consumer confidence in Ireland is at a 10-year low. That will surprise nobody; and the reasons are not far to seek. Insecurity has prompted people to hoard money.

Huge numbers devote whatever cash they can gather together to paying off debt.

This does not mean that the economy presents a uniformly gloomy aspect.

Our performance in exports has been brilliant.

There is a good chance that in 2012 we will record a positive growth rate, even if a tiny one.

But after making all possible allowance for the success in exports -- and marked improvements in other areas, such as tourism and agriculture -- the fact remains that the outlook for retail sales and small business generally is doubtful.

Until they recover, we can have no serious hope of conquering unemployment.

The present impasse is not a state of affairs which can be tolerated indefinitely. The Government must set its sights on a real recovery, based to the greatest extent possible on indigenous enterprise.

That means coming up with proposals which are both imaginative and practical -- and survive scrutiny.

Ministers cannot succumb to fear that they will be vetoed by the EU/IMF/ECB "troika".