Thursday 5 December 2019

Truth hurts, but it's staring us in face

THE leaked draft of the European Commission's latest report on the implementation of the bailout suggests that our continental partners have finally lost patience with the Coalition's shilly-shallying on public sector reform.

The draft's tone is much tetchier than previous reports but it is the content that must be provoking cold sweats among senior civil servants and their political masters.

The truth often hurts. What is less often acknowledged is that the truth is also often blindingly obvious. In this case, the truth will undoubtedly hurt our cosseted public service but much of what is said is so obvious that it will cause little surprise to the country's 3.9 million inhabitants who work outside the public sector.

The commission has now made it as clear as possible that it wants the Government to work the Croke Park agreement much harder in order to cut the €15bn pay bill by reducing some salaries, abolishing many benefits and extending working hours. Who, outside the public sector, is likely to disagree?

The commission particularly wants to slash hospital consultants' salaries (which are the highest in Europe) and force the Government to pay less for drugs. Who outside the Irish Medical Organisation and the pharmaceutical companies is likely to disagree?

And who can disagree with the commission's call for new training programmes to replace the creaking, bloated programmes devised and delivered by FAS. Research from the ESRI suggests that some FAS programmes are so bad they actually reduce the chance of participants finding work. The system would be a laughing stock if failure were not so grave.

The year has begun with comforting signs of recovery on the bond markets, the presidency of the European Union and a new debate on abortion. These are all intriguing issues that demand attention but we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted from the big picture. The State is still squandering billions on inflated salaries and an expensive healthcare system while operating a back-to-work scheme that is not fit for purpose.

In between hosting Europe's dignitaries and arguing about the rights of the unborn, the coalition must take painful action to close the deficit and bring the State's finances under control. The commission has done us a favour by reminding us that the solutions are staring us in the face if we have the courage to look.

Irish Independent

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