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We have to start again to tackle real problems

Once again, Ireland has met the targets set by the troika which supervises the measures taken to meet the terms of the EU-ECB-IMF bailout. But with every favourable report, it grows clearer that the tax-raising and cost-cutting measures implemented so far are inadequate and that our underlying economic situation remains on a precipice.

This emerges with unusual clarity in the separate report issued by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF -- often seen as more sympathetic to Ireland than its EU and ECB partners -- points to our high unemployment rate and calls for ways of minimising this "drag" on demand and consumption. It seeks deeper reforms in health and higher education.

Familiar comments from a familiar source? Yes. Almost as predictable as the IMF's welcome support for the easing of our bank debt, without which economic recovery is unlikely, bordering on impossible.

But some of the specific proposals appear deeply unfair and others could be counter-productive. In more than one instance, the authors do not appear to have taken circumstances peculiar to Ireland into account.

In the Irish case, a cut in state pensions is not appropriate. Certainly pensions here are higher than in many other countries, but most of those countries enjoy superior services.

Reintroduction of third-level fees would do more than impose an extra burden on middle-class parents. It would discourage working-class participation -- and this in a country with a real problem of lack of social mobility. Linking college fees to "costs and earnings potential of courses" sounds plausible, but similar attempts at social engineering do not have a good record.

There are those who argue that the public sector should be the target of more cuts.

Government ministers, however, have shown themselves publicly divided on the substance and the date for renegotiating the Croke Park Agreement. But Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore are at one in their insistence that it is valuable and must not be touched.

There is no doubt that parts of the public service have to be immune from any more cuts. Here we talk about the pay and conditions of our frontline public servants, such as gardai and nurses.

We have already seen a police force stretched to the limit and nurses worked off their feet.

Ministers have to look at other areas of the State's payroll for savings. That in itself requires dynamic thinking and a commitment to radical downsizing.

Outsourcing some roles will help but the overall emphasis must be on leaner services and staffing and cutting out widespread duplication in workloads and mission.

It is worrying that the savings from Croke Park so far have not been as much as expected. Worse, the promised reforms have proceeded at a snail's pace, with very little sign of urgency or radical thinking.

The Government now has no choice but to begin again from where it should have started at least a year ago. It can no longer ignore the evidence that the IMF is worried about its commitment to real reform. What is obvious to our friends in Washington should be obvious in Dublin too.

Irish Independent