Department denies call to sack economist


THE DEPARTMENT of Finance has denied trying to have a senior economist sacked from his job in the commercial sector because he criticised public policy.

Chief economist with the Friends First building society Jim Power told the MacGill Summer School that the department had sought to have him dismissed.

“I dared criticise the Department of Finance 18 months ago and they made a formal complaint to my employer and tried to get me sacked. So you dare not criticise the Department of Finance.”

A department spokesman said last night: “This was certainly not the case.” In a lecture to the MacGill School yesterday, Mr Power said: “The Department of Finance hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory over the last four or five years.”

Prof John FitzGerald of the Economic and Social Research Institute welcomed the Government’s decision to raise the pension age from 65 to 66 from 2014.

“What needs to be looked at is the need to raise the retirement age as well. You need to encourage people to work. Studies done in Britain show that that would do a significant amount in terms of addressing the debt burden in Ireland, because you will simultaneously increase output and reduce outgoings by such a scheme.”

Urging that child benefit be taxed, he said some of the revenue could be used to raise the level of benefit to those who were still receiving it.

“Even with the scant resources, we’ve still wasted them, for example with the car scrappage scheme. If the Government had announced they were going to have a handbag scrappage scheme for Prada handbags, and Prada handbags worth €5,000, if handed in in good condition, would be scrapped and you would have an allowance to buy a new one in Brown Thomas, it would have had exactly the same impact on unemployment in this society as the car scrappage scheme.

“It would have been deeply mad but we still adopted this mad scheme. We don’t build cars in Ireland, we just sell them and drive them,” Prof FitzGerald said.

He said pensioners had done best in the recession. “In some cases, with pensions fixed in nominal terms, with no, or very low, housing costs, and with a major fall in prices, they are actually better off.”

On the issue of leadership in Ireland, former president of the European Parliament Pat Cox said: “If we truly want higher standards then we the people, the citizens of this Republic, must demand and vote for them. We cannot absolve ourselves of all responsibility for the state we are in. “In our national DNA, our accountability gene has not been among our most developed. This state of affairs has been tolerated, at times even supported, by the electorate. What we tolerate we risk becoming.”