The Irish Times view on the economic recovery plan: an outlook filled with uncertainty

Government must deliver on its promise to put in new and extensive supports to help people who have lost work permanently to get back into employment

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan launching the Economic Recovery Plan in the courtyard of Dublin Castle on Tuesday. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan launching the Economic Recovery Plan in the courtyard of Dublin Castle on Tuesday. Photograph: Julien Behal Photography

 

The Government’s plan for economic recovery is an important step for the Coalition, providing some clarity on what’s ahead after the pandemic, or at least after its most serious phase. Inevitably it must be couched in terms that involve some uncertainty. We can hope that the worst of the restrictions are behind us, but we cannot be sure and the Government is correct to frame its strategy with this in mind.

The Covid-19 emergency supports were, as the name suggests, always going to be temporary. The strategy to start winding them down in the autumn is reasonable, as is the commitment to continue them in reduced form up to the end of the year. If restrictions have to be reimposed, a rethink might be necessary. And the Government must deliver on its promise to put in new and extensive supports to help people who have lost work permanently to get back into employment.

Businesses will welcome the continuation of wage subsidies and a range of other supports, including new sectoral programmes and restart assistance. The Government faces a difficult job in helping viable companies to restart and rehire – the reality is that while most will succeed, there are some that will not. In some cases this will be because of changes in their sectors, with patterns of demand and spending unlikely to return to previous levels. There will be new opportunities, but also sectors which face ongoing problems.

The Government has spent heavily over the past year and this will continue, albeit on a reduced basis. Spending big was the right approach, even if withdrawing support is difficult and contentious. The document provides some pointers to longer-term strategy in areas like transport and the environment and to the likelihood of greater social protections post-pandemic.

There are also pointers about how these might be paid for. The Government hopes that a quick rebound in the economy may help to allow the pandemic debt to be managed in the years ahead. However, funding will be needed for new social supports and for permanently higher spending in areas like health and social protection. There are suggestions of a rise in PRSI payments and details will be announced today of a reform of the local property tax, leading to a slightly higher yield. The latter, while it will lead to controversy, is an overdue reform and underpins a widening of the tax base introduced after the last crisis.

Missing from the plan is a wider strategy for the public finances. This may come in the Summer Economic Statement from the Department of Finance. The new commission on welfare and tax, due to report next summer, also has a big agenda. There is some shape starting to appear on the post-pandemic economic agenda. Let’s hope now that the prospects for this can be boosted by a relatively smooth reopening.

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