Today the EU Commission report card on Ireland's economic and social progress is a mixed bag with some improvements in the areas of Government deficit spending and a drop in unemployment levels but significant challenges in areas such as child poverty, long term unemployment, housing provision, access to healthcare, high childcare costs and high debt levels of households and businesses still remain.
Commenting on the release of Country Specific Recommendations issued today by the EU Commission, Independent MEP Harkin said:- "The good news is that Ireland's excessive deficit procedure will be closed as Ireland's general Government deficit was at 2.3% GDP in 2015 bringing it well below the 3% required by the EU treaty. In simple terms while we still borrow to finance our day to day spending, the levels have dropped significantly over recent years and we are now in a more stable position as to our deficit figures.
"However huge challenges remain in many areas. The EU Commission has recommended for the second year running that we pursue measures to incentivise employment by tapering the withdrawal of benefits and supplementary payments. It also calls for the provision of quality affordable full-time childcare.
"Given the high level of debt of many households and businesses, the EU Commission recommends to the Irish Government to put in place measures to lower the level of household debt. A very important recommendation is to encourage lenders to reduce the excessive debt of variable businesses.
"The EU Commission has drawn attention to the fact that the percentage of long term unemployed in Ireland is well above the EU average while the percentage of the population in very low work intensity households is the highest in the EU at 21%. In regard to accessing the jobs market, the EU Commission emphasises the challenge for people with disabilities and carers to access job support services.
"It also points to the fact that the proportion of children at risk of poverty at 30.3% is well above the EU average of 27.8%. It also emphasised the need to address unequal access to primary medical care and called on the Government to further reduce its spending on pharmaceuticals.
"In regard to headline figures, Ireland has made progress but the social implications of austerity and cutbacks are biting very hard in certain sectors and on certain households. The new Government faces many challenges in how it will prioritise its spending and the recommendations from the EU Commission must be seriously considered" Marian Harkin concluded.