In the typically blunt fashion that is the UCD economist's trademark, Colm McCarthy has delivered a report that is remarkable for the scope of its investigations, but also for the depth of its detail. It is all meat. He has been criticised for coming at his task from a right-wing ideological position. This is simply not the case.

His report is a ruthless exposé of all that has been wrong about the government of this country for the past 10 years, a scathing annihilation of the political expediency that pandered to vested interests in a lost decade of fiscal delusion in which policy was costed on the back of a crony's envelope.

Colm McCarthy's achievement has been to draw a clear and simple picture of how, over the next two to three years, as much as €5.3bn can be cut from what we spend on the public sector. He is no Mr 10%, advocating across-the-board cuts in budgets which in their scattergun fashion also attack the frontline services nobody wants to give up.

He has delved deep into every department, uncovering outdated practices and allowances that had a function at one time, but were never modernised. He has suggested a streamlining of services that is so full of common sense that the real scandal is
why they were never reformed in the first place.

The list of waste, apathy and lack of accountability is endless.

But above all, he shows the taxpayer how poorly the taxes and levies that drain their ability to spend are managed.

The response from various interest groups has been spectacularly uninspiring.

So much of what they say is not about protecting the vulnerable but about protecting themselves. Too often, the logic has been to retain what they have, not to reform what they deliver.

You can't turn a page of this report without finding more reasons to query why we have managed to employ 45,636 more people in the public service in the past seven years. Even the loss of 17,300 jobs that An Bord Snip Nua believes can be shed through natural wastage over the next couple of years still brings us beyond the levels of 2002 when, after all, we thought we were great.

The big question now is: what will Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan do? To govern, as the political cliché goes, is to choose. The government has been given a massive menu from which they can make their selections.

There are landmines everywhere but there's also a lot in there that even
grumpy old socialists won't disagree with.

Brian Cowen says he is committed to a transformation policy in the public
sector. He has every bit of evidence he needs. The urgency of it all cannot be lost on him, despite his own now legendary caution.

It is right that this report now goes to the Oireachtas finance committee. It provides a forum where different groups can voice their concerns about the impact within communities.

Of course not all of this can be implemented because the impact on the vulnerable would be too great. But from here, it should be hoped that we can build some kind of consensus.

There is no doubt that conflicts will arise. Already urban and rural divisions are emerging. The chasm between private-sector and public-sector work practices and pay is exposed with even greater rawness.

With its proposal for a 5% cut in social welfare payments, the debate runs the risk of entering a "deserving versus undeserving poor" mode. Certainly, there are some welfare payments that can be curtailed, checked or stopped altogether, but a wholesale hacking of the allowances and services provided to the bottom third of society in order to appease the sins of an economy directing all its advantage through tax breaks to the wealthy and the opportunistic is not, nor should it ever be, a policy option.

Old-style intransigence, trade union threats of strikes and disruption of public services cannot be tolerated either. Jack O'Connor's initial reacton, labelling the report "a fantasy", is exactly what we don't need.

Unions as well as employees must engage in this process, but carefully and with the honesty of offering viable alternatives, rather than rabble rousing.

The first principle must be that cuts come from the top down. We are a society, not an economy, as the authors of this report would acknowledge. The report is based on numbers and for every number, there are real people whose lives will suffer real consequences

But public finances have to be brought back into order. The hope is that a sensible mix of cutbacks, equitable taxation and, fingers crossed, global growth, will all contribute to the task.

Colm McCarthy has fired the opening salvos in what will be a long debate. His contribution has lit a fire.