A senior trade unionist has said that if the Department of Finance had recruited enough skilled specialist staff in areas like economics six years ago, the country might not be facing the current level of cutbacks across the public sector.

Speaking at an IMPACT conference in Portlaoise, national secretary Louise O'Donnell said that as long ago as 2003, the Department of Finance had identified shortages in specialist civil service areas including economics, financial management, pensions, legal skills and statistics.

She claimed, however, that the Department had insisted on recruiting general workers from within the civil service instead of people with specialist skills.

Ms O'Donnell said that despite the union's winning the argument at arbitration, the Department had refused to recruit the specialists it had itself identified as vital to an effective civil service. She accused the Department of responding like a small child in the playground by taking the ball away and going home.

She said she could only speculate as to what contribution the trained economists, pension experts, lawyers and financial mangers would have made in avoiding the economic meltdown that the Department subsequently presided over - and for which she said all workers and citizens of Ireland are now paying a heavy price.

But she said she was sure that if the Department had employed more of the relevant professions to warn and advise at that stage, the country would not be facing what she called the 'slash and burn' policy that is currently being applied across the public sector.

Ms O'Donnell also said that civil service jobs were also under threat. She said that professional civil servants were constantly being let go - not because there was no work for them to do, but because of a blanket decision not to renew fixed-term contracts.