This year's pre-Budget statement from the Fiscal Council opens on a positive note - and largely stays that way throughout 30 pages of analysis. With a new Finance Minister and a new Fiscal Council Chairman, there is almost a sense of a fresh start. 

The buoyant mood is evident from line one, which says substantial progress has been made in moving the public finances to a safer position, with a likely return to a balanced budget next year, a downward trajectory for public debt and near term interest rates, and favourable growth prospects.

But don't be fooled by the tone - the key messages are still the same - Ireland is still a very high debt country, and there is a continuing need to keep moving the public finances to safer ground. The good news is that the conditions for doing that have not been better since the start of the crisis.  Indeed of the visible threats, only political decisions can screw things up now.

Yes, there is the threat of a Brexit shock that is even harder than the hard Brexit scenario already baked into the Government's budget plans. But the Fiscal Council seem to see a more immediate danger in a relaxation of fiscal discipline by way of an "in year" spending increase (supplementary estimate we used to call them) in this year's budget (i.e. Budget 2017, not the one being announced next week).  

Similar spending boosts were injected into the economy (mostly by way of the health service) in 2015 and 2016. They breached the fiscal rules - but not by enough to get the Government pinged by the European Commission. They also slowed down the rate at which the public finances came into balance. It's a matter of judgement which route was the best to take, and ultimately (and rightly) politicians make the decisions.  But the Fiscal Council argues that a third breach of the rules would probably be more significant, and would probably attract some form of negative response from Brussels.

It is also worth pointing out (as the Council does) that recent data indicates the rate of growth in Government spending (excluding interest on the public debt) - at 4.9% in the first half of this year - is now growing faster than the rate of growth in Government revenues, which went up by 1.9% in the same period. 

Much more importantly, however, they argue it would be entirely un-necessary. So well is the economy doing that there is no need for Government stimulus. And sticking to the fiscal rules over the course of the budget plans set out to 2021 will result in a big increase in spending anyway. And it will simultaneously lead to a further improvement in public debt ratios and the balancing of the books after a decade of deficits.

The Fiscal Council says public investment spending - the Capital Programme as it is usually called - is set to ramp up quite rapidly in the budget period 2016 - 2021 from €4.2 billion in 2016 to €7.8 billion in 2021.  And not all of this money has been committed to projects, so there will still be new things for the government to announce before the money is locked off.  

Is this a big deal? Well the Fiscal Council makes the following point: "As a share of either government spending or revenues, this would imply public spending in Ireland moving from relatively low levels to among the highest in the EU. The investment increase would be achieved while complying with the fiscal rules in future years". 

So the key message is to stick to the framework or rules and plans that have already been set out - because they are working. And because they offer a way out of a long running problem that has dogged the Irish state - the boom-bust nature of public investment. 

The economists call it a "pro-cyclical pattern" - the Government ramps up spending when it has more money, then cuts back when there is a recession. 

Economists have long argued it should do the opposite, and act as a counter weight during economic downturns (hence the term "counter-cyclical policy). We all heard calls for fiscal stimulus (i.e. Government spending) during the crisis.  But there was a crisis, in part, because the Government had been stimulating a booming economy, and had nothing left in the cupboard when the downturn came. 

That's why it is interested in the much talked of "Rainy Day Fund".  It is intended as an instrument to cream off some of the Government's booming revenues and hold them back until there is a downturn, so there is money in the kitty to finance a stimulus, and absorb the shock. 

This would help to smooth out Government spending programmes (particularly in long term projects typical of capital spending), to avoid the worst effects of boom-bust budgeting. During the last crisis, current spending was cut by 7%, but capital spending was cut by 57% - mainly in the transport and housing areas. (Then we wonder why there are not enough houses as we sit in the traffic jams to and from work).

"The Rainy Day fund could make a useful contribution to more sustainable growth and prudent management of the public finances", says the Fiscal Council. But with details in even shorter supply than the British position on Brexit, the Fiscal Council wants the Government to publish an account of how it will operate on or before budget day. 

In particular it wants to know how the Fund will work with the Fiscal Rules (can the Government actually spend the money when it needs to without running afoul of any rules), and also exactly how much is going to go into it. The Spring Economic Statement says it will be half a billion a year (a halving of the original plan, to divert more money into capital spending).  But the Council asks if this means the fund will be €1.5 billion at the end of three years, or does each half billion go into the base for the following year's budget (so €0.5 billion, plus €1 billion plus €1.5 billion equals €3 billion by 2021.  This is not a trivial question).

But of course it wouldn't be a proper Fiscal Council report without a warning about the true nature of the debt position, and this year the Council has been helped by the introduction of GNI Star (or GNI* as they write it).

This was the statistical antidote to Leprechaun economics, designed to strip out the distorting effects of foreign companies and their tax and accountancy practices, which are all lumped into the Irish economy as measured by GDP.  Measured by GNI*, the Irish economy is roughly one third smaller than the economy measured by GDP.  Which means the debt to GDP ratio understates the real size of the debt relative to the economy that is trying to service it.

Using GNI star as the guide, the Fiscal Council finds Ireland has the fourth highest debt ratio in the OECD, with only Portugal, Japan and Italy owing more as a share of the economy. Using the GDP measure we come in at number 9 in the OECD list, below Britain, France and the US.

To emphasise the point - and raise some questions about the Government's long term debt target of 45% of GDP, announced in the last budget (i.e significantly below the Maastricht upper limit of 60% of GDP) - the Fiscal Council have done a handy comparison box using 2016 data to show debt levels in GDP and GNI*.  

Thus a Maastricht compliant 60% debt ratio is actually a rather troubling 87.4% of GNI*. A 55% GDP ratio translates into 80% of GNI* and even the 45% target is still 65.6% of GNI*. And if GNI* really is a truer measure of the Irish economy's ability to service debt, then those economists who argued at the height of the crisis that a small open economy needs a debt ratio below 30% of GDP, may have been onto something.  Remember, on this the week of the tenth anniversary of the Northern Rock bank run, that Ireland went into the crisis with a debt to GDP ratio of 26%. The state had quite a lot of headroom for borrowing. It used all of it.  It still wasn't enough.

That's why, with the prospects of an even harder Brexit than the hard Brexit scenario baked into the Department of Finance planning over the horizon, the Fiscal Council argues that the best way to Brexit proof the public finances is to ensure they are resilient, and can absorb shocks without having to resort to drastic cutbacks. Or to modify the Charlie McCreevy dictum - when I have it, I'll put a bit aside, so I can spend it when nobody else has it to spend.