The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has been a paragon of fiscal responsibility for many years. In fact, the very reason for its existence has been to uphold all that is good and responsible in the management of the public finances.

The legislation which established it is actually called the Fiscal Responsibility Act (2012). 

It's the guardian of the fiscal rules incorporated into our Constitution, following a referendum in the darkest days of the financial crisis.

In recent years, it shone a forensic light on overspending in health and regularly needled the Minister for Finance for not salting away more of what it considered exceptional, and therefore windfall levels, of corporation tax.

Early into the start of the Covid-19 crisis, the European Commission pulled the 'general escape clause', which freed member state economies to spend what they needed to tackle the virus and its impact on their economies without breaking the fiscal rules.

That didn't release the council from its biannual duties to deliver an assessment of the public finances. But it did seem to have been the bound our hero needed to leap into fiscal freedom.

The Fiscal Council has not only given the nod to the galloping deficit generated by Covid-19 payments, business supports and additional health expenditure (thumbs up this time), it's also going one step further to recommend the Government spends more again on a "significant" stimulus plan to get the economy moving.

The council wouldn't put a figure on it, but its report contains an example of what a €10bn stimulus might do for the economy. In other words, the "significant" plan they have in mind is in the region of €10bn.

It finds that such a stimulus, spread over a couple of years, could boost the economy by 2.8%. Of course, it would also widen the deficit and load the public finances with more debt.

It warns it would not do much for parts of the economy which may continue to be hampered by social distancing. In other words, the parts of the economy worst hit, such as the broader tourism and accommodation sector, may not feel much of this benefit.

That's a hard sell, politically.

IFAC's view, and one shared later this week by the ESRI, is that the stimulus should be used to catch up on infrastructure spending in areas such as housing provision and public transport.

The lack of investment here has arguably held the economy back and made the recovery seem uneven, and even unfair, for those facing high rents and long commutes.

But there's a sting in the tail.

IFAC is very clear that while all of this spending is necessary, there will need to be a reckoning.

Even if the Government opts out of a significant stimulus package, it forecasts that current levels of expenditure will leave deficits to pay for, depending on how the economy fares, ranging from €3-11bn right the way to 2025.

It's clearly saying that adjustments, which in plain terms means either less spending or more taxes in the region of €6-14bn, will need to be made from 2023 to get the public finances back in line.

IFAC believes it will take until 2023 before a recovery, hopefully, takes hold. That's a very long time for a workforce very recently on a turbo-charged rebound with full employment. The dashed hopes and expectations will not be easy to handle.

IFAC's advice may seem contradictory. On the one hand, it's urging the Government to borrow even more to throw at the economy. On the other hand, it's saying don't promise too much because you're going to have make tough choices to close the deficit in a few short years.

Luckily for them, the council won't be the ones to pull off this trick. That will be down to whoever forms a new government.

British economist John Kay wrote in the Financial Times a few years ago that "the capacity to act while recognising the limits of one's knowledge is an essential, but rare characteristic of the effective political or business leader". 

He used a quote from American writer F Scott Fitzgerald: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

The ability to function in the age of social distancing has never been a bigger or more important challenge.