PM faces anger over 'selling Ireland down the river'

 Outraged Irish opposition politicians and commentators lambasted Prime Minister Brian Cowen for agreeing to the terms of an EU-IMF rescue deal they slammed as a "sell-out".

Cowen insisted the 85-billion-euro (113-billion-dollar) bailout was the "best deal available" for Ireland, helping to shore up its banks and allowing his government to operate without imposing further tax rises or spending cuts.

But the main opposition Fine Gael party called the agreement "appalling", insisting the 5.8 percent annual interest rate on the loan -- higher than that paid by Greece when it was bailed out in April -- was unaffordable.

"This is a hugely disappointing result for the country. It's hard to imagine how this deal could have been much worse," said Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen speaks to the media in Dublin on November 28.

"People are right to feel frightened, and worried about the future, when our own government has sold out the country on such lousy terms."

Opposition parties have demanded Cowen quit over his handling of the crisis in the former Celtic Tiger economy, but he insists he will not call an election until early next year, after lawmakers pass a forthcoming budget.

The budget to be presented on December 7 will outline cost-cutting measures for the first year of a four-year plan to save 15 billion euros. Cowen says the austerity plan is a pre-condition to the bailout.

The draconian measures sparked mass protests in Dublin on Saturday and many people digesting the news of the bailout in the Irish capital on Monday were clearly angry.

"It's a farce," said Deirdre, a stay-at-home mother, arguing that the deal had been "rushed through" and agreed at "extortionate lending rates".

A man in his 40s, Enda McMullen, told AFP: "The final act of our government is to shaft its own people. Thanks guys."

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore denounced the deal struck Sunday with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund as "a national sell-out".

"This is a sad and sorry day for our country and the direct result of Fianna Fail (Cowen's party) mismanagement and irresponsibility," he added.

Gerry Adams, whose nationalist Sinn Fein party won a fifth parliamentary seat in a by-election last week at the expense of Cowen's party, also called the rescue package a "terrible deal".

He added that plans to raid the National Pension Reserve Fund to pay for Ireland's 17.5-billion-euro contribution to the loan were a "disaster".

Irish newspapers rounded on the bailout Monday, with the Irish Daily Mail saying the country had been "sold down the swanny".

"It is pure fantasy to think the Irish people can afford to pay this bill. The taxpayer is being saddled with all the pain, while the bondholders get off scot-free. It is scandal, pure scandal," said the Irish Sun.

However, the Irish Times said the bailout agreement was "a difficult but essential deal", and the Irish Independent said: "We will face years of hardship but it is well to know the worst."

The governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Patrick Honohan, has defended the package, saying it sets out a clear economic and financial path for Ireland and insisting the interest rate was realistic.

"People are not trying to scalp you. OK, they are not charging the cheapest interest rates that are ever found but they are trying to ensure that the economy comes back to strength again," he told RTE state radio.

Anglo Irish Bank -- one of those rescued by the state -- will wind down its loan book over a number of years and will agree a revised restructuring plan by January, the central bank said separately in a statement Monday.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said the rate was lower than Ireland would pay if it borrowed on the financial markets, where sliding investor confidence has sent the cost of Irish government bonds soaring in recent weeks.

The bailout was intended to stop the crisis over Ireland's debt spreading to other heavily-indebted eurozone countries such as Portugal and Spain, but those hopes faltered Monday when the euro slumped to a fresh two-month low.

Fine Gael enterprise spokesman Richard Bruton warned: "If Europe sets a cliff too steep for Ireland to scale, it won't solve its own problems no more than Ireland's."

 

source AFP

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