Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Kenny confirms bailout exit date

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the budget will include a range of measures to build on recent jobs growth

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has confirmed Ireland will exit its strict bailout programme on December 15.

With just three days until what he has dubbed the last of the tough austerity budgets, the Taoiseach claimed the economic emergency will soon be over.

"Tonight I can confirm that Ireland is on track to exit the EU-IMF bailout on December 15. And we won't go back," Mr Kenny said.

"It won't mean that our financial troubles are over. Yes there are still fragile times ahead.

"There's still a long way to go. But at last the era of the bailout will be no more. The economic emergency will be over."

He said emerging from under the watchful eye of Ireland's debt masters would not be an end in itself, but rather the beginning of the country's freedom to choose the kind of nation it wants to build.

He confirmed the Government would publish a new medium term economic strategy before the end of the year to plan for this "new era".

In his main address at the Fine Gael National Conference in Limerick, Mr Kenny reiterated that Tuesday's budget will be tough.

But he insisted the 2.5 billion euro worth of tax hikes and spending cuts would serve two key objectives in the public's interest - to reach bailout targets and to allow investment for jobs.

Earlier, the Taoiseach also promised the budget would contain "some good news".

Echoing claims from Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who said the public would be "astounded" by the budget announcement, Mr Kenny hinted that smaller businesses will fare well.

"Obviously we're interested here at this conference in investment and job creation, and understanding there are between 200,000 and 400,000 small family businesses in the country," he said.

"Those need help and they need assistance. In that sense, the minister will be anxious to continue his story of support and assistance for small and medium enterprises around the country."

Spending ceilings have been set for each Government department but the details have yet to be signed off, with Government ministers due to discuss the finer details tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the finance minister earlier confirmed that he is to hold talks with the so-called Troika following the budget to discuss Ireland's exit from its bailout programme.

"When the budget is concluded I plan to have consultation on our exit strategy with the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Having heard their views, I will advise the Government on the best course of action," Mr Noonan said.

Mr Noonan also indicated that Ireland may not need to draw down emergency funds from Europe, should it need to, because a backstop is in place.

Countries that have exited IMF programmes have had follow-up or backstop arrangements in place to ensure they can return to the money markets with "very little risk", he said.

Ireland is fortunate that the state body in charge of the nation's debt, the NTMA, will have almost 25 billion euro in cash balances as it returns to the markets, according to Mr Noonan.

"We have a backstop already in place."

He joined the Taoiseach in insisting that job creation will be central to Ireland regaining economic independence once it is free from the Troika's clutches.

Elsewhere, Mr Kenny announced plans for new legislation to give all university graduates a vote in the election of members of the Seanad.

Currently, only graduates of Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland are eligible.

Following an embarrassing defeat in last week's referendum to abolish the Seanad, the Taoiseach once again pledged to reform the upper house.

"In putting the issue of the future of the Seanad to the people, we honoured a clear promise to do so," Mr Kenny said.

"The outcome is clear and we will now continue reforming the political system and ensuring that the Seanad is as effective as possible.

"I intend to discuss this with other leaders in the coming weeks and, as a small start, I have asked that legislation be prepared to give effect to the 1979 decision of the Irish people to extend the Seanad electorate to all graduates."

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