Cowen: No soft options for budget
Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen has insisted there were no soft options as the Government unveiled plans for a 6 billion euro slash-and-burn budget.
Taxpayers face 1.5 billion euro in extra levies next year while state-run services and benefits will be savagely cut by 4.5 billion euro.
And in an attempt to restore international confidence, Mr Cowen said Ireland was now half way through the battle for economic survival. "We've turned a corner - I don't accept that we're wrong," Mr Cowen told RTE.
The shaky coalition Government will try to impose the cuts, the most drastic in Irish history, with only a three seat majority and four outstanding by-elections.
Ireland's four-year budget outlook estimates the beleaguered economy will grow by 1.75% next year.
But the devastating impact of the downturn was laid bare with officials warning the record 400,000-plus unemployment levels will remain for another 12 months. Dole queues will only ease as an estimated 100,000 people emigrate by 2014.
"Let's be clear. Unless we make these changes and allow the economy to grow ... then we put at risk all the gains we've made and I'm not prepared to contemplate that," Mr Cowen said. "And anyone who suggests in the opposition that there is some easy soft option - let's be clear, if things work out better, there won't be as much adjustment."
Chief opposition party Fine Gael accused the coalition Government of having no plan to protect jobs and public services over the next four years.
Michael Noonan, finance spokesman, said: "Fianna Fail and the Greens don't get it. The country needs hope, optimism and the confidence that only a jobs and growth economic plan in parallel with the fiscal correction would deliver."
Joan Burton, Labour's finance spokeswoman, said 6 billion euro cuts in one year was misguided, and excessively risky. "It is an unwise, and unacceptable risk to the economy, to jobs and to the living standards of Irish families," she said.