Belfast Telegraph

I'm not to blame, says Taoiseach

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has insisted he was not the bogeyman personally to blame for the meltdown in the State's economy.

With an International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European bailout of up to 70 billion euros now on the table, Mr Cowen said the unprecedented rescue package will address serious and urgent issues, including the debt-riddled banks.

But when pressed on whether he was culpable for the economic mess the country is stuck in, Mr Cowen said he stood by his decisions in office. "I will defend my position throughout my political career," the Taoiseach said.

He continued: "I don't accept your contention that I am the bogeyman that you are looking for."

Mr Cowen called for the solidarity Europe has shown Ireland to also be shown in Ireland.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who flanked the Taoiseach to announce the IMF/EU application, said the mammoth cash fund would be firepower for the banks and the wider economy. But he refused to offer a breakdown of the size and scale of the rescue package being sought and also claimed that there was no guarantee that the money would be drawn-down.

The State's running costs are 19 billion euro in the red. But the deepening crisis has been in the banks with about 23 billion euro of deposits shifted out of Ireland this year and prohibitive borrowing rates on the international markets. An asset sell-off in the banks may also be looked at under the terms of the deal, Mr Lenihan added.

The Government has faced damning criticism, calls for resignations and warnings of distrust among the public over the last week after initially insisting there were no talks with the IMF before conceding a loan might be needed and ultimately asking for one.

Mr Lenihan added: "I'm sorry if people believe that they were misled in any way. I certainly did not mislead them in any respect. And I know that no member of the Government intended to mislead them."

On top of that a by-election in the once staunch heartland of the ruling Fianna Fail party takes place on Thursday. The Government is already operating a razor thin majority and with victory in Donegal South-West unlikely the Fianna Fail-Green coalition could be left with a margin of just two seats to retain power.

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