Belfast Telegraph

Irish PM Brian Cowen rejects calls to quit as €15bn savings plan is drawn up

Taoiseach Brian Cowen dismissed clamour for his resignation yesterday as government number-crunchers finalised a drastic plan for €15bn (£11.1bn) savings.

After day one of formal bailout talks in Dublin, a 150-page four-year rescue package was being put to the test by an emergency mission from Brussels and Washington.

But as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European delegation inspected the state's financial black hole, Mr Cowen faced deepening anger from the opposition.

“The government has a job to do here. We have a four-year plan that we are finalising which we are required to do,” the Taoiseach said.

The 2014 budget road map is expected to be published on Monday with significant reforms to the tax system, new levies in property and water on the cards and social welfare being cut.

But ministers have taken a hard line with the sacred cow of corporation tax and insisted the low 12.5% rate is non-negotiable.

The 32-strong team from the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission will follow with its assessment of the crippled economy.

One week after Brussels officials began briefing that the IMF and ECB was on its way to Dublin, Mr Cowen yesterday conceded a bailout loan was on the table.

Governor of Ireland's Central Bank Professor Patrick Honohan is the only senior official or minister to offer an idea of what the IMF/European mission may bring — a cashpot running to tens of billions of euro.

Mr Cowen and his senior Cabinet colleagues have faced intense attacks in the last 48 hours, with the Labour Party declaring Ireland had suffered its blackest week since the Civil War.

The Taoiseach is also sweating under a razor-thin majority as a by-election looms next week and with budget 2011 two-and-a-half weeks away.

Labour's Eamon Gilmore branded the Fianna Fail-Green coalition Government “demoralised, discredited and politically dishevelled”. “Any government in any other democratic country that had laid waste to an economy in the way Fianna Fail has and delivered the country into the hands of the IMF would now be long gone,” Mr Gilmore said.

Meanwhile the Green leader John Gormley dismissed the idea of a General Election.

“We would have no opposition. We would have complete instability,” Mr Gormley said. Enda Kenny, Fine Gael leader, lashed out at the IMF's presence in Ireland for the first time in the history of the state.

“They (the government) should resign in disgrace,” Mr Kenny said.

Health Minister Mary Harney denied she felt shamed to be part of a Government in talks with the IMF.

“If we have to get contingency arrangements and borrow money, that money will be paid back,” she said.

IMF officials were widely expected to make a quick decision on the government's budget plans and the need for a rescue. Talks are focusing on the planned €6bn (£5.1bn) Budget savings due on December 7 and the four-year €15bn (£12.8bn) savings plan to be announced next week.

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