Greens call for snap Irish election

Government’s junior coalition partner calls for polls in January following multi-billion dollar bailout by IMF and EU.

Gormley, right, said his party would still support the budget measures of Cowen, left [EPA]

Ireland’s Green Party, the junior partner in the country’s coalition government, has called for a general election in January to provide “political certainty” after Dublin accepted a multi-billion dollar international financial bailout.

John Gormley, the leader of the Greens, said on Monday the Irish people felt “misled and betrayed” after Brian Cowen, the prime minister, finally bowed to foreign pressure and agreed to the bailout from the IMF and EU.

The coalition of Cowen’s Fianna Fail and the Greens has a majority of only three in the lower parliament. The withdrawal of the support of the six Green politicians means it cannot survive.

The Irish government has accepted up to $124bn in loans and will publish a four year budget plan on Wednesday to show how it will balance its books ahead of a budget for 2011 expected on December 7.

The $20.5bn austerity plan, which will be rolled out over four years, will involve public spending cuts and tax rises.

The government is expected to cut the minimum wage, slash social welfare spending, reduce the number of public employees and include a new property tax and higher income taxes.

But it will keep its ultra-low 12.5 per cent corporate tax rate – a magnet for foreign investment but an irritant to many EU partners, which see it as a form of unfair competition.

Gormley indicated that his party would still support the budget measures and said that they were needed, along with the bailout, to “safeguard the future prosperity and independence of the Irish people”.

“Leaving the country without a government while these matters are unresolved would be very damaging and would breach our duty of care,” he said.

“But we have now reached a point where the Irish people need political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months.

“So, we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011.

“The past week has been a traumatic one for the Irish electorate. People feel misled and betrayed.”

‘Cutting and running’

The opposition Sinn Fein party, a small force in the Republic of Ireland which has already called for an immediate general election, accused the Greens of “cutting and running”.

“Today’s announcement means that the Greens are to cut and run – to help Fianna Fail to impose savage budget cuts, to put the state in the hands of the IMF and then run for their political lives,” Caoimhghin O Caolain, Sinn Fein’s leader, said.

Defending the bailout, Gormley said that since entering the government in June 2007, his party had helped to “fix and reform the economy”, in particular to shore up the debt-ridden banks.

“However, it is now clear we need further measures to give market confidence about our banks and public finances,” he said.

“Despite our difficulties and disappointments, I believe we can get out of this situation. We must all work together to ensure the best outcome for everyone.”

Reaction to the bailout from stocks markets was mixed with the main indices opening higher on Monday but falling back later in the afternoon.

The euro climbed to $1.37 on the foreign exchange market while Irish borrowing costs fell in response to the deal.

EU foreign ministers welcomed Ireland’s decision to apply for a loan as they arrived for talks in Brussels.

“It’s good news as it is a sign that European solidarity also worked. It’s made clear that the euro will stabilise thanks to the help of all the EU members,” Trinidad Jimenez, Spain’s foreign minister, said.

Irish anger

However, the news of the bailout has sparked anger within Ireland, where many people feel “humiliated” by the move.

“It’a humiliation for the Irish population and it’s a big humiliation for the Irish government as well,” Rory Challands, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Dublin, said.

“[The government] has been saying for weeks that it didn’t need any aid and now it has turned around and said yes it does need it.”

John Walsh, the editor of Ireland’s Business and Finance magazine, told Al Jazeera that Ireland will have to pay “a very, very high political price” for the crisis.

Protests were held outside the prime minister’s office in Dublin [AFP]

“A lot of people are blaming the euro for this but much of the problem has to do with domestic policies.

“We joined the euro and we probably did have artificially-low interest rates during a period of unprecedented economic expansion,” he said.

“On the other hand there were fiscal levers we could have pulled to dampen that enthusiasm, to dampen some of that growth.”

But the government did the complete opposite, Walsh said, which resulted in the economy going into overdrive – meaning it was always going to become overheated.

“A big component of that was the banking system, where the banks grew far too big for the size of the economy. Now they have collapsed and left the country in economic ruin.”

Sunday’s announcement came after a series of conference calls among European partners and G7 counterparts from the US, Japan and Canada, amid pressure to plug a giant hole that has already seen the Irish government pump $70bn into its failed banks.

Further weeks of negotiations are expected to define the fund’s terms, conditions and precise size.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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