A solid performance by economy, despite jobless: Michael Noonan
SENIOR Government ministers have described Ireland's economic growth for last year as solid despite unacceptably high unemployment.
As bailout bosses gave the latest good report on the country's finances, official figures confirmed that the value of goods and service grew by 1.4% in 2011 - double some estimates.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the improvements are to be welcomed.
"That's significant growth in comparison with our European partners," he said.
"In terms of what is hard and firm they have given us a final figure for 2011... and there's nothing in their figures that would make us shift from growth of 0.7% for this year. We'll stick with that."
In a joint statement with Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin he said the review showed Ireland on track to meet its targets to cut costs and grow taxes.
"However, significant challenges remain, especially the unacceptably high unemployment levels, which highlight the scale of the challenge," the ministers said.
The economic report was published as officials from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and European Central Bank Troika completed their seventh review of the 2010 85 billion euro bailout.
Mr Noonan said the Government was setting ambitious targets to cut the cost of Ireland's 64 billion euro bank recapitalisation programme.
"Where it ends up I can't predict," Mr Noonan said.
"But there were serious talks with the Troika about this."
A decision on how the burden of the bank bailout can be cut is expected to be made by October but Mr Noonan refused to be drawn on his target or a minimum for the Irish Government.
The Central Statistics Office (CSO) inadvertently released the sensitive annual economic figures yesterday on the internet.
The report showed the domestic economy also grew in the early months of this year for the first time in two years.
The ministers also confirmed that the first sale of state assets will take place next year.
It was revealed that an indicative timetable for the privatisation of Bord Gais Energy, ESB's generation division and forestry giant Coillte is in place and the due diligence has been done.
Progress reports will be published over the next two quarters on the steps being taken to prepare for the sales.
In a statement, the Troika said Ireland is on track to meet its bailout commitments.
But officials warned: "Ireland's unemployment remains unacceptably high and generating growth and jobs on a sustainable basis remains a critical priority."
They also urged the Government to keep a tight rein on spending, including in health care, as the country has the largest budget deficit in the euro area.
Growth prospects for the remainder of 2012 and into 2013 remain modest, the review said, with weak trading partner growth dampening export demand despite further competitiveness gains.
The Troika will review the Irish economy and commitments to the bailout programme in October.
Olli Rehn, European Commission vice-president, said there will be concrete proposals on bank debt by October.
"I welcome the conclusion of the staff mission to Dublin that Ireland's programme implementation remains strong, in spite of the challenging macroeconomic environment," he said.
"As recent market developments have also shown, there is clearly growing confidence in Ireland's determination and ability to successfully implement its economic adjustment programme.
"This remains the best way for Ireland to continue to improve its competitiveness and safeguard financial stability.
"These are prerequisites for sustainable growth and a lasting fall in unemployment."