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EU/IMF push for €5bn sale of Irish state assets

The IMF-EU team is pressing the Government to come up with a deadline for the sale of state-owned assets including a stake in the ESB.

The Government has drawn up a list of assets which could be sold, but the bailout team now wants the Government and NTMA (National Treasury Management Agency) -- which is tasked with the sale of the assets -- to produce a detailed timeframe.

The bailout partners want asset sales worth €5bn while the State wants to raise no more than €2bn unless the money can be ringfenced for job creation schemes.

The issue is likely to dominate talks for several days, sources said last night.

Inspectors from the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission started their 10-day mission yesterday holding separate meetings with officials from the NTMA, the Central Bank and NAMA.

All of yesterday's talks were held within the Department of Finance which is opposite the Merrion Hotel where the IMF and European Commission officials are staying.

The inspectors also discussed Ireland's plans to return to the bond markets towards the end of the year.

The Government has said it wants to dip its toes back into the markets in late 2012 by selling a type of bond which must be repaid in six months. Other bailout countries such as Portugal never stopped selling this type of short-term bond on the markets as it carries relatively little risk.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said yesterday that the State would be ready to return to the world's main bond market late next year but said the Government would not borrow if rates were too high. The alternative would be a second bailout.

The EU-IMF team appears divided on some sort of debt forgiveness or debt structuring.

The IMF said last month that the prospects for a successful conclusion to the rescue package remained "fragile" and recommended that the rest of Europe should consider additional support. In contrast, the Commission said again yesterday that talk of a second bailout was "unhelpful".

Irish sources said yesterday that the Government would continue to try to persuade the bailout team that the rest of Europe should bear the cost of restructuring parts of our national debt, called promissory notes, used to pay for the €47bn bailout of Anglo Irish Bank.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said in Brussels last month the Government would be lobbying for changes in the repayment dates for some debt but stressed that he still wanted Ireland to repay all its debts.

Yesterday an EU source said nothing conclusive was expected to emerge on the Anglo refinancing during the review.

"We are open to discuss all these issues, and the current review is a privileged opportunity for that," the source told Reuters news agency.

The latest round of inspections, the fifth since the bailout was agreed in November 2010, came on the same day that Goodbody Stockbrokers warned that the Government would not meet the IMF and European Commission targets unless the bailout partners agreed to reduce Ireland's ballooning debt burden. The warning followed a similar warning 24 hours earlier from influential economist Willem Buiter.

The IMF-EU team are expected to announce the outcome of the mission at a press conference next Thursday.

Irish Independent