Cowen at last admits talks over IMF rescue
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen finally conceded yesterday that Ireland is in talks with the IMF about a financial rescue package -- but his ministers were in no mood to take any blame for it.
It came as he and his ministers were subjected to more opposition calls for them to quit for "casting away" the State's economic independence. But the bizarre sense of denial in cabinet circles about who was responsible for the collapse in state finances continued.
Defence Minister Tony Killeen characterised the wave of public anger in recent days as "hysteria".
Health Minister Mary Harney said the banking problem was not due to the failure of the Government to introduce regulation -- it was the failure of the regulators "to implement it".
She insisted she felt no shame for the financial state of the country and said the decisions taken by the Government in the past two years had been "saluted" abroad.
At the opening of Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport yesterday, Mr Cowen finally admitted that negotiations on a rescue package from the EU and IMF were taking place.
"We want to make sure that that's the best possible one for Ireland. It's a support for the country to improve the situation and provide certainty," he said.
Seven years after the Government approved the benchmarking agreement, Ms Harney belatedly admitted it should not have benchmarked public pay with private sector pay -- an area where the IMF is likely to swing the axe.
But as recently as 2007, she had described benchmarking as the "only way forward" to resolve the dispute over nurses' pay and conditions.
Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said reality had "dawned late" for Ms Harney. "It's a pity the country had to be brought to its knees before she saw sense," he said.
The opposition have admitted that their hands will be tied if the Government signs a bail-out deal with the IMF -- and are therefore calling for an immediate general election. They said the country is numbed and shocked by what has happened.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Mr Cowen should resign in disgrace because the State's economic independence was "gone".
"I would say deep inside himself he feels absolutely terrible about his failure to direct policy when he was Minister for Finance," he said.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore also called on Mr Cowen to resign, saying the arrival of the IMF had made it the darkest day in Ireland's history since independence.
"We should have an immediate general election and we should have a new government in place before Christmas that is able to negotiate with authority and with confidence with the IMF, the EU and the European Central Bank," he said.
Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain joined the chorus by saying that Mr Cowen and his Government should "resign in shame at the economic disaster they have brought on the Irish people".
But Mr Cowen rejected these calls, claiming the policies put forward by Labour and Fine Gael during the crisis would have sent the economy "down the tubes at that time".
Green Party leader John Gormley said a general election was not needed and that the arrival of the IMF could be positive since it could offer the opportunity to restructure Ireland's economy.