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Cowen allays cut fears

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen said there have been no approaches from the European Commission looking for further budget cuts here this year.

Mr Cowen's comments followed EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Olli Rehn's remark that Ireland was one of the countries "in focus" as the European authorities look to tackle huge public debts among eurozone members.

"We are moving along the plan that we agreed with the European Commission," said Mr Cowen. "The fact is that we have turned a corner; we still have a steep ascent to get back to where we were."

He said there had been no indication from Europe that Ireland needed to "accelerate" budget cuts beyond the €3bn the Government had said it would implement this year.

"The only way we can restore jobs in this country on a sustainable basis is get our public finances back in order as quickly as possible, repair the banking system so it starts providing credit to businesses so they can get on with doing business, and, thirdly, improve our competitiveness."

Mr Cowen said that if the government could achieve these aims the country would return to growth by the end of the year and unemployment would begin falling next year.

He rejected the suggestion that the euro was "in crisis". He said comments by German chancellor Angela Merkel did not suggest that there was a crisis in the currency but that there was a need for member states to act in unison to tackle the problems of the currency bloc.