Cowen hails 'constructive' talks with IMF/EU teams


The Government has pledged to publish its four-year budget plan early next week as talks continue today with IMF and EU officials in Dublin over a rescue package for the State running into tens of billions of euro.

The dozen-strong IMF delegation includes several banking experts who are taking part in the discussions with more than 20 officials from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission and Irish officials at various locations in Dublin.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said today the talks were “going well in terms of being open and constructive”.

Speaking to reporters as he formally opened T2 at Dublin airport today, Mr Cowen said the Government was conducting the talks “in a way for which the best outcome for Ireland can be achieved”.

Mr Cowen also rejected Opposition calls for him to resign.

“The Government has a job to do here. We have a four-year plan that we are finalising which we are required to do,” he said. “We have a Budget to bring forward on 7th December. We believe we have a majority for that Budget and we have a job to do in relation to ensuring that the present issues affecting the euro, and as it is affecting Ireland, are resolved," he said.

“We are involved in constructive talks on that. That’s the job that the Government has to do and that’s what we will do.”

Speaking in Donegal today, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore called for an immediate general election. He said the Government “created the mess”, lied about it for the past week and because they were the last people in the world who should now be negotiating with the IMF and the European institutions. He described yesterday as the "blackest day" in the history of the State.

Later, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny continued the pressure on the Taoiseach, saying the Government had bankrupted the country. He said they "should resign in disgrace".

Sinn Féin's Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, also called on the Coalition "to resign in shame."

"The intervention of the IMF is a disaster for Ireland, brought about directly by the scandalous policies of this Government," he said.

Minister for Health Mary Harney said this morning said she has “huge” confidence in Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan. “I think he has done an awesome job in the last two years,” she said. “There’s no Minister for Finance that can have a magic wand in relation to the situation we’re in. We are all dependent on working with one another.”

She said it was a "very sensitive time" and blamed a failure of regulation for the banking crisis. "We have to protect the national interest. It is a very challenging, very sensitive, very difficult time, and members of the Government have to be careful in any comments they would make," she said.

Asked if the Government should accept responsibility for the IMF intervention, she said there was a "failure of regulation not be way of nature of the regulation but the failure to implement the regulation. There was a failure by the authorities to enforce the regulation, of that there is no doubt".

Referring to talks with the EU and IMF, she said: "I don't know when they will be brought to conclusion, but clearly the sooner we bring everything to a conclusion, and we bring certainty, the better."

The four-year plan for making €15 billion worth of savings from 2011 to 2014 will be published early next week, Minister for Community Affairs Pat Carey said today.

Mr Carey said it was impossible to say how much aid Ireland would need until the EU/IMF mission examines the state the country's banks are in. "Until such a time as the IMF and others have examined how critical the situation in the banks is, I think it would be impossible to say how much would be required," he told Newstalk.

Mr Cowen yesterday denied the rescue plan would lead to a loss of Irish sovereignty. He also dismissed suggestions of failure. “I don’t believe there’s any reason for Irish people to be ashamed and humiliated,” he said.

Speaking yesterday morning, Central Bank Governor Prof Patrick Honohan said he expected the talks would result in the Government accepting a “very substantial” loan amounting to “tens of billions” of euro.

“The ECB would not send large teams if they didn’t believe first of all that they could agree to a package,” he said.

Mr Cowen indicated that the Government did not share Prof Honohan’s views on the figure or a deal, saying his comments were premature ahead of negotiations. “The governor gave his view. He is entitled to give his view. I am entitled to give the view about the decision the Government will take when the necessary discussions are over,” he said.

However, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan later told the Dáil that the Government could accept an aid package for the banks after the talks with the IMF. He said the establishment of a contingency fund would be a “very desirable outcome” but said no final decisions had been made. It was possible that the funds would be made available but not drawn down, he added.

In a subsequent interview on RTÉ television, Mr Lenihan accepted that the external assistance from the EU would “have to be funnelled through the State” but denied the IMF would be directing the budget and four-year plan.

Yesterday, Mr Lenihan insisted the State’s 12.5 per cent corporation tax would not be jeopardised. “I have always made it clear to all international organisations that it is a red line [issue],” he said.

The EU-IMF review is open-ended, but a well-placed EU source said the joint mission aims to finish its rescue plan the weekend after next.