Taoiseach accepts intensive talks with EU partners needed


POLITICAL REACTION:TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has denied that Ireland will need to avail of an EU bailout, but accepted that intensive discussions with European partners were needed to restore stability to the banks and to give reassurance about the country’s finances.

Mr Cowen said that those who suggested the Government was being forced to accept a bailout from the EU or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) were using a “pejorative term” that suggested that the State could not meet its obligations or its debts.

“That is not the case. The use of such pejorative terms, precisely because they are ill-defined and mean different things to different people, are adding to the confusion,” he told RTÉ last night.

Accepting that there were monetary difficulties and considerable turbulence in the markets, Mr Cowen, in an interview with Six-Onenews, sought to bring a tone of calm and reassurance to the debate. This followed widespread media speculation that the Government was under considerable pressure to accept a bailout.

“What we need are calm heads and cool consideration of all the issues. These are complicated matters that are not easily understood,” he said.

He said the Government’s four-year plan and budget would allow Ireland come within targets by 2014. In relation to the substantial increase in interest for Irish sovereign debt, and the apparent loss of confidence in Ireland by sovereign bond markets, he said: “We are engaged with our counterparts in discussing with them how best we can underpin banking and financial stability.”

Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan suggested the Taoiseach was being evasive in his language, which allowed him to avoid addressing the issue of whether a bailout was imminent.

Responding to Mr Cowen on the same programme, he said: “We had incredible denials from so many shell-shocked Ministers over the past 24 hours. [Mr Cowen] needs to speak plainly and not speak in riddles. People are very worried, about their bank accounts, about their jobs and about their country. They need plain speaking and the feeling that the Government is still in charge.”

Mr Noonan said the “incompetence” of the Government in handling the banks had led to a situation where the European authorities were fearful for the future of the euro in certain European countries, especially Portugal and Spain.

Minister for Enterprise Batt O’Keeffe criticised Mr Noonan yesterday for being “extremely irresponsible” in comments that suggested the EU would intervene to stabilise the situation.

“There is a time when you have to be circumspect. I am extremely disappointed that somebody of the calibre of Michael Noonan could not desist from political point-scoring to the detriment of Ireland Incorporated,” Mr O’Keeffe said in London.

EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said the Government had not applied for a financial bailout “as far as the commission is concerned”.

Speaking in Galway yesterday, she said such a decision was a “matter for the Government”.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern earlier said that the Government will work towards publishing the four-year plan in the early part of next week, which will result in the 100-page document coming out before the Donegal South West byelection on November 25th. The Department of Finance later confirmed it was working towards publishing the plan early next week.

Speaking to the media at Dublin Castle yesterday, Mr Ahern cautioned that continuing speculation in the media and public domain could be harmful in the days ahead.

“We have to be very careful in relation to this. People need to be calm. Ultimately, there are people who may have their own particular interests in making comments. It’s vital that the less said about these issues, the less speculation there is.

“Speculation does lead, as we have seen, to some fairly significant spikes in the cost of funding of not just Ireland but a number of other countries across Europe.”

Mr Ahern also reiterated that Ireland has not applied to the IMF for any assistance. He did confirm, however, that there was “constant contact” with the EU Commission at senior official level.

Asked was he confident that no bailout would be necessitated or demanded, Mr Ahern replied: “It’s not a question of being confident. We are taking this situation on a day-to-day basis. That will continue.”