Ireland exits bailout but celebrations on hold

Ireland on Sunday formally left its three-year bailout programme, becoming the first eurozone nation to do so, but there has been little celebration as the country faces further austerity measures.
Dublin turned to the International Monetary Fund and European Union in November 2010 for an 85-billion-euro ($115-billion) rescue package following a banking crash and one of history’s worst housing bubbles.
After painful belt-tightening, Ireland is now returning unaided to the international lending markets — while eurozone strugglers Greece, Portugal and Cyprus remain locked into the bailout process.
“It’s an important moment for Ireland and for our people,” Prime Minister Enda Kenny told the Irish Times newspaper in an interview published on Friday.
“Our credibility is being restored internationally and our name is in good standing.”
Kenny will deliver a state of the nation-type address on Irish television later on Sunday, just the sixth time a Taoiseach has done so in Irish history, other than during elections.
Irish newspapers said the economic struggle was not over.
“It would be a mistake on the Taoiseach’s (prime minister’s) part to suggest that leaving the bailout programme is the end of our problems,” the Irish Sunday Times said in its editorial.
“Like a patient discharged from the intensive care unit, the return to full health will take some time.”
Apart from Kenny’s address to the nation, there is little planned to mark the occasion.
Ireland did not face the same large-scale protests that hit Greece during the bailout years.
A poll on popular news website The on Sunday shows the level of apathy towards the bailout exit despite Dublin’s desire to frame the development in a positive light.
Of the almost 2,000 votes since the poll went live, over half selected “hearing about it makes me feel worse” while only five percent said they felt happier.
The end of the bailout means Dublin will now have greater control over economic decision-making after three years of stringent oversight by the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank — the so-called troika of lenders.
The troika insisted on tax rises, structural reforms and the sale of state assets in exchange for the bailout, and assessed Ireland’s progress every three months.
Ireland has returned to growth, unemployment is falling and the banking sector has been reduced to a more appropriate scale to match the size of the economy but analysts agree the banks remain a risk.
The IMF approved the 12th and last review of Ireland’s progress on Friday, allowing a final $890 million payout.
To mark the end of the bailout programme, the IMF’s managing director Christine Lagarde praised Ireland’s “steadfast policy implementation”.
But Lagarde warned of “significant economic challenges” ahead.
“Unemployment is too high, public debt sustainability remains fragile, and heavy private sector debts and banks’ slow progress in resolving nonperforming loans weigh on domestic demand,” she said in a statement.
Later this week, Dublin will publish a medium-term economic strategy outlining its post-bailout policies.
“This isn’t the end of the road. We must continue with the same types of policies as the deficit is too high,” finance minister Michael Noonan warned.
Much of the focus in the Irish Sunday newspapers is on the strategy and the possibility that austerity will ease after another tough annual budget next year.
The Sunday Independent reported that Dublin will promise to end austerity by 2016, in time for the next general election.
The Sunday Times suggests the plan will target a 4.2 percent unemployment rate by 2020, far from the current level of 12.8 percent and last year’s peak of 14.7 percent.
Advocacy groups warn that the most vulnerable in society will still suffer.
“There is a need for sensitivity. The suffering isn’t over,” John Dolan, chief executive of the Disability Federation of Ireland, told AFP.
Anna Doyle, 42, and her husband Ambrose from Ashford in County Wicklow, south of Dublin, both lost their jobs in June 2011 and have been searching for work ever since.
“It’s been really stressful and totally demoralising,” Anna told AFP.