Lenihan: Budget cuts well above €3bn

BUDGET cuts will be “well above” €3 billion, Brian Lenihan admitted, as a new poll showed the public have more faith in the “outside forces” of the IMF or EU to solve Ireland’s economic problems than they do in the finance minister or opposition parties.

As speculation grew that cuts would amount to €4.3bn, Mr Lenihan gave his strongest indication yet that it will be close to that figure and called for a “united national effort” in solving the crisis.

Speaking from Washington, he rejected calls for a national government, saying it would be impossible to put one in place before mid-November when a four-year budget plan will be put to the European Commission.

But the minister insisted: “Politicians generally have to show leadership collectively and irrespective of what side of the House we find ourselves on.”

He said a “common analysis of what the problem is” would be “very helpful”.

As families face the prospect of income tax increases and children’s allowance cuts, the Government parties continued to quibble on how to include the opposition in the process.

The two Green Party ministers expressed confidence that all parties could sit down together by the end of next week and agree on how to reduce the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014.

Mr Lenihan dismissed the possibility of setting up a “talking shop”, saying a cross-party forum “may be of value” only when parties can come to a “common analysis” of what’s required.

Rather than ignoring the opposition, he told RTÉ radio: “I would far prefer the opposition to put forward their constructive ideas and incorporate them in the plan. That would assist a united national effort far more. I think this particular plan is so important for this country, it has to go beyond party political interests.”

The public, however, do not have faith in any of the parties. In a Red C Poll published in today’s Irish Sun, 33% said the IMF was capable of solving Ireland’s economic crisis and 29% said the EU, compared to just 28% for Mr Lenihan, 23% for Labour finance spokeswoman Joan Burton and 21% for Fine Gael’s Michael Noonan. Almost half of those who took part in the telephone poll thought Mr Lenihan was out of his depth.

The opposition has avoided committing itself to any “national consensus” on the economy.

Labour’s Ruairi Quinn said: “Fianna Fáil are economically illiterate. On every judgment call they have got it wrong, and you are asking us, who have got it right over the last two years, to get into bed with them?”

He said any consensus was unlikely because “Brian Cowen is the most tribal leader this country has ever had and, if you’re not in Fianna Fáil, you don’t count”.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny insists he wants a general election. Speaking at his party’s presidential dinner on Saturday night, Mr Kenny said FG would set out its own strategy rather than agreeing to a “national consensus”.

Today’s poll shows public sector pay is the most popular priority for making savings in the budget, with 52% agreeing it should form part of the adjustment.

Social welfare cuts and higher income tax were the two least popular ways to bridge the state’s deficit.

Four-in-10 people said no welfare cuts should take place, while 27% wanted to avoid any income tax hike.


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