Real progress and a light at end of the tunnel

Then-Taoiseach Brain Cowen and the late Minister of Finance Brian Lenihan confirming the bank bailout in 2010.

Like many people, I remember the events of Nov 2010 all too well. I remember the speculation in the media, the pathetic efforts of ministers to deny the patently obvious, the rapid descent into shambles of a government which had lost control and was rapidly losing any sense of self-respect.

I remember the feeling of national humiliation, the sense that our small but proud country had just lost its right to hold head up high. I felt angry.

Three years later the troika programme is complete. We have done what we needed to do and the chapter is about to close.

Yesterday, the Government decided to exit the troika programme and to do so without entering into a further programme. We took this decision after a hard-headed consideration of the possibilities open to us. It was our decision and not a decision foisted on us by anyone else.

Make no mistake: if the circumstances had warranted it, the Government would have opted for a further programme. But I, for one, am happy that we can stand on our own two feet again. This Government has always erred on the side of caution: we will never play fast and loose with the nation’s future. But it is good to rank equal with our partners, to be rid of that awful epithet “programme country”.

The decision to leave the bailout programme has been likened by some to jumping out of a plane without a parachute. The truth is very different. There are, in fact, multiple parachutes available, in the event that we need them.

Ireland currently has cash in hand to fund our borrowing needs through next year and into 2015 — in contrast to three years ago when we came perilously close to bankruptcy. Moreover, the European Union, and the eurozone, in particular, has put in place mechanisms to help countries deal with the sort of problems which brought us to disaster in 2010.

Sooner or later, Ireland had to make a break from the constraints, and the support of the troika. In my judgment, the circumstances are right to make the break now.

Of course, the cost to our people of the mistakes which lead to the IMF Programme has been immense. Job losses, emigration, mortgage arrears, and cuts in services — it is a picture with which we are all painfully familiar.

I would like to be able to say that the decision made by Government yesterday will bring all the pain to an end. I cannot say that. What I can say is that we are making real progress and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yesterday marks just one more step in our emergence from the deepest recession in living memory. No more, no less.

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