Tens of thousands march against cutbacks in Ireland

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Nearly 100,000 people marched through Dublin yesterday to protest at government cutbacks in the face of a deepening recession and bailouts for the banks.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen is under pressure from  Brussels and ratings agencies to squeeze a ballooning budget  deficit, but plans to introduce a pension levy on public sector  workers and freeze their pay has hammered his approval ratings  and those of his party to record lows.

 Prime Minister Brian Cowen
Prime Minister Brian Cowen

In a statement ahead of the march, the government said the  measures were necessary to show international investors that  Ireland was tackling its finances.

Even with spending cuts and tax hikes, the budget shortfall  is forecast to hit 9.5 per cent of gross domestic product this  year, the worst breach of EU budget limits in the euro zone.

“Failure to show that credible start means that we impact  directly and severely on our international reputation among  investors and, in particular, on our capacity to raise funds and  on the direct cost of servicing the borrowing which we are able  to undertake,” the government said.

But in Dublin, a crowd estimated by police to be between  85,000 and 100,000 people, accused the government of leaving  teachers, nurses, civil servants and construction workers with  the bill for Ireland’s economic woes and letting banks and  property developers off the hook.

“My family will be down 500 euros ($628.8) a month because  my husband and I both work in the public sector,” said Sheila  O’Shea, a primary school teacher who was also protesting at  education cuts that have hit classes for special needs children.

“There is absolute burning vitriol that we feel at the  savage way they have hit the most vulnerable in society.”
Posters reflected the sentiment with slogans such as “You  made the most. Pay the most!” and “We won’t pay for the greed of  the super rich.”

Pamela, a council worker, who gave only her first name,  laughed when asked her opinion of the government.
“It’s unprintable,” she said. “The government measures are  very annoying, particularly when you see how the banks are being  protected.”

The protest, organised by Ireland’s main trade union group,  comes ahead of strikes later this month and next by public  sector clerical workers and bus drivers and marks a clear break  in peaceful industrial relations, which had been an important  contributor to the success of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy.

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