Ireland passes record austerity budget

THE IRISH government has narrowly passed the harshest budget ever proposed, to make the necessary savings for it to receive EU and IMF rescue funds.

It has set out austerity measures for 2011 that impose €6bn (£5bn) of spending cuts and tax rises on the country, including cuts to child benefit and public sector pensions.

But the Budget is still relying on growth forecasts that several experts including the European Commission consider overly optimistic.

The Parliament passed the first in a series of votes on the budget on Tuesday evening, suggesting that enough of the budget is likely to pass to release bailout funds.

The budget's success had looked in doubt when independent politicians, on whom the government depends for support, said they might vote against it.

If the initial resolutions pass this week, the IMF could seek approval from its board for its Irish loan as soon as Friday.

Opposition parties slammed the government for mismanaging the economy and sacrificing Irish sovereignty.

“This budget is the budget of a puppet government who are doing what they have been told to do by the IMF, the EU Commission and the European Central Bank,” said Michael Noonan, finance spokesman for the centre-right Fine Gael party.

The 2011 budget is the toughest in a four-year austerity plan that aims to save €15bn – nearly 10 per cent of annual economic output – to bring the worst deficit in the Eurozone back within EU limits by 2014.