No bail-out vote for Ireland's MPs

Ireland's prime minister yesterday rejected calls to put the country's international bail-out to a vote in parliament, despite criticism that the deal is too costly and unlikely to halt Europe's debt crisis.

Brian Cowen told MPs that Ireland had no alternative but to accept the package agreed on Sunday for up to €67.5 billion (about 56bn) in loans from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and others.

He said: "The funding needs of this state are now on a far firmer footing as a result of making this agreement than would have been the case without making this agreement. We have a prospect not only of recovery, but of future prosperity."

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He dismissed calls from opposition parties for a specific vote to approve the bail-out, though they will need to vote on Ireland's 2011 budget, being presented to Parliament next week.

Many opponents are angered that the bail-out demanded Ireland uses ?€17.5bn of its own cash and pension reserves to shore up its ravaged finances, overwhelmed by recession and the costs of a bank bail-out.

Enda Kenny, leader of the main opposition party Fine Gael, said: "The family silver has been sold and the people's money has been raided." He demanded a chance for a vote.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said Mr Cowen had taken "the country to the pawn shop" and failed to secure terms as favourable as Greece had negotiated during its bail-out in May.

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Commentators and the public have aired concerns that Ireland won't be able to afford the loans and that generations of taxpayers will face the bill for rescuing the country's banks.

During a series of angry exchanges, Mr Kenny told Mr Cowen: "What happened here last Sunday was a demonstration of the art, and the craft, and the skill of national destruction."

Mr Cowen insisted the average interest rate of 5.8 per cent on the international loans is far below the rate of more than 9 per cent that Ireland would have to pay if it still had access to usual credit markets. He also insisted the deal for loans over seven years was better than the 5.2 per cent interest rate over three years under Greece's deal.

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Before the exchanges, justice minister Dermot Ahern - who had dismissed as "fiction" reports Ireland was seeking a bailout - said he planned to leave politics on health grounds.

Mr Ahern, an MP since 1987, said he had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Mr Cowen, who has only a two-vote majority in parliament, has resisted calls for a snap election, but pledged to dissolve parliament early next year once the 2011 budget is fully enacted.

Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, will contest a seat in Mr Ahern's parliamentary district, in County Louth.He yesterday repeated his call for an immediate contest.

Earlier this month, Mr Ahern had said reports Ireland was seeking financial aid were incorrect and suggested European Central Bank officials had briefed the media in an attempt to pressure Mr Cowen's government into accepting a bailout.

He said: "Clearly there were people from outside this country who were trying to bounce us, as a sovereign state, into making an application, throwing in the towel before we had even considered it as a government."

Mr Ahern insisted that he had been right at the time to claim Ireland was not seeking a bailout. He said there was "quite incredible pressure on this country and, if you notice, they're doing the same with Portugal now".