Prayers in Ireland ahead of budget plan

By Shane Harrison
BBC Ireland Correspondent

Image caption, Balancing the budget: The Irish government has already taken 15bn euros out of the country

BBC Northern Ireland's Dublin correspondent, Shane Harrison, gauges the mood as efforts continue to stabilise the Irish Republic's banking system and finances.

The Irish may not be as religious as they once were, but in churches right across the country on Sunday prayers were offered for the future of the country and its people.

On Tuesday, the Irish government is expected to publish its four-year-plan aimed at getting its budget deficit down to 3% by 2014, in line with the rules of the Eurozone and agreements reached between Dublin and its European partners.

It currently stands at 32% due to the amount spent on bailing out its banks to date.

A worried people know that tax rises, spending cutbacks and probable privatisations are in the offing.

Since October 2008, the government has already taken 15bn euros (£13bn) out of the economy; it is expected to take another 15bn euros (£13bn) over the coming four years, 30bn euros (£26bn) in all, roughly the entire tax take for a year.

All of which begs the question, where is growth going to come from to allow the Irish Republic to continue to function and pay for its borrowing while reaching expected International Monetary Fund/European Union targets?

The authorities here hope that Ireland, with its open economy, will be able to take advantage of future growth in the world economy.

Emotions are running high.

There is public fear about what might be in the four-year-plan as well as a deep anger with the government and bankers who are seen as getting the country into its economic mess.

On top of that, there is a shame that the world knows the IMF, the bankers of last resort, are here.

But increasingly, particularly in business circles, there is an acceptance that the arrival of the European and IMF officials may be no bad thing if it means there will be professional input into making the tough decisions that many believe a government, lacking credibility and authority, is incapable of making.

The trade union movement, which operates more in the public service than in the private economy, has announced plans for a weekend protest march.

But there have been marches in the past and the government still imposed public service pay and pension cutbacks.

ATM machine

For many people, the unions are partly resposible for the current economic mess because during the boom and partnership process with the government and business, public servants were given big pay rises, without increased productivity, and the number of people paid by the public purse grew dramatically.

One union leader at the time likened the process to walking up to an ATM machine and getting loads of cash.

The blame game is now well and truly on as Ireland accepts it needs a bailout or a loan.

But few are pointing the fingers at themselves.

Yes, bankers, property developers, government ministers, public servants and regulators were largely responsible.

However, the oppositon parties offered policies that were little different from those proposed by the government.

Why? The political parties all offered the people what they wanted and voters, too, it seems to many, will have to take some responsibility.

And that is likely to mean accepting there will have to be social welfare cutbacks.

Some in the Irish Republic ask: How can a British government imposing its own cutbacks lend billions of pounds to Ireland when the Republic's social welfare is often twice as generous as the UK's?

Tough times certainly lie ahead.

And there will be a lot more praying going on in Ireland's churches.

More on this story