In landmark for EU, Ireland leaves its bailout behind

Fri Dec 13, 2013 9:20am EST
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By Conor Humphries and Sam Cage

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Three years after going cap in hand to international lenders to avert bankruptcy, Ireland has officially ended its bailout in a landmark for the euro zone's efforts to resolve its debt crisis.

Ireland has cut spending and raised taxes to rebalance the economy since seeking emergency help from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, meeting every major target under the 85 billion euro ($117 billion) program and enduring little public unrest.

"This isn't the end of the road. This is a very significant milestone on the road," Finance Minister Michael Noonan told a news conference on Friday.

"But we must continue with the same types of policies."

The country of 4.6 million is funded into 2015 thanks to debt issuance over the last 18 months. It is showing the way to Greece, Portugal and Cyprus - which have also had sovereign bailouts - and Spain, which has had help for its banking system.

With more than 22 billion euros ($30 billion) of cash in hand, almost twice the amount initially envisaged by its lenders, Ireland has insulation against market shocks and the economy is forecast to grow by about 2 percent next year.

Unemployment has fallen below 13 percent, from a 15.1 percent peak in 2012, and Dublin is confident enough to do without a backup credit line.

In a sign of European admiration for Ireland's efforts, Noonan received an award from the German-Irish chamber of commerce for his role in the bailout exit and "huge positive impact" on relations between the countries.   Continued...

Ireland's Finance Minister Michael Noonan smiles at the start of a European Union finance ministers meeting in Brussels December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir