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Final countdown: Ireland nears landmark ending of EU lifeline

Ireland is readying itself to exit the IMF/EU bailout program on Sunday, making it the first country to do so. It ends three years of relying on the financial ‘safety net’ of the European rescue program.

We got the deficit down, the economy is growing again and significantly, people are going back to work, unemployment is falling,” Irish Minister of State at the Finance Department, Brian Hayes, told Deutsche Welt on Friday.

Sunday is considered the official date marking the end of the bailout.

Ireland's economy is predicted to grow by approximately 2 percent next year. Unemployment is beginning to fall to below 13 percent – after reaching 15.1 percent at its highest last year.

Ireland asked for a bailout from the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund in November 2010, when the country was on the brink of bankruptcy. It received 67.5 billion euros, in return the country implemented austerity measures as a condition for the aid.

Ireland successfully passed its final review of the 85 billion euro bailout in November, with the troika of international lenders giving the country the ‘green light’ to exit.

‘Not end of the road’

The Irish economy is still under threat with weak domestic demand eroded by the austerity measures that came with the bailout. Since foreign demand is also subdued, the country’s recovery remains in question.

This isn't the end of the road. This is a very significant milestone on the road,” Ireland's Finance Minister Michael Noonan told a news conference. “But we must continue with the same types of policies.”

The budget deficit has reduced, but it's not there yet. But we will be under 3 percent by 2015. Then we've got to make sure that we manage our public finances so that we never come into a position like this again. It's very important that we keep a tight rein on expenditure and on fiscal policy to make sure that we get more for less,” Hayes said.

“I’m not sure that the hard ideological line of austerity which is coming forth from Europe was a good one. The Irish people would be delighted to see the end of the Troika, to see the opportunity for us to regain our economic sovereignty, to be able to make our own decisions in relation to our future,” Minister of State for Trade and Development, Joe Costello, believes.

Most Irish on the streets support an exit. Some Dublin citizens RT spoke to, however, believe that “in or out of the bailout – doesn’t make much difference,” because the country is still indebted to those that are the bigger economies of the EU.

The country of 4.6 million people is still suffering from rampant unemployment, mass emigration and tax increases.

Emigration from the country has spiked in recent months, with 75,800 people aged between 15-44 leaving last year.

The country is now witnessing greater levels of new emigration than any other European country – a move encouraged by the government. Some 6,000 people have received letters from various departments encouraging them to conduct job searches abroad.

Before the crisis, 7.4 percent of under-17s were living in ‘consistent poverty’. The figure had risen to 9.3 percent by 2011, according to the Financial Times.

Noonan praised the strength of the Irish public who suffered tax hikes and spending cuts, pointing out that “they’ve had their services cut drastically- some of them particularly public servants have had very serious pay cuts.”

Late on Thursday IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said the move “bodes well”.

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