Post-bailout, Ireland goes to the polls

Irish policemen guard the front gates to the Irish Prime Ministers office in Dublin, Ireland, on November 22, 2010. Ireland was hammering out the conditions of an EU bailout package worth up to 90 billion euros, sending the single currency soaring but sparking fierce criticism at home of the already beleaguered government.

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Jeremy Hobson: Voters in Ireland go to the polls today to choose a new government. The elections come just months after a bailout from the European Union and IMF worth more than $100 billion.

And, as Christopher Werth reports, the results of the vote could re-open questions about the terms of that bailout.


Christopher Werth: Ireland's faltering economy has dominated the campaign trail and political ads.

Political ad: A country in crisis. Average people paying the price.

Ben Tonra is a political scientist at University College Dublin who's been following the election closely.

Ben Tonra: I think the Irish public, first of all, is frightened.

Frightened, he says, by a growing sense that Ireland is no longer fully in control of its own economic affairs after being bailed out by the rest of Europe.

Tonra: We have literally the EU and IMF looking over our shoulders. Really, it's a cause of national humiliation.

Two political parties long in opposition say it's time to reclaim Ireland's pride and independence. The parties Fine Gael and Labour are thought likely to form the next government.

Tonra: Both have said very, very clearly that the deal that was negotiated by the previous Irish government has to be renegotiated.

The parties also say they want other European countries to share the burden of Ireland's growing debt, which is skyrocketing because the Irish government has guaranteed the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the country's failing banks.

Peter Mathews: It's the amount of debt that could crush this country beyond repair.

Peter Mathews is a candidate for Fine Gael in Dublin. He says the money used to prop up Ireland's financial system is also preventing losses at other European banks that lent irresponsibly to banks in Ireland. But as it stands, Mathews says, Irish taxpayers are footing the entire bill for a problem they didn't create.

Mathews: Therefore there's no moral reason why they should be forced to take the responsibility of repaying that debt.

His party says if it's elected, it will try to restructure that debt by forcing investors in the big banks to take their losses, a move the European countries that bailed out Ireland are adamantly opposed to. They fear it could set a precedent for a string of bank defaults across Europe.

In London, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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