Irish PM warns of pain ahead in address to nation

DUBLIN Sun Dec 4, 2011 11:47pm GMT

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DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny Sunday made the first televised address to the nation in a quarter of a century to warn of more economic pain ahead, saying many people's situation would get worse before it gets better.

Kenny, who was swept to power with a record majority in February on a wave of voter anger over the country's economic collapse and the harsh rescue terms laid down by its European partners, is bidding to keep the public onside during years of austerity.

He was speaking ahead of his government's first budget, to be unveiled Monday and Tuesday, which he has said will be the harshest of its five-year term.

"I would love to tell you tonight that our economic problems are solved, that the worst is over," Kenny said, flanked by Irish and European Union flags. "But for far too many of you, that is simply not the truth."

"I wish I could tell you that the budget won't impact on every citizen in need, but I can't."

The speech was made under 2009 legislation that allows the prime minister to address the nation on television in the event of a "major emergency." The last time an Irish prime minister made a televised address was in 1986.

"I want to be the Taoiseach who retrieves Ireland's economic sovereignty," he said, using the Irish word for prime minister.

The government has broadly maintained its support since February, with an opinion poll Sunday giving Kenny's center-right Fine Gael party 32 percent, down from 36 percent in the election.

But 62 percent told the RED C/Sunday Business Post poll that they did not trust the government to manage the public's finances.

GOVERNMENT UNDER PRESSURE

Fault lines have appeared with Fine Gael's center-left junior coalition partner, the Labor Party, which has been forced to expel two lawmakers from its parliamentary party over opposition to its economic policies.

Kenny confirmed an election pledge that income tax rates would not be increased in the budget, but said 1.6 billion euros ($2.15 billion) would be raised by new indirect taxes and 2.2 billion euros of cuts would be made to spending.

"This budget will be tough - it has to be," he said.

Kenny said Ireland's recovery was also dependent on European leaders resolving the debt crisis that has rocked markets across the continent in recent months. EU leaders are gearing up for make-or-break summit in Brussels Thursday and Friday.

"Ireland supports stronger economic governance throughout Europe, and particularly in the Eurozone," he said.

"European leaders must make and - more importantly this time must implement - clear decisions this week to prove our shared determination to protect our currency."

Kenny's predecessor Brian Cowen was widely criticised for not addressing the nation on the financial crisis that led the state to take on tens of billions of euros of debt from private banks, and eventually to a humiliating EU-IMF bailout.

In the most famous address by an Irish prime minister, Jack Lynch in 1969 said the government could "no longer stand by" in the face of growing violence in Northern Ireland.

In 1980, then Prime Minister Charles Haughey told the country in a televised address Ireland was "living way beyond our means," a rallying cry for austerity that was ridiculed as details of Haughey's lavish lifestyle emerged.

($1 = 0.7446 euros)

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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