Irish leaders clash on economy in TV debate

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Irish leaders clash on economy in TV debate

Irish leaders clash on economy in TV debate
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Ireland’s shaky economy dominated the first TV debate between party leaders ahead of a general election next week.

The poll was called after the country was forced to accept a multi-billion euro bailout from the EU and the IMF last year.

Opinion polls suggest the opposition Fine Gael and Labour parties are likely to form the next government.

Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore attacked his rivals over the rescue of Anglo Irish bank in 2008, which he said had tied the banks to the state, making the financial crisis far worse.

“All of the other parties on this platform – Fianna Fail and the Greens who brought it in, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein – supported that bailout on that night. It was the biggest bank robbery in the history of this country, and it was the banks that robbed the people,” he said.

Deeply unpopular over his government’s handling of the crisis, Prime Minister Brian Cowen of Fianna Fail is standing down.

Criticism intensified last month with revelations he had played golf with the chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, months before it was bailed out.

The election was called early after the Greens pulled out of the governing coalition.

The polls suggest about a fifth of voters are undecided. But many blame Fianna Fail for the collapse of Ireland’s economy.

The outcome will affect the rest of Europe. Fine Gael has pledged that if elected, it will seek to renegotiate the international bailout.