Barroso to praise people of Ireland for courage, sacrifice during bailout

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso

Outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will tonight praise the people of Ireland for their courage, resilience and sacrifice during the bailout programme.

He will defend the austerity agenda, insisting he has always been a friend to Ireland and he will congratulate the nation on exiting the bailout, telling us that with a determined effort across society and politics, we have shown Europe that it can be done.

He will deliver his message in a keynote speech at UCC this evening where he is due to be conferred with an honorary degree during a ceremony which will be attended by Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore.

Extracts of his speech which were released last night show that he will shower praise on Ireland, and warn that the events unfolding in Ukraine show how important the European project is for safety and security.

"2013 was a good year for Ireland," Mr Barroso said.

"First of all, a great Presidency of the Council, which was universally admired for its professionalism and effectiveness. And then a successful exit from the economic assistance programme.

"I know it has not been easy. Let me tell you that I admire and respect the courage and resilience of the Irish people.

"Families have made big sacrifices. But Ireland has shown it can be done – if there is a determined effort across all parts of society and politics.

"Because whilst some like to portray Europe as being obsessed with austerity, in fact budgetary responsibility has always been accompanied by solidarity."

He said Ireland has received nearly €14bn in EU budget support, for agriculture, social and infrastructure investment and research, over the last seven years, and that Ireland's membership of the EU over the last 40 years has opened markets for Irish business and created jobs for Irish citizens.

But he added: "Ireland has returned to "normal" in EU terms and I really expect it to engage and to use its influence in Europe to help us shape the right policies for the post-crisis era."

He also said that the European Commission has always been on Ireland's side - "one could even say one of your best friends".

"During the EU/IMF programme, I personally made the case to other European leaders for lower interest rates and longer maturities on Ireland's loans," he said.

"And I have always said that the commitments Euro area Member States made in June 2012 should be fully respected, not just in terms of the letter of the agreement but also in terms of the spirit.

"This is a message I am happy to repeat here tonight. The European Commission will continue to stand by Ireland now that you have exited the programme."

However unemployment must be tackled as a matter of urgency, he said.

"Just today the Commission has published an in-depth review which identifies the need for labour market reforms and more progress with further education, training and reskilling as priority areas for Ireland," he said.

The Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) will picket this evening's ceremony.

AAA said Mr Barroso is one of the key architects of the austerity programmes which have slashed millions of jobs, decimated workers' living standards and undermined welfare states in Europe in the last five years.

- Eoin English

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