The Irish Independent reports that Michael Noonan, finance minister, still believes he can secure a deal to pump billions in European money into Irish banks -- as well as an agreement to push back some of our bailout repayments by seven years.
In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, Mr Noonan said he expected a deal on EU bank regulation this weekend -- which would be a positive step towards a multi-billion euro package to ease the burden on the taxpayer.
He also said he had pushed to be given longer to repay as much as €40bn in Irish bailout debt, but is "quite happy" with the seven-year extension that is on the table.
The influential Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem also said "the intention is very positive" when it comes to such a deal.
They were speaking ahead of a crunch meeting of European finance ministers, which begins in Dublin today. Getting more time to repay the bailout loans and securing a separate deal on bank rescues are the two key issues facing Irish negotiators as we prepare to exit the bailout programme.
Mr Dijsselbloem was cautious about the prospects for agreeing a deal on whether the new European bailout fund can be used to pump money into banks here, which have already been rescued using taxpayers' money. A deal would see some of the almost ¿30bn pumped into AIB, Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB coming back to taxpayers, and being replaced by European funds.
Mr Dijsselbloem heads the Eurogroup of finance ministers, making him among the most powerful figures in European politics.
"The deadline is in June, so we definitely hope to complete our discussion and have a decision about the instrument by then," he said.
But he added that he "really couldn't say" if the ESM will be available to cover the cost of banks like AIB that have already been bailed out.
Mr Noonan is confident that this weekend's meeting will help pave the way, as it should see a breakthrough agreement on the creation of a single supervisor for eurozone banks.
The deal would be the first step in creating an overall banking union, which would also keep government hopes alive for some EU assistance with the cost of rescuing the surviving Irish banks.
EU governments led by Germany appear to have ruled out any capital to cover 'legacy' losses but Mr Noonan said there was still room for negotiation.
While he said there was now no chance of direct cash to cover the cost of liquidated Anglo, money could be put into the remaining Irish banks.
"I don't see any handbrake being slammed on that one. There are areas of disagreement but they don't seem to me to be insurmountable," he said.
Mr Noonan also said he was happy with the idea of extending the repayment dates of troika loans for seven years in order to help Ireland return to borrowing in the markets.
Although no formal agreement can be struck this weekend, he was confident that agreement in principle would be reached, because it would be seen as essential for a successful return to the markets.
Ahead of this weekend's meeting, Ireland has also tabled proposals to make an element of the ECB more accountable to politicians.
Under the proposals, the bank would have to respond to calls from governments or the European Parliament to have the vice-chairman of its bank supervisor board removed.
Turning to domestic issues, Mr Noonan said agreement on a new Croke Park deal would clear the way for an easier Budget in October.
He said: "It would make a sizeable contribution on the spending side and I would be in quite a strong position for 2014, because much of the tax revenue due next year is already decided, with the property tax and changes to pension relief," he said.
The Irish Independent also reports that the cost of an hour's work is arguably the key determining factor for multinationals mulling where to base their foreign operations.
Tax rates matter hugely, but you cannot credibly discuss a country's competitiveness without discussing labour costs.
Ireland's costs became infamously out of line with our peers during the boom – when the flow of apparently cheap money did for any semblance of wage restraint.
In economic, if not in human terms, one positive impact of the bust has been a sudden gain in competitiveness – dubbed internal devaluation.
The hourly wage paid to workers here has increased by just 0.8pc since 2008, not even matching inflation.
Crucially much of the rest of Europe is following a different trend. Statistics from Eurostat show that the average hourly wage rose by 8.6pc among EU countries over the last four years, to €23.40. In the 17-member eurozone the average stands at €28 per hour. European labour costs vary massively. An hour's work in Bulgaria costs an employer €3.70 on average. In Sweden its €39.
Across the European Union as a whole wages fell slightly between 2011 and 2012, but for the most part pay has increased right throughout the euro crisis period.
Wages have risen even as unemployment rates hit a record high of 12pc, with an estimated 26.3 million people out of a job.
The averages are deceptive. In Greece labour costs have decreased by more than 10pc in the last four years. The country still has some of the highest unemployment levels in the EU.
In Ireland the average hourly wage of €29.10 remains at the higher end of the European scale, just below Germany but well below rates in Scandinavia where workers in Sweden earn €39 on average and Danes are paid €38.10 an hour.
In contrast Austria, Slovakia and Finland all recorded double digit growth in wage costs between 2008 and 2012.
Worryingly, though, rates in Ireland's nearest competitor the UK are well below the European average at €20.10 per hour. Just like here wages in the UK have been flat as wages elsewhere increased, in part because sterling has been weakening.
Labour costs are made up of wages plus some costs of employing staff, including employers' social welfare contributions.
Non-wage costs make up a below average share of the labour bill in Ireland, at 14.1pc. It means more of the cost of employing staff is directly a result of wages.
On average across the European Union such non-wage costs amount to 23.7pc of the labour bill.
In France and Spain around a third of the hourly cost of employing someone is non-wage costs.
The Irish Times reports that European finance ministers and central bank governors are gathering in Dublin Castle this morning for the start of two days of informal meetings of the Ecofin group.
Amongst the issues that will dominate discussions are increasing the repayment period on the bailout loans for Ireland and Portugal, the creation of a European banking union, and strengthening financial stability in the euro zone.
The meeting will also provide finance ministers with the first opportunity to discuss the fallout from the Cyprus bailout debacle which has seen bank depositors targeted for the first time.
Speaking in advance of the meeting yesterday, Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said he did not believe Ireland will need a further bailout in order to return to financing from the markets by the end of the year.
Mr Dijsselbloem said a deal to lengthen the terms of the current loans should suffice - placing the Ecofin chief at odds with the Government position. Ireland, with support from the IMF, has been looking for retrospective funding from the European Stability Mechanism, to cover the costs of rescuing AIB and Bank of Ireland.
While the outline of a deal will be discussed in Dublin a final decision on Ireland and Portugal's bailout loans will not be taken until the May meeting of European finance ministers, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan confirmed earlier this week.
A number of groups are planning protests to coincide with the meeting. Representatives of the Garda Representative Association (GRA) have been outside protesting with placards since 7.30am, while the Campaign Against Home & Water Taxes say thousands will march on Dublin Castle tomorrow in a show of opposition to property tax and austerity.
The Irish Times also reports that the International Monetary Fund has distanced itself from comments by the fund’s
former mission chief to Ireland, Ashoka Mody, who said complete reliance on
austerity was not “a reasonable” way to go.
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