"What hurts me the most is why is the taxpayer paying for the IMF. Why are we bailing out the banks. These are the people who took the risk, let them take the hurt, let them feel the hurt."

Among those on the main march there was deep anger that most of the €80bn-plus from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund will be used to shore up Ireland’s ailing banks.

Speakers at the march estimated that the crowd was between 100,000 and 150,000.

The rally was the first major demonstration since Ireland agreed to accept a €90 billion (£77 billion) loan from the EU and the IMF to "save" the country from bankruptcy.

People are very unhappy, and this is their last chance to protest before the budget," said Pat Kenny, a 45-year-old postal worker and labour union official.

"But today is just the start of a campaign against the plan. This government doesn’t have a mandate to govern, they should allow for a general election and let the public say if they are in favour of the four-year plan."

Banners carried slogans including "It’s not out fault, we must default," and "No country for young men," a reference to the squeeze on jobs.

As part of the crisis negotiations, Ireland published a plan this week to slash €15 billion from its deficits over the next four years, with the harshest cuts and tax hikes earmarked for the next budget being published December 7.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen has admitted that the slashing will lower the living standards of everyone in this country of 4.5 million. But he insists Ireland has no choice given that the nation’s 2010 deficit is running at 32 per cent of GDP, the highest in Europe since World War II.

Saturday’s rally coincides with reports that the EU-IMF fund could charge interest rates of up to 6.7 per cent, higher than the 5.2 per cent that applied to Greece’s €110 billion bail-out in May.

"It’s difficult to see any justification — either economic, social, or indeed moral — for what the government proposes to do, and we’ll oppose them in every way we can," said David Begg, general secretary of the union umbrella group organising Saturday’s protest march.

Cowen’s 2011 budget will seek €4.5 billion in spending cuts and to raise an extra €1.5 billion in taxes.

He has pledged to dissolve parliament and hold an early national election in February or March — but only once all the spending cuts and tax hikes have been passed.

Labor union leaders and opposition leaders are demanding an election first. Gerry Adams, leader of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein party, said reports of high interest rates on the international bail-out taking shape demonstrate that Cowen’s government cannot be trusted in any negotiations with the EU and IMF.

"They have no mandate to negotiate such terms and impose such a burden on ordinary Irish taxpayers."

Some have expressed surprise that Ireland’s public so far has staged few rowdy protests.

Greece suffered street violence in the run-up to its own bail-out, and Portugal — rated as most likely to follow the Greeks and Irish in taking bail-out funds — this week suffered a daylong strike that paralysed many public services.

The message sent to Brian Cowen is loud and clear: get out, and take your bailout plan with you.

Source: The Independent