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Republic of Ireland news

Former taoiseach Brian Cowan regrets huge job losses during recession in Republic

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen receives an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland at Dublin Castle Picture: Niall Carson/PA
By Deborah McAleese, Press Association

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen has said he regrets that a quarter of a million people lost their jobs during the recession in the Republic.

In a rare public appearance, Mr Cowen said, however, that significant cuts in public expenditure had been necessary to ensure future economic success.

Mr Cowen was speaking after he received an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland.

The former taoiseach received a law doctorate in recognition of his role in Irish politics.

Chancellor of the University Dr Maurice Manning conferred the degree on Mr Cowen during a ceremony in Dublin Castle on Wednesday.

Mr Cowen, who has kept a low profile since his retirement from politics, took the opportunity to reflect upon the "arduous task" he faced as taoiseach with the onset of the financial crisis and resulting economic recession.

"The greatest hardship of the recession was the loss of employment for so many of our people – something which I deeply regret.

"Two hundred and fifty thousand of our two million workforce lost jobs, the vast majority in construction and related industries and in retail," he said.

"We knew that the required action would understandably be more unpopular than almost any policies in recent Irish history and that this threatened the survival of the government and our hopes of election.

"However, we also know that to avoid taking the decisions would mean that future recovery could be put off by decades."

Mr Cowan said the Irish government's "decisive action" saw an annual return to economic growth by 2011.

Mr Cowen served as taoiseach from May 2008 to March 2011, a period which coincided with the economic collapse and a period of harsh budgetary austerity in the public finances.

He retired from politics following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party government in early 2011.

He was taoiseach when the state entered the bailout in November 2010, accepting financial help from the EU-IMF-ECB Troika which imposed strict conditions involving bank recapitalisation and a programme of tax increases and public spending cuts.

Mr Cowen had previously served as minister for finance in the government led by Bertie Ahern from 2004 to 2008, a period which saw public spending, bank lending and property prices all expand rapidly.

Mr Ahern attended the conferring ceremony on Wednesday.

The Senate of the NUI decided to award Mr Cowen an honorary doctorate in May this year, following a recommendation from the body's honorary degrees committee. The committee is chaired by Dr Manning.

It is a tradition in the NUI that former taoisigh and presidents are awarded honorary doctorates.

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