Politicians returned to the Dail (Parliament) on Tuesday after a five-week Christmas and New Year break and were immediately confronted with the detail that government borrowing of €20 billion this year - just to meet the deficit in the treasury - means an extra €55 million a day on which interest has to be paid. It was a statistic to persuade even the most laid-back representative to sit bolt upright, and starkly underlined just how drastically the economy - still booming less than a year ago - has continuously spiraled downwards while the TDs (members of Parliament) were on their extended break. First brush with reality on their return to their seats in Leinster House was a strong signal from the government that they will be expected to take a pay-cut of 10 percent as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen's administration prepares to lead by example. The resumption of business in the Dail coincided with talks between the government and employers and union leaders aimed at mapping a way through the economic crisis. The government circulated a framework document to the social partners setting out the key areas for negotiations aimed at achieving up to €2 billion in public sector cuts. The headings for discussion included taxation, the banking crisis, the public finances, unemployment and a commitment to reflect a pact with some dimension of social solidarity. Cowen told a five-hour Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting just hours before the Dail resumed that €15 billion in savings will be needed in the economy over the next five years. Government Chief Whip Pat Carey observed, "There is a recognition that we are in very difficult times." Carey confirmed that cuts in salaries for TDs and senators will form part of the overall package that will be announced in the next week. Meanwhile, casualties of the downturn continued to mount. Ulster Bank announced that it is to cut 750 jobs in Ireland. Its sister bank, First Active, will cease to exist as a separate entity as the two lending institutions are to merge. Forty-five First Active branches will be closed and the remaining 15 will be transferred to Ulster Bank. Economists predicted the unemployment rate may increase to 15 percent by this time next year in one of the gloomiest jobs forecasts to emerge from the current recession. That would mean 420,000 people on the dole compared with almost 300,000 in December, and just over half that two years ago. A recent high-profile suspected casualty of the downturn was Patrick Rocca, a 42-year-old real estate agent who invested heavily in the Irish and British property markets. He shot himself dead at his home near Castleknock, Dublin. While commentators suggested he had financial difficulties, his widow Annette issued a statement critical of the way his death was reported and saying there were no significant financial issues that would have affected him or his business prior to his death.
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