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Ireland Imposes 6th Straight Austerity Budget

Speaking after Noonan, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin spelled out a cavalcade of 2013 cuts, benefit by benefit, service by service â¿¿ but maintained that the worst was already over for this country of 4.6 million.

"When I took office last year I couldn't be certain that we would, as a nation, make it through this crisis. I no longer hold that fear," Howlin told lawmakers. "What the people of Ireland have endured has been tough, almost without precedent in the developed world. That we will come through it â¿¿ and we will â¿¿ is a significant shared achievement for our people. In time, future generations will be proud that we as a people tackled this crisis head on."

The property tax looms as the most difficult measure to enforce in a country where home ownership has long been viewed as a birthright. Today, around four-fifths of households own rather than rent â¿¿ and many are now trapped in negative equity mortgages.

Noonan said property owners would be expected to declare each property's estimated worth and pay 0.18 percent of that annually in tax starting in July. Those in homes valued over ⿬1 million would pay 0.25 percent above that threshold. That suggests an annual average payment of ⿬315, given Ireland's median price for homes and apartments is around ⿬175,000 ⿿ half the level from just four years ago.

Noonan defended the rationale for introducing a subjective property tax, rather than raising income tax rates, which he left unchanged. He said taxing property was "better for the protection and creation of jobs" whereas taxes on paychecks "increase the costs of employment."

Ireland also unveiled its latest jobless figures Wednesday. Unemployment fell to 14.6 percent in November versus 14.7 percent the previous month, its best level since mid-2011. The figure would be far worse but for four straight years of emigration estimated at 60,000 to 80,000 job-seekers annually.

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