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Taoiseach thanks the people as bailout ends

Ireland will emerge from the clutches of its international debt masters today as it officially exits its strict bailout programme.

As the once financially-crippled country re-enters the money markets on its own feet, Taoiseach Enda Kenny will hail the event in a state of the nation address.

Mr Kenny, whose Government has led Ireland through almost three years of austerity as it fought to hit tough bailout targets, will thank the people for their sacrifices.

The country got the last tranche of funds from its €85 billion (£72 billion) European Union/International Monetary Fund loan on Friday, when Finance Minister Michael Noonan called Irish citizens the "real heroes and heroines" of the story.

But he warned a long road to recovery still lies ahead, as the Fine Gael-Labour coalition tries to drive down soaring unemployment.

Ireland's finances have been under harsh scrutiny since the country agreed to a massive loan package in 2010.

Its debt masters - the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission - have carried out 12 intense reviews in the last three years and imposed tough targets.

The Irish Government has raised taxes by €5.3 billion (£4.5 billion) and cut public spending by €9.6 billion (£8.1 billion). The country's unemployment rate was above 15% before the bailout.

The country will be the first eurozone state to have successfully completed a strict bailout programme.

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