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Irish teachers to strike against spending cuts

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Schools will close across Ireland on November 24 as up to 65,000 teachers and lecturers plan to join a strike against the threat of pay cuts in next month’s government budget, trade unions said on Friday.

The government insists it must save 4 billion euros (3.6 billion pounds) in the budget for 2010, to be announced on December 9, just to stabilise the deficit at 12 percent of gross domestic product, already four times the level allowed by the European Union.

It plans to derive the bulk of the savings from cutting spending, with no area of expenditure spared and around 1.3 billion euros of cuts sought from the public sector pay bill.

“Teachers, lecturers and other public sector workers are being treated as if they are somehow responsible for causing the crisis in the public finances,” Ireland’s education unions said in a statement after members voted for industrial action.

The teachers will be joining other workers in the strike. Ireland’s largest public sector union IMPACT expects most health, education, civil service and local authority services will shut down for 24 hours on November 24.

The cabinet is waging a publicity campaign to drive home the need to control its finances. Prime Minister Brian Cowen has appeared in several videos posted on the website of his Fianna Fail party since Thursday to explain the plans.

“Our taxes are down by a third,” Cowen said in one of the clips. “We are taking in about 32 billion and we are spending 58 billion euros. That’s not sustainable; everyone would know that of their own household budget,” Cowen said.

The European Commission gave Dublin on Wednesday an extra year until 2014 to cut its deficit to 3 percent of GDP, though the government has said it would first have to focus on next year’s gap before it could plan for later years.

The trade unions have got tens of thousands of people onto the streets in two separate demonstrations against the proposed cutbacks in the last week, arguing the fiscal adjustment should be implemented more gradually until 2017.

Most economists say the deficit must be controlled before Ireland can come out of one of the deepest recessions in the western world.

“There is no alternative to spending cuts. The government has to act now,” said Colm McCarthy, a lecturer in economics at University College Dublin who led a task force that advised the government to cut spending by 5.3 billion euros, including cuts in jobs and pay.

“There is no point in deferring the adjustment until 2017,” McCarthy, whose name for many has become synonymous with the austerity steps, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference. (Reporting by Andras Gergely; additional reporting by Antonella Ciancio; editing by David Stamp)