Opposition parties have attacked the Book of Estimates, claiming that they would lead inevitably to serious cuts in public services and serious reductions in capital spending.

Fine Gael's Richard Bruton said that the reason for the savage cuts in today's Estimates was the Government's loss of control over public spending in the past two years. He said that now the election is over, the Minister is slamming on the brakes, and the people who will be injured are the ones 'not well belted in'. Deputy Bruton claimed that once again it will be the weak and the voiceless who hit the wall.

Labour's Joan Burton said the inevitable result of the Book of Estimates will be 'cruel cuts' in essential public services and long-term economic stagnation. She said that once inflation was taken into account, current spending would be down by at least 5% in real terms, while capital spending would be cut by 12% in real terms.

Cuts 'a betrayal' says Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin's Martin Ferris said the cutbacks were a betrayal of the commitments made in the Programme for Government.

IFA leader John Dillon is threatening to pull out of negotiations on a new national agreement with the social partners. He said the cuts in government spending on agriculture directly undermine his associations proposals in the partnership talks.

Labours Mary Upton said young farmers will be stunned by the 75% cut in the scheme to help them set up in business.

Tanaiste defends estimates

However, the Tanaiste said she believed the estimates, along with the forthcoming Budget, represent a 'prudent' fiscal policy, providing a stable platform for economic expansion.

But Ms Harney admitted that cuts in funding for development agencies such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland will impact on support for new investment, and that the number of places on Community Employment schemes would be reduced by around 5,000, to 20,000, by the end of next year.