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Cabinet ministers meet in July at the cabinet room in Farmleigh. They discussed €3bn in budget adjustments in July - today they could decide up to twice that amount. Julien Behal/PA Wire

Cabinet meetings to decide bloodbath Budget cuts

An evening meeting today – and an all-day knocking of heads tomorrow – should decide how much spending will go.

THE CABINET hopes to decide on the full range and extent of the adjustments required in this December’s Budget when it meets this evening in Farmleigh ahead of an all-day meeting tomorrow.

The intense meetings – which are expected to be so intense that the government last week voted to scrap tomorrow’s scheduled sitting of the Dáil in order to make room for it – are expected to see cabinet ministers thrash out a deal on how much of the spending cuts required to meet European budget deficit limits by 2014 will have to come this year – and where those cutbacks will have to come from.

The Irish Times reports that while most of the cabinet members in attendance are agreed that the adjustment will have to at least total €4.5bn, with some seeing €5bn as an upper limit for the cuts.

It adds, however, that the Department of Finance could well seek an adjustment of up to €6bn, advocating that the €15bn in cuts that might be needed to meet the European targets are best administered quickly.

The government has, though, unequivocally ruled out seeking adjustments of up to €7bn, a figure that had been suggested by Fine Gael’s finance spokesman Michael Noonan after he had inspected the state’s accounts.

They will at least have some degree of a headstart, however, having met in July to already discuss a €3bn cuts package.

Last week Mary Harney refused to put a concrete figure on the amount she expected the Health budget to be cut by, though she conceded that the cuts in her department alone could stretch to a massive €1bn.

The meetings are also expected to produce a general blueprint of how the government hopes to meet the 2014 deadline for returning the budget deficit to within the European limit of 2014 – despite the ESRI last week stating that the €15bn in cuts such a target demanded risking economic stagnation for up to ten years.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has steadfastly refused to seek an extension to the European deadline, however.