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Page last updated at 21:32 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2009

Huge protest over Irish economy

Thousands of people protest in Dublin
Protesters said they wanted to make their voices heard but avoid strike action

About 100,000 people have taken part in protests in Dublin city centre to vent their anger at the Irish government's handling of the country's recession.

They oppose plans to impose a pension levy on 350,000 public sector workers.

Trade union organisers of the march said workers did not cause the economic crisis but were having to pay for it.

In a statement, the Irish government said it recognised that the measures it was taking were "difficult and in some cases painful".

The pension levy was "reasonable", the government said.

It reflected "the reality that we are not in a position to continue to meet the public service pay bill in the circumstances of declining revenue", it added.

Reports say the plan could cost the 350,000 public sector workers between 1,500 euros and 2,800 euros (2,500) a year.

High unemployment

There were conflicting estimates of the numbers of people at the march, which began on the north side of Dublin in the middle of the afternoon.

Protesters march in Dublin

Police said 100,000 people were on the streets, while organisers said they expected 200,000 to protest in total.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), which organised the march, said it was campaigning for "a fairer and better way" of dealing with the economic crisis.

"Our priority is about ensuring that people are looked after, the interests of people are looked after, not the interests of big business or the wealthy," Sally-Anne Kinahan, Ictu's secretary general, told the BBC.

I've a mortgage to pay, I've children to put through school, and now I'm being told I have to take cutback, after cutback, after cutback
Irish protester
One protester said he was "sick and tired of the way this government conducts itself and what it's doing to this country".

"I've worked all my life, I've never broke the law, never walked out on strike. Instead I've went to work and done my job," he said.

"I've a mortgage to pay, I've children to put through school, and now I'm being told I have to take cutback, after cutback, after cutback."

Ireland, which was once one of Europe's fastest-growing economies, has fallen into recession faster than many other members of the European Union.

The country officially fell into recession in September 2008, and unemployment has risen sharply in the following months.

The numbers of people claiming unemployment benefit in the Irish Republic rose to 326,000 in January, the highest monthly level since records began in 1967.

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