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Hacking away at the Celtic Tiger

As Ireland's budget deficit rises, cuts range from film board to local police.

Food is handed out at the Capucina Friary Day Centre, in Dublin, April 15, 2009. About 850 people a week, many of them foreigners who came to Ireland during the boom years, received a free food parcel and the center's staff race to serve daily breakfast and a three-course lunch to more than 600 people. (Cathal McNaughton/Ireland)

DUBLIN — The Celtic Tiger is dead. Now its cubs are facing death by a thousand cuts, or "snips," to use the colloquial lexicon of post-boom Ireland.

Faced with a budget deficit of $8.5 billion this year, the government set up a board to establish where sweeping public spending cuts could be made. Known colloquially as An Bord Snip ("an bord" is Irish for "the board") it has, after months of deliberation, identified where the scissors should be wielded.

Many government-funded bodies that lived well during the Celtic Tiger years — the period of rapid expansion that began in the mid-1990s and ended with the property crash of last year — are facing extinction. An Bord Snip’s targets for abolition range from the Department for Arts, Sports and Tourism to the Irish Film Board and the Army’s equestrian team. Among the most controversial of its recommendations are a reduction of welfare payments by 5 percent, which would bring savings of almost $1.4 billion and a cut in the child benefit that would save $710 million.

But almost every sector of society would feel the pain of the snips. Schools would have fewer teachers, art galleries and museums would start charging entrance fees, half the country’s police stations would be closed, some local governments would be abolished, several thousand civil servants would be paid off, potholes on country roads would be left unfilled and allowances for members of parliament would be slashed.

That last measure is about the only one popular with Irish voters, who generally blame politicians, bankers and property developers for the economic mess. The chairman of An Bord Snip, economist Colm McCarthy, even suggested abolition of the upper chamber of parliament, the Senate, dismissed by many as a talking shop (whose members love visiting the United States, where the title "senator" commands more respect than in Dublin).

The projected cuts do not stop at home. The Department of Foreign Affairs has been told it must cut back the diplomatic service, which includes 69 embassies and seven consulates, four of them in the U.S. (in New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, where there are large Irish-American communities).