IMF chief to visit bailed-out Ireland next week

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde will visit Ireland next week, her first visit to one of the three eurozone countries with a Fund bailout, a spokesman announced Thursday.

Lagarde will be in Ireland on March 8, IMF spokesman Bill Murray said.

"This will be the managing director's first mission to a euro area program country," he said at a news conference.

Like Greece and Portugal, Ireland asked for a bailout from the IMF, the European Union and the European Central Bank as it struggled with debt.

In 2010, Ireland received an 85 billion euro ($111.2 billion) lifeline from the so-called "troika" of lenders.

After authorities implemented reforms and austerity measures supported by the loan program, the Irish economy has returned to growth, unlike Greece and Portugal which are still stuck in recession.

In Dublin, Lagarde will meet with Irish authorities and give a speech on growth and employment, Murray said.

Unemployment remains high in the country, with the jobless rate at 14.1 percent in February.

The "troika" lenders announced earlier in the month that they have begun talks on preparations for Ireland's exit from the program.

Ireland hopes to become the first bailed-out eurozone nation to exit its rescue program by returning fully to the commercial debt market by end-2013.