AROUND 1,000 teaching positions, 600 healthcare jobs and 400 posts in the defence forces are to be axed by the government as part of plans by the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, to slash the public sector bill.

McCreevy confirmed last week that the cabinet also agreed that 1,000 civil service posts, a similar number in local authorities, and 300 in noncommercial semi-state bodies will also go. He will seek to eliminate 700 additional posts next year.

Last December, McCreevy said the government was committed to reducing public sector numbers by 5,000 over three years. Up to now, his department has declined to say where the axe would fall.

The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, is understood to have lobbied successfully to have gardaí made exempt from the cuts. The government has been criticised for failing to deliver on its pre-election pledge to appoint 2,000 additional gardaí.

Government departments appeared surprised at the announcement of the cuts.

A spokeswoman for the department of education said "detailed consequences had not been finalised". The issue was the subject of ongoing discussions with the department of finance, she said.

A department of defence spokesman confirmed military authorities had been informed. The defence forces' maximum authorised strength of 10,500, plus 250 in training, will fall by 250. The remaining 150 cuts will come from civilian employees and will be through natural wastage, he said.

Authorised defence forces numbers have fallen from 12,700 in the late 1990s, but actual numbers are under 10,500.

The general secretary of the defence force representative body PDForra, Gerry Rooney, said that he was shocked at the move. He said the Minister for Defence, Michael Smith, had given assurances this year that there would be no more cuts.

"It makes a nonsense of the planning that went into the defence forces through the Price Waterhouse report in 1996 and the white paper in 2000, " he said.