The electorate will have a clear choice at the next election between the present government and the hard left headed by Sinn Féin, Finance Michael Noonan has said.
Speaking at a joint press conference last evening with the French minister for finance, Michael Sapin, he said that the battle lines had been drawn for the next election, “as a consequence of the [water protests] campaign on the streets”. “It is not true to say it is tweedle dee versus tweedle dum…it is not about civil war politics,” he added.
Mr Noonan said the Government’s strategy was to reduce taxes and grow the economy compared with the alternative, which is a rump of hard left parties headed by Sinn Féin, that advocate a tax and spend approach to managing the economy. “Fianna Fáil haven’t decided yet what column they are in.”
Mr Noonan said there is a general misunderstanding about the role of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council [IFAC]. It was put on a statutory footing to offer independent fiscal advice to the Government and to act as a “counterweight” in the public policy debate. He believed that he “had acted sensibly” in the last budget.
One of the criticisms contained in IFAC’s latest review of the economy published last Tuesday was the failure by the Government to publish comprehensive medium-term economic forecasts. Mr Noonan said the reason this had not been done so far was that this data was not available. However, these medium-term forecasts would be published next April to coincide with the next Stability Programme Update.
Mr Sapin said the subject of corporate tax avoidance had come up in his discussions with Mr Noonan in the context of the OECD’s BEPS [base erosion and profit shifting] project. It was up to each EU member state to determine their own tax policy. But it was unacceptable that large companies would “not pay tax here nor in other countries”.
Mr Sapin said it was important that the eurozone tackled the problem of economic stagnation and unemployment. The EU Commission has delayed until next march deciding whether to sanction France for not doing enough to put its public finances in order.
Mr Sapin said it was important for each country to reduce its deficit but not at the expense of growth. When asked if Ireland would support sanctions against France next March, Mr Noonan said the two countries enjoyed a very close relationship. “I will be not be supportive of policies to penalise,” he said.
Earlier yesterday in an interview on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Mr Noonan said that he had an offer “from somebody on Wednesday who wanted to buy AIB, He was willing to write a cheque.” He declined to reveal the identity of this investor.
“I often meet people in pubs and they tell me they want to buy half the country,” he said.
Mr Noonan confirmed that the Government would start repaying €18bn of IMF bailout loans from next month. This would save the economy €1.5bn over the next five years, he added.
In the interview with Mr Kenny, the finance minister said the costs of the bank bailout, excluding Anglo Irish Bank, would be recouped over time. He said it would not be appropriate to order the banks to lower interest rates.
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