Michael Noonan reflects on political legacy

In one of his final interviews as Finance Minister, Michael Noonan has spoken of his political legacy and offered advice to whoever replaces him in charge of the nation’s finances.

He also revealed that when it took over from Fianna Fáil, the Enda Kenny-led government wondered if it could pull off a recovery.

However, he kept his counsel on how he would vote in the leadership contest between Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar.

“It’s a very interesting race. It’s generating an awful lot of favourable publicity, by and large, for the party. You can see young people are responding to it and they seem to be moving towards Fine Gael. I’d be happy with either of them as Taoiseach. I’ve worked with both as ministers; I think they’re both very good and it will be all over on Friday, so we’ll see then. Of course, I have a preference, but I’m not telling you.”

On the economy, he noted that when the Government came in, it was in crisis.

“For a while, we were wondering whether we could actually manage a recovery or not,” he said. “And as we worked our way through the days with the troika, about half way through, we realised we would carry it to a successful finish and we did that and the troika left after three years, but the most significant thing that happened — and it is never referred to — is that in parallel we designed an economic strategy that restored the different sectors of the Irish economy. If you take tourism, for example: Dropping the VAT from 13.5% to 9% was very significant. That brought confidence and the industry backed it and cut their prices. The other thing we did in the same space is that we abolished the travel tax and Michael O’Leary, initially brought in a million-and-a-half passengers and that has gone to two million extra tourists. Aer Lingus followed.

“Regarding Limerick, we would see it as the lead city of the Western seaboard for economic development and a driver for economic development down the West coast, with linkages to Cork and Galway.”

Mr Noonan is to step down in the coming weeks, and he advised that his replacement should not to depart from successful policies.

“But fresh eyes, fresh brains and fresh faces should come up with new initiatives as well,” he said. “So, my advice is build on what has been successful and then don’t be afraid to make sound new initiatives that will increase jobs and continue the economic growth.

“An economist would now say the recovery has spread from the east coast. It’s spreading through all sectors and all regions, but it must also spread inside the doors of every household and it’s doing that in terms of jobless families going back to work.”

Asked if he was looking forward to easing down, he said: “ I am 74 years of age last week. I worked for 54 years, full-time teacher and full-time politician. It is a long time working, but I said it to one of my German colleagues last week that I’d been working for 54 years and he said: ‘You are just ahead of what the new European average is going to be; everybody will work for 50 years in the next generation.’ I got no sympathy.”


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