'Charlie is my closest colleague in the Cabinet'

THE Taoiseach yesterday flatly denied he offered his finance minister the job of European Commissioner to get him out of the way and create space for a reshuffle of his Cabinet.

Describing Mr McCreevy as his confidant and best minister, Bertie Ahern said he believed that by putting forward such a good minister he would secure the best post possible for Ireland.

The Taoiseach said he would like to secure one of the economic portfolios such as internal market or competition. This was now more possible with the commission president designate coming out against super commissioners.

The Taoiseach described his finance minister in glowing terms, saying he offered Mr McCreevy the post because it was the best thing he could offer the person who was his confidant and best minister.

He denied Mr McCreevy was Eurosceptic when he described the vote against Nice One as a good thing or had broken the economic rules of the eurozone when he refused to take commission advice on his Budget three years ago.

"Charlie is my closest colleague in the Cabinet ... there is hardly a day in the last 10 years I haven't been speaking to him - Saturday and Sunday nights and we regularly meet on the weekend to go through broad political issues.

"He's a good friend. Last night, I felt very sad that my best and closest colleague is going to leave and how are you going to handle that situation," he said.

However, Mr McCreevy can expect a baptism of fire at the European Parliament when he goes there for questioning before taking up his commissionership in late September.

He was described as a poacher turned game keeper by Fine Gael MEP Avril Doyle and by Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa as having rewarded the poor in Ireland with "a kick in the arse."

Mr de Rossa said he was appalled at the move and described Mr McCreevy as one of the most right-wing finance ministers in Europe. He reminded the parliament that Mr McCreevy tried to reduce the parliament's control over the European Union's budget.

"In Ireland, McCreevy has presided over the worst housing crisis, health crisis and growing inequality for a generation, at a time of massive wealth creation.

"He is a right-winger who believes in incentives - tax breaks and handouts for the wealthy and a kick in the arse for the poor," he added.

Charlie says

We seem to be against everything and for nothing - McCreevy challenges Charles J Haughey's leadership of government in 1981.

Vote buyer ... debasing democracy ... indecisive - Choice descriptions of Haughey made by McCreevy at the time.

To Mr Haughey's eternal credit, and this is not politically popular to say so, he will always be remembered as the man who turned the country around - In the late '90s, McCreevy revises his opinion on Haughey's legacy.

Left-wing pinkos - McCreevy's description of those who criticised his tax changes. They were interpreted by the Wall Street Journal as McCreevy saying the European Commission was a bunch of communists."

One of the most right-wing finance ministers in Europe ... He incentivises the poor by giving them a kick in the arse - Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa on McCreevy's appointment yesterday.

You will not be going back to your knitting anyway - McCreevy inadvertently insults Mary O'Rourke after her 2002 general election defeat.

Cheques and balances

Supporters say:

Helped create over 420,000 jobs. Now 1.8 million working.

Long-term unemployment cut by 80% since 1997. Unemployment, at 4%, is the lowest in Europe.

€5 billion in tax cuts returned to Irish workers. Economic growth averaged over 8% per annum since 1997.

Reduction of Capital Gains Tax from 40% to 20% and Corporation Tax to 12.5% stimulated unprecedented economic growth.

Ireland has second lowest debt level in the eurozone after Luxembourg.

Detractors say:

Tax cuts mask the introduction of many indirect stealth taxes.

Punchestown conference centre was a personal folly which cost the taxpayer €17 million.

52% now paying tax at the top rate.

McCreevy's tight control of the purse strings has meant that many of the promises made under the Programme for Government, including an additional 2,000 gardaí and an end to hospital waiting lists, have not been delivered. His insistence on budgetary caps are also thought to have been responsible for the so-called 'savage 16' social welfare cuts.

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