Budget 2017: Michael Noonan: No bad faith with Fianna Fáil

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has insisted there was “no bad faith” between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the budget negotiations after the Government party found an extra €300m in the final days of talks.

Budget 2017: Michael Noonan: No bad faith with Fianna Fáil

Mr Noonan stressed he told his opposition rival “straight away” about the additional funds, as he admitted to “difficulties” in finalising the financial document due to the sheer number of groups involved.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath hit out at the fact Fine Gael increased the €1bn fiscal space to €1.2bn late last week, before adding an extra €100m to the sum yesterday.

However, despite Mr McGrath saying the situation makes a “mockery” of new politics budget openness, Mr Noonan denied his party had kept anything hidden to outmanoeuvre its rival.

“There was no bad faith, as soon as I found it [the extra money], I contacted Michael McGrath.

“The figure moved from €1bn to €1.2bn, and as well as that was more in the base, even though it was pre-announced that it hadn’t been deployed or spent,” the Finance Minister told a media briefing last night.

Asked about where a further €100m had been found, he said this was from “capital smoothing”, adding: “It’s under the fiscal rules, it’s not something we made up.”

The comments were made as both Mr Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed there were “difficulties” in the budget as the range of groups involved made it “rather difficult at times”.

While defending the €1.3bn budget and its focus on USC cuts, a home buyers scheme and new childcare supports, both ministers were forced to address a series of ongoing issues with the plan.

Mr Noonan said the 5.5% USC rate was cut because “additional resources” were found and not to placate the Fine Gael squeezed middle heartland, while he dismissed earlier suggestions from Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar his department may need a supplementary budget.

Mr Donohoe also confirmed he has made “no provision” for increased garda pay, and rejected suggestions he remains in dispute with Fianna Fáil over when exactly the €5 pension rise will be introduced in March.

Asked if the budget is a “fudge-it” because of the number of groups involved, Mr Donohoe side-stepped the issue by saying “those opposition back-benchers didn’t think Government would still be here by now”.

Mr Noonan similarly batted away news he pulled out of a one-to-one RTÉ interview with Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty last night, saying tradition is the “main opposition party” — Fianna Fáil — puts forward its finance spokesperson and Mr McGrath was “very upset” to be dropped.

“My relationship with Michael McGrath is is more important than my relationship with Miriam O Callaghan,” he joked.

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