Monday 27 March 2017

Maeve Dineen: Dear Michael, Use your powers, ignore mandarins, reform quickly and be transparent

Maeve Dineen

Dear Michael Noonan Congratulations on a well fought campaign and a historic victory for your party. I suspect most Irish business people will be pleased with the result and with the prospect of you becoming the next minister for finance.

I am glad to see that you have not lost any time in preparing to get rid of some of your policies now that you are in the driving seat.

All those hints on Saturday about how you had not been briefed properly and how the stress tests might contain unpleasant surprises must be the precursor for more flexible and realistic policies on certain matters. It is not before time.

You have made a lot of play about renegotiating the bailout so it is probably too much to ask you to stop wasting time driving down that cul de sac, but I sincerely hope that you will not get too hung up on the silly posturing.

You appear to be a reasonable man so you must know that this is something far beyond your control and something that could yet damage our reputation still further overseas.

Your comments have already inspired Moody's to reduce their ratings for Irish banks to junk. It is time to put up or shut up.

Just as there is no such thing as being a little pregnant, there is no such thing as being half in default. We either are or are not. And talking the banks down to junk status helps nobody.

There are of course many things you can control -- government spending for example, and it is here that you really need to rethink policy fairly quickly.

The polite campaign fiction that 30,000 people are voluntarily going to leave the civil service needs to be replaced with a robust ultimatum. You must stop pretending or the public sector won't take you seriously and will resist everything you do.

The outgoing Government has left you with almost no tools to fix the economy but the Croke Park agreement is one tool that can be of use. Be the man to do it with Leo Varadkar or whoever else is unlucky enough to become the first cabinet minister for public sector reform. But, for goodness sake, just do it. The public sector is not working and needs real reform.

Another parting gift among all the booby traps is the strange legislation that makes you the most powerful finance minister in the western world for the next 11 months or so. You have the power to merge banks on a whim and fire executives -- all in secret, if you choose.

Use those powers to reshape the banks and ignore the advice of your mandarins in the department of finance.

They have been wrong up until now; there is absolutely no reason to think that they will be right just because you are the boss. But don't do it in secret.

We need to know what is happening. The last Government and institutions such as NAMA are far too secretive already.

While we are on the subject of the Department of Finance, read the Wright report, which is sitting on your desk, and act on it. Now. Not next month when you have got to know the people in charge but today, when firing half of the top 100 people won't hurt too much.

Official Ireland has got off very lightly when it comes to the crash -- we need to clear the decks here, and when you are appointing your new officials, choose wisely. Remember that TK Whitaker was only 39 when he became secretary general of your new department.

When you became Justice Minister at the same age as Whitaker back in 1982, one of the first things you did was publish the report into the bugging scandal that marked one of the lowest points in the history of the State and of Fianna Fail.

You should repeat this trick in the coming months by publishing the Nyberg report into the banking crisis and letting us really know what happened in the hours, days and months leading up to the bailout. We all need to know what really happened.

There are so many other challenges facing you, not least the summits which will dominate the month ahead, that it is impossible not to feel sorry for you. You said on Saturday that politics is a marathon, and your life proves this point, but the next few years are likely to resemble a triathalon rather than anything shorter or less strenuous.

Good luck in the race ahead; it is a race that few people could even contemplate running and even fewer could complete. But it has to be done for all our sakes.

Don't let us down.

Maeve

Irish Independent

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