Lenihan: it was flu and I'm back
"Noonan off the mark with 'no captain, no crew'"
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan yesterday dismissed rumours that his illness had taken a turn for the worse following a bout of flu last week.
"One thing in politics, there is no shortage of rumours," he said yesterday. "I feel as fit as a fiddle. I'll be back in the Dail this week, and I have a very full programme in front of me for the next few weeks.
"I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and support from all parts of Irish society. There is great heart in the Irish people, and this wonderful spirit can be released and expressed as our economy slowly comes out of recession."
Mr Lenihan, who is fighting cancer, was admitted to the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin last Monday with flu.
He spent four days in hospital, but is now back home with his family and was fully briefed on the Exchequer returns for the first six months of the year, which were released last Friday.
The minister, who is already working on a preliminary outline of the next Budget, will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service tomorrow to discuss the terms of reference of the Commission of Investigation into the banking crisis.
Mr Lenihan believes that the latest economic figures show signs of a recovery, although he conceded that any upturn in consumer demand in the short term would be "very mild".
He expected things to improve further in the second half of the year as a result of the sharp fall in the euro against sterling and the dollar, which was of substantial benefit to Irish exports.
The minister conceded that the stronger signs of recovery were in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, which includes the earnings and profits of multi-national companies, and that Gross National Product (GNP) growth, a measure of the local economy, was lagging behind.
"It is wrong to say that GDP growth doesn't benefit the whole economy," said the minister. "It gives jobs directly, and to others supplying goods and services, and it is of immense benefit to our balance of payments."
He said it was remarkable that the Irish economy was able to show such resilience after the sharp fall in both GDP and GNP last year.
He added, however, that we needed a succession of good quarterly results before we could truly say that the corner had been turned. Our ability to maintain our export volume was in contrast to the performance of some Mediterranean countries and this was a factor in our resilience through the worst recession in recent memory.
Mr Lenihan, looking at the public finances, was heartened by the increase in VAT and excise revenues, but he conceded that the poor income tax receipts reflected the rising numbers of jobless.
He also congratulated the new Fine Gael frontbench finance spokesman, Michael Noonan, on his appointment.
"He'll have the strain of being in opposition in this crucial area on him now, and I wish him the best of luck," he added.
When asked about Mr Noonan's comment that he (Lenihan) was a Finance minister worthy of the greatest respect, but "if he had a captain and a crew he would be a great guy, but the way it is at the moment he is pretty much on his own", Mr Lenihan replied: "I won't be drawn on that, but I have noticed over the years that Mr Noonan has often taken a line on the economy that is somewhat at variance with that of his own party."