We're stuck with Fianna Fail policies, admits Noonan
FINE Gael will be forced to stick with many of the Government's controversial economic policies if it gets into power, the party's new finance spokesman Michael Noonan said last night.
The former party leader admitted a lot of the Government's financial policies were irreversible as he returned to frontline politics.
He conceded that Fine Gael would be "stuck with" proceeding with some of the solutions -- despite his party's objections.
Mr Noonan signalled the party could no longer pursue its much criticised 'Good Bank: Bad Bank' policy.
And he admitted the Government had "gone in the right direction" in tackling Ireland's debt problems.
Mr Noonan repeatedly praised the work of former finance spokesman Richard Bruton who he is now replacing.
But he conceded some of the party's economic policies were "no longer relevant".
"We're stuck with a lot of what they've done now because a lot of it is irreversible. But my big argument with the Government is that they are treating the recession as if it was a consequence of the banking crisis and the fiscal crisis when it's not. It's a crisis in its (own) right which needs its own particular solutions," he said.
However, Mr Noonan -- the biggest winner to emerge from the failed leadership heave against Enda Kenny -- accused the Government of making an "awful mess" of the banking crisis as he returned from the political wilderness.
He claimed it had "absolutely failed" to implement any policies that would solve the problems of the recession and get people back to work.
And he pledged to take the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan up on his invitation to engage in rigorous and combative debate across the Dail.
"It will be difficult to give him a run for his money because, personally, I like him -- so I don't see any personal antipathy there, but I'll run the issues. When he said he was ill, he invited rigorous comment and opposition so I think I'll be able to oblige him."
Mr Noonan resigned as leader in 2002 after his party's disastrous loss of 20 seats. But he said he now wants to bring a message of hope.
When Enda Kenny took on the task of rebuilding the party in 2002, Mr Noonan was made chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). But he Mr Kenny dropped him in 2007. After three years as a backbencher, he takes over the position previously held by Richard Bruton, who led the ill-fated leadership heave.
But Mr Noonan has repeatedly refused to say how he voted in the vote of confidence on Mr Kenny's leadership.
The new appointee said the Government was right to tackle Ireland's debt problems and reduce the deficit and had "gone in the right direction".
He said, as a general rule, he would argue the case for expenditure cuts over tax hikes.
"I think the Government has gone in the right direction in the fiscal correction . . . but I think they have failed the fairness test and they should protect the most vulnerable.
"I think they've made an awful mess of the banking restructure," the Limerick East TD added.
The former Health Minister's image was dented when he refused to accept government liability in the Hepatitis C crisis, which affected hundreds of women who received contaminated blood. In 1996, when Donegal mother-of-12 Brigid Ellen McCole died of Hepatitis C, hundreds of women came forward to speak out about the virus.
Before her death, the Government and Mr Noonan warned Ms McCole they would fight her all the way to the Supreme Court and she would have to pay all costs. On her deathbed, she settled her action for damages and received an apology from the Blood Transfusion Service Board.
Mr Noonan repeatedly insisted a tribunal would serve "no useful purpose". But he was forced into announcing the establishment of the Hepatitis C Tribunal of Inquiry after Ms McCole's death. He was forced to apologise for his handling of the affair before the 2007 General Election.
Yesterday, the Limerick East TD said the Government had "absolutely failed" to deal with the tragedy of unemployment.
Ireland now has the highest rate of unemployment in the European Union, which he described as a "disaster".
He added: "Until they address the recession directly and bring forward approaches for curing the problems of the recession and putting people back to work, they are going to fail and continue to fail and that's why they're failing. That's where I'll be arguing my case most strongly."
Michael Noonan, Newsmaker of the week: See tomorrow's Business PAGES