Friday 28 October 2016

Budget buddies: 'Batman' Noonan love bombs sidekick 'Robin' McGrath

Is the minister putting in the ground work for a grand coalition, or targeting FF's left of centre vote

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:30

Double act: Michael McGrath, FF finance spokesman, and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan have forged an unusual political relationship lately
Double act: Michael McGrath, FF finance spokesman, and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan have forged an unusual political relationship lately

Michael McGrath looked very uncomfortable on RTE's Prime Time on Wednesday night. He clasped his hands awkwardly and winced as Michael Noonan told the audience no one should be surprised that the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael finance chiefs got on so famously during Budget negotiations.

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Sure, aren't they both from centrist parties with similar policy objectives, Noonan said.

McGrath piped up to say there is a "certain amount of truth" to what Noonan was saying but insisted "it wasn't the whole picture".

But still Noonan persisted in pitching the duo as the new Batman and Robin of Irish politics working side-by-side to defeat the Shinners and lefty lunatics trying to wreak economic instability throughout Gotham City.

Even when Sinn Fein's loutish finance spokesman Pearse Doherty turned on McGrath over kicking up a fuss about RTE's budget night debate format, Noonan was straight in with both feet.

RTE wanted a head-to-head debate between the Finance Minister and Doherty, as McGrath could hardly be critical of a budget he co-signed.

McGrath was furious and Noonan said he could not sit idly by while his pal was upset and refused to take part.

Why, the Minister demanded, should his friend be punished by the national broadcaster for being responsible in propping up Enda Kenny's minority Government? More on-air wincing from McGrath followed.

Noonan went even further in explaining his decision to pull out of the originally pitched Prime Time debate at a press conference earlier that day.

"My relationship with FF is more important than my relationship with Miriam O'Callaghan," he said.

Noonan let's not forget is on the rebound after consciously uncoupling from Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin after five turbulent, but strong, years together. Paschal Donohoe replaced Howlin in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, but Noonan's after forbidden fruit.

Unfortunately, this time round he might find his affections are unrequited.

For instance, McGrath did not rush in to defend Noonan when Doherty made a tasteless jibe about the Minister's age. McGrath and Noonan worked well together during government formation talks and Budget negotiations. It was professional and business-like.

They like each other, but do not trust each other.

Noonan's love-bombing of McGrath is being interpreted as serving several purposes, depending on who you ask.

Firstly, there is a clear objective to ensure Pearse Doherty does not become the main Opposition finance spokesman. This benefits Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

There is also a suspicion in Fianna Fail that Noonan is trying to neutralise McGrath by making out that they are an inseparable pair of best mates who both just want what's best for the country.

McGrath will see this coming a mile away and be anxious that such an impression does not develop in the media or with voters.

There is also an element of Fine Gael trying to eat into Fianna Fail's left-of-centre vote won at the last election.

But more interestingly, is the theory posed by Fine Gaelers, who believe Noonan is putting in the early ground work for a Grand Coalition after the next vote.

After the last election, Noonan favoured ending Civil War politics by bringing the two parties together in government for the first time. Now, he is going to great lengths to show how well the parties work together and is telling the public there is very little difference in their policies.

Micheal Martin will have other ideas, but the coalition question will surely be at the fore of the next election campaign.

Sunday Independent

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