Monday 26 September 2016

Noonan is no attack dog for the digital age

Published 01/09/2016 | 02:30

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager and Michael Noonan. Photo: Mark Condren
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager and Michael Noonan. Photo: Mark Condren

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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At least that's what science had taught us - up until the moment where the European Commission effectively described Ireland as a haven for tax dodgers.

In the space of 48 hours Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny have disproved the centuries-old law as they floundered to put forward a convincing argument for why Ireland shouldn't take the €13bn and run.

When you're under fire it is not a time for confusion and indecision. You fight back and retaliate with all your might, or you retreat to the trenches and hide.

Out-gunned and out-spun by the Brussels PR machine, the Government have desperately failed to put Ireland's best foot forward.

It has been known for months that a decision was coming and it became clear last week that it was imminent - yet Mr Noonan didn't get his ducks in row.

In the build-up to Margrethe Vestager's big reveal, the suggestion from Merrion Street was that the figure would be small - enough to make a front-page story in Ireland but not to justify acres of coverage in the international press. Maybe in the region of €1bn.

With all the talk in the wake of Brexit about Mr Kenny's popularity in Europe and Mr Noonan's experience, it's hard to conceive that somebody couldn't have tipped them off to the magnitude of the tax bill.

Yet the Independent Alliance, who Fine Gael now view as a 'necessary evil' in the partnership government, declared themselves "shocked" by the outcome.

In fact, so taken aback was the Shane Ross group that they are seeking advice from outside of the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners who Mr Noonan relies on.

It's an insult to the Alliance that Fine Gael ministers announced the Government would appeal the ruling - when a vital cog in that Government was still wrestling with its conscience.

Surely the Independents, including Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone, should have been summoned by finance officials well in advance of the announcement so that a consensus response could be agreed.

Instead of stories about how 'Irish politicians have pulled on the green jersey and are fighting back', journalists found themselves writing about 'splits' in an already shaky coalition.

During one of his interviews on Tuesday, Mr Noonan rightly argued that he had steered the country back from the brink in 2011.

But he isn't connecting with the public in the same way anymore. Back then people trusted him to be on the top of his game no matter what emergency landed on his desk. His colleagues now openly talk about how he suffered a bout of pneumonia at Christmas and is no longer the party's key attack dog in times of crisis.

When the news officially broke on Tuesday, the world was treated to a spectacle of spin from the EU Commission following several hours of radio silence from Dublin. The narrative was set: 'Ireland did a sweetheart deal with Apple that saved the tech giant €13bn'. Ms Vestager gave a polished performance from the podium in Brussels, outlining her findings in detail and taking questions from the media.

Here, the minister sent out a press release instead of staging a rebuttal on the steps of Government Buildings and answering the charges directly. He did turn up on Bloomberg and CNBC but it was hard not to wish it was Leo, Paschal, Frances or one of the Simons taking the lead.

Meanwhile, the dysfunction of the whole thing was on display as the Fine Gael Mayor of Cork announced he wanted to spend the monopoly money on a new motorway.

Irish Independent

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