Bertie: 'Those who ridiculed me must ridicule this Budget'
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he found it "amazing" to see Finance Minister Michael Noonan announce a Budget package to rival those Fianna Fáil delivered during the boom, at a time when there was still a high deficit.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent, Mr Ahern said: "It's an amazing thing. When I look back, I was accused, and my ministers and my government were accused, of spending [too much]. That was when we had surpluses. This Government now have a Budget package which is probably as big when there is still a high budget deficit."
The former Taoiseach said it would be "interesting" to see how the various commentators who criticised the Budgets his governments delivered over the years reacted to yesterday's pre-election giveaway.
"I have to say that those who have ridiculed me for a number of years over that, to be consistent, must ridicule this Budget," he said.
"I was ridiculed when we had a surplus for spending. Now we have a deficit, a high deficit. Now anyone who ridiculed any of my things has to be consistent."
Mr Ahern said while he was "surprised" the Government had committed to spending so much money, as a former politician he realised that the General Election was "imminent".
"The Taoiseach seemed to indicate it [the election] will be after Christmas. That's probably on the basis that people will see the benefits of this Budget in their pay packets by then," he said.
Despite having reservations about the levels of spending, the former Taoiseach criticised the Government's reluctance to increase the old-age pension beyond the €3 per week it had promised.
"I used to be always happy to give the old-age pensioners €7 and €8 and €9. They've gotten a third of that amount, so I think that's a pity after a number of years where they haven't had an increase," he said.
Asked whether the Taoiseach might be tempted to change his mind and go for a November election, Mr Ahern noted the increased spending announced in the Government's expenditure and receipts last week.
"I do note in the Government's receipts and expenditure the other day that substantial amounts of money were put in, which is highly unusual. Now I know it was stated [it was done] because there's a European rule coming in, but I assume that money is going to be used for health, for hospitals, for education and for some of the pending strikes.
"One way or the other it's going to be a winter election because I assume it will have to happen before St Patrick's Day."