Thursday 17 October 2019

Noonan and Kenny owed a debt of gratitude, says former IMF chief Chopra

Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke
Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan. Photo: Tom Burke

Colm Kelpie

Ajai Chopra has heaped praise on Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan as they prepare to depart office, saying not only Ireland but the international community owes them a "huge debt of gratitude".

Writing in today's Irish Independent, the International Monetary Fund's former Ireland mission chief said both men had been "inexorable advocates" for Ireland at home and abroad.

Mr Chopra was perceived as the public face of the bailout team in Ireland during the crisis years.

In a rare insight, the former IMF mission chief said that Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan were "wise and confident enough" to reject Troika calls for a so-called precautionary credit line, as the bailout came to an end in 2013.

Earlier, in 2011 Mr Noonan was stopped "at virtually the last minute" from burning senior bondholders by the European Central Bank, then headed up by Jean-Claude Trichet, he writes.

Recalling his period working with the Taoiseach and Finance Minister, Mr Chopra said that under their leadership, and that of the previous Fianna Fáil-led government, the Irish people had made "tremendous sacrifices while maintaining social and political cohesion".

The IMF’s former Ireland mission chief Ajai Chopra. Photo: Frank McGrath
The IMF’s former Ireland mission chief Ajai Chopra. Photo: Frank McGrath

"Although repair of the economy still remains incomplete, much has been accomplished since the crisis struck and recovery is now well under way. Substantial credit for this goes to Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan. As they hand over the political reins, not only the Irish people but the international community owes them a huge debt of gratitude," he said.

Mr Chopra recalled that he met with the Opposition parties ahead of the bailout in 2010 as it was expected that an election was in the offing.

He said that in their first meeting, Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan said that they were committed to the bailout, but that they would have their own proposals on certain aspects if they were in government.

"The fundamental tenet expressed by Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan was that the programme needs to work and that it needs to be fair," Mr Chopra said.

"The gravity of the situation was palpable."

His next meeting with Mr Noonan was in March 2011, after the election which propelled Fine Gael into power. Mr Noonan was with then public expenditure minister Brendan Howlin.

Mr Chopra said it was "striking" how effectively the two men worked together.

"It was well understood from those early days that Mr Noonan did not have longer-term political ambitions beyond his role as Finance Minister, which changed the calculus of doing what is right versus what is politically expedient," Mr Chopra said.

Mr Noonan told the Banking Inquiry last year that he was preparing to go to the Dáil on March 31, 2011, to announce his proposals to the nation to make institutional investors share in the pain of the collapse, when he took a last-minute call from Mr Trichet, which forced him into a U-turn moments before his announcement.

Mr Noonan said that during that call Mr Trichet told him "a bomb would go off in Dublin" if he did that - a comment rejected by Mr Trichet.

Irish Independent

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