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Bald bombshell warns Dail of hairshirt budgets to come

GOODNESS, but Michael Noonan's fast becoming the Bald Bombshell of Leinster House.

It's getting to the stage where every time the Finance Minister rises to speak in the Dail, an expectant/anxious hush falls on the corridors of power.

For he seems to have acquired the knack of dropping momentous statements with the same casual frequency of Zsa Zsa Gabor dropping husbands.

Yesterday the minister was in the Dail to oversee the passage of the Finance (No 2) Bill through its final stages, and was receiving a light grilling from the Opposition on just how long he planned to keep the VAT rate reduction in place.

There was no shouting or shape-throwing, and all sides were fairly sailing through the stack of amendments attached to the bill, when Michael decided to liven up proceedings.

He rose to his feet and explained to his inquisitor, Pearse Doherty, he could, if necessary, hike the rate back up at any time if the economy took a turn for the worse (though how it could actually get any worse is hard to imagine).

But then he decided to hop the ball by reminding all and sundry of the shocking state of the country's coffers. "The national finances are in a fraught situation," he declared gloomily. But nobody batted an eyelid, as this sad fact isn't exactly shocking news.

And then Michael went on to explain how his department somehow had to claw back a ferocious amount of money over the next couple of years, in order to keep the show on the road. "Over the two years we're going near enough to a correction of €10bn which is a huge amount to find."

But then, almost as a bit of an afterthought, he added: "In those circumstances I am not going to rule out any tax initiative or any tax increase or any tax reduction."

By golly but that sudden bombshell caught the attention of his audience. Surely to God he wasn't actually saying what he appeared to be saying?

A bamboozled Michael McGrath regarded him cautiously from the Fianna Fail benches. He wanted to be sure to be sure of what he thought he had heard, and so almost gingerly asked the minister to clarify this statement.

"You said a moment ago that given the scale of the budgetary adjustment required this year and next year that you're not ruling out increases in any form of taxation. Does that include income tax?" he asked.

Now Michael is a plain-speaking sort of chap who generally prefers to call a spade a spade rather than a soil-moving implement. So if this was a mere slip of the tongue, all he had to do was scoff at the very notion and suggest that young McGrath should go and get his hearing checked.

But no. Instead he executed a swerve worthy of Jonny Sexton heading for the try-line. "We're moving away from what's in the bill now, but if you refer to the Programme for Government that will give you the principles on which we're basing our tax approach," he informed the Fianna Fail deputy. "But I'm not going to recite them now in the middle of a committee stage of a bill which is focused on other issues," he dodged.

O woe. There's plain-speaking and then there's scaring the bejasus out of the beleaguered populace by dropping scare-bombs about income tax.

You're a fright there, Michael, you're a fright.

Irish Independent