Go-it-alone gaffe by Noonan sparks Yes vote chaos
The Government has scrambled to limit the damage caused by Finance Minister Michael Noonan's blunt claim that next year's Budget will be "dramatically" worse if there is a No vote in the EU fiscal treaty referendum.
Mr Noonan's gaffe overshadowed Taoiseach Enda Kenny's effort to kickstart his party's Yes campaign and prompted opponents to accuse the Government of scaremongering.
After a day of confusion, during which government figures were unable to clarify exactly what he meant, Mr Noonan stood over his remarks.
He cited a list of reasons why a No vote would make matters worse for December's Budget.
Mr Noonan took ministerial colleagues by surprise with his unplanned comments, which were not part of the coalition's argument for a Yes vote.
"If there is a No vote, the Budget that I will be planning for later in the year will be dramatically more difficult than if there is a Yes vote," he said.
But Mr Kenny's spokesman said Mr Noonan was speaking "hypothetically" and in his own personal capacity on his way into yesterday's cabinet meeting.
"I can't say how the Budget would change if there were a No vote," Mr Kenny's spokesman admitted.
Last night, Mr Noonan's department insisted he was putting the facts on the table to outline the consequences of a No vote. And it provided three reasons to justify his remarks about a No vote making the Budget "dramatically more difficult".
These reasons claim a No vote would:
- Have a negative effect on attracting more foreign companies, who already provide jobs for 250,000 workers here.
- Have a negative effect on "growth and confidence" in the economy which is key to creating jobs.
- Damage the State's ability to return to the markets next year because there would be "huge uncertainty" about future funding if access to the €800bn European bailout fund was blocked.
The controversy overshadowed Mr Kenny's start of the Fine Gael Yes campaign. It also dealt a blow to Mr Kenny's attempts to repair relations with Fianna Fail, which had complained about "partisan" comments about its role in the economic crash.
He praised the party for its courage in supporting the Yes campaign. But Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath said Mr Noonan's comments about the Budget were unhelpful.
"There is nothing positive to be gained in trying to frighten people into a Yes vote," he said.
Mr Kenny said that voting Yes would help to keep investment and confidence in the economy strong. But Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said Mr Noonan's budget comments were an attempt to put a gun to the heads of the public and force them to vote Yes.