Saturday 16 December 2017

No hitches as odd couple settle into familiar routine

IF coalition governments are by nature shotgun marriages, then there's one couple in the latest political union who seem to be getting along as mightily as the blissful TomKat before Katie Holmes decided that Scientology was for the birds and hastily flew the coop.

And in true showbiz fashion, the duo have been dubbed 'Noolin' by some of their colleagues who have watched the pair settle into domestic harmony under the cosy roof of the Department of Finance. Yesterday Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin hosted a post-troika press conference to bring glad tidings from our overlords.

(The troika themselves have stopped holding media briefings, though of course it has absolutely nothing to do with being given the hairdryer treatment by Vincent Browne at the last press conference they attended in January).

But Noolin were happy enough to chat yesterday.

Michael didn't go so far as to do a Tom Cruise and jump up on down on a sofa in unbridled delirium, but he was as cheery as any Finance Minister in the midst of a monumental recession could hope to be.

It might only seem like yesterday rather than 18 months since an ashen-faced Taoiseach Cowen sat in the very same seat in Government Buildings and announced that the IMF were at the door, but in fact we're halfway through our bailout programme.

And seven troika reviews later, it seems that we're collecting a gold star or two.

"It was a successful review and we continue to meet all targets," explained Michael.

"We have 78pc of the official funding drawn down and we have fulfilled 120 separate conditions of the programme, so there are quite major structural changes taking place in the economy," he reckoned.

Beside him, the Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin was in philosophical form.

"We've done this seven times now, and I suppose the fact that it's routine is the most notable feature -- we're expected to reach all our targets, and we do," he said.

"There's a difficult journey still to travel and people understand that there's a very challenging budget ahead," he added, just in case anyone in the room might suddenly be gripped by the unfamiliar feeling of optimism.

Noolin remained relaxed as they went through the questions, trying to negotiate the slippery tightrope of suggesting that if a corner hasn't been turned, then at least some sort of corner is now faintly visible on the horizon.

And they do make an odd political couple -- Fine Gael's canny Limerickman and Labour's precise Wexfordman.

And Brendan was mightily amused at Michael's reply to one reporter who reminded the Finance Minister that he had vowed to be "ambitious in our ask" when looking for a deal on the bank debt.

"What's the minimum deal that would be acceptable to you?" asked the journalist.

Michael grinned like a shark. "But sure if I said that, my friends in Europe would offer me the minimum. I'm not going down that road," he guffawed heartily.

"You must never have been at the fair of Glin or sold a car," he added. Brendan laughed heartily.

TomKat had nothing on them.

Irish Independent

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