Sunday 22 April 2018

Noonan wants two more years to 'finish what we started'

Finance Minister Michael Noonan beside a portrait of Michael Collins in the minister's meeting room in the Department of Finance yesterday Photo: Frank McGrath
Finance Minister Michael Noonan beside a portrait of Michael Collins in the minister's meeting room in the Department of Finance yesterday Photo: Frank McGrath

Fionnán Sheahan

The theory down in Limerick is Fine Gael councillor Maria Byrne is canvassing up and down the South Circular Road so much that she's clearly being lined up as a last minute substitute for Michael Noonan for the General Election.

Noonan is having none of it and points out he's been selected and will definitely be running.

"Nah, Maria is canvassing with me. She's a very good councillor," he says.

"There's very few precedents of people going through conventions and not standing."

More than 40 years after he was first elected to Limerick County Council and at 72 years old, there is legitimate speculation about his future intentions.

The Finance Minister says he has no plans to either retire or take a back seat.

"What I would like to do is finish what we started, four budgets ago, five budgets.

"But it's been a very successful recovery. You saw the figures this morning and I've indicated where we are going. But I would like to have it at a point where, in the opinion at home and abroad, it was irreversible. And I think that will take another two years or so.

"So what I would to do is run again, be back in government, Fine Gael and Labour, and Brendan Howlin and myself back in here managing the thing, at least for the first half of the next administration."

Noonan is flagged within Fine Gael as being an advocate for a General Election in November. He was a minister in the Rainbow Coalition in 1997, when then Taoiseach John Bruton went to the country in the summer, rather than waiting until later in the year when the economy was on the top.

He's not into the revisionistic debate on the might have beens of election campaigns, which he refers to as "mythology".

In the last general election, Noonan was crucial to Fine Gael, after returning to the frontbench following the putsch against Enda Kenny.

He'll be prominent again in the coming campaign, as party strategists are aware the public do trust his doctrine.

"I don't see myself travelling to that many constituencies and canvassing with candidates. But I see myself having a strong media role with others," he said.

The experience of the triple general elections in the early 1980s does still stay with Noonan and frames his outlook on the present political climate.

"What I am worried about is the economy. There was never a country where you had political instability that economic instability didn't follow within the 12 months. We've put a lot in to it. I am not saying this in any sort of self-regarding way now, but this Government put a lot into it and I would like to make sure it was deep-rooted and that the recovery was right through the country, and effectively outside the door of every family in the country. And I think once that happens it is irreversible, because the public won't let it be reversed. Once everybody benefits, the public won't let it be reversed. But at present there is still a lot of hurt around and the job isn't finished."

Noonan remains confident the Fine Gael and Labour Party coalition will be returned to office. He says he bases the public mood from meeting people at events, like attending the Munster versus Glasgow game in Thomond Park last night.

"The feel I get off of it, like, rather than opinion polls, is that Government support is increasing."

Before the General Election comes the Budget in 10 days time. The focus on the tax side will be on middle-income earners. But the tax cuts can't be viewed in isolation of the Budget alone and will be part of a pitch for the General Election.

"We'll be saying some things about it on Budget day and we'll be saying more things about it in the manifesto. There's evolving policy, we'll say," he says.

"I see this Budget as the first budget of the new business cycle of a growing economy, rather than the last budget of the recovery," he adds.

Mr Noonan will also allay concerns of homeowners being hit by higher property taxes when house values are measured again next year. Instead, the values will be frozen for another three years, with a report on property tax by former senior civil servant Don Thornhill being published.

"I'm going to move the revaluation period back... to 2019 probably," he says

"Don Thornhill has a number of proposals, but I really think it's a matter for the next government to evaluate them and, if they want to change, change."

The Thornhill Report will allow all parties to develop their own stances, but Noonan is dismissive of the notion from the left that property tax can simply be abolished.

"I think it would be a bad policy because one of the measures we have been urged to do all our lives was to broaden the tax base.

"With the way things are, if you abolish it, you'll have to find the money elsewhere and that means putting more impositions on taxpayers and probably on personal taxes."

On inheritance tax, Noonan accepts there is a case to be made for more relief. He is expected to raise the threshold in the Budget to exempt more of the value of property being passed on.

"We'll be doing something. We're conscious of the fact that, you know, as emergency tax measures, capital taxes were increased quite a lot. And they're quite heavy now with a rising house market," he says.

An issue of concern to the availability of skilled workers, with the minister identifying returning emigrants and mothers, who will be attracted by lower taxes.

Specific tax incentives for migrants to come home are ruled out as the benefits would penalise those who stayed at home and would have to be offered to workers from all EU countries, under union rules.

"I did have a look at it but it's not possible. In terms of increasing skills in the labour force. There are the younger women who are looking after babies and that is principally a childcare cost. Then there are women who are a little older who are qualified and gave up work to rear a family. And that's a tax issue. So there are distinct cohorts," he says.

Irish Independent

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