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Rocket Man Noonan shoots down hopes of a Celtic Phoenix

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Finance Minister Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan

Finance Minister Michael Noonan

The brace of press officers were practically supine on the steps of Government Buildings, bedazzled by the unfamiliar fuzzy glow of watching a finance minister deliver a Good News media briefing.

Michael Noonan's wide grin had preceded the rest of him through the gates of Chateau Enda a few minutes earlier, as he practically cartwheeled over the lawn to where a sizeable posse of journalists awaited him. His Department had just got their mitts on the latest batch of economic stats which indicate if the country is still in peril, hanging like a one-armed man off a cliff.

But for the first time since July 2008, when freefalling Exchequer returns raised the curtain on the horror show, the mandarins didn't have to read the bottom-line numbers while peering through their fingers. They were gobsmacked to learn that the poor oul banjaxed Irish economy had downed the financial equivalent of Popeye's spinach and was coming on like gangbusters.

"We'll be marking up the growth figures for 2014 and 2015," Michael announced, exuding the wonder of a young fella who had asked Santa for a bicycle and ended up with a Harley.

The gathering of reporters circled this Great News with all the suspicion of a hungry mouse eying a juicy slab of stilton sitting on a wire contraption. The weary foot-soldiers of the economic and political newsbeats had been here before, more than once, beginning almost exactly four years ago on Budget Day 2010 when then-Finance Minister Brian Lenihan pronounced in the Dail, "The worst is over. We have turned a corner".

We had indeed, but the only thing awaiting us around that corner was a bloody big hairshirt shop.

But here was Michael Noonan, effectively stating the one-armed man had not only hauled himself back over the edge of the cliff, but he was in a bar-snug down the road enjoying a snifter.

So, does this herald the official birth of the Celtic Phoenix? But Michael's been around the political block far too long to gobble that dangled bait. The closest he would come to emitting a loud cheer was to declare "the strong and stable recovery in the Irish economy is well under way".

But is austerity really, truly, finally over? Is it time to cast off the hairshirts and replace them with Charvet shirts? The Finance Minister was having none of that. There'll be no Bertie Budget Bonanza.

"No, we've a huge debt," he insisted. "We must remember that there are a lot of legacies and bad legacies after the recession."

This is the thing about a rising tide and all that guff - not all boats are lifted at the same time, and in Ireland's case, many of the smaller, badly battered boats still lie scuttled on the seabed.

After so many years hunkered in the trenches being peppered by grim news and little hope, it's difficult to accept that the war could be over.

Though one economic reporter, perusing the figures, was overheard whispering "It's VE Day. Time to throw our hats in the air and start kissing girls". Hmm. Let's just wait until we all see a cloud of chapeaux over all 26 counties, shall we?

Irish Independent