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Gloves off with Noonan 'nasty little man' insult

THE Dail might be shut for the summer but Fine Gael power puncher Michael Noonan is only warming up.

The newly appointed finance spokesperson launched a blistering attack on Justice Minister Dermot Ahern yesterday -- calling him a "nasty little man".

And bizarrely, the minister responded by later indulging in a Scrap Saturday-style imitation of Mr Noonan.

The Fine Gael frontbencher then warned the minister that the spat meant the "rules of Munster rugby" now apply.

The duo went tit-for-tat all day as they firstly rowed over the Government's new infrastructure plan and later over the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank.

But it was the "nasty little man" remark that struck hardest.


It came during a live radio debate on RTE, in which the pair squabbled over Metro North.

Mr Ahern appeared to rile his opposite number with references to the Fine Gael leadership heave, prompting Mr Noonan to hit back: "Isn't Dermot Ahern a nasty little man who keeps making personal comments about me, and goes back 12 years to the time when I was last spokesman on finance?"

Later in the day, the minister used a press conference about his plans for a new prison at Thornton Hall to get his response in, accusing the Fine Gael frontbencher of becoming "a bit of a caricature of himself".

Mr Ahern then went a step further by actually mimicking Mr Noonan's strong accent. He recalled Mr Noonan's previous period as opposition finance spokesman: "We had a budget, I was minister [for social affairs] at the time and we gave a record increase to old-age pensioners of £10, and I do remember him saying [impersonating Mr Noonan's intonation]: 'It wouldn't buy a bag of coal', which I thought was mealy-mouthed."

The swipe didn't shake the Limerick TD, though, as he responded again: "The sequence of it was that, as we debated the re-announcement of the shredded National Development Plan, Dermot Ahern passed a number of personal comments about me, which I let go and let go and let go again.

"At some point in the conversation, the rules of Munster rugby apply. If somebody is consistently fouling you, you don't consistently foul them back, you just take them out with one belt."

He went on to target another of the minister's weak points by demanding that the investigation into Anglo Irish Bank and Sean FitzPatrick be fast-tracked.

Mr Noonan argued that an interim report into the investigation should be published in order to help restore public confidence.

He claimed the slow progress was a recognition of the lack of political will within Government for a result to be reached.

"We cannot leave wrongdoing unpunished. We are two years on from the emergence of this crisis, more than long enough for these matters to have been dealt with," he said.