Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Noonan: No time for slacking now

Michael Noonan joined the Taoiseach in Killenard for Fine Gael's annual think-in

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has warned now is not the time for "slacking" as senior Fine Gael and Labour figures dispute the need for 3.1 billion euro savings in the budget.

While Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted both parties would work closely in drafting the budget, his Fine Gael colleague said his priority was to achieve a surplus in the state purse.

"We're coming towards the end and we want to keep with it now," Mr Noonan said.

"We're like a hurling team, five points ahead going into the first quarter. We need to close out the game. Now is no time for slacking. We need to close it out."

Mr Noonan joined the Taoiseach in Killenard, Co Laois, for Fine Gael's annual think-in ahead of the new Dail session.

While Mr Kenny said the Government would act "in the interest of Ireland and all its people", the finance minister said impressing the money markets was key.

"What we need to do between now and Christmas is exit the bailout programme," Mr Noonan said.

"To do that in a convincing way and stay out and get money out at reasonable interest rates we need to run a primary balance or a primary surplus.

"A primary surplus is collecting more in tax than we actually spend, if you strip out interest rate payments. So that's the object."

Mr Noonan said he would be unable to give a precise adjustment figure for the budget until he receives official numbers on the country's finances at the end of the month - including tax returns for September and Central Statistics Office growth projections for 2013/2014.

Elsewhere, at Labour's special parliamentary party meeting in Enfield, Co Meath, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore repeated calls for the Government to do "no more than is necessary" in next month's budget.

"It's possible to meet the targets that we have to meet in this year's budget without a 3.1 billion euro adjustment," Mr Gilmore said.

Ireland hopes to reduce its deficit to 5.1% of GDP in 2014, and to get it down further to 3% by 2015.

The Labour leader has insisted Ireland can meet that target without a 3.1 billion euro adjustment, but Fine Gael is yet to be drawn on a figure.

The Taoiseach said all talk to date about the budget had been purely speculative, because the Government does not yet know the country's exact financial position.

"We are not in possession of the information from the national accounts or from the Department of Finance, or in respect of tax or income, in order for the Government to make its collective decision," Mr Kenny said.

"The win-win here is for the country and the people. And Government, on the basis of all of the facts available to it, will make its best choice, its best decision in the interest of Ireland and all its people.

"This is not about individual parties. This is about our collective responsibility in fulfilling the mandate given to us by the people of our country."

He insisted Fine Gael was "very happy" to work with its coalition partner Labour to achieve that.

Meanwhile, Opposition party Fianna Fail also held its annual think-in in Co Waterford.

Party leader Micheal Martin said he believed an adjustment of 3.1 billion euro would be "excessive".

"There's a crying need to give people a break," he said of the budget on October 15.

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