A spinner who has mastered the conjurer’s art of misdirection
Noonan reputation belies a patchy record
It is true that a deal did eventuate on the promissory note (for the former Anglo Irish Bank). Without any doubt that and the popular political decision to liquidate IRBC were massive achievements.
But was it as lustrous as he claimed? In folksy mode (and you can still hear him say it in your head) he said it would be worth “about a billion a year”. But the billion a year has yet to show itself.
Moreover, the losses being transferred to Nama may be larger than anticipated, thus reducing the net benefit to more prosaic levels.
There have been other examples of so-so performances.
He quickly threw in the towel on another of the Government’s crusades – to tackle the extravagant pay levels of senior bankers and did not adopt the recommendations of the Mercer report.
Despite the constant refrain of urgency, it is clear he has not tackled mortgage arrears. The disclosure last month that banks defined legal threats to distressed mortgage holders as debt restructuring offers should have been politically damaging for him.
So, how does he gloss over shortcomings with such aplomb?
He has a fantastic sense of what is demanded by the occasion. His first major public appearance as a young minister for justice in the coalition government of 1982 was to disclose the clandestine and illegal phone tapping of journalists Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold. His press conference was commanding and memorable, marking him out as one to watch.
He became Fine Gael leader at the wrong time and, besides, did not possess the energy or appetite for all the demands of the job. But late in his career he has been able to employ his experience and savvy to formidable effect in the finance portfolio. He is well suited to it.
He has been sparing in his public appearances. Kenny and he both share an aversion to long one-on-one interviews or being involved in television debates. So his rare appearances – soft interviews in the main – become like Apple events in Cupertino, anticipated, hyped and with a frisson of drama as the Oracle speaks.
Joins the dots
People sometimes forget that finance was split into two by the Coalition. As a point of fact, the real activist has been Howlin but his task is the unloved and unrewarding one of imposing a slew of unpopular cuts, while Noonan joins the dots of a preordained four-year plan set out by the troika.
Howlin has taken a lot of flak despite some major achievements; Noonan has taken most of the glory despite some major failures.
It boils down to one fundamental political skill. He is a great spinner. And like all great spinners, Noonan has the knack of appearing completely unspun.