Only ‘bits and bobs’ of budget to decide - Noonan
Taoiseach says all ministers must ‘measure up’ in effort to put country back to work
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan addressing the second day of the Fine Gael National Conference in Limerick today. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said there is little work left to do on the budget and that the State had a strong “backstop” in place for when it exits the international bailout.
Speaking at the Fine Gael national conference in Limerick, the Minister said there were only a few “bit and bobs” left to decide on when the Cabinet meets tomorrow for the last time before he and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin outline the budget on Tuesday.
He joked to delegates that they would be “astounded by all the good news I am announcing”.
Asked about Mr Noonan’s comment, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said there would be some good news in the budget in the area of jobs and he indicated the Government was keen to find a way to support small and medium sized businesses.
He said a decision on where the funds to support jobs measures would be decided on at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.
Mr Kenny said the final decisions that needed to be made were not about any individual department and that all ministers would be required “to measure up in the national effort to put our country back to work”.
“This is not an easy situation but we will try to be as fair and equitable as possible,” he said.
Fine Gael is seen to be stepping up pressure on Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton to make better use of declining welfare expenditure to stimulate employment. Mr Kenny last night made reference to welfare traps and suggested the pace of reform in Ms Burton’s department needed to pick up so people would not be stuck on the Live Register for years.
Today, Mr Kenny said he had co-operated very strongly with Ms Burton who had “overseen a change in the way social protection services interact with the live register by reducing that for 15 consecutive months.
“The Live Register is no longer seen as a long list of disillusioned people but where there is competence and experience and they should be motivated by the opportunity to get back into the world of work and be seen to be rewarded. “
Regarding the Department of Health, Mr Kenny said spending was within €1million of where it was supposed to be by the end of September but that a final decision on how much money would be needed for next year would be decided on tomorrow.
Mr Noonan said it was his decision to attempt to lower the State’s deficit in 2014 below the 5.1 per cent of GDP target set by the troika as he wanted to ensure fiscal adjustment was “finished by 2015”.
“The longer the adjustment takes, the greater the uncertainty that will hang over the economy,” he said. “And uncertainty will cause people to defer investment and spending decisions, which is the last thing we need now that the recovery in the labour force is taking hold.”
Lowering the deficit to 4.8 per cent, which the Government is targeting through a €2.5 billion adjustment, meant the economy had “a sufficient buffer in the event of international shocks,” Mr Noonan added.
He said the cash balance of some €25 billion held by the National Treasury Management Agency meant the State already had a backstop in place for when the bailout was exited.
Looking to the future, Mr Noonan said Ireland cannot go back to “an economy built on the quicksand of a credit and property bubble”.
The national conference is continuing in Limerick today with a number of ministers taking part in the event before returning to Dublin tomorrow for a final Cabinet meeting to lock down the last details of the budget.
Hundreds of party delegates from across the country are attending the conference and the main event today will be an address from Mr Kenny at 8.30pm.
Ministers are participating in sessions on subjects such as lifelong learning, health, political reform, justice and the Gathering.