Noonan says more investment is needed in top civil servants

Minister for Finance identifies Donald Trump’s tax policies as risk to the State

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at  the Irish Tax Institute’s Annual Dinner at The Clayton Hotel  with its   chief executive Martin Lambe and president Mark Barrett. Photograph: Maxwells Dublin

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan at the Irish Tax Institute’s Annual Dinner at The Clayton Hotel with its chief executive Martin Lambe and president Mark Barrett. Photograph: Maxwells Dublin

 

More investment is needed to attract “the best and the brightest” people into the civil service for roles such as leading the Brexit negotiations, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said.

Mr Noonan said that in a small country like Ireland, when faced with an external risk, you had to “negotiate your way out of it and you have to negotiate the best possible settlement”.

“In that respect we’re fortunate to have a very good civil service and public service. But we are at the stage now where it requires more investment,” he said.

“We want to make sure that it still attracts the best and the brightest, because at the end of the day…it’s the public service that leads the negotiations and you need smart people out there fronting the negotiations, whatever the political directive is.”

The Minister was speaking at the Irish Tax Institute annual dinner in Dublin on Friday night.

He also told the gathering that personal tax should be cut further and that it was important the views of taxpayers were not forgotten in the debate on the public finances.

Mr Noonan said growth rates and tax revenues were “only a means to an end”.

That end had to be better schools, better health services, more gardaí on the streets, repair of damaged infrastructure and investment in both social and economic infrastructure.

Apart from Brexit, Mr Noonan also identified US president Donald Trump as another “risk” to Ireland, expressing concern about potential changes to corporation tax in the US and the possible imposition of tariffs on foreign imports there.

“It would damage our prospects because we sell about 20 per cent of our exports into the US and if there’s a 20 per cent tariff or levy on all of that then it’s not good for us and it’s not good for jobs in Ireland,” he said.

Mr Noonan also said one of the biggest problems he could see going forward was the composition of the Dáil and the policy priorities of the people in all parties.

In a clear reference to the disparate make-up of the left-leaning parties and independents on the Opposition benches, Mr Noonan said: “Everyone now is a spender.”

Everyone was thinking up new ways of bringing in popular projects that required spending money, he said.

The Minister said there were now 2,048,000 in the workforce and he felt that “nobody was standing up for the taxpayer in the sense that I think they should”.

“It’s a gap in our democratic system at the moment…and I think vacuums are usually filled so I would be surprised if that vacuum isn’t filled as well.”

With the Fine Gael leadership contest set to get under way in the coming weeks, the Minister underlined the party’s commitment to reducing taxes on income.

While Mr Noonan pointed out that tax revenue had risen 40 per cent since the worst of the economic crisis, the president of the Irish Tax Institute, Mark Barrett, warned at the event that the tax base was exposed to volatility because of its reliance on a relatively small number of companies and wealthier personal taxpayers.