Noonan to quit as Minister, says will not contest next election

Kenny describes Noonan’s contribution to restoration of economy as ‘extraordinary’

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has announced his intention to step down. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has announced his intention to step down. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has announced he will step down as a Cabinet Minister when a new taoiseach assumes office in June.

The Dáil veteran said he would not contest the next general election, signalling the end of his political career. Mr Noonan was first elected as a TD for Limerick in 1981.

“Following the Taoiseach’s announcement yesterday, I want to state that I do not wish to be considered for Cabinet by his successor, whoever that may be,” he said.

“I have been honoured to serve as Minister for Finance since March 2011 and have introduced six annual budgets and one supplementary budget.

‘Fastest growing economy’

“I believe now is a good time for a new finance minister to take up office. Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe, the budget is almost balanced and we are on the cusp of full employment.

“I will continue to carry out my duties as Minister for Finance until a successor is appointed... It has been a privilege to represent the people of Limerick since I was first elected in 1981 and I look forward to continuing to do so until an election is called.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to Mr Noonan’s contribution in government.

Ireland’s unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2 per cent from 15.1 per cent in 2012 and the Government is forecasting a deficit of 0.4 per cent of GDP this year. Enda Kenny’s successor as Fine Gael leader is set to be elected on June 2nd, and Mr Noonan may still oversee the flotation of Allied Irish Banks, which he said could happen in the coming weeks, another landmark in the banking sector recovery.

Mr Noonan’s budgetary colleague and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe (42), is widely seen as favourite to replace him, although neither of the leading candidates to replace Mr Kenny has said who they might appoint.

Not feeling the recovery

While Mr Noonan and Mr Kenny have been praised for their management of the economy, their Fine Gael party lost a quarter of its seats at elections last year as voters complained they were not feeling the recovery.

Paying tribute on Thursday, Mr Kenny described Mr Noonan’s contribution to the restoration of the Irish economy as “extraordinary”.

In a statement regarding his “close personal friend”, the Taoiseach said Mr Noonan’s taxation measures “proved to be fair, balanced and among the most progressive in Europe”.

“He brought stability and confidence to Irish proposals at Ecofin [Economic and Financial Affairs Council]. This assisted greatly with my own engagement with EU leaders at council level.

“I respect his decision completely, and the people of Limerick and the Mid-West understand fully the transformative influence of his years as Minister for Finance,” Mr Kenny said.

‘Significant role’

Also commenting on Mr Noonan’s impending departure, Fianna Fáil Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said he wanted to acknowledge the “significant role he has played in public life, and of course, in managing the Irish economy”.

He said they had often disagreed on policy, but he had no doubt the Minister for Finance “was motivated by a desire to always act in the national interest”.

Mr Noonan, he added, deserves credit “for managing a successful exit from the Troika programme. He will no doubt be satisfied about the state of the Irish economy he is leaving, which while not without significant challenges, is generally performing well.”

Addressing Mr Noonan, Mr McGrath said “you are certainly leaving the economy in a much better state than you found it in. Ireland’s successful exit from the Troika programme will be one of your notable achievements.”

He said the Minister had been good to work with and that he had a “healthy respect” for Mr Noonan, who had always been “straight and up-front” even if they did not agree on every issue.

He expressed the hope that Mr Noonan would enjoy life and reflect “on a career with many achievements”.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty wished Mr Noonan well.

“We have had many battles across the Chamber and this may be the last in this format.”

The party’s regional affairs spokesman Peadar Tóibín said he and Mr Noonan had a very difficult world view politically, but he acknowledged his “very strong role in Fine Gael over the years”.

The Meath West TD said Mr Noonan had been a mainstay of the party since Mr Tóibín was a child.

The Minister “had a very settling effect on the Fine Gael party every time it got a little bit giddy over recent years. I wish him well in his retirement and many happy years with his family”.

Significant support

Irish Farmers’ Association president Joe Healy said he recognised the significant support Mr Noonan gave to the agriculture sector throughout his political career. “During his time as Finance Minister, he displayed a strong grasp of our issues and was open to the taxation measures that we brought forward during pre-Budget discussions. “It was always clear that Minister Noonan recognised the importance of agriculture and farming to the Irish economy, and was committed to supporting the sector and ensuring its growth.

“His initiation of an Agri-Taxation Review was very important for Irish farmers, resulting in a number of measures which will sustain expansion in the agriculture sector into the future.”

Mr Noonan’s real legacy will be the control of Irish property, homes and economy by vulture funds, according to Workers’ Party councillor Éilis Ryan.

Speaking after the announcement of Mr Noonan’s retirement, she said: “Michael Noonan has presided over the fire sale of our economy to some of the world’s most brutally exploitative investment funds. This was not by accident, but by intention and design.”

Dying carcasses

Cllr Ryan referenced comments by Mr Noonan in 2016 that, like vultures in the wild, vulture funds served “an important part of the ecology” by cleaning up dying carcasses.

Cllr Ryan continued: “It was Minister Noonan’s view that the collapse of the Irish economy - homeowners underwater because of banks’ reckless lending, the collapse of entire industries, escalating emigration - was a ‘carcass’ to be cleared up.

“This is precisely what he allowed to happen. Instead of attempting to rebuild secure housing and jobs in Ireland, Minister Noonan enlisted the vultures to refuel yet another property bubble.

“He viewed the crisis as an opportunity for the vultures to feed off people’s pain during the recession. No doubt whoever succeeds him will continue with this same philosophy.”

Additional reporting: Reuters