“YOU are lucky to be in College at the moment, you are sheltered from the economic storm.” said Finance Minister, Michael Noonan at a recent ceremony to award him Honorary Lifetime Membership of the University of Limerick Debating Union.
On Thursday 26 January Minister Noonan addressed students from UL Debating Union who presented the award in recognition of his long and illustrious career in politics.
The Minister said he was annoyed at being misrepresented by journalists as his comment on emigration being a lifestyle choice was only partly quoted and therefore taken out of context. He said that for many, especially in the construction industry, it was not a choice but a necessity.
Fielding questions from students, the Minister agreed that Ireland is in a “pretty precarious position” but claimed that Fine Gael had made a very strong start and stated that whatever happens “We have assurances that our European partners will support us”.
On education cuts the Finance Minister said that the Government was committed to maintaining the pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools so the cuts had to come from somewhere.
Though urging students to stay in college and progress to a graduate program he said that doing so would mean working to put yourself through, doing it part-time or by thesis just as people, including himself, had to do in the past.
When asked about cuts in the police force Mr Noonan commended the Gardaí in their work but added “policing the country isn’t as onerous a task as it was in the 80’s”.
Having begun his political career as a local councillor in 1974, the Minister was elected to the Dáil in 1981 and has since held a number of ministerial roles within Fine Gael as well as being party leader during the millennium year.
His current position, he said, is probably the most interesting job he has ever had and thanks to the three years he spent as chairperson for the public accounts committee he is well equipped for his role as Finance Minister.
Referring to Fine Gael’s rise to power early last year Mr Noonan spoke of the “absolute chaos and disarray” of the country when they took over. He jokingly referred to the Green Party at the time as “lingering like an unwelcome guest”.
The Minister acknowledged that the recent budget had been painful for many people but that the 3.6 billion in cuts were a necessary step on the road to recovery.
The real test of success, he said, was in Ireland’s ability to return to the markets, something that can now be done a lot sooner than was previously forecast. After all “giving up is not an option”, according to Mr Noonan.
By Ann Styles