Michael Noonan (Fine Gael politician)

Michael Noonan (born 21 May 1943) is an Irish Fine Gael politician who served as Minister for Finance from 2011 to 2017, Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 2001 to 2002, Minister for Health from 1994 to 1997, Minister for Industry and Commerce from 1986 to 1987, Minister for Energy from January 1987 to March 1987 and Minister for Justice from 1982 to 1986. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Limerick City constituency since 2011, and previously from 1981 to 2011 for the Limerick East constituency.[1]

Michael Noonan

Minister for Finance
In office
9 March 2011  14 June 2017
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byBrian Lenihan
Succeeded byPaschal Donohoe
Leader of the Opposition
In office
9 February 2001  5 June 2002
PresidentMary McAleese
TaoiseachBertie Ahern
Preceded byJohn Bruton
Succeeded byEnda Kenny
Leader of Fine Gael
In office
9 February 2001  5 June 2002
DeputyJim Mitchell
Preceded byJohn Bruton
Succeeded byEnda Kenny
Minister for Health
In office
15 December 1994  26 June 1997
TaoiseachJohn Bruton
Preceded byMichael Woods
Succeeded byBrian Cowen
Minister for Industry and Commerce
In office
14 February 1986  10 March 1987
TaoiseachGarret FitzGerald
Preceded byJohn Bruton (Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism)
Succeeded byAlbert Reynolds
Minister for Energy
In office
20 January 1987  10 March 1987
TaoiseachGarret FitzGerald
Preceded byDick Spring
Succeeded byRay Burke
Minister for Justice
In office
14 December 1982  14 February 1986
TaoiseachGarret FitzGerald
Preceded bySeán Doherty
Succeeded byAlan Dukes
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
February 2011
ConstituencyLimerick City
In office
June 1981  February 2011
ConstituencyLimerick East
Personal details
Born (1943-05-21) 21 May 1943
Limerick, Ireland
Political partyFine Gael
Spouse(s)Florence Knightley
(m. 1969; d. 2012)
Alma mater

Noonan had been a member of every Fine Gael cabinet since 1982, serving in the cabinets of Garret FitzGerald, John Bruton and Enda Kenny. During these terms of office he held the positions of Justice, Energy, Industry and Commerce, Health and Finance. When Fine Gael lost power after the 1997 general election, Noonan remained an important figure in the party when he became Opposition Spokesperson for Finance.

He succeeded John Bruton as Leader of Fine Gael and Leader of the Opposition in 2001, however, he resigned following Fine Gael's disastrous showing at the 2002 general election. After eight years as a backbencher, during which time he served as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny appointed Noonan to his front bench in 2010, to his former portfolio of Spokesperson for Finance.

In May 2017, he announced he would be stepping down as Minister for Finance in the coming weeks when a new Taoiseach was appointed, and as a member of the Dáil at the next general election.[2]

Early life

The son of a local school teacher, Noonan was born in Limerick in 1943, but raised in Loughill, County Limerick. He was educated at the local National School and St. Patrick's Secondary School in Glin, before studying to be a primary school teacher at St. Patrick's College of Education in Drumcondra, Dublin. He subsequently completed a BA and H.Dip. in English and Economics at University College Dublin. He began to work as a secondary school teacher in Dublin. Noonan developed an interest in politics from his mother, whose family had been heavily involved in Fine Gael at local level in Limerick, and joined the Dublin branch of the party after graduating from university. He returned to Limerick in the late 1960s, where he took up a teaching post at Crescent College. Here he continued his involvement in politics, canvassing for the Fine Gael candidate, James O'Higgins, in the Limerick East by-election in 1968, caused by the death of Donogh O'Malley.[3]

Political career

Early years: 1974–1982

Having been involved in the local Fine Gael organisation in Limerick since the late 1960s, Noonan first held political office in 1974, when he was elected as a Limerick County Councillor. Having built up a local profile he contested the 1981 general election for the party and secured a seat in Limerick East. Upon taking his Dáil seat, Noonan became a full-time politician, giving up his teaching post and resigning his seat on Limerick County Council.[4] Though Fine Gael formed a coalition government with the Labour Party, Noonan, as a first time TD, remained on the backbenches.

Cabinet minister: 1982–1987

Fine Gael lost power following the first general election in early 1982, however, Noonan subsequently joined the party's new front bench as Spokesperson for Education. A second general election in late 1982 following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil government, saw another Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition come to power. Just eighteen months after entering the Dáil Noonan was appointed to the highly sensitive position of Minister for Justice. After a few weeks in office he revealed the illegal phone-tapping of journalists' phones, carried out by the Fianna Fáil administration that preceded it in power. That government had authorised illegal phone tapping of the journalists Geraldine Kennedy, Bruce Arnold[5][6][7] and Vincent Browne.[8] Seán Doherty signed warrants for the taps while Minister for Justice. Noonan quickly earned a reputation as a tough and uncompromising Minister, regarded by many as one of the best incumbents of the position. His successes included the introduction of a new Criminal Justice Bill while also bringing in reforms in the Garda Síochána, the courts and the prison service and the facing down of a difficult prison officers' dispute. He also dealt with the wording of the controversial abortion referendum in 1983. Noonan, however, also presided over the justice ministry when inmates in an overcrowded and understaffed Spike Island prison set fire to the building.[9]

A cabinet reshuffle in 1986, saw Noonan demoted to the position of Minister for Industry and Commerce. Following the withdrawal of the Labour Party from government in 1987, Noonan also briefly took office as Minister for Energy.

Opposition: 1987–1994

Fine Gael lost power at the 1987 general election and were confined to the opposition benches. The new Fine Gael leader, Alan Dukes, appointed Noonan to the senior position of front bench Spokesperson for Finance and the Public Service. The party did poorly under Dukes and he was replaced by John Bruton in 1990. Noonan was retained on the new front bench, however, he was demoted to the position of Spokesperson on Transport, Energy and Communications. In 1991, he returned to local politics as a member of Limerick County Council, serving again until 1994. Noonan's period in opposition often saw him at odds with his party leader. Not long after his demotion as Spokesperson for Finance, he announced that he would be taking "positions of leadership" on a wide range of important issues. This was seen as a veiled threat to John Bruton's leadership, with Noonan positioning himself as an alternative party leader. In 1994, a number of Fine Gael TDs attempted to oust Bruton as party leader following poor showings in opinion polls. Noonan aligned himself with the rebels and stated that he would stand for the leadership should Bruton be defeated. The latter survived as leader and Noonan resigned from the front bench.

Minister for Health: 1994–1997

In 1994, the 'Rainbow Coalition' was formed and Noonan became Minister for Health. The Department of Health was embroiled in a scandal at the time regarding blood products contaminated with Hepatitis C virus, caused by the negligence of the Blood Transfusion Service Board. Noonan consistently held an authoritarian line on the case of Bridget McCole and would not budge on his views, suffering as a result of the scandal.[10][11][12] He threatened to take Bridget's mother Ellen to the Supreme Court, when she wondered why her daughter had contracted the disease. Noonan was forced to establish the Hepatitis C Tribunal of Inquiry and to issue several apologies for his handling of the affair.[9] Noonan remained as Minister for Health until the 1997 general election. The Irish Times said "the woman involved had been infected by a negligent State agency, in the biggest health scandal since its foundation."[13] When RTÉ broadcast a drama, No Tears, on Noonan's treatment of Bridget McCole, Justine McCarthy wrote in the Irish Independent that Noonan "compounded the perception of a heartless pedant by whingeing about the way he was depicted in the drama's final episode, broadcast on the same night that he declined to appear on Questions & Answers and when it was reported that yet another woman who was infected by the State had died from the illness."[14]

His home was picketed by anti-abortion campaign group Youth Defence.[15]

Return to Opposition: 1997–2011

Leader of Fine Gael: 2001–2002

Despite increasing their seats to 54, Fine Gael returned to opposition and Noonan became Opposition Spokesman for Finance. In 2001, following a series of disastrous opinion polls, Noonan and his colleague, Jim Mitchell, tabled a motion of no confidence in the leader, John Bruton. The motion was successful in ousting Bruton as leader, with Noonan becoming leader of Fine Gael and Leader of the Opposition with Mitchell becoming deputy leader. Noonan avoided requests to be interviewed on TV and radio programmes, including some on RTÉ and Today FM, ahead of the leadership election.[16]

At the 2002 general election Fine Gael had a disastrous result, dropping from 54 seats to 31 and a number of high-profile front bench member losses, including Alan Dukes, Deirdre Clune, Alan Shatter and deputy leader Jim Mitchell.[17] Noonan resigned as Fine Gael leader on the night of the election.

TD: 2002–2011

He was replaced by Enda Kenny, the runner-up to Noonan in the 2001 leadership election. However, Noonan remained as a TD, and was re-elected at the 2007 general election, and went on to serve on Kenny's Front bench. He was Vice-Chairperson of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Constitutional Amendment and Children.

Minister for Finance: 2011–2017

In July 2010, Noonan was promoted to the Fine Gael Front Bench as Spokesperson for Finance.[18] In an August 2010 interview with the Sunday Independent, Noonan said he hoped to become Minister for Finance.[19] At the 2011 general election, he was re-elected as a TD for Limerick City, receiving 13,291 (30.8% 1st preference) votes.[20] On 9 March 2011, he was appointed Minister for Finance.[21]

In March 2011, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU) backed the proposed programme for government and gave the coalition the green light to make changes to the terms of the multibillion-euro bailout. After meeting officials from the IMF – including Ireland mission head Ajai Chopra – European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission (EC), Noonan said it was agreed the terms of the rescue deal would be altered, as long as the financial targets remain the same. "What was being discussed in general terms was our proposal that the conditions and the memorandum of understanding would be changed for alternative conditions which are in the programme for government," Noonan said.[22]

In July 2011, Noonan speaking after an EU summit on 21 July said that the new deal agreed with euro zone leaders means a second bailout for Ireland is "off the table". The deal will see a reduction in the interest rate on bailout loans to Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Italy. This followed a 10-hour emergency summit at which eurozone leaders agreed to provide a second international bailout worth €109 billion to Greece. The plan will be funded by eurozone countries, the proceeds of privatisations and the anticipated €12.6 billion benefit of a debt buyback programme. Noonan said a provision in the agreement meant Ireland would not have to go back to markets when the programme ended if the country had not reached its deficit target. "There's a commitment that if countries continue to fulfil the conditions of their programme, the European authorities will continue to supply them with money even when the programme concludes," he said. There would be "little or no easing" of budgetary conditions for this year, but there could be more positive implications in later years. "I'm afraid we still have to face the music in December," he said.[23]

In November 2011, he said the payment of more than €700 million to Anglo Irish Bank bondholders was "the lesser of two evils".[24] On 16 May 2012, Noonan caused controversy with his Greek "holidays" and "feta cheese" comment at a breakfast briefing with Bloomberg news agency. Noonan said these were the only links between Ireland and Greece.[25][26][27] He attended the 2012 Bilderberg Conference in his capacity of Minister for Finance at Chantilly, Virginia from 31 May-3 June 2012.[28] On 5 December 2012, he delivered his second budget as Minister for Finance, which included a new property tax to be introduced in 2013.[29]

In February 2013, a deal was reached with the European Central Bank (ECB) in relation to the promissory note used to bail out the former Anglo Irish Bank. Noonan said that the government had achieved its objectives in the negotiations with the ECB, and that the arrangement meant that there would be €1bn less taken from them in terms of taxes and spending cuts up to 2015.[30] Noonan said that the government did not ask for a write down on the Anglo Irish debt during negotiations with the ECB as "the ECB does not do write downs".[31] On 15 October 2013, he delivered the budget for 2014.[32]

Following improvements in Ireland's unemployment rate and outlook for growth,[33] the securing of the February 2013 Anglo Irish Bank promissory note deal with the ECB,[30][33] and Ireland's exit from the EU/IMF/ECB bailout programme[33][34][35] and successful return to the bond markets,[33][34][35] Noonan was named Europe's best Finance Minister for the previous year in January 2014 by the Financial Times-owned magazine The Banker.[33][34][35]

When the European Central Bank raised the limit on the amount of emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) available to Greek banks by about €2 billion at the height of the country’s government-debt crisis in June 2015, Noonan joined his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble in arguing forcefully for limits on the amount of ELA approved by the central bank unless capital controls were introduced.[36]

In July 2016, the Central Statistics Office announced 2015 Irish GDP growth of 26.3% and Irish GNP growth of 18.7%. The growth became known internationally by the pejorative term, leprechaun economics. Noonan attributed the figures to multinational restructuring following the closure of the double Irish tax scheme,[37] however they were subsequently attributed to Apple in 2018[38] (widely suspected in 2016[39]). Noonan came to the defense of Apple when the EU Commission announced in August 2016 that it had found against Apple in its investigation of illegal State aid. Noonan led the rejection of any claim by Ireland to the EU Commission's €13 billion fine on Apple, calling it an "attack" by the Commission,[40] and was supported by the main opposition party.[41] In October 2016, Noonan introduced changes in the 2016 Finance Act to curb tax abuses of section 110 special purpose vehicles, (securitisation vehicles for IFSC firms), by US distressed debt funds in Ireland (pejoratively called vulture funds in the Irish media).[42][43] Investigations into these abuses by the financial media,[44][45][46][47] showed the scale and rapid gains these funds were making from NAMA's disposal program, and that these gains were free of Irish taxes.[48] It led to some revision as to whether Noonan had been too quick in selling State assets to distressed debt funds,[49][50] and had given overly generous tax benefits and incentives.[51][52][53]

Personal life

Noonan married Florence Knightley, a native of Castlemaine, County Kerry and a primary school teacher, in 1969. They had three sons: Tim, John and Michael, and two daughters: Orla and Deirdre. In May 2010, Noonan appeared on RTÉ's The Frontline to talk about his wife's battle with Alzheimer's disease.[54][55] Florence Noonan died on 23 February 2012 of pneumonia.[56]

See also


  1. "Michael Noonan". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  2. Fiach Kelly, Sarah Bardon (18 May 2017). "Bruton and Fitzgerald will not run as Noonan signals resignation". Irish Times. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  3. "The Leader Interview..with Michael Noonan". Limerick Leader. 28 February 2008. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  4. "Michael Noonan". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 8 October 2009.
  5. Irish Examiner, Telephone bugs that toppled a Taoiseach Archived 2 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Irish Times obituary for Charles Haughey
  7. Irish Independent, Full picture of The Boss can only be drawn with shadows by Bruce Arnold
  8. Irish Voice Newspaper, Legendary Pol Dies of Hemorrhage
  9. "Fine Gael leader ignores talent available in Cork SW and NW". The Southern Star. 10 July 2010. Archived from the original on 20 May 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  10. "Letter shows State saw Bridget McCole not as the victim but as the enemy". The Irish Times. 2 August 1997. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  11. "The new frontbench and their credentials". Irish Independent. 16 February 2001. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  12. "Groundhog day for Fine Gael". The Irish World. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  13. "Approach taken was fearful, narrow and defensive". The Irish Times. 2 August 1997. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  14. McCarthy, Justine (16 February 2001). "High Noonan". Irish Independent.
  15. "Anti abortion protesters arrested". The Irish Times. 18 November 1996.
  16. "FG image-makers split on Noonan". The Sunday Business Post. 20 February 2001. Archived from the original on 16 December 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  17. "'I will never forget the loneliness of being a carer'". Irish Examiner. 2 June 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  18. "Bruton & Noonan return to Fine Gael frontbench". RTÉ News. 1 July 2010. Archived from the original on 4 July 2010. Retrieved 3 July 2010.
  19. McConnell, Daniel (1 August 2010). "He's back -- and Noonan is setting the agenda". Sunday Independent. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  20. Election results at RTE.ie Archived 3 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  21. "Kenny elected Taoiseach, appoints Gilmore Tánaiste". The Irish Times. 9 March 2011.
  22. Terms of bailout 'can be changed'
  23. "Noonan says bailout funds may continue beyond plan". The Irish Times. 22 July 2011.
  24. "Michael Noonan defends 'lesser of two evils'". RTÉ News. 2 November 2011. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  25. Wall, Amy (18 May 2012). "Michael Noonan accused of being "ignorant" over remarks about Greece". JOE.ie. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  26. O'Doherty, Michael (17 May 2012). "Let's thank the Greeks bearing gift of Georgia". Evening Herald. Independent News & Media. Archived from the original on 1 August 2012. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  27. Telford, Lyndsey (16 May 2012). "Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore stands firm on our corporation tax rate". Irish Independent. Independent News & Media. Retrieved 16 May 2012.
  28. "Final List of Participants: Chantilly, Virginia, USA, 31 May-3 June 2012". Official site. Archived from the original on 26 July 2013.
  29. "Noonan forced to defend property tax amid warning taxman would deduct it from wages of non-payers". Irish Independent. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2012.
  30. "Deal reached with ECB over Anglo promissory notes". RTÉ News. 8 February 2013.
  31. "Government: Project Red 'means €20bn less in borrowings'". Irish Independent. 7 February 2013.
  32. "At a glance: today's main Budget measures". Irish Independent. 15 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2013.
  33. "Michael Noonan named Europe's best finance minister by The Banker magazine". RTÉ. 8 January 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2014. Michael Noonan has been named Europe's Finance Minister of the Year by financial publication The Banker for the "extraordinary progress" made in improving Ireland's economy.The magazine, which is owned by The Financial Times, said Mr Noonan had overseen a number of important achievements in 2013, including the Anglo promissory note deal and Ireland's exit from its bailout...It said the country's re-entry into the bond market was "key" to its transition, while improving unemployment figures and an expectation of growth in 2014 pointed to an improvement in Ireland's economic situation.
  34. Ailish O'Hora (8 January 2014). "Kudos as Michael Noonan named European Finance Minister of year - Award from 'The Banker' magazine which is owned by the Financial Times". Irish Independent. Retrieved 10 January 2014. FINANCE minister and Leinster House veteran Michael Noonan (70) has been named European Finance Minister of the year 2014 by the Financial Times' influential magazine 'The Banker." The gong came as Ireland restored its economic sovereignty as it exited the EU/IMF/ECB bailout at the end of last year. It also came amid growing signs of a recovery in the Irish economy and a day after Ireland's first post-bailout bond market sale through which €3.75bn was raised.
  35. Michael O’Kane, Political Editor (9 January 2014). "Noonan named Europe's top finance minister". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 10 January 2014. Michael Noonan has been named European Finance Minister of the Year 2014 just four years after the late Brian Lenihan was named Europe’s worst by the Financial Times.The award was made by the influential magazine The Banker, which is owned by the Financial Times. The magazine praised Mr Noonan’s handling of the economy and his ability to successfully steer Ireland out of the troika bailout and back into the markets.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  36. Peter Spiegel, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany and Claire Jones (June 23, 2015), Concessions from Athens keep hopes of Greece bailout deal alive Financial Times.
  37. "Economy grew by 'dramatic' 26% last year after considerable asset reclassification". RTE News. 12 July 2016.
  38. "What Apple did next". Seamus Coffey, University College Cork. 24 January 2014.
  39. "Apple tax affairs changes triggered a surge in Irish economy". The Irish Examiner. 18 September 2016.
  40. "Government finds teeth and bites back against Apple ruling". The Irish Times. 3 September 2016.
  41. "Fianna Fáil to vote for appeal on Apple tax ruling". Irish Times. 6 December 2016.
  42. "Loophole allowing Vulture Funds to pay almost no Irish profit tax shut". Irish Independent. 16 September 2016.
  43. "Government moves to amend Section 110 to close tax loophole used by vulture funds". RTE News. 6 September 2016.
  44. "Revealed: How vulture funds paid €20k in tax on assets of €20bn". The Sunday Business Post. 8 January 2017.
  45. "Ireland confronts another tax scandal closer to home". Financial Times. 11 September 2016.
  46. "State-backed funds using Section 110 to slash tax bill". Irish Times. 2 July 2017.
  47. "Loophole lets firms earning millions pay €250 tax, Dáil told". Irish Times. 6 July 2016.
  48. "Forget Apple: Ireland's other taxing issue". BBC News. 6 September 2016.
  49. "'Vultures' minimise their tax bills - as State now appears to have delivered the sale of the century". Irish Independent. 21 August 2016.
  50. "Vulture funds rub salt into the carcass of this country". David McWilliams Sunday Business Post. 1 August 2016.
  51. "Noonan is accused of 'rolling out the red carpet for vulture funds'". Irish Independent. 16 March 2015.
  52. "Row as Noonan is accused of being a 'vulture-fund lover'". Irish Examiner. 18 May 2016.
  53. "Public Accounts Committee Noonan ill-advised on fund meeting". RTE News. 3 April 2017.
  54. "Noonan's tears as he speaks of wife's Alzheimer's battle". Evening Herald. 1 June 2010. Archived from the original on 17 February 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  55. "Limerick's Michael Noonan calls for national strategy for Alzheimer's". Limerick Leader. 2 June 2010. Retrieved 1 December 2010.
  56. "Michael Noonan's Wife Flor passes away". RTÉ News. 24 February 2012. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
New constituency Fine Gael Teachta Dála
for Limerick East

Constituency abolished
Fine Gael Teachta Dála
for Limerick City

Political offices
Preceded by
Seán Doherty
Minister for Justice
Succeeded by
Alan Dukes
Preceded by
John Bruton
as Minister for Industry, Trade, Commerce and Tourism
Minister for Industry and Commerce
Succeeded by
Albert Reynolds
Preceded by
Dick Spring
Minister for Energy
Succeeded by
Ray Burke
Preceded by
Michael Woods
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Brian Cowen
Preceded by
John Bruton
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Enda Kenny
Preceded by
Brian Lenihan
Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
Paschal Donohoe
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Bruton
Leader of Fine Gael
Succeeded by
Enda Kenny
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