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Cabinet chatter

Howlin: 'Many an important economic issue resolved over a mug of tea'

Brendan Howlin says it would be impossible for one minister to deal with the workload he shares with Michael Noonan.

PUBLIC EXPENDITURE MINISTER Brendan Howlin has said it would be virtually impossible for a single minister to carry the workload he shares with Michael Noonan since the creation of his own Department.

In an exclusive interview, Howlin told that his Labour party had reached a quick agreement with Fine Gael to split the Department of Finance into two, creating a separate Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

This was because both parties had thought the Department of Finance’s responsibility to oversee the effective delivery of public services could not be carried out, given its other tasks – particularly given the financial crisis – without creating an entirely separate Department.

“It’s quite clear that any single line minister couldn’t have coped with the whole range of issues that Michael Noonan and I have coped with as two ministers, coping with two different departments,” Howlin said.

The Wexford TD acknowledged that the split in the Department could potentially pose problems if the two ministers responsible for them have a difficult working relationship – but said this was not a concern in the current setup.

“It’s a great help that Michael Noonan and I get on so well,” he said, saying the two had previously served in Government together and had led their respective parties in negotiating the Programme for Government.

“I think we understand each other’s temperament, which is important, and many an important economic issue has been resolved over a mug of tea, which is not a bad thing, I think.”

Any further tensions between government parties would be eased by the existence of the Economic Management Council, a cabinet sub-committee featuring Howlin, Noonan, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore – which he said took collective responsibility for economic matters.

Howlin said he expected any successive government to retain the permanent split in the Department of Finance, even if it meant there were more Departments in place than ministers – with the Constitution limiting the number of ministers, including the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, to 15.

“I think that the economic issues are so important that there’s certainly a compelling case for the two Departments,” he said.

Camera and video editing by Paul Hyland.

Read: Sector-specific talks on table as Howlin prepares for defeat on pay deal

More: New Monday deadline to reach deal on public sector pay cuts

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