Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan was in New York on Thursday for the last leg of the government’s confidence building US visit.
'The purpose of the visit is to give opinion makers and decision makers in the United States a better view of what we’re about,' Noonan told Irish Central.
On Wednesday, Noonan met in Washington with acting director of the IMF John Lipsky and US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner.
'We’re a new government and circumstances in Ireland have changed dramatically and many here don’t understand the programs that are being organized here by the European countries experiencing economic difficulty. So what we wanted was to explain that. We have had a lot of private briefing meetings,' Noonan added.
Although Noonan’s widely reported comments on Wednesday seemed to suggest the Irish government believes that bondholders of Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide should share some of the financial burden for the banking crisis, Noonan clarified his position on Thursday.
'What I was doing yesterday was saying we have a program and we want to stick to the conditions of the program. We’re saying publicly that everything that has been given to us as a country or to our banking system we’ll repay to the last cent. That’s our commitment to senior bondholders everywhere.'
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'There were some residual issues with Anglo Irish Bank and I simply said in that context that in the autumn we would speak again to the IMF and the European Central Bank about some residual issues there. I think that because of the crisis in Greece it might have been given a weight it didn’t deserve.'
Noonan was firm in response to pressure from Germany to raise Ireland’s attractive corporate tax rate.
'Our corporate tax rate is non-negotiable. That’s the message I have to give on that. It will not be changed, it’s part of our industrial relations policy and is a central part of it.”
Asked what action the government was taking to stem the flow of immigration from Ireland, Noonan replied: 'Inward investment through the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) particularly from America, was never stronger. So there are a lot of job prospects for the educated people with the college degrees in engineering and science, pharmaceuticals and those with banking skills for financial services – in all of those related fields there are jobs being created again. They’re hiring.'
For lower skilled workers, Noonan admitted the jobs market was more immediately challenging. 'There’s another range of things we’re doing to put people back into training. The greatest need in that regard is for the people who were in the construction industry. That industry will come back a bit, but it’s not ever going to come back again to where it was. If you’re hanging around waiting for an electrician’s job or a block layers, its not going to happen so they’ll have to be re-skilled.'
Noonan said that a new internship program would allow recent Irish graduates to claim social welfare and receive an additional 50 euro stipend up to a period of nine months.
'We have brought internship programs forward for young graduates with no experience both in the private and public sector. We’re going to give them up to nine months internships where they will get paid their social welfare plus 50 euros plus the training opportunities. So that’s what we’re doing, we’d like to do more but we don’t have the resources.'
Meanwhile Noonan admitted the government intended to sell off the assets on Anglo Irish Bank’s North American portfolio.
'Anglo Irish has a big loan book here in North America with a lot of assets, between 10 and 11 billion. It’s part of the restructuring of the banks that we would de-leverage, in other words sell off, the banking assets abroad and preserve the ones at that are essential to the Irish economy to get it moving. We’re not dividing the banks into good banks and bad banks, it’s core and non-core, what’s at home and what’s abroad. In that context we will be anxious to sell off the Anglo Irish portfolio here.'
The Anglo Irish portfolio contains shopping centers, hotels and apartments and even houses. The majority of the properties are located on the east coast, Noonan added.
Talks about the financial crisis in Greece will be next on Noonan’s agenda when he attends a special meeting on the issue in Luxembourg on Sunday.
'The point of the meeting is to prepare a response by July 11. I hope the Greek issues are resolved because it’s a colleague nation, but the news from there changes by the day. There’s political difficulty before they get to the economic problems.'