Ireland’s Minister of Finance Michael Noonan has launched a scathing attack on Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen and accused the Fianna Fail pair of ‘bankrupting’ the country.

Noonan has claimed, in an interview with his local newspaper in Limerick, that Cowen failed to halt Ireland’s economic collapse because such action would have stopped him succeeding Ahern as Prime Minister.

The Fine Gael Minister is adamant that Cowen did not attempt to address the financial crisis for a full 18 months as he awaited the nod to take over as national leader from Ahern.

Noonan believes that Cowen, as Minister for Finance at the time, had to know and fully understand the perilous nature of the country’s finances in the final days of the Ahern reign.

“Because he wanted to be Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Brian Cowen didn’t do anything for about 18 months,” said Noonan.

“I would think the calculation was that if he had acted when he knew how bad it was, he wouldn’t have become Taoiseach.

“He would have lost his support base within the party. So I blame him for that. Because he’s a very intelligent guy, Cowen is.

“He had to know. I mean, I knew in opposition. But he wouldn’t admit anything until the middle of 2008.

“It was only after he became Taoiseach. He became Taoiseach in May, put in Brian Lenihan and Brian Lenihan started to take action in July. Just enough to show that they knew how bad the thing was.”

Speaking to the Limerick Leader, Noonan was also severely critical of former Prime Minister Ahern, now blamed for the collapse of Fianna Fail as a viable party.

“Bertie’s legacy is a bankrupt Ireland. We’re a bankrupt country,” added an angry Noonan.

“The primary mover in the business model, where we were all supposed to get rich by selling houses to each other, was Bertie Ahern. And his executive officer was Brian Cowen, who failed to correct him in the Department of Finance.

“See, Finance is different from other cabinet positions - it’s a constitutional position. There is a specific reference to the role of the Finance Minister in the Constitution which means he can act independent of his Taoiseach in the national interest.

“If he says, ‘This can’t be done’, he has a lot of authority behind him. In other words, you can’t take a vote around the Cabinet table and over-ride him.

“You can get him to resign but then you have a real crisis. Especially if he said: ‘I was standing up for the Irish Constitution and I got sacked’.

“So I have no doubt about the power of the position. From Cowen’s point of view, if he felt strongly about it, he did have a way of dealing with it. He never did that.”

The late Brian Lenihan, who succeeded Cowen as Minister for Finance, did get some support from his own successor in the position.

“Brian Lenihan did his absolute best in relation to the country’s finances,” added Minister Noonan.

“His banking policy was a bit of a disaster. Although I would excuse him by saying the banks misled him.”