Ireland’s Finance Minister Michael Noonan is laughing all the way to the European Central Bank after a surprise upturn in his treasury’s tax take.

A delighted Noonan has confirmed in Dublin that Irish finances are now well ahead of 2012 targets set under the EU/IMF bail-out.

The Irish Independent reports that a surge in VAT, stamp duty and taxes paid by businesses has produced the unexpected bonus.

As a result the gap between what the State spent and what it took in last year is reckoned to have dropped to less than 8 per cent with final figures to be published in April.

Noonan has confirmed that the state finances are now in better shape even than expected when he announced his Budget at the start of December.

The Minister said: “Barring war or pestilence we should be in a position to achieve our targets for 2013 fairly comfortably.”

The news comes after Noonan confirmed the expected $280 million deficit in the 2012 tax take will instead become a $350 million excess.

This comes after a late surge in payments, including bigger-than-predicted corporation tax payments by two large companies in December helped turn things around, according to the Irish Independent.

The paper says Noonan reports that the deficit for 2012 is now likely to come in at 7.9 per cent or even 7.8 per cent, down from an overspend of 29 per cent at its worst point in 2010.

These latest figures beat the Government’s previous estimates of an 8.2 per cent deficit and are well below the 8.6 per cent target set under the EU/IMF bailout deal.

They also mean Ireland will no longer be the worst country in the euro area in terms of overspending, with Spain’s deficit forecast to hit 8 per cent in 2013.

The latest figures don’t include VAT from the Christmas shopping season which experts say will give a second boost to the tax take in January.