| -0.6°C Dublin

Andrew Lynch: Noonan wants us to start spending -- we want him to stop being so flippant

MICHAEL Noonan has always fancied himself as a bit of a comedian. The Minister for Finance's latest wisecrack, however, must be his funniest yet.

He suggests that we can all help him to beat the recession by going on a national shopping spree -- just as his Government starts planning another savage budget.

Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, has probably never made a joke in his life. Over in Brussels, the French president is toying with Enda Kenny the way a cat toys with a cornered mouse, forcing the Taoiseach to practically beg for a cut in our EU bailout interest rate.

For the public, the overall picture remains as confusing as ever -- which is why most people will be politely declining Noonan's advice and leaving their credit cards at home for the time being.

To be fair to Noonan, you can see his point. Irish depositors have built up an incredible €134bn in the banks, most of it earning precious little interest.

If even a small amount of this was pumped back into the economy, it would be like giving a massive adrenaline injection to a patient whose heart had stopped beating.

The only problem is, people are scared. They don't know if they will have to take another wage cut this year or even if they will still have a job at Christmas. Above all, they don't know how much Noonan plans to take off them in December's Budget -- and on this sensitive topic, the Finance Minister and his colleagues are not exactly being much help.

The one thing we know for sure is that the Government needs to take another €3.6bn out of the economy next year. Everything else is as clear as mud. Ministers have dropped heavy hints about water charges, property taxes and public sector pay cuts -- but when it comes to actual figures, they seem determined to keep us in suspense.

As Noonan is anxious to point out, the first green shoots of recovery can be seen sprouting on the horizon. Exports are up a healthy 21pc over last year, while the overall economy actually grew slightly during the first three months of 2011.

When it comes to consumer demand, on the other hand, we are still on the floor -- because the public will need a lot more evidence than that to persuade them that it's time to start partying like it's 1999 again.

Noonan made another of his little jokes this week when he suggested that he might start flogging T-shirts with the slogan, "Ireland is not Greece".

For anyone concerned about the future of the EU, however, the dramatic events in Athens are no laughing matter.

If the Greeks default on their bailout, then the consequences for this country would be potentially earth-shattering -- yet another reason for Irish people to keep their hands in their pockets and wait to see how this all plays out.

This is why Enda Kenny cuts such a forlorn figure as he goes through the motions at today's EU summit, raising the issue of Ireland's debt but knowing full well that Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel have bigger fish to fry.

The Taoiseach let his frustration slip earlier this week when he pleaded, "What do you want me to do, ring up the Elysee Palace?"

The answer is that people don't care how he actually makes contact -- they just want to see him deliver on the promise that he made so confidently during a general election just four months ago.

With so many mixed signals coming out of Government Buildings, you pay your money and you take your choice. Or in Ireland's case, you hold on to your savings instead of rushing out to book that holiday or buy the latest flat-screen TV.

Noonan's cry of "spend, spend, spend!" has given us all a good laugh -- but now it's time for him to come up with some proper ideas instead.