Michael Noonan explained Fine Gael’s plans for abolishing USC by 2020 and challenged anyone who claimed his fiscal space figures are incorrect to come out and "prove it", writes Conor McMorrow of our political staff who was at today’s launch in Fine Gael’s election HQ.

So what exactly did Finance Minister Michael Noonan say today about:

The USC claw back

"Since USC applies on a percentage basis, when you go up the salary scales, if it were abolished completely without any claw back there would be very extravagant gains for people on high income.

"If you ran the numbers on somebody for €200,000 for example you would see a huge gain and that is unfair.

"We don’t want to do that so there is going to be a claw back. So over €100,000, we are going to have a 5% claw back on incomes. People will still gain but they will not gain disproportionately. They will gain significantly but not disproportionately."

The Fiscal space debate

"The comments that my figures don’t stack up, don’t stack up. That is not correct. I totally and completely stand over the figures. I didn’t generate the figures that were generated independently by the Department of Finance and in our budgetary documents.

"Anybody who objects to these figures or casts doubts on these figures, they now have an obligation to put the evidence forward because assertions that I am wrong cut no ice. Prove it. Prove it.

"Any of the media who are still asserting that the figures are incorrect put the evidence under it because there is no evidence produced yet, it is just a series of assertions. I completely and utterly stand over the figures, they are fully costed.

"They are very easily understood if you just look at the numbers. It is not high maths, it’s simple arithmetic and we stand over the figures."

On the way figures of €12bn and €10bn are now being discussed, Mr Noonan was asked to clarify the difference.

He said: "The total amount of extra resources based on our assumptions is €12bn. But we have also said that we made commitments last year under the Lansdowne Road Agreement which stretches out to 2018 and we made commitments under the capital programme which stretches out to 2021.

"It’s a six-year capital programme including 2016 and the totality of the commitments there is €2bn but the €2bn was not put aside into some kind of deposit account. The €2bn has to be funded as the extra pay demands come in up to 2018 and as the extra capital projects are funded up to 2021.

"So in terms of making commitments in the election, I cannot make commitments to spend that €2bn a second time because it is committed and will have to be provided for. It’ll have to be provided for over the years out of the resources that are available."

"The reason that the €12bn is reduced to €10bn is because €2bn of the €12bn is already committed under Lansdowne Road and to capital programmes and as a consequence, in terms of a commitment being made for the five years from 2016 to 2021, there’s €10bn available but not €12bn. The €12bn will have to be spent but €2bn of it is pre-committed.”

Also at the press conference, Minister of State Simon Harris had an "anniversary" greeting for the Fianna Fáil leader…

"We are standing here on the fifth anniversary of Fine Gael’s National Plan after they drove the economy off the cliff. They published a plan and that plan was proposing €630m in extra taxes that, thank God, they never got an opportunity to introduce. €630m extra taxes on work that would have done nothing to create jobs so happy anniversary Micheál." 

By Conor McMorrow, RTÉ's Political Staff