By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Fine Gael has called on Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy to explain why it appears he may have more than £1 billion extra to spend than had been mentioned in this month’s budget.
The apparent discrepancy arises in figures from McCreevy and Dr. Michael Somers, chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency, which manages the national debt.
McCreevy said in his Dec. 2 budget that the national debt would be £29.7 billion, with a closing surplus at the end of the year of £668 million.
Somers said in an Irish Times interview that the figure is £28.3 billion, pointing to a surplus of £1.9 million.
"We are mystified about how this squares with the government’s stated target of a £680 million surplus for 1998," Somers said in his interview.
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Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan was in the unusual position of demanding to know whether the country was really better off by about £1.25 billion than the government said.
Noonan said it was a major discrepancy and indicated the budget was based on "foundations of sand."
He said he found it extremely disturbing that two of the principal state institutions looking after the public finances were in conflict about such a huge amount of money.
The Department of Finance said in a statement that tax revenue data, which became available on the evening before the budget, indicated the prospect of a £75 million excess over the budget day revenue expectation.
Apart from that, the department said, it had no reason to change its projections.
McCreevy said there was no contradiction between the NTMA and department figures. December was normally a high spending month and payments would reduce the surplus.