Noonan rejects Varoufakis criticisms as ‘excuses for failure’

Minister says Greek counterpart fired by his prime minister and did not seek re-election

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was "making excuses for his own failure", when he criticised Ireland's approach to debt relief during the Greek bailout crisis, according to Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

Mr Varoufakis, who participated this week by video conference in a Right2Change meeting, sharply criticised Mr Noonan and claimed he had not pushed for debt relief for Greece because Mr Noonan could not secure it for Ireland.

But Mr Noonan pointed out Mr Varoufakis was finance minister for five months and when he left the Greek banks were shuttered and people were only allowed take €60 at a time from ATMs.

Mr Noonan added Mr Varoufakis was “fired by his prime minister and he did not stand for re-election”.


Mr Noonan said he had not wanted reductions in nominal debt because it would have put a “black hole” in budgets across the EU.

He had wanted the Greeks to get assistance for paying down long-term debt. Mr Varoufakis “is making excuses for his own failure”, he insisted.

The Minister was speaking during a debate between the finance spokesmen of the four largest political parties on RTÉ radio's Saturday with Claire Byrne.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said Mr Varoufakis "went off on his motorbike to his holiday island" leaving poor and elderly Greeks going through dumpsters looking for food.

But Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said Mr Noonan was "on the side of the Germans".

He said Fine Gael and Labour were trying to create the impression that Greek party Syriza created the financial crisis in Greece, when it had been run by European sister parties of Fine Gael and Labour.

Mr Noonan, who said “I was on the side of Europe”, told Mr Doherty that “you were advocating Greek economics for a time”.

Mr Doherty said he would have thought that an Irish Minister for Finance would “have at least tried for debt writedown”.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath deflected the issue and said he would prefer to talk about Ireland, cuts in public services, the fact that variable rate mortgage holders were paying twice the EU average in interest and small and medium-enterprises were paying unsustainable interest rates.

There were heated exchanges throughout the lunchtime programme on each party’s policies and promises.

Mr Noonan said Mr McGrath wanted to interfere with the independence of the Central Bank on mortgage rates.

The Minister for Finance had said Fine Gael would never go into coalition with Fianna Fáil but pressed on who his party would actually consider as a government party, Mr McGrath said “it isn’t the size of parties going into coalition it’s where they stand on policies”.

He said “some of the reasons voters are so cynical is that some of the time parties aren’t honest during elections”.

Fine Gael and Labour were claiming that “only the current Government can ensure this country has economic recovery”, but he said the Government was presiding over an unfair and divisive recovery.

Mr Howlin said Labour and Fine Gael had worked together and given people stable government.

“Stable for who?” Mr McGrath asked. “You’re offering tax breaks for builders and developers,” Mr Noonan retorted.

Mr Doherty used his party leader Gerry Adams’ description of the Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail leaders as the “three amigos”.

He said there was no difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policies. He said five months ago Fine Gael was offering to abolish the Universal Social Charge (USC) which at the time was the “most popular but most reckless decision”.

Abolition of the USC would take money away from public services investment and housing and “that’s the choice people will face”, he added. “That’s why it’s right to change from a Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael-led government and elect something that is new.”

Earlier Mr Howlin said the Labour party is on “considerably more than 4 per cent”, as he rejected the findings of a leaked poll.

The Sunday Times Behaviour & Attitudes poll suggested the party’s support had dropped to 4 per cent.

Mr Howlin said that in the Behaviour & Attitudes poll previously they were at 6 per cent and “there are three more polls to come” this weekend.

He said there had been very little movement in the polls since the start of the election campaign.

He believed that “many people will make up their mind literally walking into the polling station” and said the issue would be who would offer stable government.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times