Feta cheese remarks reasonable,says Noonan


MINISTER FOR Finance Michael Noonan has defended his remarks about feta cheese and accused the No side of the referendum of “bullying and harassing” the Taoiseach. He also rejected as “completely untrue” remarks attributed to him in the German magazine Der Spiegel, that he had been critical of Greece at a meeting of EU finance ministers.

During Dáil finance questions, Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins asked the Minister if he was disturbed by the “increasing harassment and bullying of our people by all kinds of economic agencies”. The Dublin West TD claimed people were being told to vote Yes to the fiscal treaty regardless of its contents or they would be isolated from the markets. This was diverting “our attention from the details of the fiscal compact treaty and its implications for our economy”.

The Minister told him the “only harassment and bullying I have seen in the past couple of weeks involved supporters of the No campaign harassing and bullying the Taoiseach as he campaigned across the country”.

They tried to prevent Enda Kenny from explaining the situation “to ordinary, decent citizens”. He called on Mr Higgins to “exercise influence over his supporters, if he has any, to stop this harassment of the Taoiseach and respect the dignity of his office and the offices we hold as members of this parliament”.

Later, United Left Alliance TD Richard Boyd Barrett criticised the Minister for his remarks about feta cheese and said that in Der Spiegel the Minister was “reported as having berated the Greek government for failing to robustly enough impose austerity on the Greek citizens”.

Mr Noonan said “the comments attributed to me in Der Spiegel are totally and completely untrue”. He did not know “who did the spinning” but “after my contribution the Greek finance minister came up and thanked me personally for my support”.

Mr Boyd Barrett said his remarks about feta cheese were a “simplistic and inaccurate understanding of what the consequences would be if there was a Greek exit from the euro”.

Mr Noonan said that in his comments at a Bloomberg conference, which was being broadcast live online, he had made a “very simple point that it’s unlikely there will be contagion from Greece to Ireland because the links between Greece and Ireland are very limited both on imports and exports and in banking”.

In Brussels, he had acknowledged there was a major problem in the euro zone because of the situation in Greece but “I was on a different agenda at the Bloomberg conference”, showing the very limited connection between Ireland and Greece. “If you’re in the supermarket, how many items that are being produced in Greece are in your shopping basket? I think that’s a reasonable way to get an image across, especially to an international audience of investors, particularly in the United States, who quite frequently put Greece and Portugal and Ireland all in the one category.”