Michael Noonan: no decision on Irish debt deal yet

Minister for Finance says Greece must apply for bailout extension or negotiate new programme

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said he looked forward to hearing directly from the Greek finance minister.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said he looked forward to hearing directly from the Greek finance minister.

 

The Government has made no decision on seeking a concession for Ireland should Greece’s debt be renegotiated, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has said ahead of a crunch meeting on Greece in Brussels.

“The Government has made no decision to look for anything that the Greeks might get. But I think we’re jumping too far ahead, we really don’t know what the Greek position is yet,” Mr Noonan said on his way into this evening’s euro group meeting of euro zone finance ministers in Brussels.

He also indicated that Greece must apply for an extension of its bailout or negotiate a new programme to resolve the current impasse with its international creditors, adding that the Greek government’s proposal to issue billions of euro of T-bills “wouldn’t work”.

“On the briefing I had, the bridge proposal wouldn’t work. It was based on T-bills well beyond what the ECB ceiling is, and I’m still of the view that the only space in which Greece can negotiate is with an extension of their existing programme or with a new programme.” A programme was “always the opening position,” he said. “Then the elements of the programme can be spoken about and negotiated. “

The Greek government has consistently said that it does not want to extend its bailout programme when it expires on February 28th, potentially leaving Athens with a multi-billion euro funding shortfall. Instead it wants to negotiate a bridging programme, before a more long-term solution is found in the summer.

But the euro group and German finance minster Wolfgang Schauble have been pressing the government of Alexis Tsipras to seek an extension of the bailout programme.

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde and ECB president Mario Draghi are among those attending this evening’s meeting which takes place on the eve of tomorrow’s summit of EU leaders. Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis also arrived in Brussels this evening for the meeting, but did not speak to journalists.

Mr Noonan said he looked forward to hearing directly from the Greek finance minister about the Greek proposals.

“We’ve had very little pre-meeting information so far, so if we knew precisely what the request was, well then we could see what scope there was to negotiate an agreement... They have said different things in different European capitals and different emphasis again in their prime minister’s speech in parliament so today will be the first opportunity I have to listen to a representative of the new Greek government directly.

Asked about Sinn Féin’s criticism of Mr Noonan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s stance on Greece, Mr Noonan said he was not surprised. “Economics is not their strong suit,” he said. Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has criticsed the Taoiseach and finance minister for taking the side of the “EU elite and the ECB” against the interests of the people of Greece.

Meanwhile European stock markets closed lower this evening amid expectation that Mr Varoufakis will fail to reach an agreement with the euro group this evening in Brussels.