Monday 23 January 2017

Noonan's new 'phone a friend' ally on call for bailout

Siobhan Creaton in Washington

Published 16/06/2011 | 05:00

If Finance Minister Michael Noonan came to Washington to win friends and influence people then he must feel pleased with himself. Because not only did the US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner find time in his busy schedule to meet Mr Noonan, but he also gave him his personal phone number to call "anytime".

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The minister joked that if anything happened suddenly he had someone to talk to. "It's like 'Phone a Friend'."

And few friends are more powerful than Mr Geithner.

It was the first time the two men met. They discussed Ireland's continuing economic difficulties and the threat posed by any EU response to tackling Greece's problems. Mr Noonan didn't have to spend time putting his predicament into context for Mr Geithner, whom he described as being "very knowledgeable and very well briefed". They had a very interesting discussion he said.

"It was satisfying to learn that we had the same analysis about what was happening in Europe and that we had a common view," Mr Noonan said. "He is as anxious as I am to resolve the Greek problems. It has to be resolved in the context of the eurozone rather than as a Greek problem."

The need to be able to call on a powerful friend at this crucial time for Ireland has never been greater because the Government won't be able to exert any substantial influence on the deal that will eventually be struck, with Germany leading the charge.

"He shared my view that there were possible knock-on effects (for Ireland) from Greece if a solution was implemented suddenly and in an unplanned way. We don't want a credit event in Greece that spells danger for Ireland," he added.

And the Finance Minister had other serious matters to discuss with his new friend -- particularly the rate of interest Ireland was being charged on the EU/IMF bailout funds.

"He thought Ireland would benefit from an interest rate cut but he didn't indicate what figure he thought the interest rate should be," he said.

"I just said, 'look when you're talking to your colleagues in Europe, the bailout package is priced too high. If we had a lower price on it, it would be far more do-able, the things we're being asked to do.' But it was in general terms, I didn't ask him to put pressure on anybody."

Mr Geithner said that the US had minimal influence on eurozone issues but Mr Noonan said "the Americans make the light, and the Americans have a lot of influence everywhere".

He felt good to have such a "strong ally" he said.

It was all very convivial. Mr Noonan was told he had 30 minutes but the meeting ran on for another quarter of an hour.

"It was I who had to finish it up because I had other meetings. He was in quite a chatty mood, we could have stayed a bit longer."

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