FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan yesterday defended his quip about Greek feta cheese after being criticised by a former Greek prime minister.
He had told international investors last week worried about a Greek exit from the euro that the country was very far from Ireland and had few economic links with us.
"If you go into the shops here, apart from feta cheese, how many Greek items do you put in your basket?" he said.
But Mr Noonan's comments at Bloomberg's Ireland Economic Summit were branded as "flippant" and "simplistic" by former Greek prime minister George Papandreou.
Mr Noonan said yesterday that he was trying to prevent the financial crisis from affecting Ireland by pointing out to international investors that Ireland did not have much trade or banking business with Greece.
"I answered it honestly because there aren't strong economic connections with Greece.
"Less than 0.5pc of our total exports go to Greece and our imports are less than 0.1pc from Greece," he said.
Mr Noonan admitted on RTE's 'This Week' yesterday that a Greek exit from the euro would, however, have an impact on the bond yields charged to Ireland and all other eurozone countries.
"I'm trying to stop contagion. It's one of my jobs as Finance Minister to protect the Irish economy. That's why I've said it," he told RTE's 'This Week'.
Mr Noonan has been known for his colourful remarks throughout his political career.
He simplified the complex deal on postponing the €3.1bn payment for winding down Anglo Irish Bank by saying it was like beating Tipperary but not yet winning the All-Ireland.
More recently he dismissed the eviction of the Killiney couple from their €2m home -- after it emerged they owned up to 21 Irish properties.
"We have no pledge to keep people in 21 different homes," he said at the time.
Yesterday, Mr Noonan said that the re-training of former construction workers was one way to ensure Ireland's "structural deficit" to the EU target of 0.5pc of gross domestic product in any one year.
"An awful lot of young guys went into the building industry. They were attracted by the quick money for the hard work they did.
"They can be re-trained," he said.