Smith: Let them eat cheese
Opposition anger over minister's 'insulting' proposal
A GAFFE-prone minister was yesterday described as "ridiculous" and "insulting" after he unveiled a plan to give away free cheese to poor people for Christmas.
Less than 24 hours after digesting €6bn of budget cuts, a bemused nation had to listen to Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith promoting an EU scheme to provide 53 tonnes of free white cheddar.
It was the first time in living memory that a cabinet minister had so enthusiastically talked about how cheese was a "good, nutritious product" and a "good Irish product" that would be "helpful to those people who are most in need".
His interview on 'Morning Ireland' was seized upon by Fine Gael, which said it exposed Fianna Fail and the Green Party's true attitude when it came to the Irish people: "Let them eat cheese."
Taoiseach Brian Cowen was unaware of what was going on when he arrived at the National Convention Centre in Dublin because he had not been fully briefed about the controversy.
Mr Cowen was then forced to fob off the question about why the Government was announcing one of the toughest Budgets in the history of the State and then announcing a scheme for free cheese for the less well-off.
The scheme has been running for 22 years and the cheese is sourced from Irish farmers.
Fine Gael's agriculture spokesman Andrew Doyle criticised Mr Smith's attempt to claim credit for the free cheese scheme. "I heard him on the radio, and I said 'Is this guy for real?'" he said. "People on the breadline would rather the Government's unfettered attention was on solving the economic crisis they caused," he added.
But Mr Smith said the free cheese scheme was an important means of contributing toward the well-being of the most deprived citizens. "I am conscious that many people find themselves in difficult circumstances at present," he said.
The cheese is available for charities to collect from stores in Clondalkin, Co Dublin; Portlaoise, Co Laois; Kilmacthomas in Co Waterford; and Cobh and Togher in Co Cork after November 15.