State denies rumour it is printing the punt again
Noonan insists we will never see the printing presses cranking up
The Government has been forced to deny it has been secretly printing punts, to facilitate an Irish exit from the euro, a rumour that has been spreading through Dublin's chattering classes in recent weeks.
Such has been the ferocity of the speculation that new notes have been printed, a parliamentary question was tabled by Fianna Fail TD Sean Fleming, who asked Finance Minister Michael Noonan when was the last time Irish punts were printed.
Since the rumour first began during the summer, the Department of Finance and the Central Bank both issued strong denials to this newspaper that any fresh national currency was being readied in case of a break-up of the eurozone.
Mr Fleming asked Mr Noonan "when the Irish Central Bank last printed Irish punts currency; and if he will make a statement on the matter".
In response, Mr Noonan said: "Irish pound bank notes were last produced in 2001. Euro notes and coins came into circulation on January 1, 2002. Irish pound bank notes ceased to be legal tender on 9 February, 2002."
Speaking yesterday to the Sunday Independent, in explaining his reason for the question, Mr Fleming said he had heard the rumour from a number of people.
"I was amazed when it was said to me, because I realised what the implications of such a move are. It would be unbelievable if it were true. I said to myself there would only be one way of finding out, so I tabled the parliamentary question," he said.
Mr Fleming said he accepted Mr Noonan's reply without question.
"I asked a straight question, he gave me a straight answer. I accept that answer, so I am putting this down to an urban myth," he added.
The denial about the Irish currency comes as European governments are expected to move, as soon as today, to provide fresh support for their banks amid intensifying expectation of a Greek default on its sovereign debt.
France this weekend is seeking new capital for its besieged banks from Middle Eastern investors and may also seek funds from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) set up to raise funds for Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been pushing aggressively for bank recapitalisations in Europe after it concluded that their exposure to the debt crisis now stands at €300bn. This is in addition to the €420bn that European banks have already received since 2008.
Global markets whipsawed higher and lower at the end of a tumultuous week as panic over a Greek default was tempered by hopes that politicians would step in to calm Europe's debt crisis.
The FTSE 100 closed up 25.20 to 5,066.81 on Friday but ended the week down 5.62 per cent, with stg£78bn knocked off the value of Britain's blue-chip companies.
While the index closed higher, it had fallen as much as 2.25 per cent earlier in the day, dropping through the psychologically important 5,000 mark.