Ireland to study new Greek deal for bailout benefits


Ireland will scour the euro zone's new Greek aid deal for anything that would help Dublin's efforts to pull free from its own EU/IMF bailout as scheduled next year, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said on Thursday.

Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund reached agreement this week to reduce Greece's debt by more than 40 billion euros, through measures that included extending the maturity of Athens' official loans.

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Asked if Ireland would seek a similar extension, Noonan said concessions given to Greece would be discussed with the so-called troika of lenders on measures that could smooth its exit from official funding under Dublin's 85 billion euro bailout.

"We're putting together a strategy for exiting from the program and the troika has promised to give us a policy paper on the ways and means of exiting the program and we're putting a similar one up ourselves," Noonan told reporters.

"In that context, we'll evaluate everything that Greece got and if there is something that can be of benefit to Ireland to exit the program, we'll push that as a policy point."

The troika comprises representatives of the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank.

Finland's finance minister Jutta Urpilainen said on Wednesday she would consider lengthening loan maturities for Ireland and Portugal if requested, following the moves to help Greece.

Noonan, who will detail 3.5 billion euros ($4.5 billion) of austerity measures next week when he present his budget for 2013, said the package of tax hikes and spending cuts was almost agreed.

The budget will be Ireland's sixth austerity budget since October 2008 and Noonan said while people were expecting a very tough budget, the government would make sure it was fair and would impact most on those who can afford it.

Data showing unemployment remained close to crisis-level highs at 14.8 percent in the third quarter highlighted the tough task he faces in trying to maintain some economic growth while delivering more harsh medicine.

Noting that Ireland has had a "pretty good month" after Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland, and utilities Bord Gais and ESB followed the Irish sovereign back into capital markets, Noonan was positive on prospects for 2013.

"There's a lot of reason to be optimistic about the position of the country. We would obviously like if our customer countries registered higher growth rates because our model is export-led growth," the minister said.

"But it looks as if the United States is building rapidly again, it looks as if their budget crisis will be overcome, and with the various arrangements that are being made in Europe, I think we can look forward to a better year ahead."

(Editing by Stephen Nisbet)