Britain looking at 'different avenues' to help Ireland
Britain in its own interest is looking at "a number of different avenues" to help Ireland's devastated banking sector, British finance minister George Osborne said on Wednesday.
"Britain's approach is this: we will do what we regard as being in Britain's national interest," Osborne told reporters during a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Brussels focusing on Ireland's woes.
"Ireland is our closest neighbour, it is the only country with which we share a land border," he said. "It is in our interest that Irelanbd's banking system is stable."
Osborne refused to speculate on what support London could lend but when asked what assistance was on the cards, said: "There are a number of different avenues open and we're looking at all of these.
"It is clear we stand ready to support Ireland in its efforts to bring stability to their banking system," he added. London is not part of the 16-member eurozone but is a member of the wider EU.
Osborne said a number of discussions had taken place over Dublin's predicament and that talks in Brussels Tuesday and Wednesday offered "a useful moment" but that Ireland to date had not asked for help.
"I don't think at the end of the afternoon that Ireland is any further away or nearer to making a request than at the beginning of the day," he said.
Earlier, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said a potential British role in a bailout was "under discussion," hours after the European Commission and the IMF announced the launch of a mission to Dublin.
Rehn said it was natural for Britain to be involved in the discussions since British banks have "very significant exposure in Ireland (and) ... very strong interconnections in the banking sector."
Eurozone finance ministers announced late Tuesday that they would act in a "determined and coordinated" manner to ensure the stability of the single currency area, under threat again six months after a huge bailout of Greece.
Experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund will step up talks with Irish authorities in the coming days to prepare a bank aid programme.
"The situation is very pressing and very, very serious and we don't have any time to waste," Rehn said.
"It is essential that confidence in the Irish banking sector is restored for the sake of financial stability (in) Europe and for the sake of restoring confidence in (the) economy."
The head of eurozone finance ministers, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said the Irish government would decide in the coming days whether to accept a bailout for its banks.
© 2010 AFP