Irish to get free 'Christmas cheese'

Free cheese is to be offered to people on the breadline in Ireland as part of scheme to help the needy funded by the European Union.

The Republic's government has swapped its 350-ton allocation of butter from the EU for 315 tonnes of cheese and intends to hand 53 tonnes of it out "in time for Christmas".

Brendan Smith, the Agriculture Minister, said the initiative was "an important means of contributing towards the well-being of the most deprived citizens in the community".

However, the "cheese for Christmas" scheme was ridiculed by Andrew Doyle, the opposition spokesman from Fine Gael: "People on the breadline would rather the government's unfettered attention was on solving the economic crisis they caused and providing jobs rather than on this ridiculous announcement."

The hand-out is part of an EU programme that started in the 1980s. Butter is the normal offering in Ireland but cheese will be bought this year from Irish producers.