Oil-rich Norway may lend direct to Ireland

OSLO Mon Nov 29, 2010 11:42am EST

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway on Monday offered to join Britain, Sweden and Denmark in lending money directly to Ireland to help Dublin solve its debt crisis and stabilize the euro zone.

"If there should be a request from the Irish government we would certainly consider it very thoroughly," Norwegian Finance Minister Sigbjoern Johnsen said at a press conference after meeting finance ministers from Denmark, Finland and Iceland.

He said bilateral lending to Ireland would be on top of Norway's indirect contribution -- through the International Monetary Fund -- to the 85 billion euro Irish bailout approved on Sunday by European Union finance ministers.

Norwegians have twice rejected joining the European Union in referenda, but Johnsen said Norway's destiny is closely tied to that of the 27-nation bloc.

"Norway is very dependent on stable development in the euro zone," Johnsen told reporters, adding that 70 percent of Norwegian exports go south to the EU.

"What's happening (with Ireland's bailout) shows a high degree of (action) to get stability and that is important for the euro zone and for Norway."

He declined to say how much Norway, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, was willing to lend, and did not indicate possible terms. Johnsen put the offer in the context of bilateral loans to Ireland already announced by Britain, Sweden and Denmark.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)