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Opinion Divided Over Aer Lingus Sale

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The Dáil, as expected, has signed off on the sale of the 25.1 per cent Government share in Aer Lingus on Thursday last. The decision has precipitated a war of words between local political representatives in the North County, some of whom think it is a wonderful thing for the local economy, with others claiming it to be a sell-out.
Brendan Ryan TD (LAB) has stridently defended the role he and his colleagues in the Labour Party have played in ensuring there are important conditions on the sale of the State’s share in Aer Lingus.
Speaking to the County Leader, Ryan stated: “If the initial offer was accepted, then this would have offered no surety on the employees’ terms of employment, connectivity or a plan for the regions. It has been said before and it is worth stating again, Aer Lingus is a private company, privatised by Fianna Fáil.”
He continued, “Fianna Fáil’s leader in the Seanad, Darragh O’Brien said that we Labour deputies, ‘would not sell under any circumstances,’ That was never our position and we never said anything of the sort. Our position was that should any sale take place, certain conditions needed to be met.”
“The state’s share was retained to ensure guarantees over connectivity and the Heathrow slots. We have received that guarantee in this offer. The Minister for Finance will have the ability to block any proposed disposal by Aer Lingus of any of its Heathrow slots indefinitely. “I am quite certain that the improved offer from IAG, from the time of the first offer, is due in no small part to a group of backbench Labour TDs working together in a focused way to secure the best possible deal for the future of Aer Lingus,” concluded Ryan.
However local senator, Darragh O’Brien (FF) has accused the Labour party in Dublin North of ‘selling out’ on the sale of Aer Lingus, to the detriment of workers and the local economy. O’Brien hit out directly at Ryan for backing a deal that will see Aer Lingus sold for what he (O’Brien) claims to be a paltry sum with no legally binding guarantees about future connectivity.
“This is a terrible deal for Aer Lingus workers, pension scheme members, the future of Dublin airport and for the economy in the long-term. The price being offered is extremely poor in the context of what we are being asked to give up,” he said.
“I am extremely disappointed that Deputy Ryan, who originally expressed reservations about the extremely unwise sale, has now sold out and is giving it his backing. Absolutely nothing has changed with the offer on the table.
“How can Brendan Ryan support the appalling treatment of pension scheme members who have been hung out to dry to facilitate this sale? 15,000 pension scheme members were forced to take savage cuts to their pensions in order to fatten up Aer Lingus for sale. It’s a slap in the face to long-serving members who are being sacrificed for the Government’s immediate interests.
“This is absolutely the wrong decision for Ireland. Once the State gives up its controlling interest in Aer Lingus, the sphere of influence moves from Dublin to London. It then becomes impossible to ensure that the decisions taken by the new owners have the best interests of the Irish economy and Irish staff as a priority,” he said.
Minister for Children and local TD, Dr James Reilly, in welcoming the decision to sell the national carrier, blasted the former government for their cynical attitude to the sale. He told the County Leader, “Fianna Fail have been particularly cynical about this . They privatised this company a long time ago. That plane has flown. What we’ve done with the small stake we’ve had far outweighs what they did when they owned the whole company,” he said.
“This is an excellent move for the country, which is good for Aer Lingus, good for Dublin and particularly good for the North County. Not taking this decision, is also a decision with serious ramifications for jobs in terms of leaving us open to a hostile take-over bid, where we will have absolutely no say over any of the issues that we have negotiated. For the first time ever, we now have a unilateral veto on the sale of the slots in perpetuity. We don’t have that at the moment, and we now have control over the slots and how they are used for the next seven years – something we never had before.”
“Under this deal, 150 net jobs will be created by the end of 2016, with the net number of new jobs in the airline rising to 635 by 2020. At every level, this offers Aer Lingus the opportunity to continue and to expand. We have also negotiated a veto over any change of brand and the change of location of the company headquarters out of Dublin.”
His party colleague, Alan Farrell TD said that the proposed deal will secure the long term future of the airline, while also promoting the continued growth of Dublin Airport.
“When this deal was first proposed, in tandem with my concerns regarding terms of conditions of employment for existing personnel, I called for an assessment of the long-term impact of the sale of Aer Lingus. I stressed that we could not accept an offer which would provide a short-term gain, but ultimately lead to a loss for the airline, and Dublin Airport, in the long-term. I have been reassured by the details of this revised deal as it will secure Aer Lingus’ future as a viable airline based in Ireland while also promoting the continued growth of Dublin Airport.”
“As a result of this deal, the State will effectively have a veto over any proposed disposal of a Heathrow slot by Aer Lingus. This is not the case at present, as the State would currently require the support of a further 5 per cent of shareholders to block such a disposal. Therefore, this deal would give the State greater control in terms of securing the future of these slots which are of vital importance in terms of the overall connectivity of Ireland, and our ability to continue to attract foreign direct investment into our economy,” he concluded. However local TD , Clare Daly (NP) thinks the deal is a sell-out. She said, “ I’m absolutely gutted over the sale and the manner in which it was handled. “The giveaway of the state’s 25 per cent shareholding in Aer Lingus is a sad day for Irish people in general, and those of us from North County Dublin and Shannon in particular. The amount of money that the state will receive for the sell off at just over E300 million, is less than the dividend it received from the company over the past five years. Aer Lingus has been profitable all through the bad years, has nine new long haul aircraft due for delivery, cash reserves of almost E1 billion, Heathrow slots valued at over E500 million, the brand, property, aircraft, and all of this is being handed over to IAG’s European and Middle Eastern shareholders for E1.3 billion. This is a very bad deal for the workforce and the taxpayer. Let’s remember Aer Lingus didn’t go looking for IAG, it had a growth plan in place for expansion as a stable carrier for an island nation . The driver of this bid is the commercial interests of IAG’s shareholders.” “We expect this of Fine Gael, they ideologically support privatisation, but people expected more from Labour. They have sold their soul and sold our national airline. Shame on them,” she concluded.