Fianna Fáil Social Protection spokesman Willie O’Dea is leading calls on the Government to firmly rule out the sale of the State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus now that the Minister for Transport appears to have finally recognised its strategic importance.
The Limerick TD’s intervention comes in the wake of a statement from Transport Minister Pascal Donohue’s statement that “the information and commitments provided to date do not at present provide a basis on which the Government could give an irrevocable commitment to accept an offer to dispose of its shares, should one be made by IAG.”
He added that “In line with stated policy, the Government remains open to considering any improved proposal which IAG may bring to the steering group”.
Deputy O’Dea said, “I am pleased that Minister Donohoe finally appears to have realised the strategic importance of the State’s stake in Aer Lingus. In the national interest and particularly in the interest of the Mid-West, the Government must now take a firm stand and say that the citizens’ stake in the national airline is not for sale.
“This is vital, as any such sale could see Aer Lingus’ critical Heathrow slots siphoned off, risking future connectivity and jobs at Shannon airport.
“When he briefed the Oireachtas Transport committee, IAG chief executive Willie Walsh failed to offer a guarantee on the Heathrow Boston and New York routes from Shannon. Therefore, the Minister’s attempt to kick any decision further down the road by seeking more meaningless ‘assurances’ is simply not good enough.” the Limerick deputy said.
Having briefed his Cabinet colleagues this week on the latest position in relation to the IAG proposal to make an offer for Aer Lingus, the Minister reiterated the Government’s underlying position in relation to its shareholding in Aer Lingus.
The minority holding which the State has in Aer Lingus would not be sold unless the market conditions were favourable, the terms of the sale were satisfactory to the Government and an acceptable price could be secured, he said.
“The Government has acknowledged the strategic importance of aviation to Ireland as an island nation where over 80 per cent of passenger movements into and out of Ireland are by air.
“Ireland’s aviation policy has, for decades, favoured competition by seeking to have at least two major airlines with significant home bases competing in the Irish market. Aer Lingus also supports significant numbers of jobs and is in the top 50 of Irish employers.
“In considering the IAG proposal, the Government has also taken into account the fact that three takeover bids have been made for Aer Lingus since 2006. Successive Governments have opposed these bids primarily on competition grounds. The Government will continue to pursue a policy based on competition between at least two airlines with significant home bases in the Irish market.
The Minister said the statement from IAG in which the company indicated that it is willing to offer a commitment not to dispose of Aer Lingus’ existing Heathrow slots, including to any other company in the IAG Group, without Government approval.
IAG has also stated that it will offer a commitment to continue operating Aer Lingus’ existing slots at Heathrow for routes to Ireland and would commit to operating services from Shannon and Cork on the current schedule of four daily services from Cork and three from Shannon for five years.