Bertie Ahern has given the green light for his government to sell off Ireland’s national airline, Aer Lingus.
As the government was giving its final seal of approval for the sale last week, thousands of passengers queued in the heat at Dublin Airport amid two hoax bomb alerts and a work stoppage.
Dublin Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole has described the government plans as a disgrace and that Aer Lingus workers and former employees were now very worried for the future.
The flotation marks the end of a process than began in 1999, when the airline was told it could leave state ownership and have more commercial freedom. However, the Irish public still has painful memories of the much-publicised sale of Eircom, the national telecommunications company, whose shares substantially declined in value.
“Aer Lingus is a state asset and not a state liability,” said Councillor O’Toole.
“Last year it increased passenger numbers by 1 million to 8 million and produced an operating profit of more than O72 million. Today it has almost 80 routes. Aer Lingus has been a crucial asset in this state’s economic growth in recent years. We should be fighting tooth and nail for Aer Lingus to remain in public ownership.”
Mr O’Toole said speculators would not be concerned with the strategic transport needs of this country.
“They will not be concerned with maintaining direct routes from Ireland to destinations across Europe and the United States. They will be concerned only with the bottom line and if the short-term stripping of the company guarantees them the return they want then it is their interests, and not the long-term.
“Sinn Féin doesn’t want any more privatisation debacles such as Eircom where hundreds of thousands of people suffered financially and a small number of wealthy speculators made a fortune. The result was that Eircom was asset stripped and this state’s telecommunications infrastructure has been run down. This state is now far behind the north of Ireland in the roll out of broadband, something which has a negative impact on business job creation.
“Aer Lingus should remain in state ownership. It is a valuable state asset and it should not be sold off for a quick buck.”
The largest opposition party in the 26 Counties, Fine Gael, last week broke from its position of supporting the Aer Lingus privatisation to vote with its likely alternative government partners, Labour and the Greens, against the motion. The party claimed there were technical problems with the wording of the motion.
Labour Party spokesman Tommy Broughan warned that it was a “day of shame and betrayal on behalf of Fianna Fail deputies on the north side [of Dublin]”.