Friday 21 October 2016

Labour left red-faced as Michael McNamara quits party over sale of Aer Lingus

Pascal Donohue's last-ditch talks fail to convince TD who voted against IAG's

Paschal Donohoe,TD, the Minster for Transport
Paschal Donohoe,TD, the Minster for Transport
Clare TD Michael McNamara. Photo: Tom Burke

TANAISTE Joan Burton was left red-faced as Labour TD Michael McNamara refused to support the Government’s decision to sell the State’s share in Aer Lingus.

Mr McNamara said he was not willing to “gamble” on the economic risk the €335m sale to IAG posed for the country.

Last night, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe revealed that he sought to allay Mr McNamara’s fears before he decided to go against the Coalition.

The minister’s officials also held last-minute talks with Mr McNamara yesterday afternoon, but he remained unconvinced.

Speaking in the Dail, the Clare TD said “many questions remain outstanding” around the sale.

“In that context, I am not prepared to gamble with what I believe is key to the economic development of this State – all of this State,” he said.

READ MORE: Labour TD Michael McNamara will not support Government on Aer Lingus sale

“As we enter 2016 with talk of developing all parts of the country equally, connectivity is key, particularly connectivity to the Mid-West. I do not have confidence in the guarantees as they currently stand.”

As a result of rejecting the Aer Lingus sale, Mr McNamara is now no longer a member of the Labour parliamentary Party, but remains a party member.

Last night, Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg said Mr McNamara was “fully aware of the consequences” of his decision and yesterday’s vote and wished him well.

Ms Burton was able to convince the Aer Lingus Eight – a group of mostly North Dublin TDs who vehemently opposed the initial offer from IAG chief executive Willie Walsh – to accept the improved offer.

READ MORE: No clear blue sky for Aer Lingus as Siptu raises concerns over deal

The Government voted through the deal yesterday evening despite protests from the Opposition that the deal was being rushed through the Dail. The historic vote was won by the Coalition by 74 to 51.

Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Independents in the chamber voted against the sale. Renua’s Lucinda Creighton and Billy Timmins were the only opposition politicians to vote in favour of the deal.

However, Renua’s Dublin North East TD Terrence Flanagan was not in the chamber for the vote.

The emergence of a controversial report commissioned by Aer Lingus, which recommend mass jobs cuts at the airline to make it more competitive, was dismissed by the Government.

Mr Donohoe said he was not concerned that Aer Lingus did not inform an inter-departmental group reviewing the

sale or his office about the review carried out by consultancy firm Nyras.

There were angry scenes in the Dail as TDs called on the Coalition to abandon plans to sell off the Government’s remaining share in what was once a prized State asset.

Fianna Fail tried to have the debate suspended so the deal could be scrutinised further by an Oireachtas Committee.

The party said the Nyras report raised serious concerns over the future for workers at the airline.

During Leader’s Questions, Fianna Fail transport spokesman Timmy Dooley asked the Tanaiste to allow the deal to be debated further next week.

Mr Dooley told Ms Burton she should be “under no illusions” of what will happen when IAG becomes the owner.

“It is about reducing those costs to the absolute minimum level possible and increasing the profitability,” he said.

Ms Burton said there was “no impact” for workers on the back of the report which she insisted was part of normal aviation business.

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus workers’ unions clashed over commitments from the airline’s chief executive, Stephen Kavanagh, on jobs.

Mr Kavanagh, who is set for a €720,000 windfall from the sale, offered stronger guarantees on jobs late on Wednesday night when his first offer was opposed by unions.

READ MORE Dubliner Walsh has been flying high since his teens

In a letter to Employment Minister Gerald Nash, the Aer Lingus boss said he would commit to ruling out any compulsory redundancies or outsourcing of jobs in a collective agreement if efficiencies can be achieved in the company.

Siptu president Jack O’Connor welcomed the improved offer, saying it was “significant”.

However, he said the union was of the understanding that the commitments in Mr Kavanagh’s letter were binding and if they were not honoured the Labour Party would have to answer.

The Impact trade union, which represents 2,000 Aer Lingus staff, said the Dail vote on the sale will “elevate concerns” over possible redundancies when the takeover is  completed.

The union’s national secretary Matt Staunton said Mr Kavanagh’s commitments were conditional on staff efficiencies.

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