herald

Friday 15 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Aer Lingus sale has wings clipped by our gutless TDs

"The Government needs to consider what is in the best interest of the State, the travelling public and the Aer Lingus employees"

The proposed sale of Aer Lingus is just not going to fly. Even before International Airlines Group (IAG) makes a formal bid, it looks as if Fine Gael and Labour are determined to shoot it down in flames.

Never mind the possibility that a deal might be in our national interest - when it comes to politics versus economics, Irish governments will always take the soft option.

For anyone who hoped that the financial crisis might have cured Dail Eireann of its parish-pump mentality, this is turning into quite a depressing episode.

The IAG offer for Aer Lingus is a complicated one that should provoke plenty of serious debate before a decision can be made.

Instead, it appears to be dead on arrival - purely because a host of cowardly backbenchers fear that acceptance might threaten their seats at the upcoming general election.

The weasel words of one Government spokesperson last week summed it up perfectly: "This is a year-one issue, not a year-five issue."

scared

To put it another way, the €1.36bn deal might well make perfect financial sense, but an election on the horizon means that the Coalition parties will be far too scared to touch it.

Labour are the worst offenders. A new group of TDs called the 'Aer Lingus seven', all with constituencies close to Dublin Airport, have warned Joan Burton that she must not let the airline go at any price.

There is even talk of passing a motion to block any possible sale at the party's national conference later this month.

Labour's knee-jerk attitude is sad but understandable, since even saying the word 'privatisation' to them is like waving garlic in front of Dracula.

The response from Fine Gael has been almost as hostile, however, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny (below) sounding more lukewarm on it this week than last.

Nor are the Opposition much better, with Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein clearly trying to make political capital out of the issue instead of properly considering its merits.

Of course there are reasons to be cautious about IAG's offer. Aer Lingus's precious 23 landing slots at Heathrow and the possibility of job losses back home are major concerns that would need to be thrashed out in any negotiations.

None of this is an excuse for allowing windy TDs to veto the sale before talks have even begun - especially since most would struggle to fill the back of a boarding pass with their knowledge of the international aviation industry.

empty

The whole fiasco proves yet again that Enda Kenny's boast of a "democratic revolution" was nothing but empty rhetoric.

Everybody knows that Aer Lingus stopped being a national airline from the moment it was part-privatised in 2006, but a mixture of cheap sentimentality and outdated ideology means we are likely be to be stuck with it for at least a while longer.

Kenny's coalition apparently just wants to coast along for another year, taking zero risks and putting their own electoral interests above any other consideration.

If so, they should call an election now - and let someone else actually try to govern the country for a change.

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