State 'wants two airlines to remain' – chairman of Aer Lingus
Ryanair stake puts off potential partners, claims Barrington
AER Lingus chairman Colm Barrington has said he doesn't believe the Government will seek to sell its 25.1pc stake in the airline until Ryanair is no longer a shareholder in the carrier.
Speaking following the Aer Lingus annual general meeting in Dublin, Mr Barrington told the Irish Independent that the Government was conscious that it is getting both capital appreciation and a dividend from its stake in the airline.
The State's holding is among the assets up for sale following the country's bailout.
"They've said they will sell the shareholding, but that they're not going to sell it until they see a secure future for Aer Lingus, so they can preserve the two-airline policy in Ireland," said Mr Barrington.
Ryanair owns close to 30pc of Aer Lingus.
"If Aer Lingus becomes more vulnerable to Ryanair because they (the Government) sold those shares, then they'd say they're not going to sell them – so that's what we expect."
Mr Barrington insisted that Ryanair's continued presence on the Aer Lingus share register still deflected interest in the carrier from interested parties.
"We have found in our conversations with other parties, not just airlines, that Ryanair being on the share register is a huge disincentive," he said.
"Nobody wants to partner with Ryanair because they're not partners. They do their own thing. So no-one wants to come into a company where Ryanair is a significant shareholder."
Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad owns almost 3pc of Aer Lingus and has expressed an interest in increasing that.
Mr Barrington made the comments as the UK's Supreme Court shot down an attempt by Ryanair to seek leave to appeal a decision that saw the continuation of a probe by the UK's Competition Commission into the airline's stake in Aer Lingus.
The court said that Ryanair's application to appeal "did not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance".
The Competition Commission is due to release a preliminary ruling in May. It is examining whether Ryanair has exerted undue influence over Aer Lingus and therefore impeded competition.
The commission has the power to force Ryanair to sell its stake in Aer Lingus.
Ryanair deputy chief executive Howard Millar, who was at yesterday's Aer Lingus AGM, declined to comment.
Mr Barrington said: "Ryanair continues to try to stop this happening, to stop the investigation.
"They've failed again, thank goodness, so we're very happy about that. They keep blocking and they keep delaying.
"Our job is to find ... an alternative to the Government and to Ryanair. But it's very difficult to do that while Ryanair is still a shareholder."