Sunday 25 September 2016

Labour's gang of eight get onboard as all doubts evaporate

Published 27/05/2015 | 02:30

Fine Gael's Joe Carey
Fine Gael's Joe Carey

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."

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That is how Shakespeare's Macbeth manages to voice his chronic doubt about killing the king and grasping the crown, while at the same time deciding that, if he really must commit murder, then he had better get on with it.

There was a similar mood of chronic doubt, mixed with a determination to get on with things, at Leinster House last night as the Cabinet yet again pondered the fate of that quarter share in Aer Lingus. After all, the sale of this residual taxpayers' portion in Ireland's airline of 80 years has been "imminent" for the past six agonising months.

So, if there is going to be political fallout, it would be better by far to have it at some distance from a general election, which will happen at the very latest on April 8 next year.

The theatrical spotlight remained on Labour and a handful of Fine Gael TDs whose political bailiwicks are adjacent to Shannon and Cork airports.

The Fine Gael grouping seemed happy that their concerns about Shannon and Cork had been met. Clare's Deputy Joe Carey, who had championed Shannon's case with vigour, summed up the mood. "Shannon Airport management have endorsed the deal and they believe it can be very beneficial for Clare and the region generally. On that basis I can also support it," Mr Carey said.

But Labour had particularly put this one out there. Back in late February at its party conference in Killarney, the so-called 'Aer Lingus Eight' laid down a big marker. These were TDs Joe Costello, Dublin Central; Michael McNamara, Clare; Eamonn Maloney, Dublin South-West; Seán Kenny, Dublin North-East; Dominic Hannigan, Meath East; Brendan Ryan, Dublin North; Robert Dowds, Dublin Mid-West, and John Lyons, Dublin North West

In summary, the eight had spelt out three key demands: an independent valuation of the airline and its Heathrow landing slots; guarantees for the Aer Lingus jobs; and long-term development plans for Cork and Shannon airports.

Of these, the issue of jobs loomed largest. Because here we are talking about Aer Lingus workers' votes before the year is out.

Clearly, if the unions could unequivocally endorse this deal, the Labour TDs would be out the gate. But the unions remained at best sceptical and at worst hostile.

Everything turned on the issue of guarantees to the workers. Last week, Impact had rubbished the emerging guarantees as "worthless". Siptu yesterday stressed that it needed any guarantees to be enhanced to the maximum - otherwise it would vigorously oppose any sale.

All of Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe's conciliatory skills were deployed to deal with these concerns and he met the union leaders yesterday morning. Announcing the deal, he said guarantees to workers would be underpinned by Registered Employment Agreements (REAs).

These REAs had provoked further doubt among the Labour TDs, who are aware that following a Supreme Court ruling, legislation for such agreements requires updating.

"We don't know where that leaves us," one of the Labour deputies told this writer.

The tensions were further heightened by the need for a Dáil vote on the issue. That clearly means that these Labour TDs will be required to very visibly endorse this deal by a vote in the Dáil today.

"I'm not voting until I see exactly what every aspect of the deal is," another Labour TD insisted. Against this background, Mr Donohoe's presentation last night appeared extremely helpful.

He stressed the credibility of these worker guarantees and pointed to letters he had got from Aer Lingus management in that regard.

His presentation won the day and half-an-hour later the Aer Lingus eight announced that they were convinced all was well.

The message from both Fine Gael and Labour ministers was all doubts were dispelled.

There will be no Labour revolt.

Irish Independent

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