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Aer Lingus perk lets FitzPatrick fly for free

DISGRACED banker Sean FitzPatrick is part of a golden circle entitled to free flights around the world because he is a former director of Aer Lingus.

The airline, partly owned by the taxpayer, last night declined to reveal to the Irish Independent if he had availed of the perk. And when contacted, Mr FitzPatrick said: "I don't talk to the media."

The revelation will spark anger among workers in the cash-strapped company, with looming job and pay cuts.

Ryanair boss and major shareholder Michael O'Leary said last night: "This is typical of Aer Lingus. No doubt other over-paid directors are enjoying their first-class free flights also."

The loss-making airline confirmed the extraordinary arrangements yesterday for the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, and said he will continue to enjoy the perk until 2012.

Mr FitzPatrick (61), who is a member of the airline's Gold Circle, is being investigated by gardai for his role in reckless lending practices at the bank.

The former Anglo chief is not the only executive to enjoy the free travel perk. All serving directors and former directors -- including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's close associate Chris Wall and the airline's ex-chief executive Dermot Mannion -- can also fly for free. ICTU's David Begg is a serving director.

Aer Lingus, which is one-quarter owned by the State, confirmed that the perk -- known as concession travel -- is given to serving and former directors, but refused to give details on which directors availed of the free travel and where they travelled to.

The company announced a €93m loss for the first half of the year but it continues to allow top executives to fly first class, where available, for free on all its 106 routes.

Yesterday it emerged that serving and former directors of the airline are also entitled to membership of the Gold Circle club. This allows them to relax in exclusive airport lounges while waiting for their flights.

Up to 20 members of the Garda Fraud Bureau and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement are investigating Mr FitzPatrick's activities while he ran Anglo Irish.

The focus of the probe is on reckless lending practices which led to the bank's nationalisation last January and brought the Irish banking system to the brink of collapse.

He refused to appear before the Dail Committee on Economic Regulatory Affairs last February to explain his actions, citing legal reasons.


The executive perk he enjoys will infuriate the airline's 3,000 workers who are braced for another cost-cutting plan. Last year, pay cuts of 15pc were imposed on staff and hundreds of others took voluntary redundancies as the airline reduced costs by €74m.

The free-flight perk is enjoyed for the length of time a person served on the board, the airline confirmed. In the case of Chris Wall, he served from 1998 to 2009 so he can enjoy free flights until 2020. Sean FitzPatrick was appointed in 2004, resigning in 2008, so can avail of his entitlement until 2012.

"Former board members receive concessionary travel and Gold Circle cards for the same length of time they served on the board. In terms of use of those concessions, this information is personal data," the airline said, refusing to be drawn on the matter.

Mr FitzPatrick was appointed to the board in March 2004 by then Transport Minister Seamus Brennan. He was paid €120,500 in directors' fees during his time -- €45,000 in 2008 and 2007, €17,500 in 2006 and €13,000 in 2005.

The biggest trade union at Aer Lingus, SIPTU, which represents 1,800 workers, called for the perks to be removed.

"I wasn't aware of it, but if that kind of practice is going on it's wrong and should be discontinued," National Industrial Secretary Gerry McCormack said.

"In view of the fact that we are entering into a process where there are threats over salaries and terms and conditions of our members, it's back to the two-tier system again. Those who get everything and those who don't."

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said he was "sure" the perks were under review.

"These are matters for the company, but I'm sure all of these issues would be under review at Aer Lingus in light of the difficult climate they currently find themselves operating in," he said.

Workers in Aer Lingus are still working in uncertainty after the new CEO Christoph Mueller promised an "amputation" rather than "plastic surgery" ahead of the announcement of the new cost-recovery programme next month.

Chairman Colm Barrington has already revealed that pay cuts are firmly on the agenda following the company's worst six-month performance on record, and predicted losses of €120m this year. Bloxham Stockbrokers predict losses of €150m for this year.

Tensions between the carrier and unions are already at a high after 63 cabin crew were told their contracts would not be renewed after getting a warning by text earlier this month. The company has also refused to bridge a €350m deficit in the staff pension fund and SIPTU is threatening strike action.

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