Tuesday 21 January 2020

Aer Lingus revolt against Begg is blocked by Government

Nearly 46% of investors in airline want Begg out

David Begg
David Begg

Nick Webb

Trade union kingpin David Begg was saved from the humiliation of being voted off the Aer Lingus board by the intervention of the Government.

Voting records from the Aer Lingus AGM show that 45.8 per cent of shareholders voted against the re-election of Ictu boss Begg to the board. Some 176 million of 384 million shares were used to vote against the bearded leftie.

The State continues to hold a 25 per cent stake in the €750m-valued listed airline, dating back to the flotation in 2006. Less than 0.2 per cent of shareholders abstained from the vote, indicating that the State cast its vote for the trade union head.

This is in stark contrast to the inertia at the Bank of Ireland Agm, when Michael Noonan and the Department of Finance decided to abstain on a shareholders' vote regarding chief executive Richie Boucher's massive pay packet.

The vote against the re-election of Begg is an excruciating embarrassment for the board of the airline, as it represents the biggest shareholder revolt of the year.

The investor disapproval of Begg is highlighted by the fact that almost 99.8 per cent of shareholders voted for the re-election of chairman Colm Barrington.

Ryanair owns 29.9 per cent of the airline and has been hostile to Begg's position on the board. Other major shareholders in Aer Lingus include billionaire telecoms tycoon Denis O'Brien with 3.83 per cent, Gulf airline Etihad with 2.99 per cent and the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund with a 1.24 per cent stake.

It is understood that a proxy agent recommended a vote against Begg as a move to rebalance the board between independent and non-independent directors.

"We have full confidence in David Begg," said an Aer Lingus spokesman. Ryanair did not comment.

Begg served as a representative of the employees' ESOT on the board from January 2008 onward. He was appointed to the Aer Lingus board in 2011 after his term as employees' nominee ended. The Ictu general secretary, who served on the board of the Central Bank as the economy spiralled out of control, has received almost €100,000 for his part-time job as an Aer Lingus director over the past three years, earning €32,000 per year. He also owns 500 shares.

Last year's so-called shareholder spring, where previously inert investors began to actively vote against boardroom pay and the re-election of some directors, is sparking back to life as Ireland's big corporates face their shareholders in the AGM season.

Last June, 24 per cent of shareholders voted against executive remuneration at mining company Kenmare, with 23 per cent abstaining. There were major votes against board motions at Glanbia, Kerry and Tullow.

Kerry Group shareholders also protested against the re-election of chairman Denis Buckley and four directors at its AGM last Wednesday. More than one in five, or 20.4 per cent, of shareholders voted against the re-election of Kerry's €209,000 a year chairman.

Similar-sized protest votes were cast against the re-election of Kerry Group board members Michael Dowling, Denis Carroll, Sean Bugler and Denis Wallis.

Irish Independent

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