Ryanair offers to sell its stake in Aer Lingus
RYANAIR has offered to "unconditionally" sell its stake in Aer Lingus to any other European airline that makes a bid for the carrier.
It said it would sell its 29pc shareholding in the event of an offer that is acceptable to the majority of Aer Lingus's shareholders.
The move is being taken to appease the UK's Competition Commission, which claimed in May that Ryanair's stake gave it the ability to influence the commercial policy and strategy of its smaller rival.
In a statement to the Irish Stock Exchange, Ryanair said it was now making the offer in order to dispel the commission's "unfounded and invented 'concern' that Ryanair's shareholding may prevent Aer Lingus from being acquired by another EU airline".
Ryanair spokesman Robin Keily said there was no evidence of any lessening of competition between it and Aer Lingus.
He said there was no reason for Ryanair to get rid of its stake but continued: "In order to remove any remaining shred of credibility from this (Competition Commission) process and eliminate any doubt about this imaginary, albeit non-existent, 'concern', Ryanair has now agreed that it will unconditionally sell its six-year-old minority stake to any other EU airline which makes an offer for, and acquires more than 50.1pc of, Aer Lingus shares, at the same price and terms which are accepted by these other 50.1pc of Aer Lingus shareholders.
"This remedy unconditionally removes any ability by Ryanair to block any future takeover of Aer Lingus by another EU airline."
Ryanair has held the minority stake for more than six years and has made a number of failed takeover bids.
The commission determined in a preliminary finding that Ryanair exerted "material influence" over Aer Lingus via its near-30pc stake. It will now decide on remedies to eliminate that influence and is almost certain to instruct Ryanair to materially reduce its stake in Aer Lingus.
Goodbody Stockbrokers said the move by Ryanair didn't change the state of play, but simply pre-empted any decision that the commission may make. Analyst Donal O'Neill said it wouldn't lead to a sale unless there was a takeover bid.
He continued: "Rather, it gives Ryanair a hook with which to appeal any negative decision by the UK Competition Commission."
He said Aer Lingus was best placed as an independent operator and had reported very strong trading in recent months.
"(It) has a growth agenda back on the table for its long-haul operations and is close to a full resolution of the pension-deficit issue, which has been a major operational risk for the company in the last three years," Mr O'Neill said.
Ryanair said the commission's concerns had been "fatally undermined".
Fianna Fail said the Government should use the opportunity of the announcement to boost the State's shareholding in the former flag carrier.