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Sunday 22 April 2018

Aer Lingus rejected Coughlan's hangar plea

But Tanaiste attacked in Dail over handling of jobs debacle

Aine Kerr

TANAISTE Mary Coughlan asked Aer Lingus if it would move out of the hangar at the centre of the controversy over 300 jobs -- but it refused.

The Irish Independent has learned Ms Coughlan personally rang Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller on Tuesday, ahead of her crunch meeting with Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary.

But Mr Mueller refused to budge from the celebrated Hangar 6, so that the 300 aircraft maintenance posts promised by Ryanair for Dublin Airport could be secured by the Government.

The latest twist in the jobs fiasco came as Ms Coughlan and Taoiseach Brian Cowen were accused of making excuses for failing to win the jobs.

Mr Cowen insisted Aer Lingus had a binding contract on the hangar and there were alternatives available to Ryanair.

Ahead of Tuesday night's crunch meeting between Ms Coughlan and Mr O'Leary, the Tanaiste rang Mr Mueller personally about Ryanair's requests for the hangar occupied by Aer Lingus.

Those 11th-hour frantic talks with Aer Lingus and Ryanair failed to reach any compromise and prompted Mr O'Leary to announce that the 300 jobs would go to two other European airports.

As the Ryanair jobs fiasco raged on for a fourth day yesterday, the Taoiseach claimed Aer Lingus could not be removed from Hangar 6 without being given two years' notice. Failure to do so would amount to a breach of contract and would make the Government liable for damages to Aer Lingus for all losses suffered, Mr Cowen told the Dail.

During the last-ditch efforts to find agreement with Ryanair, Ms Coughlan had explored other lease and hangar options with Aer Lingus, which the Government still has a 25pc stake in.

"It appears that as a rival airline that they've (Aer Lingus) got their own plans for Hangar 6 and that they've got their own ideas in place as regards what they're going to do with it, the details of which we're not privy to," her spokesman told the Irish Independent.

A spokeswoman for Aer Lingus said last night it had "no comment" on the matter.

In a passionate attack in the Dail, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny accused Ms Coughlan of being 15 minutes late for Tuesday's meeting with Mr O'Leary, which was aimed at securing the prized jobs.

That meeting took place after Ms Coughlan was forced into a humiliating climbdown and caved in to pressure to meet with Mr O'Leary.

Earlier, she had insisted she would "certainly not" be calling the Ryanair chief executive.

Angry

During angry Dail exchanges, Mr Kenny urged Mr Cowen to personally intervene before the 300 jobs went to another country. If the Taoiseach believed the Ryanair boss was "bluffing" on the jobs and hangars, then he should "call his bluff", the Fine Gael leader said.

"If you are supposed to be in charge, then get out of your seat in government offices and prove it," Mr Kenny said.

"When I get the chance, when I'm over there (in government) I'll intervene."

A spokesman for Ryanair last night disputed the Taoiseach's claim there was any legal impediment to moving Aer Lingus out of the hangar.

The airline claimed Ms Coughlan had admitted there was a get-out clause during their Tuesday night meeting, which ended without agreement.

But this was rejected by Ms Coughlan's spokesman who said Aer Lingus could only be moved if it was insolvent or if Dublin Airport Authority needed the hangar back for "operational or expansion purposes".

Heaping criticism on the Taoiseach yesterday, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore claimed the Government "never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity".

Irish Independent

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