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Saturday 20 January 2018

Coalition values state assets as strike threat hangs over ESB

Anne-Marie Walsh, Fionnan Sheahan and Ralph Riegel

The Government is getting its own financial experts to estimate the value of a shortlist of crown-jewel state companies.

The move comes as the entire 7,000-strong ESB workforce is to ballot for industrial action if the Government sells a stake in the company.

Apart from the ESB, which is being part-privatised, the Coalition is also estimating how much can be made from Bord Gais, the Dublin Airport Authority, Bord na Mona, Coillte and Aer Lingus.

The National Treasury Management Agency and the New Era office, set up by Fine Gael to examine the sale of state assets, will be involved in assessing the worth of the companies.

The sale of a minority stake in the Dublin Airport Authority will be examined, but the breaking up of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports will also have to be examined.

Bord Gais and Bord na Mona could end up going down similar routes to the ESB with outside investors being sought.

Any privatisation of Coillte, the national forestry service, would not involve the sale of any land but would focus on the leasing of land for plantation.

The IMF-EU is looking for €5bn from privatisation as part of the bailout.


The ESB's largest union UNITE was first off the mark yesterday to say its members will hold a vote on possible strikes.

SIPTU said a decision on a ballot had not yet been taken but it was opposed to a minority sale.

A decision by the five groups that made up the Group of Unions two months ago means they have committed to ballot all members in the event of a sale.

The motion said a ballot would take place "in the event of steps being taken to implement any further asset sale, disposal, transfer or divestment, as proposed in the Programme for Government or the McCarthy Report".

The revelations of a shortlist of companies come as ESB insiders claimed the threats of a strike over the partial privatisation of the company were "sabre rattling".

"A strike won't happen," said a source.

Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton yesterday appealed for restraint by claiming the move would be good for all involved.

"I am not going to tell unions what they should do but the Government has taken a decision -- a prudent decision -- and there is a process in place that will make sure the interests of the State are protected," he said, speaking in Cork.

"Mistakes which were made in the past in respect of a sale of assets won't be made again. I am confident in that process and workers in the ESB can be confident in the process."

Group of unions secretary Brendan Ogle said yesterday they would convene a meeting within weeks to discuss the government decision and how it would affect the motion passed at a conference in July.

Meanwhile, the Technical, Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU), which has 2,000 members at the ESB, will pull out of the group over comments made by Mr Ogle at a meeting in May when he described members as "spoilt".

UNITE regional secretary Jimmy Kelly said his union was backing Mr Ogle, who is on secondment from the union, to remain in his position as group secretary.

Irish Independent

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