I don't expect Labour TDs to back me - Rabbitte
Former Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte has said that he does not expect to get much public support from his party colleagues for his view that the Government should sell its share in Aer Lingus.
Mr Rabbitte surprised many within Labour at the weekend by suggesting that selling the airline to IAG would be a positive move.
Although the party has not taken an official line on the deal offered by Willie Walsh's airline, the majority of backbenchers are understood to be against it.
Mr Rabbitte's intervention is unlikely to please Tanaiste Joan Burton, who has repeatedly stressed that she has yet to be convinced that the sale should go ahead.
"We still have concerns about the potential job losses and issues around the Heathrow slots and connectivity," her spokesperson said.
But Mr Rabbitte told the Irish Independent last night that his personal belief is that the airline and Ireland's long-term interest would be best served by the Government releasing its 25pc stake in the national carrier.
The former minister for communications, who was a union official for many years before his election as a TD, said he believed there were many airport workers prepared to back the deal.
He said the unions could be persuaded, and so could Labour party representatives and members, that it was a good move in the medium to longer term.
"It seems to me that a small bit of leadership here could change the unions' position on this," he told the Irish Independent.
He conceded that in the current atmosphere none of his colleagues was likely to publicly support him. "I expect the matter will be dealt with at the party conference," he said.
Mr Rabbitte said he had not been in contact with other people before arriving at his decision, first expressed in a Sunday newspaper article.
"I do not want to be perceived as a campaigner for Willie Walsh on this. These are my own personal assessments," he told the Irish Independent.
"It is my view that in five, seven, 10 years, we are likely to regret not taking this opportunity when we realise that Aer Lingus was too small and isolated in a vastly changed market," he added.
Although Mr Rabbitte had previously expressed reservations about the sale, he now questions whether another offer like IAG's is likely to emerge if the Government decides to turn this one down.
"The best option I suspect is to do business with Willie Walsh and IAG.
"I appreciate that IAG may not seem the best option for government colleagues, especially in Dublin's northside constituency where they must stand for interview by the people in the next year or so," he said.
However, pointing to an interdepartmental group set up to advise Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, Mr Rabbitte argued that Aer Lingus should not be a big election issue as they will have advice from all quarters before reaching a decision.