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Labour's stance hardens on Aer Lingus sale as TDs voice fears

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Labour party leader Joan Burton

Labour party leader Joan Burton

Labour party leader Joan Burton

TANAISTE Joan Burton has told her party that she is "unconvinced" about the merits of the Government selling its stake in Aer Lingus.

Ms Burton last night moved to reassure Labour Party TDs and senators who are increasingly fearful that the State's shareholding in the company will be sold.

An "intensive" meeting of the Labour Parliamentary party lasted over two hours and was dominated by contributions from both urban and rural-based members who were adamant in their opposition to the sale.

Dublin Central TD Joe Costello, who was earlier one of seven TDs who held a separate meeting on the matter, described the State's 25.1pc stake as being "part of the family silver".

But several Labour sources at the meeting told the Irish Independent they were "reassured" following the contribution from their party leader, as well as deputy leader Alan Kelly.

"Both were absolutely clear that they are not at all enthusiastic about going down this road," said one senior TD.

Two separate sources confirmed that Ms Burton told the party that she is "unconvinced" about whether the deal should go ahead.

Representatives of IAG, the parent company of British Airways, met government officials yesterday to discuss the parameters of their takeover bid.

The issue will also be discussed at a special meeting of the Oireachtas Transport Committee today. However, government sources last night emphasised that the concern about such a move is also shared by Fine Gael politicians.

At the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting last night, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe spoke "very carefully" to those present about the prospect of a deal.

But one source said they were left with the "distinct impression" that a sale was not on the cards "any time soon". Mr Donohoe is due to brief the Labour Party on the issue today in a bid to alleviate concerns.

Earlier yesterday, a separate faction within Labour met over the potential sale. The group, dubbed within Leinster House circles as the "Aer Lingus 7" privately believe such a sale will decimate Labour's Dublin support base.

Those present at the meeting were: Mr Costello, John Lyons (Dublin North West), Brendan Ryan (Dublin North), Sean Kenny (Dublin North East), Robert Dowds (Dublin Mid-East), Dominic Hannigan (Meath East), and junior minister Aodhan O Riordain (Dublin North Central). Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, party chairman Jack Wall said not a single TD or senator present spoke in favour of selling the stake to the parent company of BA in the short term.

Faction

"We won't be running down the road to get this deal done as quickly as possible," he said.

Mr Costello, seen as the leader of the internal party faction, said the position of many TDs is that a sale must not take place.

"We need to ensure that the Government retains this stake in Aer Lingus, we must keep our active role in influencing the future of the company," he said.

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Transport Committee will today hold an emergency meeting to discuss the impact of such a sale. The organisations due to give evidence include the Irish Airline Pilots Association, the Central Representatives Council of union groups within Aer Lingus, and the Dublin and Cork, Limerick and Shannon chambers of Commerce.

Irish Independent