Tuesday 16 January 2018

FG concerned Labour would 'pull the plug' over airline deal

Fine Gael TD Pat Breen
Fine Gael TD Pat Breen

Niall O'Connor, John Downing and John Mulligan

FINE Gael ministers have expressed concern that the Labour Party would "pull the plug" on the Coalition if the State sold its shareholding in Aer Lingus.

The prospect of a deal has gained support within Fine Gael in recent days after assurances were given by Willie Walsh, head of IAG, the airline giant looking to take over Aer Lingus.

Support has also grown within Labour circles - however senior figures have warned that the party would not publicly back such a move until after the general election.

The Irish Independent can reveal that senior Fine Gael figures, including those at ministerial rank, are concerned that selling the State's 25pc stake prior to the election would seriously test the stability of the Coalition.

A Cabinet member, speaking on the basis of anonymity, last night said he was concerned Labour would withdraw from Government if the Aer Lingus sale took place in the coming months.

"My view, having spoken to colleagues, is that Labour would use this issue as a means of getting out early," the minister told the Irish Independent.

A second minister pointed to suggestions by Labour's Chief Whip Emmet Stagg last week that the party could pull out over the issue of the fatal foetal abnormalities bill.

Labour TD Anne Ferris claimed Mr Stagg suggested the prospect of collapsing the Coalition as a direct response to Fine Gael's refusal to allow a free vote.

"If you have talk about collapsing the Coalition over abortion, then how would Labour react if we pushed ahead with Aer Lingus," the source said.

Mr Stagg said Ms Ferris must have "misunderstood" him over the comment.

The political wrangling over the deal comes as Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said that he's continuing to assess the IAG approach.

"I have always said that the criteria under which I will make this decision are more than just the price of a share," he told RTE. "I have to have a look at the impact on access in and out of our country and I have to have a look at the impact on employment."

"My job is to get the best value for the State," he added.

The minister said that there is a "diverse array of views" on the matter across the country and in Leinster House.

"A decision has to be made in relation to the proposal that is there," he added. "For any decision I make in relation to this, there will be consequences."

Although some Fine Gael politicians are being more enthused about a deal taking place, two Clare deputies - Joe Carey and Pat Breen - said they were not satisfied that Shannon Airport had been given sufficient guarantees on future links with Heathrow.

"As of now, I have not heard any reason why we should approve the sale to IAG. We have to hear more about Shannon and Cork. If Willie Walsh came down and outlined his plans we might know more," Mr Breen said.

Mr Carey said Shannon had suffered in 1987 when it lost the link to Heathrow and this could not be repeated. "We have to defend Shannon as a vital part of the region's ongoing development," Mr Carey told the Irish Independent.

Limerick city TD Kieran O'Donnell equally said Shannon's future must be secured before he could agree anything. He cited examples of US and British-based firms which had invested in the region because of the regular air links out of Shannon, which is just 12 miles from the Limerick city.

"Shannon Airport, with links to New York and Boston, is the only transatlantic airport outside of Dublin. Its role is central to the development of Limerick and it is my job to defend that," Mr O'Donnell said.

Aer Lingus is due to release its financial results for 2014 next Tuesday. It is understood Aer Lingus has also begun to engage with stakeholders such as industry groups and unions to persuade them of the merits.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Also in this section