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Thursday 23 November 2017

Taoiseach Enda Kenny rules out fire sale of state assets

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has ruled out a fire sale of state assets as a special unit assesses options for raising €2bn or more by privatising commercial semi-states.

Under fire over the creation of the NewERA shareholding body, Mr Kenny rejected claims it was another quango to promote knee-jerk privatisations.

"This is not some cost quango that has been set up," the Taoiseach said.

"There's no intention here of the state rushing out to sell state assets. We have made it perfectly clear in the Programme for Government that the opportunity is to achieve the sale of assets to the value of €2bn.

"Nobody in Government has ever said that we are going to have a fire sale of assets just like that. These are always to be at the appropriate time and when Government considers it necessary to do so.

"You are not going to wake up one morning and find that the Government has made a knee-jerk decision to sell-off."

Mr Kenny said there would be negotiations with the bailout bosses in the IMF and Europe on how much from each sale can be used for infrastructure and job creation, rather than paying debt.

NewERA, the specialist unit to advise on potential privatisations will be headed by Dr Eileen Fitzpatrick of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA).

Her job is to manage the state's shareholdings in ESB, Eirgrid, Coillte, Bord Gais and Bord na Mona and assess the potential for buyers, the economic impact and timeline for sales. She will liaise with ministers before reporting to Government.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin had challenged the Taoiseach over the NewERA unit and accused the Government of focusing on short-term financial gain rather than the interests of the state.

"Now is most certainly not the time to be selling strategic state assets," he said.

"Particularly in terms of the ESB, what we are getting here is a fundamental breach of the commitments and a cynical breach of promises but also, of more importance to the public interest, a fundamental shift and change on the sale of state assets without any debate, without any clarity."

Independent TD Shane Ross called on the Taoiseach to reveal what salary Dr Fitzpatrick was on and claimed it would be in the region of a chief executive or banker's wage.

He claimed she was an insider appointed without advertising, competition or interviews and branded the appointment procedure flawed.

"A decision made behind closed doors like that is unacceptable, at any stage," Mr Ross said.

The Taoiseach said Dr Fitzpatrick was eminently qualified for the job and there was nothing underhand in her appointment.

Press Association

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