Tuesday 20 February 2018

We’re in no rush to sell State assets - Gilmore

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said today that there will be no rush to sell off State assets and the Mc Carthy report would be studied by the Government and each department.

His comments came after Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin indicated earlier today that he would not delay acting on the report which identifies a possible €5 billion from the sales. In the Dail today Mr Gilmore pointed out that Mr Howlin had said there would be no delay in relation to the decision on the measures to be taken.

In response to Socialist TD Joe Higgins he said that the Government was agreeable to holding a debate as soon as possible on the matter and he assured deputies that nothing would be sold before the debate was held.

Earlier, Minister Howlin said that the government had persuaded the EU and the IMF that the proceeds of the sale of some State assets could be used to aid job creation rather than paying off Ireland’s debts.

The argument about the expenditure on jobs was made successfully at the recent quarterly review of the EU/IMF rescue package, he said.

Each of the 55 recommendations made in the report, chaired by economist Colm McCarthy, will now be put to the relevant government departments.

No decision would be made yet in relation to the sale of the government’s 25pc stake in Aer Lingus, but he would be careful to ensure that competition remained in the aviation sector, the Minister said on Morning Ireland.

Defending the Labour party’s agreement to the sale of state assets, Mr Howlin said that the issue was not an ideological one. “We are a party and now a government of job creation,” he said.

The Coalition was presented with a range of options for privatising semi-state companies yesterday in a report by economist Colm McCarthy.

Mr McCarthy identified a potential €5bn worth of sales, including selling off the power generation sections of ESB and Bord Gais and privatising Aer Lingus in full.

The report also proposes privatisation of parts of the business side of Coillte and Bord na Mona, along with the National Stud and greyhound tracks.

But the Coalition admitted that it would have to negotiate with the EU and IMF on using any proceeds for jobs stimulus purposes -- rather than just paying off the country's debts.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said the Government would have to negotiate "on a case-by-case basis".

The Government insisted there wouldn't be a fire sale of semi-states and that valuable energy, transport and industry interests would only be sold off on the market when the time was right.

Mr Howlin said no decision on sales had been made.

"I think there will be things that will not be acceptable to the Government, but I'll let the Government debate that and we will be presenting our comprehensive response in due course," he said.

The McCarthy review of state assets -- the economist's second investigation into trimming public costs and raising finance -- looked at companies that have a total book value of €8bn.

Mr Howlin said if all the sales recommended in the review went through it could realise up to €5bn. But he again pointed to the €2bn target set out in the Programme for Government.

Mr McCarthy actually warned against jumping into a so-called "fire sale", claiming it was a matter of timing to secure the right market conditions.

"It's not practical to think about disposing of many of these companies in a big hurry," he said.

"There's also the question of what the market is like for commercial assets right now. There are always issues of timing."

Mr McCarthy said the report of the Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities should be seen as an advisory document.

"It is a matter for the Government and the Oireachtas to decide what should and shouldn't be done," he said.


"The Government isn't under any immediate financial pressure, in the sense that the IMF/EU programme is in place, which means that the Government should be funded for the duration of that programme."

The dramatic money-making plan affects 16 semi-states across several sectors, including the ESB, which would stay semi-state even though all its foreign interests would be sold -- including Northern Ireland Electricity.

The transmission grid, including the high-voltage system in the North, should be transferred to EirGrid and kept in public ownership along with all hydro-electric units.

The Bord Gais gas and electricity generation and supply business should be sold. The high-pressure gas transmission network and interconnectors should be retained by the state, the report states.

Bord na Mona should be sold off, including peat extraction rights, but not ownership of the peat lands and likewise Coillte should dispose of forests and associated assets but not the land they grow on.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

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

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News