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Correct decision on Aer Lingus is crucial

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(L to R) Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport & Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport John O'Mahony TD speaking to media on the Government's position on IAG's proposal to make an offer for Aer Lingus at the Plinth of Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

(L to R) Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport & Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport John O'Mahony TD speaking to media on the Government's position on IAG's proposal to make an offer for Aer Lingus at the Plinth of Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

(L to R) Paschal Donohoe TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport & Chair of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport John O'Mahony TD speaking to media on the Government's position on IAG's proposal to make an offer for Aer Lingus at the Plinth of Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

The last thing Aer Lingus needed was to become a political football, but that is exactly the direction in which the International Airline Group (IAG) bid for the Government's 25pc stake in the airline appears to be going.

While the Transport Minister, Paschal Donohoe, has adopted a reasonable strategy, in effect saying to Willie Walsh and the board of IAG 'come back with a better offer', the Labour Party is preparing to raise the issue at its weekend party conference, with some members demanding that the much-vaunted Heathrow slots be 'held in perpetuity' for the Irish nation.

This is a ridiculous notion in this fast-moving world, and especially in the airline industry, where we only have to look at how short a time it took Ryanair to become 10 times bigger than Aer Lingus.

The future of the Aer Lingus stake should be decided on pragmatic grounds. What is good for the country should come first - and if that means rebuffing Mr Walsh and his group, then so be it.

Selling the 25pc stake in Aer Lingus is not in the national interest at this time. The Government stake gives us a seat at the boardroom table and a crucial say in the future direction of an airline that connects us with the rest of the world. Such things are often more important than monetary gain.

Even if IAG ratchets up the takeover battle by going ahead without the Government stake, as some analysts believe it will, then the 25pc we own would still be extremely important in deciding the future of the airline. In such a scenario, it would be up to Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary (29.9pc) and individual shareholders to decide whether or not the IAG strategy is successful.

We must not lose sight of the fact that Irish assets are valuable once again and as an island nation there is a guaranteed business flying in and out of our various airports. That makes Aer Lingus a valuable commodity and ultimately one in which the Irish people should retain a stake. Whether a new offer will be forthcoming remains to be seen, but the worst possible outcome would be to leave the decision in the hands of a coterie of Labour Party politicians and their allies in the trade union movement.

Chance for meaningful debate on surrogacy

The Health Department is in the earliest stages of preparing a new law to govern a range of practices, including surrogacy, embryo donation, embryo screening and stem cell research. In sum, these are all areas where science is far ahead of current law.

That means that there is little or no regulation in areas which are an ethical minefield. It is high time our lawmakers took a stand.

In time-honoured fashion for topics which impinge on sexual mores, they have been told by the Supreme Court that such legislation is now overdue.

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Health Minister Leo Varadkar responded bravely to this challenge yesterday by engaging in a discussion about where this planned legislation is headed. Among his thoughts is the suggestion that "altruistic" surrogacy will be allowed but commercial surrogacy will banned.

It is already clear that this legislation will evoke very strong views on both sides of the various arguments. The Government is planning a consultation period to hear the views of all interested parties as it proceeds with caution.

Let us grasp this chance for a meaningful dialogue.


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