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Varadkar remains hopeful Aer Lingus strike won't happen

TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar has said he will cancel his St Patrick's Day trip to the US if a strike threatening air travel chaos is not averted.

He made the comments as exploratory talks between government departments and unions began in a last-ditch attempt to avoid a strike at Aer Lingus in Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports, that would leave air passengers stranded on one of the year's busiest weekends.

Mr Varadkar said: "Obviously if there's a strike I'll be cancelling my trip and staying.

"I'm certainly not going to be dealing with it from the United States.

"There have been exploratory discussions involving my department, Richard Bruton's department, ICTU and IBEC with a view to an intervention led by us over the next couple of days."

The dispute at state airports and at Aer Lingus relates to a dispute over a €7m deficit in the workers' pension fund.

While plans are made to reschedule flights, rearrange air-traffic control and to make use of ferries, Mr Varadkar believes that the intervention will be successful.

"They (the talks) have gone well and we do hope to put a process in place in the next couple of days that could prevent the strike happening and perhaps resolve the underlying issue," he said.

Speaking on Newstalk, the minister confirmed that while there could be government intervention, it would not be financial.

"There is absolutely no question whatsoever of the Exchequer putting any money into this pension fund," stated the minister.

SIPTU has said its members will strike between 5am and 9am on Friday, March 14, ahead of the St Patrick's Bank Holiday weekend.