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VERY angry scenes in the Dáil as TDs clash over Aer Lingus deal

Meanwhile, IAG CEO Willie Walsh is jetting in to ease union concerns.

Updated at 12.36pm

THERE WERE VERY angry scenes in the Dáil this morning as TDs clashed over the government’s plans to change the schedule to allow for debate on the sale of Aer Lingus.

After months of speculation and background discussions, transport minister Paschal Donohoe said last night that legally-binding agreements regarding the carrier’s brand and location had been agreed, while the airline’s slots at Heathrow would continue to be held for an unlimited time.

He confirmed that the Government had finally agreed to sell its 25.1% stake to International Airlines Group (IAG).

The Dáil voted 65-39 in favour of changing its agenda to facilitate a debate on the sale this morning.

But not before Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused coalition of trying to “ram through” the sale and deliberately keep the opposition in the dark.

“The government is treating the house with absolute contempt,” Martin said.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, meanwhile, went on to criticise the ”compliant, sheep-like TDs” of Fine Gael and Labour who are backing the deal.

Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley unsuccessfully called for the house to be suspended for ten minutes so the party whips could discuss rescheduling the agenda.

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His colleague Robert Troy then expressed his annoyance that question time to Children’s Minister James Reilly was cut by almost an hour due to the discussion on changing the schedule.

Sinn Féin’s Dessie Ellis later claimed Fine Gael TDs were as “thick as thieves” with IAG in relation to the sale. He went on to accuse Labour of “pathetic subservience” in terms of backing the deal, saying voters would punish them.

During Leaders’ Questions the issue was raised again. Martin asked Enda Kenny if he or Donohoe had seen an internal Aer Lingus report that allegedly outlined potential job cuts if the airline was sold.

The Taoiseach said they had not.

Independent TD Clare Daly said the government’s position on selling Aer Lingus “marks a new low”.

Daly said IAG’s bid was not in the best interest of citizens or Aer Lingus workers, but the commercial interests of the company’s shareholders. She asked Kenny “how in God’s name” can he defend the deal.

The Taoiseach said the sale is about ensuring growth and connectivity and creating jobs, adding that IAG has provided robust guarantees on several issues.

He also noted that the government will have a veto over the sale of Aer Lingus’s coveted Heathrow slots.

Willie Walsh

Meanwhile, the CEO of IAG will host a press conference in Dublin later this morning, at which he is expected to address concerns raised by unions over the planned sale of the government’s stake in Aer Lingus.

Willie Walsh is due to speak to reporters at a city centre hotel at around 11am.

Reaction

While business groups, across the board, have welcomed the planned deal, there have been a number of warnings from unions in the wake of last night’s announcement.

IMPACT said the new proposals were “bad for jobs, for Aer Lingus workers and for Ireland’s connectivity and economic development”.

The union remains concerned that any assurances given by either company offers no real guarantees to address these concerns.

SIPTU said it would “vigorously oppose” the sell-off plan – and called for clear promises in the areas of compulsory redundancies and outsourcing.

“SIPTU has been consistent with its position that the Government should not consider any sale, unless a legally binding commitment, such as a Register Employment Agreement, which directly addresses the issues of compulsory redundancies and no outsourcing of functions is agreed by the company,” organiser Owen Reidy said.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, meanwhile said the planned sale was a matter of “very serious concern”.

Aer Lingus letter

In a letter to the Transport Minister yesterday, CEO of Aer Lingus Stephen Kavanagh said the airline did not foresee “a likelihood of compulsory redundancy or non-direct employment (outsourcing)”.

“Having clear Registered Employment Agreements that safeguard the respective interests of employees and the company is mutually beneficial,” the letter said.

The airline had committed to expanding the scope of those agreements to include staff not currently included, Kavanagh said.

Asked about that letter – and about concerns raised by unions in a Morning Ireland interview, Minister Donohoe insisted ”we have a commitment here in relation to expanding the scope of REAs and expanding the number of employees that will be covered”.

Pressed on whether outsourcing and compulsory redundancies could be ruled out entirely, he responded:

You’re asking me to make a prediction based on discussions that will happen – and what I’m doing I’m emphasising that we have received a commitment from Stephen Kavanagh and from Aer Lingus that they do not foresee the use of compulsory redundancies or non-direct employment.

Labour about-turn

Eight Labour TDs – including Joe Costello, Dominic Hannigan and John Lyons – who had opposed the bid as it was set out in December said they has consulted widely with unions in recent months, to hear their concerns.

They are now backing the deal, they confirmed last night.

“The four main concerns were the valuation of the assets including the Heathrow slots, the need for a firm commitment to workers in the form of a Registered Employment Agreement (REA), the failure to provide cast-iron guarantees on connectivity and the Heathrow slots, and a lack comprehensive plan to promote Shannon and Cork airports,” a statement from the eight said.

“We are satisfied that these objectives have been achieved in the offer which is before the government.

“We are particularly satisfied that IAG has agreed to a Government veto on the disposal of the Heathrow slots indefinitely.

This guarantees state control of the connectivity which was the purpose of the state retaining the 25% golden share in the first place.

- with reporting by Órla Ryan

Read: After four long months, the government is set to FINALLY sell its stake in Aer Lingus

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