Sell Out at Aer Lingus: A Sad Day for Ireland

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The Dáil voted today by 74 to 51 to approve the sale of the states share in Aer Lingus.  This is pure treachery on behalf of our politicians and it is a sad day for Ireland. Workers and unions in Aer Lingus must do everything in their power to resist this sell off of the nations assets.

Aer Lingus is an iconic company. It’s one that a lot of Irish people have enormous fondness for, probably because it has been around nearly as long as the State has. It was an early symbol of a kind of hopeful modernity; a symbol of Ireland as an independent country, an island state that nonetheless was closely tied to the world beyond. Aer Lingus matters to Irish people, and I’d hazard a guess that there is nobody but nobody in this country, outside of Fine Gael, who is happy to see it sold off to IAG.

The sale, and how its announcement was handled, marks a new low for a Government that has made shoddy behaviour, arrogance, and contempt for the Oireachtas into a habit and an art-form.

The Government is ramming through decisions about the future of Aer Lingus in a matter of days; a company that has employed tens of thousands of people over the past 80 years, that has transported millions of Irish people all over the world, and that has been so important in the strategic development of this country. You have to wonder: Why the sudden rush? Is Fine Gael afraid that Labour Party backbenchers might find the spine they lost in 2011, and try and veto the deal, under pressure from the workers and pensioners they allegedly represent?

Most people are completely baffled as to why Aer Lingus is being sold off – and their bafflement is justified. As one, the country rolled its eyes at the Taoiseach’s utter guff about jobs, growth and connectivity in the Dáil yesterday. Aer Lingus is a profitable company; right through the years of economic crisis it was a profitable company. Passenger numbers last year were up. It’s a company with a confirmed order for 9 new long-haul aircraft. It’s a company with cash reserves of almost €1 billion. It has slots at Heathrow that are worth more than €0.5 billion. It’s a company that’s growing, whose business is solid, and that has a pretty good future ahead of it. And yet it’s being sold to IAG for €1.3 billion. It’s a fire sale.

The driver of this deal is the competitive interests of the British, European and Middle Eastern shareholders who own IAG, not the best interests of the Irish people. Shareholders like Qatar Airlines; like BlackRock – the world’s largest asset management company; hedge fund Lansdowne Partners; and Invesco, which is incorporated in tax haven Bermuda. Meanwhile, the State’s 25% of the €1.3 billion proceeds will go into something called a ‘Connectivity fund’. Let’s just call that what it is, a slush fund to help Fine Gael buy the next election.

Assurances around the State having a special ‘B’ share are meaningless – the Minister might have a veto on the disposal of Heathrow slots, but there’s nothing to stop them being leased to another subsidiary of IAG. Blather about keeping the head office in Dublin is also meaningless – nail a brass plate to a door in Dublin and you have a ‘head office’; just ask all the other companies that already do it. Aer Lingus workers, especially, know that ‘guarantees’ for workers aren’t worth the paper they’re written on – not that they’ve even been given guarantees this time; just vague platitudes from a management that stands to benefit handsomely from the deal. Outsourcing and redundancies for ground staff are an absolute certainty if this deal goes ahead.

Aer Lingus flew in the face of the idea that stripped-down rapaciousness is the only way to succeed as an airline or as a company. It flew in the face of the neoliberal idea that anything the State has a hand in is lumbering, slow, and loss-making. It was, and it is, a successful company. This sale is very much part of Fine Gael’s ideological crusade; unabashed, unreconstructed neo-liberals that they are. But where is the Labour Party?