The Government yesterday confirmed it had received a report by an expert group advising it on the possible sale of its 25% stake in Aer Lingus to British Airways owner IAG, paving the way for a long-delayed decision.
IAG’s proposed €1.36bn bid was recommended by Aer Lingus’s board in January but is conditional on the support of the airline’s two main shareholders — Ryanair and the State.
The Government decision has been delayed by the preparation of the report, which could help the Coalition win over some sceptical members of the Dáil and the airline’s trade unions.
The Sunday Business Post reported that the Government would announce after its weekly cabinet meeting tomorrow that it is backing the sale.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said while Minister Paschal Donohoe had received the report, the issue was “not on the agenda” for that meeting. The Government can add an issue to the agenda at the last minute.
The spokesman said Mr Donohoe, who is considering the report, he hopes to bring the matter to conclusion in “the coming weeks”, adding that no further comment would be made until such point as the minister brings a recommendation to the Government.
Ministers have said in recent weeks that the position of near-30% shareholder Ryanair was key to the Government’s decision. Ryanair has not disclosed its plans, but it releases its annual results tomorrow morning and several senior executives will speak to the media.
It was reported that Ryanair would approve the deal, triggering a formal offer from IAG.
However, a Ryanair spokesman reiterated the company’s insistence that it would consider the sale only after a formal offer was made.
Speaking in Dublin last week, IAG chief Willie Walsh said his company’s board remains fully supportive of the plan to purchase Aer Lingus and that he remains in no hurry for the Government to make its decision. Mr Walsh said IAG’s ambition is to become a multinational, multi-brand airline group.
As well as BA, it currently owns Spanish carriers Iberia and Vueling.
Fianna Fáil last week attacked the Government for seemingly allowing Ryanair to take the lead on the Aer Lingus sale issue. Its transport spokesman, Timmy Dooley, said it was not acceptable that the Government would let a commercial decision (the fate of Ryanair’s shareholding) dictate what happened to the State’s 25% investment in Aer Lingus.
* Reuters (additional reporting Irish Examiner staff)
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