The State’s sale of a 25% stake in AIB has dominated discussion in the Dáil with opposition parties hitting out at the Government’s plans.
While Fianna Fáil have no objections to the flotation, Micheál Martin suggested revenue generated from the sell-off should be pumped into infrastructure and not simply used to pay down our debt. However, Sinn Féin believes the State should retain its entire stake in the bank.
The sale, which is likely to be completed over the next four weeks, is expected to raise more than €3bn.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Martin said he was raising the issue of the “overall crisis facing the country” surrounding the need for capital investment,” he said.
“There is no question that our level of investment in capital infrastructure is not where it should be, given the growth in population. We are still at 2000 or 2002 levels of investment, at approximately 2%. There are major needs in housing, health, education, public transport, road infrastructure and broadband.
“The essential future productive capacity of our economy and quality of life depends on a much greater level of capital investment than we have planned or are providing.”
Mr Martin asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny if the Government had tried to negotiate with the EU on the rules that govern capital expenditure to allow the funding of much-needed infrastructure from the AIB funds. “The key issue people in the country are concerned about is the overly restrictive nature of the rules on accessing capital funding.
“Across the board, in housing, health, education and transport, that is the core point I am putting to the Taoiseach.”
Mr Kenny said the sale of the bank shares would not result in “any beneficial impact” on the general Government balance and would not be counted as revenue.
“Therefore, there is no increased capacity to spend. The proceeds from any IPO would be used to pay down debt, and the minister has made that perfectly clear.”
But he added that it was not a case of ignoring the infrastructure requirements of the country. “They are very big priorities for Government,” Mr Kenny said.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams pointed out €20bn was invested in AIB but the bank has now returned to profitability.
“Anyone with a lick of common sense would hold on to this asset as a steady source of income for the time ahead and as part of the necessary process to get a return for the people’s €20 billion investment,” Mr Adams said. “The biggest bank under State control, saved by the people’s money, shows a profit and the Government wants to give it back to its friends as quickly and as cheaply as possible.”
However, Mr Kenny responded by stating that Mr Adams had been “opposed bitterly to having the taxpayer put money into AIB and now he is opposed to getting the money back”.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan last night addressed the Seanad on the AIB flotation and strongly denied that he was purely trying to complete the sale before he leaves office.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael TD Tony McLoughlin’s fracking Bill became the first Private Members’ Bill to be passed by the current Dáil yesterday. The Sligo-Leitrim TD said the bill will protect hundreds of thousands of people from the harmful and damaging effects of hydraulic fracking.
“The progress of this Bill this year shows that away from all the negativity in the media, that surrounds the concept of ‘new politics’, it can work quite well if all sides of the house engage pro-actively together,” Mr McLoughlin said.
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