Coalition divided over sale of state enterprises

FRESH divisions have emerged within the coalition Government after the Green Party said it will not support any plans to sell off commercial state firms and it repeated calls to radically reform the political donations system.

Details of a Government group led by An Bord Snip Nua author Colm McCarthy yesterday suggested commercial enterprises — such as RTÉ, Bord Gáis, the ESB and Cork airport — could be sold to offload state assets.

The group will report to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan on how the assets can be better used by the end of this year.

However, speaking at the MacGill Summer School in Donegal, Energy Minister Eamon Ryan said his party would not support the plans: “This assumption that private is necessarily going to be better, I don’t buy into that... We have lessons, such as what happened to Eircom. It’s only settling back now after 10 years of chaos by being thrown to the private sector.”

About half of Ireland’s commercial state enterprises were sold in the last 20 years raising over €8 billion, including the sale of Greencore, TSB Bank, ACC Bank, Irish Steel and Aer Lingus. ESB and Bord Gáis alone are estimated to come with a combined worth of more than €6bn.

Colm McCarthy, Department of Finance official Donal McNally and Trinity College professor Alan Matthews are assessing the need for further sales.

The apparent coalition division on this issue came on the same day Green TD Paul Gogarty said his party will collapse the Government and “gladly go to the country”, if Fianna Fáil does not honour its commitment to reform the political donations system.

Despite pressure from the Fianna Fáil back bench, Mr Ryan last night backed his party colleague’s call for a “change in politics”.

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