In the debate which preceded the privatisation of Aer Lingus, Ibec, the Shannon Development Authority, Defence Minister Willie O’Dea and every Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TD were enthusiastic cheerleaders for the sell-off of the State airline.
Their hymn-sheet was monotonous. End the dead hand of State interference, inject fresh capital and fresh ideas, let the marketplace and commercial realities reign supreme.
Well, that is exactly what is happening, but the cheerleaders of privatisation are not cheering now. Instead they are like a busload of four-year-olds abandoned at the school gates to face the real world all crying for their mammy. And the loudest cry-babies are Mr O’Dea and Ibec.
The implications for regional development in the mid-west arising from the Aer Lingus decision could be serious and long-term. The Government, over many years, has produced national development plans, regional development plans, spatial strategy plans, etc, all of which emphasised both the need for balanced regional economic growth and the commitment of the Government to fostering regional centres of growth to provide a counterbalance to the unmanageable urban sprawl of the greater Dublin region.
In all plans for the mid-west the centrality of a vibrant Shannon airport was highlighted. However, it is now clearer than ever that all the Government plans were so much hot air. It is not in a position to guarantee the continuation of Shannon airport. It can no longer instruct Aer Lingus to undertake tasks which are in the national interest because it willingly conceded its control over that company.
In the months leading to the privatisation of Aer Lingus, Siptu, the Workers’ Party, and other left groups who opposed the process warned that privatisation always leads to asset-stripping. We were dismissed as scaremongers when we highlighted the fact that over many years the citizens of this country, through our taxes, had invested billions in Aer Lingus and the assets built up by that investment would be lost to the Irish people.
The Heathrow slots are a valuable asset bought by Irish taxpayers’ money. Their role should be to develop tourism and business in this State.
However, their role now is to create profit for the banks, the international financiers and the hedge funds which own the majority stake in Aer Lingus.
In business-speak, the Shannon ‘hub’ has been moved to Belfast. However, it could as easily have been moved to Belgrade.
Indeed, had Ryanair bought Aer Lingus, the Heathrow slots would have been sold already to the highest bidder. A 40-year investment by the Irish people has vanished in one political stroke.
Cllr Davy Walsh
The Workers’ Party
18 The Mall