Semi-state companies – Privatisation admits defeat

IT must be very tempting for Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to look to our more desirable semi-state companies and wonder what they might fetch if they were flogged off.

The windfall might temporarily balance the books but there are very many good and long-term reasons to oppose privatisation.

As it’s not exactly a secret that we’re in a dire situation Ireland Inc would go to the market in a weak position. We could expect investors to treat us as a pawnbroker might treat a newly impoverished customer.

There is also the awkward detail that Government has no mandate of any kind to sell the family silver. Proposals to privatise successful, or potentially successful, state businesses also suggest a defeatism that we should not contemplate.

Why should the state surrender the opportunity to make profits and enhance services to private entities that will focus on only one of those possibilities?

In an ever-more globalised world an increasing proportion of states’ energies are taken up by trying to stand between citizens and hugely powerful business interests – America and BP, Ireland and the banks, Australia and the mining companies – and privatising any of our semi-states would make that inevitable challenge all the more difficult.

It would be far better to make them more efficient and profitable rather that to sell them off. In any event they, like the family farm, are not really ours to sell. We only hold them in trust for our children.


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