By Siobhan Cronin
LABOUR TD Michael McCarthy has said this week that he would ‘huge difficulty’ supporting the sale of Aer Lingus to British Airways’ parent IAG.
Dail deputies may be asked to vote on any proposed sale, as a result of the government’s 25% stake in the airline.
But Deputy McCarthy’s stance is indicative of reports that a growing number of Labour deputies would have an issue supporting the plan.
Speaking to The Southern Star this week, Deputy McCarthy said he was strongly opposed to the takeover of the airline by IAG, adding that he was aware of a number of other Labour deputies who would have an issue with voting in favour of the sale.
‘I would have huge difficulty supporting this sale,’ he said. However, he said it might not come to a vote and he wouldn’t be drawn on declaring a definite ‘no’ at this stage.
But Deputy McCarthy did admit that a deal regarding a significant improvement in the debt situation at Cork Airport would make him more ‘favourably disposed’ to the sale. ‘That would be a game-changer,’ he said.
Cork Airport has never recovered from the splitting-up of Aer Rianta, whereby Cork is now under the control of the Dublin Airport Authority, while Shannon Airport has its independence, he claimed.
The building of a new terminal in Cork has left the airport with a €113m debt, which is smothering its attempts to progress.
‘The debt has to be addressed,’ Deputy McCarthy said, and he pointed out that he had ‘huge concern’ about the future of Aer Lingus’ Heathrow slots from Cork, if the sale went ahead.
He said he would have no faith in any written guarantee from IAG that the slots would be copper-fastened. ‘We should be under no illusion about what will happen those slots. They won’t care about someone in West Cork wanting to go to London for a few days.’
And he added: ‘I would treat with extreme caution whatever is agreed on the Heathrow slots – it would not be worth the paper it’s written on.’
‘Whatever is done, it has to be about the best deal for Cork,’ he said.
Several other groups have expressed fears about the future of Cork Airport should the Irish airline be sold.
Cork Chamber has strongly urged the Government to oppose the sale of Aer Lingus, in light of what it called the ‘growing concerns regarding the absence of guarantees around the safe-guarding of the Cork-Heathrow slots’.
‘Cork-Heathrow slots are a national asset and are a critical piece of business infrastructure for our region. Heathrow is the leading connection to Cork’s largest trading partner, the UK, and is the leading access point to the globe from a business perspective,’ said Gillian Keating, Chamber president.
Business lobby group IBEC said any proposed sale to IAB ‘must prioritise the future connectivity of the Cork region’. Regional director Peter O’Shaughnessy said: ‘Good connectivity is essential for Cork and the international access provided by Cork Airport remains one of the region’s key competitive advantages. It has been vital for attracting investors in key sectors such as ICT, pharma, financial services and medical devices. It is also a crucial asset for businesses seeking to develop new market opportunities overseas.
‘Many IBEC members in the region use the Cork-London service on a daily basis and government must ensure that it is preserved and developed,’ the IBEC director added.