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O’Leary’s Strange Bedfellows Snooker Ahern’s Unholy Alliance

Posted on: September 7th, 2007 1 Comment

While Senator Mary White remains on the warpath (see article here), Bertie Ahern should count himself lucky there is no currently identifiable Mrs Ahern.  Senator White may have an unusual political approach to her opponents but she has hita chord on Aer Lingus. Her outspoken stance on the Shannon issue has struck strong resonances throughout Fianna Fáil. And elsewhere.

The Aer Lingus decision to abandon Shannon has turned the Irish political, aviation and business world upside down. Unholy alliances have been formed. Recently, even the champion of state ownership, left-wing TD Finian McGrath, was spotted boarding a Ryanair flight. Perhaps Michael O’Leary has opened a new route to Finian’s beloved Havana?

As if Finian travelling on Ryanair was not bad enough, now the same airline’s super capitalist boss, Michael O’Leary, is flirting with the trades unions. He is supporting the bearded brethrens’ cause in Shannon against Aer Lingus management. Michael is the biggest shareholder in Aer Lingus. His enemy’s enemy is his friend.

O’Leary will force the Government to do handstands at the EGM he has called in the coming weeks. Poor Bertie Ahern will be compelled to vote the State’s 25pc stake against the interests of the workers and the demands of the Shannon region.  Fine Gael is lining up with the same unions and Ryanair. On the other side, Ian Paisley is joining the ranks of those who want Aer Lingus to operate on an all-Ireland basis. The Orangeman is rooting for the shamrock.

Diehard unionist Paisley and republican Ahern are flying the same flag. Fine Gael, the trades unions and O’Leary are batting for the opposing team.

All very confusing. Whatever happened to business principles or political convictions? They have been jettisoned. Money in the pocket talks loudest. Pride comes second. Political survival is a close third.

Yet in the middle of all the cant and hypocrisy one genius emerges. Michael O’Leary of Ryanair has snookered the Government, challenged the employees’ shareholding group (ESOT), put Denis O’Brien’s 3pc shareholding under an unwelcome spotlight and made Aer Lingus management look like monkeys. He has exposed the whole basis of last year’s sale of Aer Lingus as a hypocritical piece of political fraud.

The very first attempt by the partly privatised airline to operate as a commercial outfit has landed the nation in a political crisis. The Taoiseach has disappeared. At least one Cabinet minister, Willie O’Dea, is in open rebellion. Now we know why Aer Lingus was sold for so little; because it was worth so little. It is no normal airline. The Government monkey is still on its back. Willie O’Dea is kicking up. Mary White is in rebellion. And there will be plenty more twists before Michael’s EGM is held in early October.

The EGM will expose the privatisation as a monumental flop. A priceless asset was sold for a pittance. The reluctance of scores of global investors to buy shares in the airline was palpable at the time. The reason: their fear that the company might become a political battlefield. How right they were. War broke out earlier than they expected. The flotation fiasco allowed the airline’s nemesis, Michael O’Leary, to wreak immediate mayhem within its ranks.

Early weakness in the shares offered Michael the opening to hoover up a huge stake. He is now the ringmaster, owning more stock than the Government. He has called the EGM and is challenging Bertie either to back Aer Lingus management and suffer political damage, or to send the airline down the non -commercial road. Bertie has a choice between serious political flak or a share price collapse.

Bertie’s mealy-mouthed insistence on holding onto a quarter of the company is a spectacular own goal. He is reaping the whirlwind. If the Government had sold the entire company today’s crisis would have been avoided. It kept 25pc to appease the comrades, to retain the right to veto nasty commercial developments like a Ryanair takeover, a foreign dawn raid or even an assault on Shannon‘s status.

Aer Lingus was to remain a comfort zone for the featherbedded semi-state employees. Now Bertie cannot afford to keep his promises. Today a whole region is up in arms. The rebels smell blood. Ryanair is poised to become a hero of the workers in Shannon.

O’Leary is a genius. All his enemies are now in disarray. And his wife Anita is safe, happily positioned on the same side as the redoubtable senator Mary White.