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The Government is Paralysed Over Aer Lingus and the Second Terminal

Posted on: April 22nd, 2005

It is staggering how long it has taken to make a simple decision about the second terminal at Dublin Airport. It is a defining issue for the Government. While it will not fall on the issue, deep ideological disagreements on the matter exist between the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, and between the two parties. They are paralysed. One wants to go hell for leather and place the second terminal in private hands and the other wants to do what Jack O’Connor and David Begg tell him to do. Those two objectives are absolutely irreconcilable, resulting in paralysis and delay.

I see no great hope of a decision on the matter. I can see the motivation. The Taoiseach wants this problem not to be resolved or certainly not to cause any more trouble before the next general election. All that matters to the Taoiseach are the half-dozen or so Fianna Fáil seats in north Dublin, which are dictating the fate of Dublin Airport. Otherwise what is happening would be inexcusable. Any excuses about the various decisions of the stakeholders and the consultation required are complete and utter rubbish.

Certainly it is now perfectly normal to consult the unions – I see nothing wrong with that. However, it is not perfectly normal to be dictated to by the unions or to do deals with the unions, which affect not only the second terminal, but also affect Aer Lingus.

Businesspeople are not being consulted on this issue and they certainly deserve consultation, as they will put up the capital for the second terminal. Let us look at this from the point of view of the investor. What would an investor in Aer Rianta, now the Dublin Airport Authority, or in Aer Lingus do when considering this problem?

He would see a split Cabinet and all sorts of special deals for the staff. He would be unclear as to whether he would get 49% or 51%. If it were to be 49%, the Minister can forget about it. He will not get anything like the value he expects. At the moment the shares are trading on the grey market at a level giving the company a valuation of approximately €350 million, which is a pittance. The Minister can be certain there is very little confidence in this one taking off.

If the airline had a chief executive it might attract investors. However, the Government cannot get a chief executive because it cannot make a decision on the future of the airline. The future of the airline will remain in doubt as long as the Government refuses to take politics out of the equation. It needs to consider the economics and the value to the country of a decision, which it should make quickly.