[Sinn Fein]

4 October 2001

Government's ``stay of execution'' for Aer Lingus - Ó Caoláin

Speaking in today's Dáil debate on Aer Lingus Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the government had no commitment to the development of the company as a State-owned company. He said:

``On 25 September I addressed a SIPTU seminar on the future of Aer Lingus. Some 200 union members were present, representative of thousands of others in the airline. All were deeply concerned for the future of Aer Lingus and the prospect of massive job losses. Estimates for employment cuts in the company have since greatly increased.

``A senior official of the Department of Public Enterprise told the seminar that he was personally in favour of the privatization of Aer Lingus. He is entitled to his opinion but it was very revealing about the dominant thinking within the Department charged with responsibility for State -owned companies. There is no passion there for making public ownership work. On the contrary preparation for privatization is the order of the day as handed down by this government.

``In this international aviation crisis I believe the government should make State aid available to the national airline without delay. The government has allowed its hands to be tied by the EU and has meekly accepted the dictation that no State aid could be given. That was reiterated by Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy after the recent EU Finance Ministers meeting and it is restated in the government amendment.

``I believe it is fundamentally undemocratic for any government to limit its options or that of a future government which may decide to provide whatever aid it deems appropriate to any State company. This is a basic democratic question.

``Privatization either in the medium or long term, would I believe, mean the break-up of the company, the loss of thousands of jobs and the destruction of a strategic pillar of the Irish economy. It must not be allowed to happen.

``We have seen how well the company fared in recent years and the benefits for the Irish economy. Tougher times are here but they will not last forever. We need to look beyond the current crisis and go forward with a strategic view of the future.

``I support the amendment in the name of Deputy Joe Higgins. The government's amendment is a stay of execution for Aer Lingus. We need a strong commitment to Aer Lingus staying in public ownership and being developed in public ownership.

``The greatest asset of Aer Lingus is the skilled workforce. They must be central to decision-making for the future. Their rights and interests must be safeguarded. Minister, Aer Lingus is our company, and you are charged with responsibility for it. It must remain our company. It must be rescued now by this government so it can be developed and expanded as the national airline of the Irish people.''ENDS

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