From Socialist Voice, October 2006


History repeating itself—the second time as farce

First we had Telecom Éireann, a state monopoly privatised and transformed into a private monopoly, with the resulting shambles of a telephone service. Now it emerges that Ryanair is on the verge of acquiring a majority shareholding in the recently privatised Aer Lingus, creating the potential for a private monopoly of air travel within and out of Ireland.
     In addition, there is the grave danger of asset-stripping. Aer Lingus could be forced to relinquish landing slots in major airports, such as Heathrow. It has shattered Government illusions about creating competition.
     It is necessary to remember that Tony Ryan, owner of the failed aircraft leasing company Guinness Peat Aviation and current owner of Ryanair, was bailed out by Fianna Fáil when Guinness Peat Aviation collapsed. When he established Ryanair, once again Fianna Fáil, in the person of Séamus Brennan, then Minister for Transport, prevented Aer Lingus from flying into both Luton and Stansted Airports, granting exclusive rights to Ryanair. In addition it was allowed to let passengers disembark not directly at the airport terminal but rather on the tarmac, thereby facilitating a quick turn-around.
     A number of cases have exposed Ryanair as having demanded, and received, subsidies from a number of regional airports in Europe. They have looked for such subsidies by playing one region off against another, with the local taxpayers paying the price.
     Michael O’Leary and the other bosses of Ryanair are forever attacking state-run industries and in particular Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority but are very quick to accept state welfare when it suits them.
     The board of Aer Lingus, like the board of all state and state-sponsored bodies, has been stacked with political cronies. As the present Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, admitted in Dáil Éireann in early October, he appointed his friends to some of these boards. The political establishment has used these appointments as political reward for financial donations, both party and personal.
     Individuals have been appointed not because of their expertise in relation to a particular industry but rather for who or what they are. It is hardly surprising that some of these companies have been badly run, with poor industrial relations.
     The selling off of an important public asset, which has been the recipient of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money over many decades, was a major mistake if not an economic crime by this Government, which has now placed Aer Lingus on Michael O’Leary’s butchering block.
     Workers and their trade unions in industries facing privatisation need to face up to and seriously challenge the whole thrust of this Government’s privatisation strategy, a strategy aimed at further enriching the “golden circle.”
     The ESB is now next in line for privatisation. The carrot of ASOPs [approved share option plans] is nothing more than bribery dangled in front of the workers of a given industry to weaken resistance to privatisation.
     A workers’ share option will not protect workers, their wages or conditions. It will not protect the interests of workers or serve the national interest. A few workers in the ESB might make money and buy their dream “place in the sun” in Spain or Croatia. This government’s policy of privatisation of public assets is robbery on a grand scale, creating state welfare for big business.
     In relation to privatisation, history is repeating itself, this time as farce.

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