Tuesday, 24 April 2012
Sale of State Assets
Question 117: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if recent discussions with the Troika have impacted on the timetable for the proposed sale of State assets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20280/12]
The Government remains committed under the EU-ECB-IMF funding programme to outlining in detail for the troika, by the end of the second quarter, end of June 2012, the specific regulatory, legislative, corporate governance and financial reforms which need to be taken in 2012, ensuring consistency with relevant EU legislation where necessary, to allow for the asset sale programme to proceed in 2013, and a calendar with indicative timelines for sales will be set out. The issues requiring resolution having already been identified by the end of the first quarter, work is ongoing in the relevant Departments and agencies on considering how they should be addressed in order to facilitate the launch of sale transactions in 2013.
Nothing has arisen during the troika's current mission that affects this timetable.
We mentioned the national lottery licence earlier and I would consider that to be a State asset. Does it come under the remit of these discussions and if not, why not? Is the troika happy the sale of the licence should proceed? I would consider it as much a State asset as some of the other assets being sold. On several occasions Ministers have said there will be no fire sale of State assets. However, twice in his response the Minister mentioned sales will commence next year. There is no guarantee that we will not remain in a fire sale situation next year. What is the Minister's position with regard to the timetable for sales if global economic conditions are not suitable for a sale of assets next year? Has the troika a problem with moving the sale out for a further 12 months? If State assets are to be sold, everybody here wants them to be sold at the best possible price in the interest of the taxpayer, rather than a quick sale in the interest of the European Central Bank.
The Deputy raises two points. I would welcome his support for not including the national lottery licence in the asset sales being discussed. The troika has not discussed this with me. I announced this in the context of the capital programme last year because I want to use the bulk of the up-front payment to pay for the national children's hospital. I do not want that dislodged and would welcome the Deputy's support for maintaining that income stream to build the hospital.
With regard to beginning sales of assets next year, that will not constitute a fire sale. The first reason for this is that we have done our due diligence. The main asset to be sold is the energy generating division of Bord Gáis Éireann. We know, because we have done our due diligence, that there is significant interest in the market for that. I have indicated twice to the House, and I do so again now, that we will sell nothing that does not present fair value to the taxpayer in terms of market price. If market conditions change remarkably between now and next year - I do not envisage they will - we will have to think again, because we will not sell any asset that does not accrue fair value to the State. I assure the Deputy of that. Judging by the due diligence we have already conducted, there is significant interest. I agree, however, that until one tests the market with a product, one is not certain of that.
I share Deputy Fleming's concern about the fixed timing of the sale and the potential of it being a fire sale. The majority of people do not want to see a selling off of the family silver. I understand that the Labour Party had its party conference in the past week or so and that the party took a fairly trenchant view with regard to the sale of State assets and was against that. Has that influenced the Minister's thinking and is there any chance that the position of the delegates to the Labour Party conference will prevail in Government policy?
There will be no question of selling off the family silver. From the beginning, we have said that we negotiated a programme for Government with Fine Gael. I am responding to questions here as a Member of the Government, not as a Labour Party member. The Labour Party makes up one third of the Government and we negotiated a programme for Government which includes a sale of State assets and that programme was overwhelmingly approved by the Labour Party conference and by Fine Gael through its validation process. That is the agreement we will work towards.
The view of members of my party comes as no surprise to me. I have a firm attachment to State assets and a firm appreciation of the role State companies have played in the generating of our economy. We will continue to ensure that the State sector plays a vital part in the generation of new jobs. It is for that reason the biggest State company of recent times was announced last week by the Government.