Wednesday, 28 January 2015
Possible Sale of Aer Lingus: Statements
I welcome the Minister to the House. It is not the first time the Minister and I have had these discussions on aviation policy and I am sure we will have many more. I do not know what the board of Aer Lingus recommended and agreed to. If there is nothing there, as the Minister's speech said, that is fine with me because like the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I think this should be carefully analysed and discussed. Is British Airways a suitable candidate to take over Aer Lingus? I do not think so. It is overshadowed in its native jurisdiction by easyJet and Ryanair. The amalgamation of previous national airlines is an anti-competitive development in European aviation. I wonder where the Commission is. It ruled out the Ryanair takeover of Aer Lingus as being anti-competitive. Where is it now that British Airlines is taking over Aer Lingus? The Competition Commission in the UK in what I thought was an unacceptable decision intervened in a possible merger between two Irish companies to require Ryanair to sell its shares in Aer Lingus. This is an appalling example of extra-territoriality. How can the UK competition authority overrule a merger between two Irish companies? The Competition Commission was extending its jurisdiction to where it has not been since 1922. One of my predecessors, Henry Grattan, voted against the Act of Union and I will be voting against this act of union because it is not in the interests of this country.
Let us look at the Scottish case. British Caledonian had 6,300 employees and 27 aircraft. It disappeared. There are no services comparable to what we do in the north Atlantic and I want to praise Aer Lingus for developing those routes. About 400,000 people per year fly between Scotland, which has a population of 5.3 million, and the US. We have a figure of 2.5 million, which is six times as much for a slightly smaller population - about half a million fewer people. Aer Lingus might have been the cartel airline in the European airlines cartel but on the north Atlantic, it has developed distinctive and valuable products for the development of industry in this country. I hope the Government's group will include references to tourism and the industrial sector. The availability of far more connectivity and access to Ireland from the US than is available to Scotland has been a major part of the development of the smart Irish economy.
I worry that the object of British Airways in this is to re-route all the traffic through Heathrow. Heathrow has grown since 2008 by 8% and Gatwick has grown by about 3.7%. Stansted is down by 20.1% while Luton is down by 4.7%. Heathrow keeps saying that it is full. It keeps on expanding. British Airways is Air Heathrow, that is what it sees Aer Lingus as doing and that is not in our national interest. We need to keep that brand there. This is a great product on the north Atlantic that has been a huge development aid to this country and it is not worth giving it up for €300 million. A figure of €300 million is two days' public expenditure. It is not worth giving up all of this for €300 million.