Last week’s surprise offer from Ryanair for all the shares in Aer Lingus generated many column inches in newspapers and much national discourse. The €694m valuation of Aer Lingus derived from the €1.30 a share offer, would have valued the State’s 25% stake at about €175m. And because the State’s stake in Aer Lingus is slated for disposal anyway, there has been much talk about the price. Last week, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, when asked about the value of the State’s stake, referred reporters at a press conference to a reply given by his colleague Minister Noonan the previous week, when he said you don’t show your negotiating hand in advance, and have you never sold a calf at the Fair of Glen. Alongside our stake in Aer Lingus, you can also expect much discussion over the coming months with the disposal of stakes in Bord Gais Energy and parts of the ESB. All told, the plan is to raise €2-3bn in the disposal of stakes in State companies.
Isn’t it incredible therefore that the State is RIGHT NOW selling billions of euros worth of assets and there is next to no national discourse on the disposals, and no cross party political oversight. And this brings us to the third PQ during the last week, which received a non- or partial answer from the Department of Finance, this time the question is from the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty
The above response is arguably a serious abuse by the Government of the PQ system. We KNOW about several sales worth hundreds of millions of euros, eg AIB’s Project Kildare sale of €675m of loans relating to Irish office properties and AIB’s Project Pivot sale of nearly €500m of loans relating to 251 UK properties. But the word on the grapevine is that Irish Life and Permanent is close to concluding a sale of its UK mortgage portfolio worth GBP 6.4bn (€8bn). We own more than 99% of ILP, so this is a sale of state assets, and this ONE sale is worth a multiple of all the sales contemplated in the Aer Lingus, BGE, ESB sell-offs. The word on the grapevine is that there are two Indian bidders to the fore of final negotiations with ILP for the mortgage book. When asked about this sale on Friday, the ILP spokesperson had nothing to officially say on the matter. Remember this is a sale of a portfolio that was originally offered on the open market last year, but the sale was abandoned. And the implication of the current rumblings is that the portfolio is being privately offered off-market. The Department of Finance and Minister Noonan know the total number of sales now being conducted off-market, and it might be well in excess of €10bn.
Should there not be oversight of such a massive sale of state assets?
Apparently not in our democracy.