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Enda Kenny hints at Aer Lingus sale

Kenny said talks were postponed until later this evening, when he expected a decision would be made.
Kenny said talks were postponed until later this evening, when he expected a decision would be made.

British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG) could be granted clearance for a long sought after takeover of Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus this evening.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told the Dail his coalition Cabinet will likely make a decision on the €1.4 billion bid within hours.

"I expect the Government will make a decision this evening that will be in the best interests of the country," he said.

Mr Kenny was speaking after his Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe briefed ministerial colleagues this morning about reported concessions from IAG as part of the takeover attempt.

The Irish state holds a 25% stake in Aer Lingus.

While bosses at the airliner have backed the sale, unions and opposition parties fear job losses, reduced connectivity in and out of Ireland and less competition if the share is sold.

Repeated advances from IAG, spearheaded by Irishman Willie Walsh, have been rejected on the back of the concerns.

However, Mr Donohoe was expected to make a recommendation to his Cabinet colleagues today, based on an expert group review which was reportedly in favour of a sell-off.

Pressed about the Cabinet talks, Mr Kenny said they were postponed until later this evening, when he expected a decision would be made.

"We have not finished our deliberations but expect to finish those and conclude them this evening," he said.

The Taoiseach said on previous occasions approaches by IAG to take over Aer Lingus were dismissed on the basis there were no "cast iron guarantees" on contentious demands over employment, growth and connectivity.

Mr Kenny said the Cabinet have since been advised of a "number of changes" to earlier takeover proposals.

As well as job creation, Dublin wants commitments on growing flights between Ireland and the US as well as boosting traffic in and out of regional airports at Cork, Shannon and Knock.

It also sought details of an IAG plan to turn the Irish capital into a transatlantic hub.

IAG's original offer to keep Aer Lingus's Heathrow slots for five years - considered critical to Ireland's tourism and business links - came under criticism for not being far reaching enough.

A Government spokeswoman described the Cabinet talks as a "positive meeting with good engagement".

Refusing to be drawn on his personal preference, Mr Kenny added: "My view is that the decision we make has to be in best interests of our people and our country."

Opposition parties Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the Socialist Party have all argued against a takeover.