Belfast Telegraph

Pledge to keep control of the ESB

The Government has vowed to retain majority control of the ESB after it agreed to part-privatise the semi-state company to meet commitments under the EU/IMF bailout deal.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said the Cabinet had signed off on the plan to sell a minority stake.

But facing criticisms that the move was a retrograde step, Mr Rabbitte said the electricity company would largely remain in state hands.

"There is no question of this Government handing over control," Mr Rabbitte said.

Under the terms of the 85 billion euro EU/IMF bailout deal, the Government must consider the privatisation of state assets. But Mr Rabbitte said the Government wanted to get maximum value for the company, and ruled out a fire sale claiming the stake may not be sold this year or in the first quarter of 2012.

"It's a very, very profitable company, but the implication is not, as I have said before, that we're going to put it up on eBay next week. That's not the intention," he said.

Mr Rabbitte said the size of the stake to be put up for sale has yet to be decided.

The minister said it will be considered by a group of officials from the Departments of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Public Expenditure and Reform, Finance and the National Treasury Management Agency.

Sinn Fein communications spokesman Martin Ferris later said part-privatising was a retrograde step and a "disaster in the long term", adding: "Any sale of part of the ESB would be a disaster for consumers and ESB workers.There is no rationale for the decision other than that the Government is being pressurised by the IMF and EU to sell off state assets in order to service the debt."

The Unite trade union also said it plans to ballot its members at ESB for industrial action up to and including withdrawal of labour over the proposed sale. A motion was passed unanimously by all delegates at the Biennial Conference of the ESB Group of Unions supporting the maintenance of ESB as a publicly-owned asset.

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