Belfast Telegraph

Aer Lingus stake sell-off discussed

Cabinet ministers will this week weigh up whether to sell off the state's remaining 25% stake in Aer Lingus.

In the clearest indication yet that a sale is on the cards, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he could no longer see a strategic case for the Government holding on to its share.

Options for the full privatisation will be discussed by ministers on Thursday.

"The Aer Lingus stake was held for strategic reasons and having studied the matter over the summer, I don't think that really stands anymore," Mr Varadkar said.

Budget airline Ryanair, which twice failed in audacious takeover bids and now holds 29% of its rival, was quick to dismiss talk of a sell-off.

In a statement, Ryanair said the airline would not bid to take complete control of Aer Lingus if a sale went ahead.

"Ryanair would welcome another financially strong airline/investor acquiring the Government's 25% stake, which could then work with Ryanair and other like-minded shareholders to restore shareholder value, which has been destroyed over the past five years by the board and management of Aer Lingus," the company said.

Ryanair also said it would consider selling its stake in Aer Lingus if the bid went through. It added: "Ryanair will not engage in, or comment upon, rumour or speculation, but remains willing to work with any other Aer Lingus shareholders to maximise shareholder value which has under the current board of Aer Lingus collapsed by more than 80%."

Aer Lingus was valued at more than three euro a share in early 2007, while at lunchtime on Wednesday it was worth about 65 cent.

Economist Colm McCarthy recommended disposal of the state's 25% stake in his report into the possible sale of state assets in April. The Government is looking into how it could raise five billion euro privatising state companies.

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