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The Irish government is to sell its shareholding in Aer Lingus after all with a 2012 sale now on the cards.

Media reports on Thursday have confirmed a cabinet decision to sell the state’s 25 per cent stake next year.

British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa have all emerged as potential buyers for the airline.

Irish PM Enda Kenny and Transport Minister Leo Varadkar are under pressure to sell state assets and offset profits against the crippling national debt.

Market analysts have valued the government’s quarter share of the national carrier at $120 million.

Ministers are keen for the Irish state to realize at least $150million from the proposed sale.

They have now instructed staff to undertake an analysis of the value of the 25 percent stake and to source potential buyers.

Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency is also expected to have a role in this process according to sources.

Minister Varadkar has already paved the way for a government sale of its Aer Lingus shareholding.

“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,” said the Minister.

Budget airline Ryanair has re-iterated that it will not bid to increase its Aer Lingus shareholding unless it was asked to do so.

“A bid for the State’s share would not be tendered if any such offer would be regarded as unwelcome,” according to a statement from Ryanair whose boss Michael O’Leary is openly critical of Aer Lingus management.

The statement from O’Leary added: “Ryanair would welcome another financially strong airline/investor acquiring the government’s 25 percent stake.

“They 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.”

Markets have responded positively to the speculation with shares in the airline up slightly.

Aer Lingus has net cash reserves of €358 million, which equates to 67 cent a share, as well as a valuable fleet of new, fuel-efficient aircraft and lucrative landing slot rights at major airports in Europe and America, including Heathrow and JFK in New York.

Ryanair has failed with two offers for Aer Lingus since 2007.