Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group (IAG), the company that has expressed interest in buying Aer Lingus, condemned attempts by Donald Trump to influence the Irish government’s decision on the sale of their 25% share in Aer Lingus.
US Billionaire Trump wrote to Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny, Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe and Finance Minister Michael Noonan, saying that the sale of the state’s share of Aer Lingus would be bad for Irish tourism and damage the country’s links to foreign direct investment. The letter concluded saying that the airline was as essentially Irish as “the shamrock and Guinness” should not be given “away to the highest bidder.”
Walsh criticized these attempts to influence the Government's decision. He says that London-based IAG has been open about its interest in Aer Lingus and the decision should be left to those with a better knowledge of the deal and its impact on Ireland.
"I don't think their position should influence. I would be more interested by the interventions of those in Ireland who understand the issue.
"Clearly this is a very sensitive issue."
Trump currently owns the 400-acre Doonbeg Lodge and Golf Course in Co.Clare which he bought last year. The billionaire plans to invest millions into the golf course situated close to Shannon airport.
Transport Minister, Paschal Donohoe, and Fianna Fáil’s transport spokesperson, Timmy Doole, say that Trump is entitled to his opinion. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Dooley said, “He recognizes the importance of relatively cheap airfares and direct access to Heathrow to provide connectivity to the wider world. He knows that anything that could disrupt or reduce competition will ultimately reduce people who are coming to visit his facility (golf course).
“So of course it relates to his own interest and return on his investment. The needs and requirements of Irish people are inextricably linked to those kind of investments. You’ve got to listen to somebody like that.”
Socialist TD Paul Murphy questioned Trump’s input saying, “I think the government should veto the further privatization or sell-off to IAG. It will be interesting as to whether Donald Trump’s comments, as a big capitalist, have more weight than the unions' and various communities', who have spoken about the impact on them.”
Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Atlantic, also weighed in on the possible deal, claiming that the sale of the Government's share would result in increased fares and adverse effects on service quality and connectivity.
Commenting on this input from Branson, Walsh said, “It’s not unusual for Virgin to see if they can get something out of the process.”
IAG, parent of British Airways, previously made a $1.5 billion bid for Aer Lingus. The Irish government rejected this bid as Transport Minister, Paschal Donohoe, explained that a guarantee was needed on maintaining routes to London for longer than the five years to which Walsh has already committed.
Walsh said that IAG is in no rush to complete a deal, although he was aware that the uncertainty around the airline could be damaging for business and distracting from the management of the airline.
"We've nothing to hide. We've been very clear about our interests in relation to Aer Lingus. I think our interests are very genuine and we believe that Aer Lingus will flourish as part of IAG," Mr Walsh said
"That's what we want to do. We want to acquire Aer Lingus within IAG to grow it."
Walsh, who grew up in Dublin, served as CEO of Aer Lingus between 2001 and 2005.
"This is not Willie Walsh trying to acquire Aer Lingus. This is IAG. This has the full unanimous support of the board who are very supportive in relation to this and are happy to take as much time as is necessary. We're quite prepared to spend time to get to the right decision," he said.