Ireland's parliament votes in favor of Aer Lingus share sale

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

LONDON (AP) — Ireland's parliament on Thursday voted in favor of selling off the country's share in the Aer Lingus airline as part of a 1.4 billion euro (US$1.53 billion) takeover bid by International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways.

The coalition government secured the majority backing it needed in Parliament for sale of the stake, with lawmakers voting in favor after two days of heated debate.

The Irish government had retained a 25 percent stake in Dublin-based Aer Lingus after it was publicly floated on the Irish and London Stock Exchanges in 2006.

Aer Lingus chairman Colm Barrington welcomed the vote, saying the airline would benefit from accelerated growth and access to a global network when it becomes part of the much larger IAG, which also operates Spain's Iberia airline.

IAG chief Willie Walsh has been wooing the Irish government for months in his attempt to buy out Aer Lingus. If the deal goes ahead, the government would receive some 350 million euros ($380 million).

But Walsh's bid must still clear many hurdles, and needs backing from low-cost carrier Ryanair, the largest shareholder of Aer Lingus, to complete the deal.

Ryanair, which owns about 30 percent of Aer Lingus, said it would consider "any offer on its merits, if and when an offer is made."

Walsh said Wednesday he has not talked to Ryanair in recent weeks, and suggested that he was not expecting Ryanair to frustrate the bid.

The proposed takeover also faces months of regulatory scrutiny from competition authorities in Ireland, Britain and the European Union.