As Dáil Éireann debates whether to sell off the State’s remaining share in Aer Lingus, I cannot but smile to myself and think of the late Seamus Brennan, who caused much of the difficulty which the Government now has in disposing of its holding in the company.
Because Seamus Brennan, as the Minister for Transport in 2003, included a provision in the law that any disposal of shares must be brought before the Dáil. The Government of the day must outline how it intends to protect assets such as the Heathrow slots and then seek the approval of Dáil Éireann.
Recalling that debate and reading the headline “Aer Lingus: State to keep veto over Heathrow slots “, I shook my head in amazement. At the time that this law was being passed in 2003, the issue of the Heathrow slots did not seem to be a concern. In fact I was the TD who first raised the strategic national importance of Heathrow slots and was one of only a few TDs to actually do so.
At that time I pointed out that “the likely purchaser of Aer Lingus is British Airways, which could make more money by re-allocating Aer Lingus’s valuable slots at Heathrow Airport to its long haul services out of London at the expense of the crucially important access to and from our country via London’s principle airport. These slots are a strategic national asset, not just an asset to the company, which have been built up with taxpayers’ money over a long period of time. Any decision on the sale of such an asset must be made by Dáil Éireann on behalf of the taxpayer and not solely by the social partners. Ireland is dependent to an almost unique degree on air services for access to and from the rest of the world and, from a purely economic point of view, it is vital that these slots are retained to ensure we have key links to Europe and the rest of the world ”.
I’m glad that at that time the late Seamus Brennan listened to & agreed with my concerns and to other concerns raised by Roisin Shortall TD.
As a result of our State having one of the very few Ministers since its foundation, in charge of the passage of this important legislation in 2003, it was written into the law that not only must Dáil Éireann be consulted but that it must give its formal approval for any proposal to dispose of shares in Aer Lingus.
This in one of the few examples, where a Government Minister listened to what opposition TDs had to say and where both sides of Dáil Éireann worked together, in the interests of the Irish people.
Because of this teamwork approach 12 years ago, it has now forced the present Government to negotiate a deal with Willie Walsh which is far better than the original offer and includes specific provisions on the Heathrow slots.
Whether you agree or not with what is on the table, the fact remains that only because we had someone like Seamus Brennan, who was willing to take on board constructive suggestions from the opposition, are we even in a position to have this renegotiated and debated by the Dáil.
There is no doubt that if we had more ministers that were prepared to listen and take on board suggestions from the Dáil rather than take the lazy option of taking the line of the officials’, then we would not have made some of the most monumental mistakes that we are sadly paying for today.
This was highlighted in the Nyberg Report into the banking collapse, which found that “group think” amongst the political establishment and the financial elite were key causes of our collapse. The report said “group think” “occurs when people adapt to the beliefs and views of others without real intellectual conviction. A consensus forms without serious consideration of consequences or alternatives, often under overt or imaginary social pressure.”
And have things changed? In my view they have become far worse, because at the moment we have three men & one woman making decisions that affect the entire country. These decisions get rubber stamped by cabinet and then rammed through the Dáil, which spends most of its time bickering.
This can only be changed by a government and parliament that rewards independence of thought and punishes “group think”. Isn’t it time that we instead had ‘joined up thinking’ and started to get the basic things right.
We all now need to start to listen to other points of view with an open mind and unravel the whip within the current Irish political system as it is strangling creativity, entrenching the group think and undermining the interests of the Irish people.
Seamus Brennan, as Transport Minister, set an example for us all, 12 years ago.
The late Pat Joe Reynolds from Ballinamore had a saying “there is nothing as dead as a dead politician”.
Let’s prove that saying wrong.
For the sake of all those who are struggling today, and those who will have to pay our debts tomorrow, can we not follow Seamus Brenan’s example and start to work in our people’s interest?