As the House should be aware, nine years ago Aer Lingus was transformed from a crisis-ridden airline on the verge of collapse into a vibrant, reformed, modernised, healthy, independent carrier with investment that flowed from the sale of 75% of the State's share holding. That allowed for the modernisation of the fleet and investment in the company. Since that decision nine years ago, the airline has flourished. Passenger numbers are up, the company is highly profitable and growing and it has a very healthy balance sheet. Aer Lingus is in a strong financial position to weather any potential storm or any perceived risk within the aviation sector.
A decision was made at the time of the sale by the then Government to keep a strategic 25.1% shareholding in the company which had legal and contractual conditions attached to protect the strategic interests of this State. At the end of the day, Aer Lingus is an airline, Ireland is an island and the two are inextricably linked. The company is uniquely Irish and still holds a strong bond with the Irish people. At the time we retained two public interest directors to sit on the board to protect Ireland's interests.
However, later today this House will be voting on a motion to sell the remainder of the State's share holding in Aer Lingus for a consideration of approximately €335 million. The announcement on Tuesday night by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe and the way this debate has been handled shows that the Government is determined to get this decision rammed through the Houses of the Oireachtas as quickly as possible and without any due consideration or appropriate debate. Has the Tánaiste learned anything from the Irish Water debacle? Has it not dawned on her that if the Government allows for debate in this House unexpected events might be avoided and perhaps Members on the Government backbenches or on the Opposition benches might express opinions that would be helpful in the development of policy overall?
The leaking of the Nyras report proves the point I am making. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe indicated yesterday that they had not seen it, were not aware of it, did not know its contents and were not aware of its significance. I have read sections of that report, which is daunting. It outlines the potential for a further €60 million in cuts to the cost base of Aer Lingus by allowing for low pay and by forcing a higher turnover of staff, as is the case with Vueling. It sets out clearly that companies can retain staff for a relatively short period of time because staff will leave if one forces their pay down. That allows for a move away from long-term contracts of employment and all that goes with them. Perhaps the Tánaiste is not aware of the report but I would have thought that she would allow for a broader debate so that she could become aware of the facts and the kind of vision that IAG and Aer Lingus have for the future.