I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 361 together.
In light of the continuing turnaround in Aer Lingus's performance, last July I asked the chairman of the national airline to examine and report back to me on future options for the company. The chairman furnished his report to me at a meeting on 16 September 2003. In summary, having taken account of the Government decision in 2001 to facilitate private sector as well as staff investment in the airline, the report concluded that, given the performance of the airline, improving investment market conditions and increasing airline valuations in a traditionally volatile sector, the company's view is that the private sector investment process should be initiated without delay and the process would coincide with the completion of the ESOP and the issuance of 30.5 million shares to the ESOT to increase the employee shareholding from 4.76% to 14.9%.
Of the five strategic options evaluated, the company's view is that the best option is a two-phased approach with phase one involving a private placement to institutional investors, that is, pension funds etc., followed by an IPO within 18 months to two years.
Following receipt of that report, I engaged an independent corporate finance consultant to examine the sale options contained in the report, the views expressed by analysts and the transparency and accountability requirements when disposing of a State asset. The consultant broadly supported the case made in the Aer Lingus report for a two-phased approach involving a private placement followed by an IPO.
I consider the Aer Lingus report and the independent consultant's report to be an important input into my deliberations on the future options for the airline. When all the matters have been fully considered, I will be bringing specific proposals to Government.