Mobiles put aside as Clare Daly rages against Enda over Aer Lingus

TDs fall silent in awe as Independent socialist rises to take on Taoiseach

Clare Daly: the silence was loud when she took to her feet for her first round of questions. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Clare Daly: the silence was loud when she took to her feet for her first round of questions. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The force that is Independent socialist TD Clare Daly commands attention. And when she speaks on her pet topics, people generally listen. Her pitch alone can stop any talk.

So it was when she roared at Taoiseach Enda Kenny over the sale of the State’s 25 per cent share of Aer Lingus, where she had once worked.

Enda had been responding to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on the controversial sale. They had done their Opposition best to put in the knife. Micheál caught the Taoiseach on the hop with the internal Aer Lingus/IAG report suggesting there could be up to 40 per cent job cuts in catering and ground crew and a move for heavy aircraft maintenance to be done in eastern Europe.

Enda hadn’t read it. And nor had Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe. Enda dealt deftly, though, in retort. Sure, look at Fianna Fáil’s original “weak deal” back in 2006, when it privatised the national airline. No matter how good the argument, it’s hard to come back from that.

Soundbites

Gerry offered media-friendly soundbites. “Control over a key national strategic asset is to be handed over lock, stock and barrel to a multinational,” he said. It would always put the interests of shareholders before citizens, “so any assurances given by IAG about Aer Lingus should be given the same value as the 2011 election promises of Fine Gael and the Labour Party”.

And some advertising wit: “Once Aer Lingus is gone, it’s gone.”

And angry-making perks- and-bonuses talk. He asked what the bonuses “and backhanders” would be for Aer Lingus management.

Micheál responded to that one. “I think the answer to the question is €30 million,” he said.

Enda reverted to Fianna Fáil’s poor decision-making over the original privatisation.

For a while, there was intense heckling on both sides, then some less than enthused reactions. Lucinda Creighton and Independent TD Séamus Healy were seen to yawn.

Kerry’s Tom Fleming was carefully flicking through one of those brochures with tempting offers on products nobody really needs. “Crazy deals,” shouted the front page of Tom’s literature.

Some TDs consulted mobile- phone screens. Murmured conversation rippled across the chamber as the Taoiseach talked about more jobs, more connectivity, more routes and the move being good for the big three: Dublin, Shannon, Cork.

As all politics is local, Mayo TD Enda also told us it would be good for Knock Airport, which, “as a fourth airport, will have the opportunity to grow through IAG connections via Gatwick Airport”.

But the silence, well, it was loud when Clare took to her feet for her first round of questions.

Impassioned

In an impassioned rage, she talked of the 15,000 pension- scheme members who could only conclude that all the manoeuvring around that scheme was to get it out of the way so that the Government could get what it wanted.

The Government TDs, all 10 of them, including the Taoiseach, sat in stony silence as that verbal punch landed.

The company was being sold for €1.3 billion when it had cash reserves of €1 billion, Heathrow slots worth half a billion, “not to mention the property, the brand and the product”.

That stopped everyone. Then there was the talk that the Aer Lingus boss did not “foresee any redundancies in the future”. Clare recalled the airline’s “letters of comfort” in the past, which proved comfortless. She asked then: “Crucially, what’s the big hurry?”

Enda, in a measured voice, talked about a plan for 635 new jobs, 2.5 million passengers and four new routes to North America by 2020.

Somehow, though, the positives didn’t sound quite so amazing after that intense burst of anger.

Only time will tell who’s right.