Clare Oireachtas members angry over ‘extremely disappointing’ Aer Lingus snub
AER Lingus CEO Lynne Embleton opted not to attend a sitting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport & Communications on Wednesday, at which she would have faced questioning from Clare’s Oireachtas members following the airline’s decision to close its Shannon cabin crew base.
The airline has received significant financial support from the State while it is in discussions looking for more, and Wednesday’s decision by Ms Embleton not to appear has provoked some irritation.
Ms Embleton had been given the option to attend either remotely or in person. Despite being unavailable for the committee meeting, which would have been open to the public and media; she was set to meet with the Taoiseach privately on Wednesday.
Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Donal Moriarty would have attended the committee meeting in her place, but that was unacceptable to the members and the meeting was deferred until Ms Embleton is available.
According to a report in Wednesday’s Irish Times Mr Moriarty had planned to tell the meeting Aer Lingus would not reverse the closure of the Shannon base, while he had planned to warn against the State attaching conditions (such as the preservation of Shannon-US routes) to future support for the airline.
In a statement to The Clare Champion on Wednesday evening, Aer Lingus denied Ms Embleton had behaved in a disrespectful manner.
“In response to a request to Aer Lingus for its CEO or a representative of the airline to appear before the committee, Aer Lingus last week nominated its Chief Corporate Affairs Officer to appear. The Aer Lingus representative was available to appear today as requested to discuss the substance of the issues of concern to the committee and had submitted an opening statement on these issues.
“The committee has now informed Aer Lingus that it does not wish to hear from the nominated representative and has asked that the Aer Lingus CEO appear. Whilst this is not possible today, Aer Lingus will seek to accommodate the committee’s request and will work to find a mutually agreeable future date for such a meeting.”
However The Champion spoke to the three Clare members of the committee and all were unimpressed with her no-show.
Clare TD Joe Carey had been under the impression she would attend until relatively shortly before the cancellation.
“It’s a very important meeting that the committee sought a number of weeks ago, we were led to believe she would appear and at the 11th hour she pulled out. That’s extremely disappointing,” he said.
“The State has provided the wage subsidy scheme to the company and that’s a very significant support. Aer Lingus is now engaged in discussions currently with Government around further supports.”
“You would think they would do the decent thing and appear before the committee. There are serious questions in relation to Shannon’s connectivity and balanced regional development,” he added.
Deputy Cathal Crowe said it showed a poor attitude to the State and to those workers who are being let go.
“It’s utterly disappointing and it shows a degree of disrespect to Aer Lingus employees, the taxpayer and the Houses of the Oireachtas as well. The fact is that over the last 15 months the wage bill of Aer Lingus has largely been paid by the taxpayer.
“I have a wage slip from one of the Shannon employees, they received €635 in a fortnight of which the State paid €600.
“Aer Lingus only paid €17.50 a week but yet they make it very difficult for people to engage with them. I think anyone who takes on a leadership role in any organisation should be forthcoming in terms of meeting with people and engaging with stakeholders.”
Ms Embleton could have appeared at the meeting from her own home or office, he added.
“There are very few excuses that could be made, it could have happened remotely, they could have spoken from Aer Lingus HQ, it’s disappointing.”
Senator Timmy Dooley also criticised Ms Embleton’s decision to snub the meeting.
“I don’t want to overstate it, we’re disappointed she didn’t take up the offer.
“It has happened before that CEOs aren’t available, but we would have expected her to make herself available.
“When you consider the State has provided €150 million (Aer Lingus has borrowed this sum from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund) and provided support to workers we would have expected that the CEO would have made herself available.
“I’m hopeful it’ll be rearranged with the CEO coming before us at an early date.”
Speaking in the Seanad this week, Mr Dooley suggested that the State partly reverse the privatisation of Aer Lingus, taking a stake in the airline in return for the sums it has lent it.
He said he had hoped to discuss his proposal with Ms Embleton.