Another round of "difficult" discussions on the possible sale of the State's shareholding in Aer Lingus will begin with International Airlines Group (IAG) on Tuesday, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has said.
Speaking in Dublin on Monday morning, Mr Donohoe said "everyone from Richard Branson to Donald Trump" had articulated a view on the matter.
His comments come as the latest Irish Times Ipsos MRBI poll shows a decisive majority of voters are opposed to the sale of the state’s shareholding in Aer Lingus.
“These are difficult discussions. They are matters of great importance to both IAG and to our country and it’s really, really crucial that we handle these discussions with care,” he said.
“There will be a further round of discussions with IAG tomorrow.”
The Minister said he was not putting a formal deadline on talks with IAG but made clear he thought they should conclude in the coming weeks.
“I do believe these discussions should come to an end in the next few weeks because it is important to bring finality one way or the other to the discussions that are underway,” he said.
“Regardless of what decision is made here it will have consequences for Aer Lingus, it will have consequences for our economy, so it’s very important that the final decision that I make in relation to this is one that’s taken with care.”
Virgin Atlantic is raising concerns about the proposed sale with the European Commission’s competition authority.
In a statement, it said Aer Lingus was an important partner to a number of airlines operating out of the UK on long haul routes, including Virgin Atlantic.
“The competition provided by these partnerships offers a choice of connections to a huge number of customers, something which must be maintained whatever IAG has planned for Aer Lingus,” the statement said.
“How are consumers going to be properly protected from a lack of competition and the impact this will have on the price of airline tickets, quality of service and connectivity from Ireland?”
Responding to Virgin Atlantic’s statement, Mr Donohoe said those commenting were reflecting their own commercial interests.
"Over the last week or so we've had many diverse voices come out and express a view in relation to this. Everybody from Richard Branson to Donald Trump has now come out and articulated a view on this matter," he said.
“The reason why they’re doing this is this is a decision that will have implications not only for aviation and access in Ireland but could also have consequences for the structure and nature of competition in aviation.
“Because of that it’s a matter that lots of different countries and investors have an interest in. They’re fully entitled to express their views. They’re reflecting their own commercial interests. I’ve always outlined what are the matters that are of interest to Ireland.”
Mr Donohoe was speaking at the launch of a new tourism initiative by private coach operator, JJ Kavanagh & Sons, which aims is to support rural tourism and promote the company’s services.