Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fintan O'Toole calls for Willie O'Dea's head.

In today’s Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole calls for the political head of Defence Minister Willie O’Dea on the grounds that O’Dea has opposed agreed Government policy on the Aer Lingus Shannon-Heathrow decision and that he is breach of collective cabinet responsibility. But are either of these serious charges valid?

O’Toole quotes Article 28.4.2 of the Constitution: "The Government shall meet and act as a collective authority, and shall be collectively responsible for the Departments of State administered by the members of the Government."

O’Toole then outlines the basis for his charges: “Last week, in a statement issued through the Department of the Taoiseach - implying that she was in effect acting Taoiseach at the time - and explicitly "speaking on behalf of the Government", Mary Hanafin issued a strong statement of its policy on the Aer Lingus decision to end its Shannon to Heathrow service.
She could not have been clearer about Government policy on the matter: "As a listed plc, Aer Lingus has to take its own decisions. It is inappropriate for the Government to intervene in the decision making of a private company. To do so would ultimately be damaging to the company and its customers."“

And later in his article he says that “a Government decision not to interfere with the Aer Lingus move was taken last week - otherwise Mary Hanafin could not have issued her statement.”

Surely Article 28.4.2 of the Constitution implies that a some sort of meeting of Government is required to determine Government policy and, as far as I’m aware, no such meeting has taken place. How can a statement issued by the Minister for Education, on a topic that is totally unrelated to her brief, assume the weight of a policy position formally agreed at a cabinet meeting? Does Fintan O’Toole believe that this is how the constitution envisaged that cabinet decisions would be taken and communicated to cabinet members?

In addition, the assertion in Minister Hannifin’s statement that “it is inappropriate for the Government to intervene in the decision making of a private company” is somewhat misleading, particularly in light of the fact that many cabinet members have indicated that they are unhappy with the Aer Lingus decision. It's quite common for minority shareholders to vote their shareholding in whatever way suits their broader business objectives and not necessarily the interests of the company in question e.g. Ryanair’s holding in Aer Lingus!

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