IRELAND - Ireland's leading trade union body has attacked proposals to privatise state-owned utilities businesses, arguing that its sale was not the only means of attracting institutional clients to invest in the country's energy utility ESB.
The proposals, unveiled earlier this week, come as part of the country's bailout agreement with the European Union and IMF to raise as much as €5bn through the sale of state assets.
Brendan Howlin, minister for public expenditure and reform, announced that the government would raise €3bn from the sale of Bord Gais Eireann - the country's gas supplier - as well as the sale of "non-strategic" sources of power generation owned by ESB.
Howlin claimed victory for the coalition government by saying it had achieved a "substantial change to the Troika's previous position", with €1bn diverted to job creation measures. Previously, all proceeds were earmarked for the payment of debt.
However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) argued that the country was on the "slippery slope of privatisation".
Secretary general David Begg said its proposals to transfer all state-owned businesses to a state holding company had been ignored.
"This would potentially have provided a vehicle for attracting long-term private pension fund investment for job creation, without selling any tangible assets," he said.
The ICTU had first proposed last year that the state agency NewERA should oversee all assets - its current role being to coordinate their privatisation with Howlin.
The union umbrella group said in a pre-Budget submission in September that NewERA should see its remit extended and allow investment in state-owned companies "through bonds, preference shares or other debt instruments", preferably targeting long-term private investors.
Speaking to IP Real Estate last year, Irish Life Investment Managers head of investment development Patrick Burke argued that overseas investors would be attracted to Irish infrastructure when the government announced which assets it would sell.
Burke, whose Irish Infrastructure Trust attracted a €250m commitment from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, said at the time that the country's relatively young population would pique investors' curiosity.
"Ireland has the lowest median age in the EU at 34 years - if you invest in infrastructure, that is what you want to see," he argued. "You want to see a population by whom those infrastructure assets will be utilised."
At the time, Burke was unable to comment on his company's interest in any asset sales, but he said an earlier government report by economist Colm McCarthy on the topic had shown a "breadth of very large and high-quality" assts could be sold.