Polls open in Ireland for Brexit-dominated vote

A woman walks past a polling station as voting for the European Parliament elections got underway, in west Belfast, northern Ireland on May 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 24 May 2019

Polls open in Ireland for Brexit-dominated vote

  • Most of Ireland’s mainstream parties have campaigned heavily to cement the nation’s place in the future of the European project
  • The results of the vote are expected on Monday

DUBLIN: Voters in Ireland began casting ballots Friday in European elections that are being overshadowed by neighboring Britain’s failure to leave the bloc nearly three years after the seismic Brexit vote.
After months of political paralysis in London and amid concerns about economic disruption, most of Ireland’s mainstream parties have campaigned heavily to cement the nation’s place in the future of the European project.
The candidates for the European Parliament have also pledged to dampen the economic shock predicted to radiate into Ireland if and when its closest trading partner leaves the European Union.
Two Irish MEPs will be elected to new seats, created in anticipation of Britain’s 73 lawmakers retiring from their posts.
However, they will be unable to take up their positions until Britain finalizes its split with the EU.
The results of the vote are expected on Monday.
Later on Friday the Czech Republic kicks off its two-day voting process, a day after residents cast their votes in Britain and also in the Netherlands where the Labour party scored a surprise victory to win most seats in the elections.
Other members of the 28-nation EU will vote on Saturday or Sunday.
Ireland is also voting Friday in a referendum to reform its constitutional laws on divorce in the latest drive to modernize the once staunchly Catholic nation.
At present couples must live separately for four out of five years before they may be granted a divorce, a hangover condition from the 1995 referendum which legalized the dissolution of marriage.
If the provision is repealed, the Irish government has signaled it will bring forth legislation shortening the requirement to two out of the previous three years.
The latest vote follows a landslide referendum last May which saw Ireland vote 66 percent in favor of repealing its constitutional ban on abortions.
In October voters also lifted a rarely enforced constitutional ban on blasphemy.
The referendum result is expected to be announced on Saturday.

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

Updated 36 min 21 sec ago

New bid to find buyer for Air India slammed as ‘selling family silver’

  • Indian government aims to offload entire stake in debt-ridden national carrier after failed 2018 sale attempt
  • Critics blame country’s struggling economy for decision to sell airline

NEW DELHI: Renewed government attempts to find a buyer for “debt trap” national carrier, Air India, have been slammed as “selling the family silver.”

Politicians from opposition and pro-government parties condemned the move by the Indian government to offload its entire stake in the flag-carrier airline, which comes more than a year after a failed bid to sell a controlling share.

A document released on Monday said that any bidder would have to absorb around $3.3 billion of debt along with other liabilities.

Speaking in New Delhi on Tuesday, Kapil Sibal, senior leader of India’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, said: “When governments don’t have money this is what they do.

“The government of India has no money; growth is less than 5 percent and millions of rupees are outstanding under several social schemes. This is what they will do, sell all the valuable assets we have.”

Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress, the regional party ruling West Bengal, said in a video statement that “the government has decided to sell more family silver by selling 100 percent stake in Air India. You can well imagine how bad the economy (is).”

And on Twitter, Subramanian Swamy, parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said: “This deal is wholly anti-national, and I will (be) forced to go to court. We cannot sell our family silver.”

Monday’s document gave the deadline for submission of initial expressions of interest in purchasing the airline as March 17. In 2018, the Indian government tried to sell 76 percent of the carrier but got no takers.

To justify the latest sale attempt, Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, said: “Despite infusing 30,500 crore rupees ($4.3 billion) in AI (Air India) since 2012, the airline has been running into losses year after year. Due to its accumulated debt of about 60,000 crore rupees, its financial position is very fragile.”

He described the company as being in a “debt trap” but added that it could be saved through privatization. “We have learnt lessons from the 2018 bid.”

Referring to critical comments from fellow BJP members, the minister said they were expressing their “personal opinion.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of corporate communication at Air India, said the current offer would attract potential buyers.

“India is a growth market, so anybody would like to be part of it and take the advantage. The acquisition of Air India provides the fastest way to become a global carrier,” he told Arab News.

According to Bhargava, the move had nothing to do with the current state of the Indian economy. “All the important international carriers want to expand their footprints in India because of the potential of the Indian market. The government has taken a pragmatic view on the sale of the national carrier,” he said.

“Ownership of the airline does not matter, leadership matters. Once it came into the hands of the government, bureaucracy killed it,” added Bhargava, who authored “The Descent of Air India” chronicling the airline’s downfall. “Air India under the government’s ownership cannot run, cannot survive.”

He predicted that the carrier would become a marginal player if there was no change in ownership.

Air India has a fleet of 146 aircraft and employs around 21,000 people. It was founded by prominent industrialist J.R.D. Tata in 1932 and nationalized in 1953.