Aer Lingus chairman John Sharman says he has accepted assurances from Willie Walsh, Brian Dunne and Seamus Kearney that no conflict of interest has arisen ahead of their departure from the airline.

In a statement, Mr Sharman said rapid progress had been made in the transition to a new management team and that accordingly the trio would relinquish their executive responsibilities on January 28. Willie Walsh and Brian Dunne will resign from the board of the company from that date.

Advertisements for the position of chief executive will be published from this Thursday.

Earlier, Mr Walsh also rejected suggestions of a conflict of interest between his current role and his future plans.

The three executives resigned from the airline on November 12, but had offered to stay on for a further six months to ensure an orderly transition to a new management team.

However, following reports last week that they were considering setting up a low cost competitor to Aer Lingus, there were calls for their immediate departure because of a potential conflict of interest.

Willie Walsh told RTE radio this lunchtime that it was 'appropriate for Aer Lingus' that they should go at the end of January. He said 'he had no idea' what the three executives would be doing after they left Aer Lingus.

Mr Walsh said he had received around 40 proposals concerning his future after Aer Lingus. He added that a number of the proposals related to the formation of new airlines, not only in Ireland but in other parts of the world.

Mr Walsh said there had been proposals that would enable the three departing executives to continue working together. He said he would make a decision on his future 'in the coming months'.

Mr Walsh said there was 'absolutely no question' of a conflict of interest, and would remain focused on Aer Lingus for the remainder of his time there.

Mr Walsh also said that Aer Lingus considered operating a route to Cape Town in South Africa, but had been unable to agree with the unions on changes in work practices which would have been required to make the route viable.