Transport Minister Martin Cullen has told the Dáil the Government is opposed to the Ryanair bid to take over Aer Lingus, as it would create a private monopoly in aviation. He said that would be bad for consumer and for business, and that the regulatory and legal issues were being studied.

Green Party TD Eamon Ryan said the sale of the airline had been a foolish, reckless decision by the Government. The Minister said the Aer Lingus slots at Heathrow airport could not be sold off, as long as the Government held its shareholding. Earlier, the Taoiseach told the Dáil the Government would not be selling its shares in Aer Lingus.

Meanwhile, Aer Lingus's employee share ownership trust (ESOT) has said it had no contact with Ryanair ahead of the offer announcement. In a statement, it said that, contrary to the Ryanair announcement, its €2.80 per share offer would amount to 'significantly less' than €60,000 per worker. This was because of tax law. The ESOT holds around 9.6% of Aer Lingus and is entitled to buy another 2.9%. The rest of the employees' stake is held individually.

SIPTU's national industrial secretary Michael Halpenny has called on the Government to buy back enough shares in Aer Lingus to prevent a takeover by Ryanair. 'There is no point in the Government standing by and wringing its hands, like bystanders at a mugging,' he said. Mr Halpenny added that the Government was entirely responsible for what he called 'this debacle' and must act now.

Earlier IMPACT, which represents Aer Lingus cabin crew, pilots and middle management, said it was opposed to the proposed Ryanair takeover.

It said an independent stand-alone Aer Lingus was in the best interests of the company, the country, passengers and staff. 'Ryanair has a well-known history of hostility to its staff and shabby treatment of its customers, which is unacceptable to IMPACT,' a statement said.

IMPACT said there were significant competition issues involved, and a takeover would create 'a near-monopoly' on passenger air travel in and out of Ireland.