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Ryanair told to sell Aer Lingus stake

Aer Lingus jets Image copyright PA

Low-cost airline Ryanair has been ordered by the competition watchdog to sell most of its shares in Irish rival Aer Lingus.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said Ryanair must cut its stake in Aer Lingus from 29.8% to 5%.

Ryanair said the decision was "manifestly wrong".

It comes after the Irish government agreed to sell its 25% stake in Aer Lingus to British Airways owner International Airlines Group (IAG).

The sale of Ryanair's Aer Lingus shares has an important bearing on the deal.

Court battle

Ryanair's chief executive Michael O'Leary has fought previous attempts to get him to sell his stake in Aer Lingus, which he has tried to takeover on two prior occasions.

The last time Ryanair attempted to buy its main domestic rival two years ago, the deal was blocked by the European Commission - a decision that was welcomed by Aer Lingus at the time.

A short while later, the Competition Commission - the forerunner to the CMA - ordered Ryanair to sell down its stake in Aer Lingus to 5%.

Ryanair appealed against the decision in a case that went to the High Court and which it ultimately lost in April this year.

The airline has applied to the Supreme Court to appeal that decision.

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, it could lead to a lengthy delay in the takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG.

Ryanair said on Thursday that it would appeal the latest CMA ruling which it called "ridiculous" and "legally flawed".

Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely said the CMA's decision was "manifestly wrong and flies in the face of the current IAG offer for Aer Lingus".

"When the only basis for the CMA's original divestment ruling was that Ryanair's minority shareholding was or would prevent other airlines making an offer for Aer Lingus, the recent offers by IAG for Aer Lingus totally disprove and undermine the bogus theories and invented evidence on which the CMA based its untenable divestment ruling."

Mr O'Leary recently said his company would consider any offer from IAG for its shares but it is believed that he wants further concessions from IAG, including a number of its slots at Heathrow airport.

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