Keep quiet on Brexit talk, IAG boss Walsh warns Irish CEOs
Irish business people will need to tread carefully in the campaign to prevent a Brexit - a UK exit from the EU - while at the same time highlighting the damage it could do to this country, according to IAG boss Willie Walsh.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 that will allow voters there to decide whether or not they want to remain a member of the European Union. Mr Cameron has said he wants to secure EU reforms prior to a referendum.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Walsh said the concern for Ireland revolves around the close economic and social links with the UK. A poll last week found that 39pc of UK voters favour a Brexit.
"It would place Ireland in a difficult position," said Mr Walsh. "I've no doubt that Irish businesses, indeed everybody in Ireland, will be interested in seeing the status quo continue."
But he cautioned that the campaign from Ireland to prevent a Brexit needs to be measured.
"I think we need to be careful. People won't take too kindly to what they see as being external sources influencing or trying to interfere with a local process. I think it's important for people to highlight the critical nature of the decision and for Irish businesses."
Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary recently said that the airline - whose biggest base is Stansted Airport - has a role to play in preventing a Brexit.
"I've always expressed a personal view that I'm pro-Europe," said Mr Walsh. "My interactions with the Commission are not very positive so I do strongly support the idea of a reformed EU. I think the UK can do that from within. In fact, I think the UK could exert a lot more influence within Europe than maybe it has."
IAG recently completed its €1.36bn acquisition of Aer Lingus, bringing the Irish airline into a fold that already includes British Airways, Iberia and Vueling.
"From the business point of view, I think the UK is better off within the EU," added Mr Walsh.
"At the moment, there are a lot of unknowns that need to be clarified.
"It's going to be an interesting process but, without question, from an Irish point of view it would be good if the UK stayed within the EU," he added.
IAG will report its third quarter results on Friday. The company is expected to post a profit of €1.2bn and pay out what will be its maiden dividend.