Hopes of airport deal vanish as talks end in recriminations
THE prospect of 300 new aircraft maintenance jobs at Dublin Airport vanished last night after the meeting between Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan ended in recriminations.
Mr O'Leary said he was preparing to deliver the jobs to two other European airports as the Government insisted that the controversial hangar six at Dublin Airport was not available as a base.
"We have two other alternatives elsewhere in Europe.
"If the Tanaiste doesn't want the jobs and the Taoiseach doesn't want the jobs, then fine, they will just go somewhere else," he said.
Mr O'Leary said the Government could still win the jobs by picking up the phone and making hangar six available to him, but Tanaiste Mary Coughlan last night made it clear that Aer Lingus was not willing to move out of it.
She had told him during the meeting that Aer Lingus had rejected a proposal to sub-lease the facility to Ryanair.
"My door is still open in the context of looking at other ways in which he could secure his maintenance operation here in Dublin," she said.
Mr O'Leary criticised Ms Coughlan for engaging in "political waffle" during the 45-minute meeting in her office in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in Kildare Street in Dublin.
He said he was offended by her question about whether Ryanair was committed to delivering the jobs and by the fact that she didn't know how many people Ryanair employed in Ireland.
Ms Coughlan said that she did believe in the sincerity of Mr O'Leary's jobs plan.
"He asked how many people were working in Ryanair, off the top of my head, I don't know but I am very cognisant of the role Ryanair has as an international aviation company and how it has provided cheaper options for people to travel," she said. But she said it was very difficult to deal with someone who had only one thing in mind -- access to hangar six, which was occupied by Aer Lingus.
"I'm disappointed with the outcome of the meeting. I did say to him we were prepared to put up other options within the existing hangar space that we have and also that we were prepared to build a new hangar," she said.
Mr O'Leary said that he had ended the meeting when Ms Coughlan told him that she would not ask the DAA to exercise a clause which would allow them to terminate Aer Lingus's leave on hangar six.
"I said 'Frankly the meeting's over'. We got up, shook hands and walked out," he said. He also denied that the jobs plan was a "publicity stunt" by Ryanair, which is hoping to conclude a deal with one of two European airports by Easter.
"I could challenge the head of EasyJet to a sumo wrestling bout in Dublin.
"The Government can question my motives but the obvious solution is call my bluff," he said.
It came after Ms Coughlan was severely criticised for her handling of the issue by the opposition in the Dail yesterday. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said she had displayed "abysmal incompetence" and called on Taoiseach Brian Cowen to take charge of her role instead.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said she had been "embarrassed" into meeting Mr O'Leary and had done "little or nothing" to secure the jobs on offer from Ryanair.
But Mr Cowen criticised the opposition leaders for getting involved in "personality assassination" and said he fully stood over Ms Coughlan's handling of the issue.
Mr O'Leary brought his own take-away coffee to the meeting and had his 2007 Mercedes car (for which he has bought a Dublin taxi plate) waiting outside for him.
The meeting was also attended by Department of Enterprise secretary general Sean Gorman and IDA chief executive Barry O'Leary.