Sparks fly as Ryanair boss trades barbs with Varadkar in public spat
TRANSPORT Minister Leo Varadkar and Michael O'Leary have traded barbs in front of an international audience.
The Ryanair boss admonished the minister for lack of "bloody action" – which led Mr Varadkar to retort that a "money grabbing" Mr O'Leary needs "a new song to sing".
Mr O'Leary kicked off the row during an aviation conference in the Convention Centre in Dublin when he dubbed the Government's 'Gathering' initiative as 'The Grabbing' and launched a blistering series of attacks on everyone from unions to business groups.
He said that while he thought The Gathering was a good idea in principle, he lashed out at plans by the Dublin Airport Authority to raise its charges next year and at hikes in bus and rail fares that have just been introduced.
In a tirade that left few of the usual Ryanair targets for criticism unscathed, Mr O'Leary slammed the fact that the Government is aiming to attract 325,000 extra tourists to Ireland next year.
He said Ryanair has previously offered to grow combined passenger traffic at Dublin, Shannon and Cork airports by five million a year, but the plan was rejected.
"I think it's very important that we do have a conference on aviation strategy because this is a country that clearly doesn't have any growth strategy," Mr O'Leary told the conference.
He labelled Mr Varadkar – who had spoken just minutes earlier – as the "Lyons Tea" of Irish politics. "All talk, more talk. . . but no bloody action."
Mr Varadkar later dismissed Mr O'Leary's comments.
"Michael needs a new song to sing," he said afterwards as he unveiled plans to separate Shannon Airport from the Dublin Airport Authority.
"We've been hearing much the same old story in the past couple of years.
"The Ryanair position on money-grabbing is that everyone else is ripping you off whether it's airports, governments, other airlines."
But Mr O'Leary was in particularly virulent form, calling business employers' group IBEC "a failed organisation" and the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation a home for "bewildered former DAA employees".
He claimed Aer Lingus is a small airline with a strategy of "getting smaller".
Mr O'Leary told international delegates that it was his first time visiting the Convention Centre in Dublin.
"It's my first time in the National Convention Centre – the second big white elephant building in this country after the DAA's T2," he said. "For those of you who are visiting this country and want to realise why we are broke, you're sitting in it."
But some of the participants at the show retaliated.
Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller pointed out that the airline's traffic has been growing, not falling in the past couple of years. Ryanair's passenger numbers in Ireland have actually fallen, he said.
Irish Tourism Industry Confederation chief Eamonn McKeon also rounded on the Ryanair chief.
"Keep your eye on the wider picture," he told the audience. "The picture is much larger than just Ryanair."