Unrepentant Michael slides into another royal ruckus
Michael O'Leary just doesn't do contrition. A lesser soul who had caused a massive ruckus by cracking a joke involving Queen Elizabeth and sex, a mere week before Michael D Higgins is due to arrive at Windsor Castle for a historic state visit, might've donned sackcloth and begged forgiveness.
But not the Ryanair boss. Having drawn flak for his quip to a roomful of British parliamentarians that addressing such an august body was akin to "making love to the queen of England – you know it is a great honour, you're just not sure how much pleasure it is going to be", he remained cheerfully unrepentant yesterday at the opening of his airline's posh new campus in Swords.
"I'm sure she'd be delighted to meet me," he reckoned. "Let's face it – it's the best offer she's had in years."
Hmm. One suspects that the phrase "Arise, Sir O'Leary" won't be resounding around the hall of Buckingham Palace anytime soon.
Tongue firmly wedged in its usual spot in his cheek, Michael declared, "I think I did nothing more than probably cement relationships between Ireland and the UK, expressing the love and affection we have for the queen".
However, he admitted that his joke had fallen "as flat as a pancake – I just pitched it at the wrong bunch of parliamentarians", he concluded wryly.
He was in sunny form yesterday as he unveiled the impressive 100,000 sq foot Ryanair Dublin Campus, helped out by more august bodies in the form of Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan. They enjoy being in the vicinity of good news and this was glad tidings, with the announcement of 200 new jobs to be created by the airline.
And it was remarkably all sweetness and light between the government chaps and the mouthy Michael who in the past has had no compunction in labelling his political overlords as "Muppets" and the like.
Enda opened his speech with a wisecrack about his own legendary tardiness.
"When I arrived here this morning and was met by Michael, he said, On time..."
Sadly, the Ryanair boss hadn't greeted this unusual punctuality from Enda with a blast of the landing trumpets that sound every time one of his crafts lands on schedule.
And Mr Kenny had words of praise for the former tormentor of politicians.
"Michael O'Leary has always been blunt about governments," understated Enda. But ever since the Government scrapped the travel tax last year, winning the instant approbation of Ryanair, they've all been best of buddies.
"Strange things happen – I opened the paper the other day, and there was Michael, praising the Government!" he marvelled to laughter.
During a short question session, Michael was asked if the no-phone-charger rule of the old building was still being applied. But before he could reply, Enda announced on his behalf, "That rule's been changed."
It was news to Michael, but he bore it bravely. He was too pleased with his fabulous new building which comes bristling with fun stuff, such as a games-room, a giant chess board and even a slide between floors for the staff.
"We tried to make it a very attractive work environment, our old office was a slum," he confessed. "But we moved in there in 1991 when we were carrying two million passengers and employed 400 people.
"We moved out this year when we carried 82 million passengers and now employ 9,000 people. The staff love it – they don't have to run up to the terminal building to get fed anymore because we've our own canteen."
Mr Kenny and Mr Noonan were given a guided tour of the facilities and a chance to chat to the staff. Inevitably, the Taoiseach met a fellow Mayo man in the shape of footballer Aidan Kilcoyne.
Enda even snuck into Mr O'Leary's office which is dominated by a massive photo of one of his racehorses, Trifolium, in full flight over a jump with jockey Davy Russell (now departed from Gigginstown Stud) on board.
The Taoiseach picked up Michael's phone and larked about on it for the benefit of the photographers. It seems that the outspoken Ryanair chief doesn't bug him anymore . . . but hey, let's not mention that particular war.
Aer Lingus stake not vital – Bonderman: Page 32