| 18.1°C Dublin

O'Leary calls on country to turn out for 'Yes' vote

Ryanair may buy 'small minority stake' in Stansted

RYANAIR boss Michael O'Leary is voting Yes in the upcoming referendum and has called for the country to row in behind the fiscal compact.

Speaking after Ryanair's results last week, O'Leary also warned that Ireland would need another bailout.

"I don't think we have tackled the fiscal deficits in Ireland. After four years of austerity government, Ireland is still running with a €15bn annual deficit, which should have been closed by now," he said.

The airline boss suggested that a more fiscally and politically integrated Europe would be the best course of action for the eurozone.

"I am all in favour of the German government running the Irish economy. I think they will be a damn sight better at it than any of the politicians the Paddies have elected in the last 20 to 30 years," he told reporters.

A Ryanair spokesman confirmed that the airline did not make any donations to the Yes campaign. "No -- we are a low-cost airline -- and such is the eye on costs that we don't even donate to staff Christmas parties, so political parties haven't got a hope in hell of getting any cash off Ryanair," he said.

A Greek exit from the euro would lead to an "invasion" of tourists travelling to the country, O'Leary added. While Ryanair is concerned about the impact of a Greek exit, O'Leary said he was more vexed about four years of a slowing European economy.

O'Leary said that it was possible that Ryanair might take "a small minority stake" in Stansted airport as part of a group bidding for the airport. Any move would be determined by a guarantee over landing fees at the airport. Stansted is being sold by owners Ferrovial/BAA as part of a move to satisfy UK regulators.

"We are returning money to shareholders as we have no cap ex," a spokesman said.

Ryanair has been approached about buying stakes in other competitors. "In terms of other airlines, we have been offered lots of them -- most of which you wouldn't even give as a gift to your worst enemy -- and turned all of them down," he said.

Ryanair is to pay a dividend of €484m to shareholders as net income soared 25 per cent last year. Annual revenue last year leaped 19 per cent to €4.32bn as passenger numbers rose 5 per cent to 76m.

Ryanair forecasts that it may carry 79m passengers this year. However, the airline warned that a weakening European economy may prevent it hiking fares as much as it wished to counteract the effect of rising fuel prices.

O'Leary's call for a Yes vote is one of a number from the business community. In recent days, prominent business people and lobby groups have been falling over themselves in their eagerness to press for a Yes vote in the referendum on Thursday.

Following the packaging company's recent AGM, Smurfit Kappa boss Gary McGann said that Ireland needed to pass the treaty if it is to remain an active part of the European market.

Chambers Ireland, the Ireland France Chamber of Commerce, the American Chamber of Commerce, the Irish Exporters Association and the Chartered Accountants Ireland group have all called for their members to vote yes. Trade union Unite is lobbying for a No vote.

Sunday Indo Business