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Fire them all and cut taxes: O'Leary

THE bad news is "the world is in shite" and there's going to be "lots more f**king bad news this winter".

That's how Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary sees it, and that's what he believes Taoiseach Brian Cowen needs to tell the country in a 'State of the Nation'-style address in September.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Independent, as Mr Cowen marked his 100th day in the Taoiseach's office, the millionaire aviation chief called for strong leadership and decisive action to rescue the ailing economy.

Should the "hard decisions" be taken this winter, O'Leary believes we can rebound from the current downturn within the next two years.

The Ryanair CEO's proposals will, however, be a tough pill for many to swallow, with sweeping forced redundancies in the public sector, an immediate and dramatic 10 per cent cut in public spending, pay freezes -- and even pay reductions -- all forming part of the package.

He also called for a wholesale clear-out of needless State

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boards and the abandonment of costly infrastructural projects where the return on investment is in question.

Topping the list of quangos that the Ryanair boss recommends for the chop is the National Consumer Agency.

Here, O'Leary wants the Government to sack Bertie Ahern's ex-girlfriend Celia Larkin and "consumer champion" Eddie Hobbs.

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Clearly acutely aware of the need to "sell" the recovery plan to the public, O'Leary recommends Finance Minister Brian Lenihan move to slash income tax for all those on salaries of up to €100,000, to put money back in people's pockets in order to jumpstart consumer spending.

"I think if they take the tough decisions, but lead people in the right direction, tell them: 'Look, there's a reason we're doing this, it'll be short- term, but there's a tax cut', you'll get away with almost anything."

Always a controversial figure, O'Leary boldly described the National Pay Talks as an "irrelevance" and welcomed the fact that they broke down without agreement two weeks ago. He doesn't feel they should be restarted.

Contrary to the view now fast gaining currency that Taoiseach Brian Cowen may not be up to the challenges that lie ahead, O'Leary offered his endorsement.

"I think that in Brian Cowen you have a very good Taoiseach; in Brian Lenihan you have potentially a very good Minister for Finance. Cowen has been there. He knows what a recession looks like. I have every confidence that Cowen will take the hard decisions that have to be taken this autumn."

Asked to comment on the fact that Mr Cowen had been a central figure in Government while the country's problems were being created, O'Leary dismissed this criticism as unfair.

"Brian Cowen has inherited problems that are largely the result of a worldwide recession, a doubling of oil prices and a global economic downturn. That's tough, but it's how you respond," he said.

Commenting on what he believes the public response to decisive action from the Taoiseach would be, O'Leary added: "I think if they [the Government] told the country the bad news, the public would respond very well to it.

"We all know the world is in a mess at the minute, we all know we're going to have to cut back. People just want some leadership. The great thing in this country is that they respond to leadership. Haughey did it 20 years ago, MacSharry did it, McCreevy did it, and I think Brian Cowen will do it as well."


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