Monday 23 September 2019

O'Leary flies in face of critics to offer 'Yes' plea and free hot meal

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary arriving for a pro-Lisbon press conference at Knock Airport yesterday with EC vice-president
Antonio Tajani
Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary arriving for a pro-Lisbon press conference at Knock Airport yesterday with EC vice-president Antonio Tajani

Ciaran Byrne

SO you're sitting there eating tender breast of chicken with a delicate Bellenaise sauce and wild rice -- on a Ryanair flight.

Suddenly, the man beside you begins talking again.

"Anyway, like I said, if they let us take out the two toilets at the back of the plane and add six seats, I could make another €2m a year," he says.

You sit bolt upright and soon realise this is not the nightmare sequence you always feared: Michael O'Leary really is sitting beside you.

And we really are eating a hot lunch on a Ryanair plane, not peeling back the cellophane on a horrible €5 sandwich. So you see, Mr O'Leary can do it!

We've just flown from Dublin to Knock Airport in Co Mayo (25 minutes) stayed there an hour and then flown down to Kerry airport (20 minutes).

After another hour in Farranfore, the plane, plastered with a huge "Yes to Europe" slogan across its belly, took off for Dublin (30 minutes).

Amid the succession of flights, Mr O'Leary hosted a hasty press conference at each location where he urged people to vote 'Yes' on Lisbon.

Eh, hang about, doesn't he hate politicians, European bureaucrats and our own government which is also backing Lisbon?

Yes, yes and yes. But Mr O'Leary fears the 'No' side in the Lisbon campaign might, with enough disinformation, threaten another upset on 2 October .

So rather than stay silent, he commandeered one of his brand new Boeing 737s, slapped the pro-Lisbons on it and ferried his message around Ireland.

Subsidies

The choice of destinations was deliberate. Regional airports have benefited hugely from European subsidies and this was a none too subtle message.

Accompanying Mr O'Leary along for the ride was Antonio Tajani, none other than the European Transport Commissioner and EC vice-president to boot. He wasted no time in reminding the Irish we have enjoyed "much money" from Europe. The message was clear: a 'No' vote this time will have consequences.

Both men also repeatedly underlined how fortunate Ireland was when compared to Iceland. There, the banks failed without an EU safety-net.

Mr O'Leary, never one to let a target escape the cross-hairs, as usual savaged all his old favourites such as Aer Lingus and the Dublin Airport Authority,

But why was he getting involved in the Lisbon debate?

"It's the economy stupid. Without Europe, there would be no open-skies, no low-fares industry and Ireland would have absolutely no future," he said.

In addition, the Government ("incompetent") could not be left to deliver a 'Yes' vote because the 'No' side ("a bunch of numb nuts") might sneak it again.

"We cannot leave it to the clowns like Sinn Fein, UKIP and, God help us, Coir. They offer Ireland no jobs, no solutions and no future. It's simple."

At times, Mr Tajani looked baffled as he soaked up Mr O'Leary's unique brand of direct canvassing but no doubt he was grateful for the help.

"I am a Roman soldier," said the Italian, "and Michael is a Celtic Warrior." Quite.

While in Knock, Mr O'Leary was asked about another egomaniacal multi-millionaire with a taste for the theatrical -- Declan Ganley.

"He wanted to be Dana but he couldn't get enough votes to get elected," he said to sniggers.

"I never wanted to be Dana. Sadly I can't sing, I'll never run for political office so I think I've more of an independent voice than a failed politician".

What about a debate with Mr Ganley? "Bring it on," snarled Michael.

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