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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Public Services? With O'Leary in the grave

Michael O’Leary has proved in the past never to pass up the chance to share his thoughts with the general public. Who can fault the colourful CEO of Ryanair for his swashbuckling style? There’s no limit to how far he will go to garner free publicity for his airline or to offend the public. In the past he has taken out full page ads attacking politicians, airlines and airports. In short he must be a journalists dream, always available to deliver.
Today’s Sunday Independent gives Michael more free advertising for his airline in the form of a headline interview on how Michael would restore the nation’s economic fortunes. Despite recently flagging a profit warning to his shareholders and failing to fix fuel at $70 dollars a barrel when now he’s paying twice that, one wonders what credibility beyond anyone else he may have in reading the economic tea leaves. However his proposals are as usual refreshingly honest for O’Leary, the popular face of unacceptable capitalism and I’m sure there’s many in the private sector in nodding agreement with him.

Michael says Brian Lenihan should freeze public pay, cut public spending, compulsorily sack civil servants, close down semi-state companies, encourage more competition and sack Eddie Hobbs and Celia Larkin. Now I’m pretty sure the high margins in the private sector were there long before Hobbs & Larkin so as to how sacking them would improve matters is questionable. Moreover his call for competition is rich coming after his companies decision to cancel without refund tickets for Ryanair flights bought on websites other than their own.

But to be fair there is a hole in the tax intake. Michael’s company is a significant player in the economy. Does Michael himself have a role to play in turning our economy around? Perhaps there’s something he could do himself? After all he describes some of the charges levied on his passengers as taxes. I’ve always doubted how much of this tax actually ends up paying for our health services etc. Precious little I expect as it’s another term for a charge. Maybe Brian Lenihan could move to confiscate airport taxes and oblige Michael’s airline to refund the tax to their customers who cannot travel. Normally an overpayment of tax levied is rebated. Not when it comes to Ryaniar, this tax alone clocks up a few extra million euro towards Ryanair’s profits each year.

Maybe the Green Party may get their way on carbon taxes or at least introduce excise duty on aviation fuel? Why does the polluter pays principle not apply to aviation?

Perhaps the government may look again at the level of private subsidy paid by to airlines flying between Dublin and regional airports like Kerry, a route that Ryanair recently took up. O’Leary recently told an Oireachtas committee on transport that these airports had no future. So why is the man who believes in less government intervention lining up with the begging bowl for our hard earned tax?

O’Leary, the enigma of the Celtic Tiger, the only ex-Clongowes boy who opposes elitism and has his taxi license to prove it. The god fearing guy who had his local church painted for his wedding but uses the pope in an ad. The man whose Cheltenham winning horse is better catered for when traveling than many of his physically disabled passengers. The man who this year will get a bonus from his shareholders despite it all. What’s it all about? Money!

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