MICHAEL O’Leary was once known for his scathing attacks on government, but he was singing a different song at Shannon on Monday, at one point saying he’d be worried about a change of administration.
Michael Noonan sat beside him at the airport on Monday, and his sense of self worth must have been soaring as O’Leary doled out the love for the Finance Minister.
“As someone who is frequently critical of politicians and often quoted as being critical of politicians when they don’t do something intelligent, today is one of those opportunities, rare enough in Ireland where you get the chance to credit politicians when they do something sensible. One of the worst decisions undertaken by the previous Government of this country was at a time of financial crisis to impose a tax on visitors to a peripheral island. The travel tax had a devastating impact on air traffic and tourism in this country. We have lobbied long and hard to get it reversed, but I think it was a very brave decision which Mr Noonan took this time last year,” the Ryanair boss said.
“There were many advisers within government advising him ‘don’t do it, we’ll lose the revenue, it won’t result in any traffic, yada yada yada, you can’t believe Ryanair, they’ll promise growth and won’t deliver it.’ To be fair and to his eternal credit Michael Noonan took the brave decision in the teeth of quite a degree of opposition from the bureaucrats and the nay-sayers and he has been fully vindicated. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge a politician who made a brave decision this time last year, long before the recovery or before there was any hint of recovery,” O’Leary added.
He said that Ryanair will bring around 1.2 million extra passengers to Ireland this year, but he said the airline “wouldn’t have added one seat if it weren’t for the travel tax being removed.”
Mr O’Leary came quite close to endorsing the current regime for the next general election. “I would live in fear that you might get a new Government or a different Government might think ‘we’ll go back to start taxing tourists’. The success that Shannon has gained this year could be lost again”.
The admiration and words of affection weren’t all going in the one direction though, as the Finance Minister lauded O’Leary’s work. “When I spoke to Michael O’Leary last year on getting extra passengers into the country and the travel tax issue we decided very quickly not to get involved in a very long, involved negotiation process. I decided to work on the basis of trust, I abolished the travel tax and Michael delivered what he promised to deliver across the airports. He has not only delivered but he has exceeded what he promised, so I’d like to thank you for that Michael. There’s no doubt at all what you’ve done for Shannon has been great for the region, and particularly for Limerick and Clare.”
He also claimed that the Government’s policies have contributed to the Shannon turnaround. “We made two decisions in Government on Shannon Airport, one was to give it its independence and separate it from the Dublin Airport Authority and also to abolish the travel tax and I’m delighted that both of them have
contributed very strongly to the turnabout in Shannon’s fortunes and I’m very glad it’s growing again.”
Chairman of Shannon Group Rose Hynes also said that separation has been a massive success and doled out some more praise for Government. “Separation for Shannon has been a game changer, we’ve said that a number of times. The decision by the Government to separate and axe the travel tax have been perfect examples of enlightened Government policy and they have been huge in terms of what has happened at this airport, hugely positive and I’d like to thank the Government and Michael Noonan today for making those decisions.”