Ryanair spent nearly €500,000 on Lisbon treaty Yes campaign

RYANAIR CAMPAIGN: RYANAIR HAS emerged as the campaigning group with the biggest declared spend on the Lisbon Treaty referendum…

RYANAIR CAMPAIGN:RYANAIR HAS emerged as the campaigning group with the biggest declared spend on the Lisbon Treaty referendum after its chief executive Michael O'Leary confirmed its costs were "just under €500,000".

While the anti-Lisbon group Cóir’s expenditure has not been revealed, the Ireland for Europe campaign has raised more than €300,000 and Libertas leader Declan Ganley confirmed costs of “less than €100,000”.

Yesterday, in what he called his “last political press conference”, Mr O’Leary also repeated his criticisms of the Government as “inept” and “feckless”, but he appealed to the electorate to “wait until the general election to take it out on the Irish Government”.

He refused to say which way he voted in the last referendum, insisting that it would be a “distraction” to say whether he voted Yes or No.

He admitted, however, that he did not think people were wrong to vote No in 2008.

“I think the two compelling arguments the No side had the last time was we would lose a commissioner and we would lose control over our taxation.”

But he repeatedly stressed that these were now the two principal reasons for a Yes vote.

“We are guaranteed to keep an EU commissioner” and Ireland would secure a veto on direct taxation, and these guarantees were offered only to Ireland.

“If we vote Yes on Friday Ireland continues to control both our income tax and our corporation tax rate and that’s what drives so much foreign inward investment in this country and so many thousands of jobs in this country.”

Answering questions about campaign funding, Mr O’Leary said that it was Ryanair money, not his personal funds, that was being spent.

Questioned as to shareholders’ views, he said “we had the agm last week and absolutely no dissent from our shareholders”.

“Europe has certainly been good for Ireland. Without Europe’s policy on deregulation, Open Skies, Ryanair wouldn’t exist. Let’s not forget in Ireland we specialise in government-protected semi-State monopolies that are hopelessly inefficient, very bad for consumers ...”

Asked what he thought of the Government’s campaign this time, he described it as “relatively clever because they stayed out of it”.

Pressed repeatedly about whether he was campaigning for a Yes vote because he wants EU backing for his interest in Aer Lingus, the Ryanair chief executive insisted that “whether we vote Yes or No to Europe on Friday it won’t alter what’s going to happen with Aer Lingus”.

Launching his final poster which was also published in newspapers yesterday, he reiterated criticisms of No campaigners Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, Patricia McKenna of the People’s Movement, Socialist Party MEP Joe Higgins and Declan Ganley of Libertas.

Mr O’Leary included Mr Higgins who won a European Parliament seat, because he lost his Dáil seat.

The Ryanair poster, with photographs of the No campaigners, proclaims that “only losers say No to Europe”.

Asked how fair it was for him to call politicians losers when he had not contested an election, he said “I think that’s actually why I have such a different contribution to make to this referendum.

“I’m one of the few people in it who’s not a politician, doesn’t want to be a politician.

He said he did not care about “family values” or “neutrality or those other issues”.

“I care about the economy of this country.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is a parliamentary reporter with The Irish Times