By David Hennessy
Ryanair CEO was forced to withdraw the bad taste joke that he began his speech to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly on Monday where he compared the honour to sex with the queen.
Taking the podium for his presentation, O’Leary said: “Ladies and gentleman, it’s a great pleasure to be here in such august company. Addressing such an august body as this reminds me much of making love to the Queen of England: You know it’s a great honour, you’re just not sure how much pleasure it’s going to be.”
Intended to get his speech off to a light hearted beginning, it was met by stony silence. Conservative MP for Romford Andrew Rosindell made his feelings clear when he told the Ryanair chief: “I felt that that was inappropriate and maybe you would like to consider withdrawing those remarks.”
O’Leary was quick to apologise: “Yes, I happily apologise for my opening remarks. It’s always hard to judge the room. That’s normally a joke that works quite well. I was told it mightn’t work well here. I didn’t mean to convey any discourtesy and I apologise if I did.”
When questions were invited from the floor, O’Leary was challenged by MP Jim Sheridan who said he was “reliably informed” that Ryanair did not share their success with employees, discouraged employees from joining trade unions and pays the lowest rate of any of their competitors.
In response, Michael O’Leary said: “To my friend Jim Sheridan who has been a frequent correspondent of mine over the years, I regret to see that he is as badly briefed as he has been in the past. May I say you haven’t been well advised. Am I vehemently against trade unions? No. Will I try to run this airline free of trade unions for as long as I can? Yes. But the constitution of Ireland guarantees every one of my workers the right to join a trade union free from any harassment. In 29 years, no one has ever been able to provide any evidence of me banning someone from joining a trade union, preventing someone from joining a trade union. In fact, we actively encourage our people to join unions so they can find out what the union rates are, come back to us and we’ll beat them.”
O’Leary also said that his 9,500 employees are guaranteed pay increases when other airlines are cutting pay and the airline has not made anyone redundant in the last six and a half years.