How Michael O’Leary could transform Irish politics

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By Paul Molloy

Could Michael O’Leary run for the Dail, win a seat and in a short time build a Dail majority and become the Taoiseach ?. Emmanuel Macron has proved it possible; amazing, because he did so in a country with a population of 67 million.

Why do I believe Taoiseach O’Leary is possible?

Firstly, because he has the personality to do it. Secondly, because Ireland, like France, has a fractured electorate who no longer vote loyally for party candidates like we once did. Thirdly, Macron has shown how it can be done. Finally, the vision for Ireland that O’Leary could paint would be sufficiently compelling for an O’Leary political avalanche the likes of which Ireland has never seen.

I’ll take each of the four above to demonstrate why I believe O’Leary could win.

Does O’Leary have the personality to win? He evokes strong emotions in virtually everyone. Many people absolutely can’t stand his perceived arrogance, his blunt disrespect for many of his customers and is the epitome of the Ryanair experience. Here are two particularly well-known quotes.

‘What part of ‘no refunds’ don’t you understand’

‘One thing we have looked at is putting a coin slot on the toilet door, so that people might actually have to spend a pound to spend a penny in the future. Pay-per-pee.’

But there are people who’ve read the above quotes and smiled or even laughed.
There is simply no one like him in Irish life. The man has pure conviction. Even when he’s wrong he’s right. Voters admire politicians with strong opinions who are willing to row against prevailing political winds. It’s one of the reasons Leo Varadkar is now the Taoiseach.

Leo had been willing to contradict the Taoiseach and his own party and certainly O’Leary would take that attitude to a new level.

O’Leary oozes charisma. Politicians and people in public life are admired for their actions. And crucially, what they say is far less important than how they say it. I remember in 2010 when George Lee ran in the Dublin South by-election. He was debating the Fianna Fail candidate, Shay Brennan on RTE Radio 1. He was aggressive, he was confident and consistently went for the jugular and I knew by the end of the piece that poor Shay Brennan was finished. Lee got 53% of the vote. It is rare that candidates get 30% so Lee’s result was incredible. Or was it? Here was a well-known public figure full of aggression and self-assurance who captured the public imagination.

Can you imagine O’Leary in a contest with a group of average politicians? He would annihilate them with his wit, snarl and speak. He would prepare well and have the charm and fire to win a Dail Seat in Longford-Westmeath.

Now onto the political landscape. France may have voted Macron but Ireland has Ireland a much more stable political environment? Not anymore.

In 2011, Fianna Fail went from 77 seats to 20. I think we forget that in Ireland. In 2016, Fine Gael fell from 76 seats to 50 seats and Labour from 37 to 7. These are wild swings in short periods of time. What’s most interesting is that there is still a big block of seats held by FG and FF and that the share held by each can fluctuate wildly.

If Michael O’Leary ran for the Dail under his own political party, how about Fine Ryanair!!, The election would be all about him. Every media outlet would follow him and write about him constantly. This is the Trump effect. The media would write fluctuating positive and negative articles but no other party would get a look in.

It would all be about O’Leary just as it was all about Trump in 2016. I remember back in 1987 the media focus was on Des O’Malley and his Progressive Democrats (pictured above) as they were new and the narrative was how many seats the PDs would take from FF and FG.

There would be a huge number of defections of deputies from FG and FF, granted mostly from out of favour backbenchers but these would form an important bloc in any O’Leary majority.

Whilst the political issues of the day in Ireland are housing, homelessness and health, when it comes to elections, personality is increasingly more important than policy. It shouldn’t be but it is. Party policy launches are dull and the only one I can remember is poor Terence Flanagan having a meltdown on Mary Wilson’s Drivetime show after the Renua launch. The famous FG “Fiscal space” in 2016 was also dreadful, a rare gaff from Michael Noonan.

Journalists write about what will sell be it print media newspaper sales or pay per click advertising. Policy will not get headlines, only personality gaffes or controversy will attract attention and I’m sure at this stage you can imagine how O’Leary would get nearly every headline with his ability to punch through political correctness and his fearless ability to call it like he sees it.

A new political party with Michael O’Leary as its talisman would win most of the seats in the Dail from all the floating FG and FF voters who’ve determined the last two elections. And if you’ve any doubts about that just look at Macron.

Emmanuel Macron, like Donal Trump, has achieved something in politics that has been rarely seen but will be copied successfully in the West over the next 10 years.

In the first round of the French Presidential 2012 election, Francois Hollande with 28.6% and Nicolas Sarkozy, with 27.2%, qualified for the second round run off. Hollande, representing the traditional socialists, narrowly defeated the centre-right candidate Sarkozy, 51.6% to 48.4%. This was a straight fight between the two large parties. The 2007 election was similar with the centre right Sarkozy having a more comfortable triumph over Segolene Royal.

In 2017, Macron crushed Marine la Pen with 66% of the vote. For me, what was so stunning was less Macron’s win in the second round but his taking 24% of the vote in the first round. The reason being : he had come from nowhere to do it.

He was an ex-investment banker who was the economy minister under Hollande. He knew that running for the Socialist party would lead to defeat so he thought of a way around it by setting up a new party. Exactly what Michael O’Leary would need to do.

His party, En Marche, won an overall majority in the parliament and observers in France said that these congressional candidates won because they were the Presidents’ men and women. He now has an overall majority in the parliament. Truly astonishing.

But the reasons Macron and En Marche won are precisely why I believe O’Leary would win. There is a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo in France. Voters have tired with the inability of its leaders to make the necessary changes needed in France. The sheer power of the unions in France to fight and block reforms contributed to the French people giving Macron the chance to do what others couldn’t.

Macron’s team of inexperienced but enthusiastic volunteers knocked out 300,000 doors and got 25,000 15-minute interviews to perform an enormous focus group whose feedback became the basis for the policies that attracted these voters. Macron’s message was optimistic and upbeat and I believe O’Leary would do the same.

Finally, what would be O’Leary’s vision for a changed Ireland be?

O’Leary as leader would seek to make cuts to the public service wherever possible. This would lead to a storm of protest and strikes the likes of which Ireland has never seen. Except there would be one big difference; O’Leary would have the patience and character to absorb the heat and carry on until he gets his way. He would relish the challenge. He’s observed weak Irish politicians caving it to well-organised interest groups and he would likely bring his own government down rather than give in.

He would be very business friendly. I feel from reading his many public statements over the years that he would declare war on regulation rather than a war on reducing taxes. He wants businesses to thrive but pay their taxes. His policies would lead to more business being done and as he wouldn’t be changing the tax rates then more taxes would be raised for the health service and the building of social housing.

Undoubtedly, O’Leary is a believer in hard work. It’s hard to imagine that the social welfare rates would remain the same; he’d cut them to encourage the people out there who won’t work into the workforce.

I’m well-aware that O’Leary has said that he’s got no interest in going into politics. That doesn’t mean that he thinks he would not be successful. He’s probably done all he can with Ryanair. Reforming the Irish economy would be a far better legacy than running the glorified bus service that he himself has said is what Ryanair does. His words not mine. Michael, you have the brains, balls and ability to do this.

Give it a lash, Mick.

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