Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Ryanair boss in grovelling apology to rival he libelled

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary

Getting an apology out of Michael O'Leary is difficult.

Getting him to say sorry in full-page newspaper advertisements, make a €60,000 payment to charity, and pay extensive legal costs is the stuff of dreams.

But yesterday, Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of Ryanair rival EasyJet, became the latest recipient of an O'Leary mea culpa.

In February Ryanair ran a series of newspaper advertisements picturing Stelios, as he prefers to be known, as Pinocchio. The adverts suggested Stelios lied about easyJet's punctuality. Stelios instigated legal proceedings.

In characteristic fashion, Mr O'Leary responded by suggesting the two compete in a race around Trafalgar Square to settle the matter. “If Stelios does not want to run, maybe he can go round in a wheelbarrow,” he said. “Or maybe we could do sumo wrestling.”

But yesterday Mr O'Leary said sorry for the ads and agreed to pay €60,000 into his charitable foundation, as well as legal costs. Ryanair will also pay for full-page adverts of the apology.

However, Mr O'Leary was keen to let it be known that the settlement “won't detract from, or end, Ryanair's campaign to expose easyJet's failure to publish its weekly on-time statistics for the last 52 weeks”.

“It is not very often that someone as arrogant and as powerful as O'Leary is forced to apologise to someone else in public and in writing,” Stelios said yesterday.

But in Mr O'Leary's case, it's happening quite often. Already this year Mr O'Leary has had to say sorry to Mr Justice Peter Kelly for claiming in a letter that the judge had criticised Irish Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.

Then he apologised “unequivocally and unreservedly” to Dempsey himself.

Next up he had to grovel to Evan Cullen, an Aer Lingus pilot and president of the Irish Airline Pilots' Association, for describing him as a “failed Aer Lingus pilot”.

Mr Cullen was incensed and his lawyers prepared a draft apology for Mr O'Leary to sign. When the Ryanair boss refused, Mr Cullen sued for defamation.

Mr O'Leary was not in the High Court when a statement was read on his behalf. It said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly if my remarks caused Mr Cullen embarrassment or have damaged his professional reputation in the eyes of viewers of the programme.”

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