Belfast Telegraph

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary pulls planes out of Belfast with a colourful broadside at our leaders

By David Gordon

If Ryanair and its outspoken chief Michael O’Leary were in the business of winning friends and influencing people, they would have gone bust years ago.

O’Leary’s announcement that the company is pulling out of the George Best Belfast City Airport was never going to be a low-key or quietly-spoken affair.

He blasted the politicians and the lack of a planning decision on a long-standing runway extension project.

“We’re banging our heads against the bl**dy wall,” he sniped yesterday, adding: “But there’s nobody in Stormont now, they’re all on their holidays.”

Not for the first time, O’Leary will have caused annoyance — to customers who had booked flights and to those who see a mega-rich company trying to push the authorities around.

But there will be others who will wonder if he might still have a point — both on the planning system and on the way Government here works, or sometimes doesn’t work.

Out of the big mouths of big bosses, blunt truths sometimes spring.

Why after all this time is a decision on the airport runway extension plan seemingly still no closer?

That’s a legitimate question to ask even if you support the local residents fighting against any further extension of the airport.

O’Leary says his company just wanted a decision — any decision.

It is not alone.

The people involved in the endless battle over the proposed John Lewis Spucefield store would no doubt welcome a conclusion some time too.

A streamlined, swifter planning system was said to be a Stormont priority when devolution returned in 2007.

But progress towards that goal has hardly been stunning to date.

For all the talk of reform, the planning system is too often a tug of war that leaves participants exhausted and frustrated.

One of the reasons it is so sluggish is that it operates under a constant and not unjustified fear of judicial review.

Sorting that problem out is clearly not just a matter for bureaucrats and politicians.

Time-consuming, demoralising delays are meanwhile not restricted to the planning sphere.

Just take a look at some of the big policy issues that are still occupying Ministerial in-trays at Stormont.

Another school year has start

ed, and the stand-off over replacing the 11-plus transfer test is no closer to being resolved.

A major administrative shake-up, involving the creation of a new Education and Skills Authority, has likewise become stuck in a political quagmire.

And just a few months ago, long-established plans to slash the number of councils across the province from next year collapsed.

There has been some progress of late on other issues — such as strategies on community relations and redeveloping the Maze Prison site.

But critics can point out that action should have been taken in these areas — and others — years ago.

This is not a cheap shot at Ministers and MLAs.

The Stormont system of coalition government was certainly not built with maximum flexibility in mind.

There are reasons for that system, but voters are surely still entitled to expect good government.

With swingeing spending cutbacks on the way, more hold-ups and infighting would be an abdication of responsibility.

Michael O’Leary seems to go out of his way to cause offence.

His barbed remarks yesterday can be dismissed as self-serving and simplistic.

But maybe the best response from the corridors of power is to set about proving him wrong.

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