Ryanair’s controversial chief Michael O’Leary has described the Republic of Ireland’s tourism statistics as ‘bogus’.
Speaking yesterday as Ryanair said it had carried eight million passengers in July — the most ever carried in a single month by a European airline — Mr O’Leary insisted that while he was willing to spend the next year “trying” to work with Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, the Department of Transport was still “unfit for purpose”.
The Department of Transport — having hired external consultants to examine plans put forward by airlines to increase passenger numbers to Ireland — this week said no carrier had offered a feasible plan. As a result, Mr Varadkar said the €3 travel tax would remain in place until after the winter at least.
Ryanair had offered to bring in five million extra passengers a year across the country’s three main airports, but wanted landing and passenger charges for those additional passengers abolished for five years.
Mr Varadkar said he wouldn’t play games with airlines.
“You would get rid of the travel tax one day,” he said. “The next day they’d want airport charges reduced. The third day they’d want maybe even to be paid to land at the airports. That’s the kind of game this industry is in and I’m not going to get involved in any kind of games.”
He said he was ready to abolish the tax if airlines delivered a “meaningful response” for boosting visitors to Ireland.
The travel tax brings in just €30m a year, but Mr Varadkar said he “can’t forgo” the income. Half the money is being given to the Exchequer and the remainder has been earmarked to fund tourism marketing schemes.
The CSO said in May that there had been an almost 9pc increase in overseas visitors to the Republic in the first quarter of the year. It added that visitor numbers from North America were 11.9pc higher and from Britain 7.2pc higher.
Mr O’Leary claimed the rises were virtually impossible. He maintained that airline seat capacity to Ireland fell 6pc from Britain in the first quarter, by 15pc from mainland Europe and by 1pc from North America.
“The CSO is producing completely bogus visitor statistics based on a tiny survey that shows that visitor statistics are actually rising while traffic at the Irish airports in all segments is continuing to decline.”
Mr O’Leary also said that he resented his taxes being used to fund what he described as frivolous projects such as the Metro North rail scheme, which is already likely to be axed.
“As probably one of the largest taxpayers in the country, I resent my considerable tax being p***ed away down another hole in north Co Dublin,” he said.