Ryanair wanted lobbying kept secret

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary spent six months trying to have the Department of Finance sanctioned for revealing his attempt to lobby the Government over a key tax policy he believed should have been kept secret.

Documents seen by the Irish Examiner show Mr O’Leary and his company repeatedly warned that the lobbying attempt should not be made public and should have been censored out of Freedom of Information (FOI) act responses.

In late February, a Sunday newspaper reported that Mr O’Leary and Ryanair lobbied Finance Minister Michael Noonan to prevent airport passenger charge increases by the Dublin Airport Authority.

The article related to a November 23 letter to the Fine Gael TD in which the businessman described the charges increase as “price gouging” and said the move - which would bring in additional money for service improvements — would damage both passengers use of the airport and his own firm.

The letter was not responded to by Mr Noonan.

However, after it was released under a FOI request in late February, Ryanair began a six-month battle with the Government over the fact the lobbying attempt was made public and to keep future attempts secret as they are “strictly confidential”.

In a letter to the Department of Finance on February 25, Ryanair’s chief legal and regulatory officer, Juliusz Komorek, said the letter should not have been released as it was “commercially sensitive” and as there had been a failure to “engage in consultation”.

In early March, the department responded to say that neither issue prevented the release of the record and that all information must be made public under a FOI request unless there is a clear reason to not do so.

On March 29, Mr Komorek again wrote to the Department of Finance saying Ryanair was making a “formal complaint about the improper release of a record belonging to Ryanair” — adding that the department should be “investigated and sanctioned” by Ireland’s Information Commissioner, Peter Tyndall.

Describing the department’s actions as “riding roughshod” over the company’s rights, Mr Komorek said “public interest would not have favoured its [the lobbying attempts] release” and that it was sending the matter to Mr Tyndall to investigate.

However, after just two days, the Office of the Information Commissioner responded to say the FOI act is designed to allow “greater openness” and that despite Ryanair’s “dissatisfaction” there was no need for an investigation to take place.

On April 8, Mr Komorek again wrote to the commissioner to say the initial response was “inadequate” and warning “a worrying precedent will be set” if the department was not tackled.

However, despite two further letters, Mr Tyndall specifically told Ryanair there was no case to answer.

Ryanair sent the full correspondence to the Dáil’s finance committee on July 1. The move resulted in the correspondence becoming a publicly available file.

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