Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary backs ‘more risky’ Leo Varadkar

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said he’s strongly backing Leo Varadkar and not fellow Corkman Simon Coveney to become the new Fine Gael leader because he believes that the country needs a fresh change.

Saying he was expressing a personal preference and not talking on behalf of “non-political” Ryanair, Mr O’Leary said Mr Coveney represented something “of the old guard Blueshirts”.

“My personal opinion as someone who was born in Cork and went to Clongowes, I would strongly favour Leo Varadkar for leader of Fine Gael,” he told reporters.

“Simon Coveney is an excellent candidate given that he was born in Cork and went to Clongowes” but Mr Varadkar had nonetheless achieved more in his political career, he claimed.

“Leo Varadkar has accomplished more in his ministerial portfolios. He was in transport, health and currently social welfare which is a little bit more challenging than Simon’s portfolios, which were marine, defence God help us, and agriculture.”

The Ryanair boss said the way Mr Varadkar had organised his campaign from the start was “very impressive” because both contenders had 12 months’ notice of the leadership campaign. Mr Varadkar’s bid for the Fine Gael leadership appears to have it “sown up almost straight out of the blocks and seems to have left Simon standing somewhat”.

“I think that, you know, the country needs change and I think Leo Varadkar represents probably [a] slightly more risky candidate but more of a change from what has come before.

“Simon is probably a little bit more of the same, of the old guard Blueshirts.”

Predicting an election in the next two months, Mr O’Leary said Mr Varadkar “will do better against Micheál Martin than maybe Simon would”. A Cork-only fight for taoiseach featuring “Simon and Micheál” would be something of a local contest.

“At least with Leo you are getting a kind of Dublin v Cork. And as you have seen in football in recent years Dublin tends to do better than Cork, much to my shame and horror.

“So, I would strongly endorse Leo Varadkar,” he said, adding that in Ryanair’s dealings with Mr Varadkar as transport minister he had fought hard to scrap the travel tax three years ago despite facing opposition from civil servants.

“Ryanair is non-political and doesn’t express political opinion.”

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