Tour de Force: What's the point of Michael O'Leary's viral grenades?

We just can't get enough of the Wolf of Mullingar, as Vincent Wall analyses his latest public outburst...

Ah lads! Michael O'Leary’s off the cuff remarks that all cyclists should be taken out and shot – a news story? I must be losing it.

It's true that I've been listening to the bold Micko throwing these kinds of outlandish hand grenades into interviews, presentations, and conferences for well over twenty years now, but I had laboured under the impression that others had been tuning in as well and saw most of them for what they are – a clever way of winning over an audience and softening it for Ryanair's real commercial message of the day.

I was at the US Embassy's "Creative Minds, Creative Disruption" economic conference at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, not specifically to listen to the Oracle from Mullingar, but because there was an interesting full morning’s schedule of speakers of which he was one.

As it happened, Michael’s twenty-minute slot was immediately preceded by a mildly interesting session about smart cities involving Debra Lam, Chief Innovation Officer with the City of Pittsburg and Jamie Cudden, Smart City Programme Manager with Dublin City Council in informal conversation with the conference moderator.

Poor Jamie. I hope he "enjoys" his sudden online "stardom" because he certainly couldn’t have expected it, nor did anything he had to say trigger the 'cycling outburst' from Mr O'Leary, other than his mere presence as a useful prop for O’ Leary’s opening stand-up routine.

Working the room...

It’s true, Michael has form when it comes to what he sees as inefficient, bureaucratic, publicly-funded bodies such as semi-state agencies or local authorities and this form becomes more aggressive when a representative of such an organisation speaks in environmental tongues about issues as obviously regressive as cycling and reducing motorised traffic in our streets.

But – and I hope Jamie takes this in the spirit in which it’s raised – it could just as easily have been a venerable member of the ICA extolling the virtues of community sewing or a senior engineer from the National Transport Authority outlining the challenges caused by congestion on the M50 and they would have played the same merciless role as grist to the Mullingar Mill.

I don’t blame Michael O'Leary for this in the least, though his admittedly jocular behaviour can verge on the aggressive side for some tastes. Hopefully Jamie is made of stouter stuff.

Why should he not play the role of entertainer on these occasions, when at least 50% of his audience, perhaps hearing his routine for the first time or for the first time in a long time, laughs away merrily at the performance and settles in cosily for the packaged commercial message?  

And why not, when there is always a crop of new young journalists happily scribbling at the maestro's feet, or even more hardy members of the breed who must now feed the hungry beast otherwise known as online news (this outlet included)?

Having a laugh

No wonder Ryanair board member James Osborne, a cultivated communicator in his own right albeit of a different style, couldn’t help chuckling quietly at the enthusiastic response of those around him as all cyclists were thrown to the wolves.

The bottom line for Michael and his board is whether these almost weekly stand-up performances at business conferences throughout the UK and Ireland convert into new business for Ryanair's new loved-up offering.

The evidence seems to bear this out so we'll continue to hear more of Michael taking out whatever poor public service representative or agency who happens to inhabit the stage before him...

But ah lads, do we have to make a big story of it every time? Why not major on the odd real traffic-related Michael story – as when he clogs up the streets of a provincial town with his Grand National-winning horses?