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22 March 2020 08:33

World Photography Organisation Sony Corporation James O'Brien

EasyJet has apologised to staff after it emerged that a motivational video addressing pilots and cabin crew being asked to make huge financial sacrifices due to the coronavirus crisis heavily plagiarised a speech by Ireland's taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Video sent to EasyJet staff edited with Irish PM's speech on Covid-19 to highlight similarities. The Luton-based airline said on Friday that majority of its fleet would be grounded from Monday, with just 10% of its flying capacity still operating. Despite the planned cuts affecting staff, the airline is set to go ahead with a £174m dividend payout to its investors, including £60m for founder and major shareholder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. EasyJet has apologised to staff after it emerged that a motivational video addressing pilots and cabin crew being asked to make huge financial sacrifices due to the coronavirus crisis heavily plagiarised a speech on coronavirus by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

An unknown video editor spliced together footage of Mr Varadkar's address with a rallying cry by EasyJet's chief operating officer Peter Bellew, a former Ryanair manager who has been negotiating with cabin crew. The speeches are identical in places, prompting dismay and ridicule among EasyJet staff, who are being asked to accept an extended period of unpaid leave, pay freezes and diminished employment conditions to help the airline survive the pandemic. "Pilots at easyJet were already appalled at Peter's conduct this week, I think this clearly plagiarised speech cements his reputation as being completely untrustworthy," said one pilot, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of negotiations with the company. In an apology to staff on Saturday, Mr Bellew wrote: "Some of you have spotted similarities between the message I did last week and a recent speech by the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar. I thought the Taoiseach struck exactly the right note and it really resonated in my mind with what we are going through, so I borrowed some of his phrases in my recent message to cabin crew and pilots, which I realise now I should not have done.

The embarrassing video emerged as EasyJet and the wider aviation industry face a fight for survival, with global air travel at a virtual standstill due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Luton-based airline said on Friday that majority of its fleet would be grounded from Monday, with just 10 per cent of its flying capacity still operating. The company has asked cabin crew and pilots to accept swingeing cuts to help navigate the crisis, including three months of unpaid leave. Pilots and crew were said to be sympathetic to the request considering the devastating financial effect of the pandemic on airlines but were enraged by other proposals, seen as a longer-term assault on employment rights. These include meals provided to crew, promotion-based pay rises and fatigue prevention measures for pilots.

Pilots union Balpa, and Unite, representing cabin crew, are understood to have rejected EasyJet's plan and issued a counterproposal. Staff have pointed out that the airline could receive financial support from the government and complained that rival airlines have offered better terms to their staff. Despite the planned cuts affecting staff, the airline is set to go ahead with a £174 million (€188m) dividend payout to its investors, including £60 million for founder and major shareholder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Covid-19 has closed down normal politics as we know it, leaving slim pickings for political columnists. That is why I was glad of Leo Varadkar's speech, which gave me something substantial to ponder.

Being a sometime-speechwriter myself, I am better placed than most to evaluate his speech. My speech for Mary Robinson ("the hand that rocked the cradle rocked the system") and for David Trimble ("a cold house for Catholics") have both stood the test of time. Normally what I like is a structured speech with memorable lines and a driving sense of destination. Leo Varadkar's speech was nothing like my idea of a great speech in that it was discursive, digressive and even the best lines had echoes from elsewhere. What we wanted was a practical speech from a trusted political leader who knew how to cope with a crisis for which there was no previous precedent. That was the speech Leo Varadkar delivered to perfection and deservedly general acclamation - barring a sour note from Sinn Fein's Paul Donnelly TD. Naturally, I wanted to know why the speech worked so well. Aristotle says there are three important ingredients in any great speech: ethos (who is speaking), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic). Churchill brought some ethos to bear (his record as a soldier), but mostly his speeches were all pathos, all emotion, evoked by rolling rhetorical cadences that came close to poetry. In contrast, Varadkar's speech was mostly ethos, about his authority to speak; the rest was logos as practical guidance. But his ethos did not come from his public persona as Taoiseach but from his private profession as a medical doctor. As someone who has had more than his fair share of what are called health issues, I am as much a connoisseur of doctors as I am of speeches. Leo Varadkar is a doctor and for all his empathic efforts, an aura of detachment is part of his professional persona. In the past, that aura has provoked critics in the hail fellow, handshaking, world of Irish politics. But in the Covid-19 world, where hail fellow and handshaking is strictly forbidden, his cool aura is a mighty plus in terms of his public persona. The fact that he is a doctor played to his strengths in his speech and was the subliminal factor that made us feel better. It was Doctor Varadkar, not Taoiseach Varadkar, who delivered that strong speech. Churchill, a military man facing a military crisis, could credibly lead in war. Dr Varadkar, a medical man facing a medical crisis, carried equal conviction. But Leo Varadkar was not fazed. Last week, Leo Varadkar made me proud to be Irish. His speech did not lack acceptable guile - he was careful to remind us his sisters and his partner were medical professionals. Not so acceptable was his failure to pay tribute to supportive politicians like Micheal Martin who has consistently put his country above party point-scoring, from Brexit to Covid-19. Leo Varadkar's careless Brit-bashing during the backstop has left a lasting nasty legacy behind. On St Patrick's Day someone posted a short video clip on Twitter, taken from a window looking down over Dartmouth Square in Dublin. But because they sang Ireland's Call they were subjected to vicious tribal abuse on Twitter. From the start, Ireland's Call brought out everything evil in Irish nationalism. But it's not the music or the lyrics the sectarians can't stand - it's the pluralism, the fact that Ireland's Call was a decent compromise to make a space for Ulster unionists on the Irish rugby team. Neither Amhran na bhFiann nor Ireland's Call have much to do with music. Some people didn't think Leo Varadkar's speech to the nation last Tuesday night was good. The speech was excellent — and a defining moment in Varadkar's career. On Tuesday night, Varadkar displayed qualities that have often been absent during his tenure as taoiseach: passion, emotion and understanding.