An eagerly-awaited live television confrontation between Aer Lingus chief Dermot Mannion and his opposite number at rival airline Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, was called off by RTE following intervention by the Irish Takeover Panel. Both men had confirmed they would appear on the current affairs show "Prime Time" on Tuesday but withdrew just hours before the scheduled screening after they were directed by the Takeover Panel not go ahead. The panel said in a letter to RTE that the direction was issued under 1997 legislation. The program, on which the proposed Ryanair takeover bid for Aer Lingus was debated, went ahead with the participation of politicians and others in a studio discussion. The panel told RTE in its letter, "Participation by representatives of either Aer Lingus or Ryanair in the 'Prime Time' program would result in a breach of the panel's statutory direction to the parties." The program went out just days after O'Leary demanded an extraordinary general meeting of Aer Lingus shareholders to discuss changes made last year to Mannion's contract. The changes, made while Aer Lingus was drawing up plans to shed hundreds of jobs and introduce inferior terms and conditions for remaining workers, would entitle Mannion to a payment of up to €2.8 million if the company was taken over and he had to quit his job. Critics described the deal - worth double Mannion's €1.4 million remuneration in basic pay, pension contributions and bonuses last year - as a "failure" payment. There was an outcry when details of the deals were uncovered. The fuss died down after Aer Lingus announced that both Mannion and Coyle requested that the special deal clauses be removed from their contracts. Mannion said, "We have no hesitation in terminating this condition with immediate effect in order to focus our attention on defeating the unsolicited bid from Ryanair which fundamentally undervalues Aer Lingus and is incapable of completion."
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