A highly-anticipated head-to-head debate between Aer Lingus CEO Dermot Mannion and Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has been cancelled, after both men were advised to do so by the Irish Takeover Panel.

Mr O'Leary and Mr Mannion were booked and confirmed to appear together on the RTÉ Current Affairs programme Prime Time to debate the merits of the proposed Ryanair takeover bid for Aer Lingus.

However RTÉ was informed this afternoon that the Irish Takeover Panel has given a direction, under the Irish Takeover Panel Act 1997, to both parties not to participate in the programme.

In a letter to RTÉ, the Irish Takeover Panel said: 'Participation by representatives of either Aer Lingus or Ryanair in the Prime Time programme would therefore result in a breach of the Panel’s statutory direction to the parties.'

Mr Mannion and Mr O’Leary informed Prime Time they are unable to participate in tonight’s programme for this reason.

However, Prime Time will still broadcast a report on the proposed takeover bid which will be followed by a panel discussion in studio.