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Hail Mary, Chocolate Goddess

Posted on: October 17th, 2010

MONDAY

Conor Foley, the head of WorldSpreads, is a fine example of an Irish entrepreneur. Unfortunately, like so many Irish business stars, he has relocated to the UK. On Monday, he asked me to rabbit on about bankers and wasters to the Irish International Business Network (IIBN) in London.

The Network turns out to be full of bankers. Representatives of Anglo and AIB are lurking somewhere in the 175- strong audience.

The rest of the crowd is made up of Irish entrepreneurs who have headed overseas. Familiar names, like once great journalist Rory Godson of Powerscourt, Basil Geoghegan, veteran of the Aer Lingus public offering — now of Acision — and Stephen O’Connor of the London Underwriting Exchange, hammer home the message of how many super-talented go-getters Ireland has lost.

Tonight’s entrepreneurs are fiercely patriotic, but show little inclination to return home. They do not really want to hear about the IMF, our budget deficit or the banking crisis. Instead, they are impatient for openings, not cul-de-sacs.

Conor has blazed a trail to success. Still only 43, after a few hiccups, he has made millions with his spread-betting enterprise. He co-founded SportSpreads in 2000, turning it into WorldSpreads in 2003. It listed on AIM and the London Stock Exchange in 2007 expanding from a staff of six to its current 80 across 12 locations.

Mmm. Now why would it be difficult to assemble such an upbeat group at home? Are we once again exporting all our talent as we retreat into an anti-enterprise era of high taxes?

TUESDAY

This evening, just as I head for the Enron play in the Gaiety, I hear the news that our book Wasters has hit the number one spot. After walking on water for a few minutes, I treat myself to a pre-theatre snack in a posh restaurant. Still on cloud nine as I exit, while waiting for my coat I am greeted warmly at the counter by a dining party entering the premises. Recognition from an approving public is a rare experience, so I decide to sample the moment. Expecting to take a bow for the sales of the book, I shake their hands warmly.

The hungry customers are non-plussed. They thrust their coats and umbrellas into my outstretched hands and press on, leaving me muttering that I am not the doorman.

Enron the play gives a good buzz. It tells with gusto the story of the energy giant that won Fortune 100 accolades before collapsing in an orgy of fraud. The soft applause at the end is surprising, but the hand-picked audience is possibly a trifle muted because the pain hits so close to home. The parallels with Ireland’s compliant auditors, tame company directors, blindfolded solicitors and dominant executives are uncomfortable.

The audience for the first night is a fascinating collection. Up in the dress circle, I spotted Irish Times deputy editor Fintan O’Toole, who is about to launch Enough is Enough — How to Build a new Republic, the heroic AIB whistleblower Eugene McErlean and even the new financial regulator Matthew Elderfield. I am beginning to feel fairly settled until I see a familiar face placed in one of the best positions in the theatre. Declan Collier, director of AIB and boss of the DAA, is perched in a prime place. Apparently, his haemorrhaging DAA sponsors the Theatre Festival. Presumably the deal entitles the €500,000-plus a year Declan to the odd seat at the shows? He would be better off giving it to one of the staff, forgetting the bulls and bears of Enron and attending to the €600m white elephant –Terminal 2 — built out at Dublin Airport. The story of the DAA will itself make tragic theatre shortly.

WEDNESDAY

The woman of my dreams upsets me in the Seanad. I am chatting away in the back row with fellow independent senator and Sindo columnist Eoghan Harris when a high-pitched broadside lands on our laps. Fianna Fail Senator Mary White, businesswoman and Lir chocolate queen, is in a huff.

“I wish people would refrain from talking when I am speaking. I am not going to speak anymore in this room. I do not talk when other people are speaking .

“I am not going to speak.”

Cathaoirleach: [sounding distinctly relieved] “Okay”.

Mrs White: “I would like Senators Ross and Harris not to speak in loud voices when I am speaking on a very serious matter. I did not do it, Senator Harris, when you were speaking. I am not saying that I do not occasionally talk, but I do my best to do so in a low voice. Those senators were speaking at the top of their voices.”

And then the cruellest cut of all: “I think it is the huge egos they both have that are driving them to that.”

I wish Mary had been my dining companion the night before when the customers thought I was the doorman.

White: “I do not know which one has the bigger ego.”

White, a declared candidate for the presidency, then proceeded to break her eternal vow of silence — just sworn — and give the Seanad the benefit of her expertise on retirement.

White and I have form. It was she who, a few years ago in an equally hot snot, cold-called my surprised spouse and gave her an unsolicited earful about my attitudes. As the two had never met, it was an eccentric conversation but they seemingly ended up in total agreement.

And I still secretly worship the blonde goddess.

THURSDAY

Mary’s entertaining intervention nearly distracts me from revealing the attempts of Fianna Fail to cover up the Transport Committee’s investigation into CIE, but not quite.

All the economic action is in Leinster House. Today the political mating dance goes on. Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny and Labour’s Eamon Gilmore have been sucked into talks with Brian Cowen to seek common ground on the economy.

Few in the corridors expect the talks to go anywhere, but it is considered Cowen’s first coup. So deep is the political cynicism that observers are simply speculating on the excuses that the two opposition leaders will find to exit the love-in.

The economy has become the plaything of political posturing. No one really has any interest in the other’s solutions. All sides see this as a ploy, a minefield of explosive political traps.

Down in the Dail dungeons Bernard Allen’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has begun to take a hard look at Siptu and the extraordinary story of happy travellers, courtesy of the Siptu national health and local authority health levy fund. Are we about to see previously sacred social partners summoned to public hearings to answer for their stewardship? Are we finally going to hear about the subsidies received by the unions? Even about the “partnership forum funds?” Or will the PAC bottle it?

It would be a pleasure to hear old comrades like Billy Attley, Jack O’Connor, Des Geraghty and other Siptu bosses come into Leinster House and explain the true benefits of their beloved social partnership.

The net is closing in on Siptu.

FRIDAY

Conor Faughnan of the AA rings at 6.15 in the morning to say that the AA celebrates its centenary today. He wants to make sure we get the message. Such neck deserves recognition. He is offering a €100 discount on motor or home insurance for anyone buying before Tuesday.