BusinessAny Other Business

John Burns: The Web Summit picks the wrong man to ask for a freebie

Denis O’Brien and the Ryder Cup, playing Mattress Mick, Sean Haughey’s Alibaba share sale, and an Irish Revoluter

One speaker we definitely won’t be seeing at the Web Summit’s tech conference in June is Guy Walters. The British historian was emailed by its media team in Dublin last Monday, inviting him “to lead discussions on our future-focused panels as a moderator”. To illustrate the importance of the event, Walters was told there would be 40,000 attendees, 1,000 journalists and 500 “top” speakers.

His ensuing phone call with the Web Summit was short and not so sweet, however. “I was quite surprised to be asked to moderate a tech conference on the other side of the Atlantic,” the Wiltshire-based historian told Any Other Business. “They called me up after the email exchange and said: ‘How easily can you get to Toronto?’ I said I could get there, ‘but presumably you are going to pay for my flight?’ [The reply was] ‘Ah, we were hoping you could get there yourself. If it’s easier to get to Lisbon, we are going to have a conference there too…’

“But I said: ‘You are not going to pay me for that either?’ ‘No.’ I asked: ‘Well, are you going to pay me a fee?’ ‘No.’”

End of conversation. Walters took to Twitter afterwards to alert others who might be approached by the Web Summit. We received no reply from their press officer to a request for comment.


Paddy Cosgrave’s staff asked the wrong man for a freebie. Walters wrote a high-profile piece for Literary Review in 2013, entitled Penny For Your Thoughts, about the Hay Festival not paying him expenses. That was for a 250-mile round trip. Toronto, from his base in Wiltshire, would have been 6,956 miles.

“I thought the days of content being free had gone out in the early 2000s, but apparently not,” he said. “There’s still this relatively antediluvian attitude in some corners of the internet industry that people should provide things out of the goodness of their heart.”

O’Brien’s Spanish course pitches for Ryder Cup

Denis O’Brien may currently be in the rough with Digicel, but his fortunes could soon be on the upswing as he looks set to become the third Irish businessman to land the Ryder Cup.

Camiral Golf & Wellness, his resort near Girona in Spain, is now favourite to stage the golf contest between Europe and the US in 2031. JP McManus’s Adare Manor is the host in 2027, while Michael Smurfit’s K Club was the venue back in 2006. James Corrigan, the Daily Telegraph’s golf correspondent, recently reported that Camiral is set to beat off competition from three English courses.

O’Brien bought the resort in 2007, when it was known as PGA Catalunya, and has invested at least €120 million on upgrading it, including building hotels, villas and apartments. Nor has he made any secret of his ambitions, once saying that “from its inception, [the] course was designed and built to host the world’s largest events, and hosting the Ryder Cup would be the realisation of this vision”.

Sean Haughey sells Alibaba shares

Sean Haughey remains the George Soros of the Dáil. While other deputies boringly reply “nil, nil, nil” to questions about their shares and directorships for the annual Register of Interests, the Fianna Fail TD’s portfolio takes several pages to list.

Oireachtas members are obliged to declare shares valued at over €13,000, and Haughey has stakes in 42 companies, including such blue-chip stocks as Alphabet (owner of Google), Amazon, BP, Daimler, Mercedes, Nestlé, Pernod Ricard, Pfizer and Walt Disney.

We note he no longer has a holding in Alibaba, the Chinese technology company, which was declared in previous years. When asked if this was dropped for political reasons, Haughey noted that his share portfolio is looked after by an investment firm and he is not involved in its day-to-day management.

He could, out of curiosity, check at what point in 2022 the stake in Alibaba was sold, since its share price fluctuated wildly last year. It peaked at 122 Hong Kong dollars (€14.67) in July, but slumped to 60 dollars in October, when Chinese stocks weakened after the US administration announced new restrictions on access to its technology.

Meanwhile, the Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae won’t be too happy with the performance of his only stock – the New York Times. Its share price currently stands at $39, down more than $4 since last February.

Mattress Mick to hit the boards

The parts have all been filled for “Mattress Mick: The Musical”, with Dublin actor Conor Duffy set to play the eponymous businessman. To be staged at Liberty Hall in Dublin on April 27th and 28th, the musical will tell the rags-to-riches story of the salesman who boasts more than 40 years in the bedroom furniture business.

Josephine McCaffrey, the writer and director, tells me Duffy was chosen because “he has something about him that’s a bit like Mick, a similar energy”. The trickier role of playing Bono in the musical has gone to actor Joseph Byrne, while Sally, Mick’s first girlfriend, will be played by Helena Geoghegan. Those who buy tickets from can look forward to taking selfies with Mick on a mattress in the foyer.

Heneghan joins ranks of Revoluters

Intrigued, we were, by Revolut’s announcement that its Dublin chief executive Joseph Heneghan has been chosen as one of its “global partners”, which it describes as a “tremendous achievement”. How, we asked, did the former Ulster Bank executive, who joined Revolut’s Irish division in 2019, get such a grandiose accolade?

A company spokesman explained that Revolut’s global partnership programme is designed to reward exceptional ‘Revoluters’ who’ve demonstrated a high standard of personal character and integrity, a track record of contribution to the business, and a commitment to the company’s mission and values.

In practical terms, we imagine this is a hat-tip to Heneghan for hitting the milestone of more than two million customers in Ireland.

Frisby’s silver donation to Waterford museum

Waterford has its very own Chuck Feeney – local developer Noel Frisby, who has donated a further €2.5 million worth of silver to a local museum. This is the third donation by Frisby and his partner Stephanie, who are best known for buying the former Waterford Crystal site in 2012. They have now given €7 million worth of silver to the Waterford Museum of Treasures, using the Section 1003 scheme, which allows people to donate heritage items of national importance and get a tax break on 80 per cent of the value.

Google set for legal showdown

There’s a heavyweight High Court case in the offing after Google Ireland filed proceedings last Monday against Wilton Works, O’Mahony Pike Architects, Ove Arup & Partners, Billings DAC, and two companies now in liquidation. The legal firm Matheson is representing Google and would not comment on the cause of action but it looks to be property related.