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John Burns: Enterprise Ireland turns the gender pay gap on its head

Horse Racing Ireland paying to boost Cheltenham; McDonagh’s new bonus ban; Magnier’s win-win art investment; and stiffing savers and the State

Enterprise Ireland can boast a positive gender pay gap when it comes to hiring media celebrities to host events.

It paid journalist Richard Curran a fee of €3,500 in both 2021 and 2022 to be master of ceremonies at a half-day event at International Markets Week. And the radio presenter Anton Savage was paid €4,600 to be MC at a half-day event at the Big Ideas showcase last November. Ahead of the lads, however, was entrepreneur Áine Kerr, who got a fee of €4,891 to host a half-day event in January 2022 at which Enterprise Ireland updated clients on its strategy.

Details of the payments were released to Catherine Murphy, a Social Democrats TD, in response to a Dáil question about how much the State is paying to hire influencers and media personalities.

We also discover that the financial adviser Eoin McGee, presenter of How to be Good with Money, has been hired several times by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). McGee was recently paid €10,000 to appear in Money Clinic videos that are being shot around the State, and €7,000 to do two presentations – one on Buy Now Pay Later and the other on crypto.


We presume the CCPC didn’t pay in crypto, or use BNPL, but did it get value for money? Now who could we possibly ask to check that?

HRI paying to promote Cheltenham

Given the enormous fuss made about Cheltenham each year, you’d never expect Irish taxpayers’ money to be spent promoting it. Yet Horse Racing Ireland, a semi-State agency, paid TV presenter Doireann Garrihy €13,500 plus a 15 per cent agency fee last March to “increase event awareness via video views on TikTok and Instagram”.

She also got €7,000 plus a 15 per cent agency fee to promote the Dublin Racing Festival, and a modest €390 to publicise the Galway Races, also apparently in need of “increased awareness”.

In reply to Catherine Murphy’s Dáil question, HRI told her it uses “a mix of micro and macro influencers” to boost event awareness and reach new audiences through word of mouth.

“At the end of 2022, we moved to use more community-based influencers and ‘mom-influencers’ to make sure we are connecting with the right audiences,” it added. So among those hired last autumn by HRI were content creators Ali O’Driscoll and Melissah Mullins, actor Dev Skehan, the vloggers Zoe Hargan and Danielle Borthwick, and Pamela Uba, the former Miss Ireland.

Francesca McDonagh back under bonus ban

Announcing last April that she was stepping down as Bank of Ireland CEO to join Credit Suisse, Francesca McDonagh admitted that getting out from under the Irish Government’s salary cap was one reason for leaving. “Pay is a factor – it is not the only factor, but more broadly, I would have been lobbying the Irish Government to lift remuneration restrictions,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland at the time.

After the bank bailout, the then government put a cap of €500,000 on executive pay; McDonagh negotiated an exemption and was on €950,000. The salary restrictions were eased soon after she left Ireland.

We’re not sure precisely what McDonagh earns as group chief operating officer at Credit Suisse, although one indication is that the troubled bank paid €38.57 million to 15 members of its executive board in 2021. The chief financial officer, the highest-paid executive board member that year, got a package of €4.3 million.

It’s deja vu for McDonagh, however, since the acquisition of Credit Suisse by UBS involves a cap on the pay of employees at the troubled bank. The Swiss government is providing additional liquidity until the transaction goes through, and there are strings attached. “The federal council has imposed restrictions with regard to remuneration packages, pursuant to Article 10a of the Banking Act, whereby the payment of variable remuneration may be wholly or partially prohibited,” it said.

According to that Article 10a, for as long as a systemically important bank is receiving state aid, the Swiss government “shall” put restrictions on its employees’ pay.

In a further blow to senior staff such as McDonagh, the value of any shares given to them as bonuses has been slashed. Credit Suisse stock is to be converted into UBS’s at a rate of 22.48 to one.

Another shrewd Magnier investment

John Magnier, the bloodstock billionaire, will have to wait another three months before he gets either a cheque for £50 million (€57 million) or possession of a painting he bought in 2001. A ban on the export of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Portrait of Omai expired on March 10th, but British authorities have extended it, again, until June 10th. The extra time is to allow the National Portrait Gallery in London raise the agreed value of £50 million. Thus far, it has only got about half way but the rest is likely to come from the well-endowed Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The speculation is that the two institutions will jointly purchase, and then share, one of the UK’s national treasures.

Not everyone in Britain will be happy with that, but we imagine Magnier will be pleased with the return on his original £10.3 million investment. And because he once loaned the life-size Portrait of Omai to the National Gallery of Ireland for six years, Magnier won’t even have to pay 20 per cent capital gains tax if he is tax resident here.

Stiffing savers and the State

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has called on the banks to increase returns for savers, saying they “can’t have it both ways” – putting up interest rates on loans and mortgages but not on savings. “There’s a huge amount of savings on deposit in Irish banks,” Varadkar pointed out. As indeed there is – private-sector deposits totalled €310.4 billion at the end of January, of which households held €148.7 billion.

Savers are not the only ones losing out by the banks not passing on interest rate increases to depositors – the State is too. Dirt raised €499 million for the exchequer in 2013, but in 2021, the last year for which figures are available, the take was a meagre €20 million. The carbon tax, by contrast, raised €652.3 million that year.

Keeping prisoners’ cash secure

The Irish Prison Service is tendering for a contractor to provide “cash-in-transit services” across its network. This is not about moving money from Mountjoy to Portlaoise, however. When prisoners are first incarcerated, any money in their possession is taken from them – an appropriate reversal of fortune in some cases – to a bank for lodgement until their release.

Like the rest of society, Irish prisons are becoming cashless. In 2020, the prison service introduced an electronic money-transfer system, allowing families of prisoners to lodge cash for their tuck-shop purchases via the post office.