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Phil Hogan’s new consultancy offers ‘unique insights’... but you won’t find them on Twitter

Any Other Business: Intel and the NCT; Boris’s Irish diaries link; bank holiday bounce-backs; EU backs cash

Phil Hogan, the former EU commissioner for trade who resigned in 2020 over Golfgate, has established a consultancy. Hogan Consulting, as it is imaginatively named, has offices at Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin but a Belgian phone number. Its website says the entity will allow the former Fine Gael TD “to offer high level and strategic advice to clients”.

Hogan’s political experience at national and international level, it adds, “gives him unique insights to help companies seek solutions to problems or build a more sustainable strategy for the future”. Hogan recently said Visa and Vodafone are among the firms he advises, while JP Morgan has signed him up for guidance on policy and political issues.

The website entreats us to “follow @PhilHoganEU”, but the Twitter link doesn’t work. Another indication that Hogan Consulting may still be in start-up mode is its non-appearance on the Lobbying Register.

Some rivals have been checking it on a regular basis, curious to see if Big Phil’s occasional visits to the Kildare Street area and the European Commission offices – he was photographed there on Tuesday with Seán Kelly MEP – have been business or pleasure. My emails to Hogan asking whether he plans to register as a lobbyist went unanswered.


IPG sues Cricket Ireland over TV deal

Scarcely recovered from being pummelled by England at Lord’s, Irish cricket is facing another challenging test match, this time in court. Innovative Production Group (IPG), a sports TV producer registered in the United Arab Emirates, has filed proceedings against the Irish Cricket Union in the High Court. IPG says it is owed €602,384.39 and is also seeking damages for alleged breach of contract, misrepresentation, breach of confidence and negligence.

In a summons issued by Setanta Solicitors, IPG says that two years ago, Cricket Ireland invited tenders for a television company to have exclusive production rights for 44 senior men’s international matches in 2021 and 2022. Its tender was accepted but by the time a contract was signed in January 2022, the package was down to 33 matches.

IPG claims that, in May 2022, Cricket Ireland wrongly gave Gavin Scovell, the representative of a rival company, confidential tender information. The summons alleges that Cricket Ireland then unilaterally terminated the agreement without lawful cause. IPG says it was owed $1.79 million but received only $1.142 million, and the balance is outstanding.

Scovell is the owner of Kingstown TV, a sports TV production company whose LinkedIn page says that in 2023 it won “the rights to produce all of Cricket Ireland’s coverage for four years”.

Cricket Ireland has declined to comment on the case. Last month, the union reported a deficit of €176,184 for the previous financial year. Andrew May, the chief financial officer, said it was planning on having a €4 million deficit for 2023, which would be financed through a $5 million loan from the International Cricket Council. The year would be “a challenge financially”, he added, but “we are very optimistic about the financial stability of the organisation in 2024 and beyond”.

That projection was made before IPG delivered its googly in the form of a High Court action.

How Intel is causing NCT delays

Delays for National Car Tests (NCT) are “absolutely unacceptable” and the company running the system, Applus, “needs to pay serious penalties”, junior transport minister Jack Chambers said last weekend. One reason why the average current waiting time for tests is 30 days is that Applus has been losing mechanics... to Intel.

Over the past four years, Intel has been doubling its manufacturing space in Ireland. Its Fab 34 facility, which represents an investment of €17 billion, is due to be fully operational by the end of this year. The new plant will add 1,600 new roles, many of them technicians, so Intel has been on a recruitment drive. Sources at the company say Intel reached out across all sorts of industries with similar skill sets to what it wanted.

“We did not target any company, but I know we have hired mechanics,” AOB was told. “We do pay competitive rates.”

Meanwhile, Applus is struggling to hire enough mechanics to make a dent in those NCT waiting lists.

“There is a chronic shortage of qualified mechanics in Ireland and, yes, some of them are taking advantage of opportunities to use their transferable skills in non-automotive sectors, specifically the semiconductor and pharmaceutical sectors,” a spokeswoman for Applus told me. “Recruitment is ongoing within NCTS and recently we have recruited in excess of 70 inspectors, the vast majority from the Philippines.”

Boris diaries’ Irish connection

If the name of the British civil servant who has passed Boris Johnson’s diaries to the police sounds familiar, that’s because he is a former head of ComReg, the telecoms and postal regulator. Alex Chisholm moved to Ireland in 1999 and held a variety of roles here, including director of Binary Ventures, a ‘business angel’ investment group, and mentor with Enterprise Ireland. He was appointed commissioner of ComReg in 2007 and its chairman in 2010, before returning to Britain three years later.

Chisholm’s Irish connection is strong. His wife was Irish and their wedding was staged at her home before they lived for a time in Ranelagh.

Can we bank on a holiday bounce-back?

Did you all enjoy the bank holiday? Good, because the next one isn’t until August 7th. With 10 in total, Ireland is stingy by international standards. Which may be what prompted Richard Boyd Barrett, the Dún Laoghaire TD, to ask enterprise minister Simon Coveney how much it would cost to introduce three more.

Somewhere between €680 million and €3.4 billion, Coveney told him. This is based on an international study done last year on the impact that public holidays have on economic growth, which estimated that 0.08 per cent of annual GDP is forgone by each one. An assessment done in the UK, meanwhile, put the cost of an additional public holiday for the Platinum Jubilee at 0.1 per cent of GDP, while previous analysis there put the economic impact at between 0.3 and 0.4 per cent.

It’s not a simple calculation, Coveney stressed, as some sectors such as retail and food may get a boost on public holidays.

“Evidence also suggests there is a level of ‘bounce-back’ in terms of the loss of production... which is recovered either through higher effort on other working days or effective management of scheduling.” There was precious little evidence of bounce-back last Tuesday, however, with commuting levels low and many emails being met by out-of-office replies.


EU keeping the cash option

Given the amount of swiping and tapping we’re doing, it comes as a surprise to read in the Central Bank of Ireland’s annual report that it issued 198 million banknotes last year, up 14 per cent on 2021. Admittedly the country was emerging from Covid, but there was also a 31 per cent jump in contactless payments, with almost €17.9 billion changing hands virtually.

I asked the Central Bank if the supply of banknotes will taper off as consumers increasingly go digital. Apparently not. The bank says it is committed to the Eurosystem’s vision “that euro cash is generally available as an attractive, reliable and competitive payment instrument and store of value”, adding that “we support access to cash services for all euro-area citizens and businesses”.

Later this year, however, the Eurosystem is due to conclude a lengthy investigation into the feasibility of launching a digital euro. Eventually, euro notes might cease to be legal tender, just like the Irish pound banknotes issued by the Central Bank up to February 2002. Amazingly, some people still have a stash of those under their mattresses. The bank estimates that Irish pounds to the value of €223.2 million are out there somewhere, mouldering away.