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Dee Forbes’ position on advisory board of Smurfit Business School in UCD could prove to be awkward

Any Other Business: McKillen becomes Vietnam’s honorary consul, RTÉ Player on Sky, bonuses at the NTMA and Euronext’s plea on share trading tax

Dee Forbes, the former director general of RTÉ, is a long-standing member of the Irish advisory board of the Smurfit Business School in UCD. Other members include Michael Smurfit and Michael Smurfit jnr; Hilary O’Meara, the managing director of Accenture; and David Widger, head of A&L Goodbody’s corporate department. According to the business school’s website, the advisory board is “a well-established feature of our governance”, and draws on “the support and collaboration of many exceptional business leaders who bring their collective knowledge, commitment and insight to help us deliver our academic and other goals”.

Forbes’s continued membership of the board might be a little awkward. That’s because two leading UCD professors – Niamh Brennan and Dr Margaret Cullen – have been commissioned by the government to review corporate governance at RTÉ. They’ll be checking whether failures or weaknesses in RTÉ’s culture led to the payment of secret top-ups and the public understatement of earnings between 2017 and 2022. Checking Forbes’s homework, in other words.

A spokeswoman for the Smurfit Business School confirmed Forbes was still on the advisory board, and would not offer further comment.

RTÉ Player reaches for Sky viewers

Due to the top-up scandal, RTÉ has had to hold back on issuing a press release about a positive development: the launch on June 27th of the RTÉ Player app on Sky Q, one of the most popular TV platforms in Ireland. Sky customers are now offered it before Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Spotify or other rival apps, which should drive more viewers to the Player. In fairness, RTÉ has sorted out most of the glitches with its digital service, and streams are up 20 per cent this year, with time spent viewing up 50 per cent.


Incidentally, I’m told there’s no payment to Sky from RTÉ in return for the Player’s premier positioning on the platform. Not even a little something from one of the barter accounts.

McKillen becomes Vietnam’s honorary consul

Paddy McKillen snr has been appointed honorary consul for Vietnam, a country in which he has invested for 30 years, most notably in road construction but also a biotechnology campus in Hanoi. The official announcement will point out that this is the first time Vietnam has ever had an official representative in Dublin, since diplomatic relations have been handled via its embassy in London.

Two years ago, McKillen told the Financial Times that he had been inspired by the Viet Cong in his refurbishment of Claridge’s in London. The developer wanted to double the size of the hotel while keeping it open, which engineers insisted was impossible. “I went down the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, outside Saigon, dug by hand with spoons,” McKillen said. “They built hospitals and schools down there, and that’s how they defeated the Americans – with this network of tunnels. I came back and said, ‘Are you saying we don’t have the technology today to do the same under Claridge’s? Of course we have, we must have.’”

His office as honorary consul is to be at 6 St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Business Post Group liberated by Swedish investment

“We are no longer prisoners of geography on our little North Atlantic island. We are liberated by technology and the power of AI,” businessman and round-the-world sailor Enda O’Coineen told staff at the Business Post on Tuesday after the conclusion of exhaustive talks with the Swedish publishing group Bonnier News, which has taken a strategic minority investment in the Business Post Group. The protracted process should ensure the future of the newspaper, with the expectation being that a company as big as Bonnier, which had a turnover of €762 million last year, is unlikely to remain a minority shareholder to Kilcullen Kapital forever.

O’Coineen can expect a nice pay-day whenever he exits the Business Post, having almost tripled the group’s turnover, from €7.5 million to €22 million, since taking over in September 2018. While the newspaper is modestly profitable, as is the group’s conference company iQuest, the star performer is the polling company Red C Research.

Bonnier already has a media presence in Ireland, having launched a book publishing imprint, Eriu, under the directorship of Deirdre Nolan last year. Among the titles it will be publishing this autumn are Born to be a Footballer, the autobiography of Liam Brady; We need to Talk by Dr Tony Holohan, the former chief medical officer; and Cocaine Cowboys, the first of two books it has commissioned from journalist Nicola Tallant.

NTMA and bonuses

The National Treasury Management Agency made performance-related payments to 239 employees last year, totalling €2.24 million. The highest individual bonus was €30,000. One of those who didn’t benefit was the former chief executive Conor O’Kelly, whose term expired in June.

What a difference 20 years makes. In 2003, the chief executive of the NTMA was Michael Somers, and he received a bonus of €303,000, or 69.6 per cent of his salary. In 2008, his second-last year in the job, Somers was paid €565,000 and a bonus of €403,000. Still, being chief executive of the NTMA is a good deal less onerous these days. With the economy awash with cash, Ireland will need to borrow much less on international markets over the coming years.

Not that the culture of high pay has been entirely banished from the agency. According to its annual report, some 23 officials earned salaries of €200,000 or more last year, maintaining its reputation as the best remunerated precinct of the Irish public service.

Euronext’s plea on share trading stamp duty

Euronext Dublin, as the Irish stock exchange is now known, warned the Department of Finance at a meeting on March 15th that it was “unlikely to keep three listings” of companies. Minutes of the meeting, which I obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that chief executive Daryl Byrne and Gillian Leeson, the exchange’s head of regulatory affairs, told civil servants that companies were potentially going to remove their secondary listing from Dublin “so they can move to the US”. While the companies are not named, we presume the reference was to CRH, Flutter and Diageo, which announced on April 13th that it was cancelling its Dublin listing. The drinks company left the exchange on May 30th.

The dire consequences of CRH’s and Flutter’s departures had been spelt out in a warning letter to Minister for Finance Michael McGrath on March 3rd, in which Euronext appealed for help in keeping them. “The importance of equity capital markets as a funding mechanism for Irish companies was best demonstrated in 2020, during the pandemic, when Irish-listed companies raised over €4.2 billion from shareholders in secondary fundraising,” Byrne argued.

Underlining the importance of Flutter and CRH, Byrne estimated they generated more than 60 per cent of the total stamp duty on trading in shares of Irish companies, worth €250 million-€300 million to the exchequer.

So far the Department of Finance has taken no action. Euronext’s hope must be that McGrath will announce in the budget that the 1 per cent tax on share purchases is being halved.