BusinessAny Other Business

Digicel mainly hires ‘culchies’, Denis O’Brien reveals

Dee Forbes and Munster Rugby, Garda College lands controversy, Eir CEO’s attack on ComReg, National Lottery could be on the move, GAA’s no-cash policy, and higher education headhunters

Ever wonder about the hiring strategy of telecommunications group Digicel? “I hate to say this but in Digicel we mainly hire culchies,” its chairman Denis O’Brien revealed during a question-and-answer session after being inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame, we notice from a YouTube video of the ceremony that recently surfaced. “It’s a dangerous thing to say nowadays, because everybody is so politically correct,” O’Brien continued, before bravely expounding on the company’s innovative recruitment policy.

“It’s because anybody who has worked on a farm knows commerce, and is reared in a kind of commerce,” explained one of Shrewsbury Road’s most famous residents. “If you’re living with your parents on a farm trying to eke out a living, it’s a different world. If you’re in a 4x4 generation, with your mother driving you around Dublin, I’m not sure you would learn... you would learn different things, and probably good things as well, but I err on the side of the culchies.”

O’Brien isn’t a big fan of higher level education either. “We can all get formally educated, in high school and university, and all that is beautiful, but it’s very quantitative and not very qualitative,” concluded the graduate of High School, Rathgar, and of University College Dublin.

Forbes misses Munster Rugby commercial board event

It’s not just meetings of the Public Accounts Committee that Dee Forbes, the former director general of RTÉ, has been missing, for now at least. We hear she was a no-show at a recent get-together of the Munster Rugby commercial advisory board, on which she has been serving alongside Leslie Buckley, former chairman of Independent News & Media, and past rugby greats Keith Wood and Doug Howlett. Patrick Coveney, chief executive of SSP Group and a brother of former RTÉ director of strategy Rory, and indeed of enterprise minister Simon, was chairman of the commercial board until March 2022. He was succeeded by Angus Hegarty, who recently retired as CEO of Dell.


Ryan Tubridy did face the Public Accounts Committee, and we notice he was accompanied to the meeting last Tuesday by PR guru Ray Gordon. His firm, Gordon MRM, is usually associated with the financial sector, counting Permanent TSB, Nama, the National Treasury Management Agency and Glenveagh Properties among its clients. Gordon was not hired by Tubridy, however, but by Hayes Solicitors, the RTÉ presenter’s legal advisers.

Garda College lands controversy nears conclusion

Six years ago the Garda College in Templemore was embroiled in a financial controversy featuring unauthorised bank accounts and irregularities found by auditors. At the centre of it was Garda College Sportsfield Company, which was set up in the early 1990s to develop sports facilities at the training college. Sportsfield acquired interests in land around Templemore and in 2000 started to lease some of it to a local golf club for €12,600 annually, but allowed the rent to fall into arrears. An internal garda audit discovered that surplus funds from both the restaurant and the shop in the Templemore training college had been transferred to Sportsfield.

The controversy really kicked off when it emerged that €100,000, in four instalments, went from Sportsfield to the Garda Boat Club at Islandbridge between 2000 and 2003. Essentially, this meant public money going to a private company – not improper, but hardly best practice. This all ended up before the PAC, and it was decided Sportsfield should be wound up.

All its property has now been transferred to the Office of Public Works, clearing the way for a liquidator to be appointed. Creditors have been notified and given until today to provide proof of debts and claims. Which should finally draw a line under yet another controversy involving the public finances.

Loomes gunning for telecoms regulator

Oliver Loomes, CEO of Eir, is gunning for ComReg, and we’re sure this has nothing to do with the regulator recently imposing a penalty of €2.5 million on his company for overcharging customers, who are now in line for a €6.7 million refund. Loomes has been complaining about how ComReg is run.

In an interview last weekend, he called on the government to launch an independent review of the regulator, and for greater rotation of its senior staff, declaring that commissioners being in situ for almost a decade was “too long”. In fact, the two current ComReg commissioners – Garret Blaney and Robert Mourik – were only appointed in 2019.

Loomes was right, though, about a long-standing vacancy on the three-person commission. Jeremy Godfrey stepped down in December 2021 to take up a role on the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, and has since changed jobs again, becoming chairman of Coimisiún na Meán. Yet his seat remains empty. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications tells us the Public Appointments Service process to fill the vacancy is now concluded and the successful candidate has been informed. “The minister hopes to be able to formalise the appointment shortly,” it added.

National Lottery could be on the move

The National Lottery’s number could be up at its current premises in the Irish Life Centre on Lower Abbey Street in Dublin, which includes the millionaires’ room where Lotto winners sip champagne and watch a video giving advice on how not to blow their jackpot. The lottery may have to move out because Irish Life is planning to redevelop the office block, a process that could take three years. We hear one possibility is that the 230 National Lottery staff may cross the Rosie Hackett bridge and take up residence in the former Ulster Bank HQ on George’s Quay.

A spokesman for the lottery pointed out that the lease on its current premises lasts until 2034. While a break clause could be triggered this year, it hasn’t been as yet.

No cash, no problem with GAA

Here’s a tip for GAA fans unhappy with the association’s cashless policy: turn up at Allianz League matches next year, cash in hand, and you may still get in. While in theory no cash has been taken at the turnstiles for inter-county matches since 2013, Tom Ryan, director general of the GAA, admitted to the Oireachtas media committee that there was flexibility. “We put in place, and didn’t publicise it for reasons I hope people will understand, a contingency arrangement over the course of the Allianz Leagues whereby if someone shows up [with cash] we would let those people in,” Ryan told TDs and senators on Wednesday.

The total takings from the league last season were about €2 million, and Ryan said €15,000 of that was cash taken at turnstiles from ticketless fans who were allowed pay to get in.

Hiring headhunters in higher education

Several third-level colleges are looking for new members for their governing authorities, and a few are sparing no expense in their search, using various headhunters. Maynooth University has retained Lansdowne Executive Search, University College Dublin has hired Korn Ferry, while Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) is using Mazars.

By contrast, Technological University Dublin is managing the process itself and, thriftily, only using the free Public Appointments Service (PAS) to advertise its vacancies. Asked why it didn’t take a similar approach, Maynooth and UCD said using an executive search firm would ensure they receive applications from as wide and diverse a field as possible. IADT said it is using a professional recruitment consultancy because its governing body is not a State board for the purposes of

We asked the Department of Further and Higher Education whether minister Simon Harris would encourage colleges to use the free PAS system rather than pay for headhunters. In what we like to think was a pointed response, the department said it was a matter for higher education institutions how they advertise for new external members for governing boards, but the department itself is engaging with PAS to recruit ministerial nominees to those boards.