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Why do business people run for president? They just want to be loved

Caveat: Proviso of pitch for office is that business success precludes need for money

What possesses successful business people to run for president, or indeed for any elected office in the State? Presumably the same things that possess anybody else who considers it. They may have a genuine desire to “get things done” or to “make a difference”. This usually topped off with a vainglorious, and necessary, dash of ego.

Business people don’t run for office for the money: a prerequisite of their pitch is that they have been successful, and therefore don’t need money. Often, they don’t really do it for the power, either: the most senior people in business usually have as much direct power in their personal orbit as all but a handful of the top tier of politicians.

They do it for the affirmation. Once you accept that business people, more than almost any other type of people, are primarily and extraordinarily attracted to the public status and profile that come with State office, it is obvious why some of them want to be elected. But this doesn’t explain why we would want to elect them.

There have been many successful, and not so successful, business people who have had a tilt at the Dáil over the years. The likes of Michael Lowry and Albert Reynolds were already heavily successful in business before they first went for election.


More recently, O'Brien's sandwich bars founder Brody Sweeney lost out in 2007. Builder Mick Wallace got in in 2011, and has stayed there because he performs well. There have always been business figures, such as Feargal Quinn, around the Seanad.

But for Irish businessmen and women in search of that precious affirmation and public profile, but not necessarily a whole bunch of daily tasks and responsibilities, Áras an Uachtaráin is the ultimate destination. Irish presidents are usually held in affection by the public, and this attracts people from the staid and transactional world of business. They want to be liked, or even loved.

The jostling has begun for nominations for the seemingly inevitable race later this year for president of Ireland. Gavin Duffy, the media investor and consultant who is best known for starring on television's Dragons' Den, is prominent among them. It has echoes of the Áras run seven years ago of his former co-star, Seán Gallagher. Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, the founder of Aer Arann, is also being mentioned as a contender.

It seems an odd time for a business person presidency: we have our fill of all that stuff, anyway, watching the daily reality television show that is the White House. The State’s economy is growing strongly and policymakers appear to have it mostly in hand. Drumming up business is currently not a primary concern for most ordinary citizens.

Duffy is genuinely amiable and intelligent, and presumably deeply capable. But what vision can he articulate for the office, at this particular point in Irish history, that Michael D Higgins can't? As a Louth man he will have his view on Brexit. But that seems a peculiar plank upon which to build a seven-year presidency.

That is not to say that there was never a time for a business presidency.

Gallagher is often still sneered at for his Devon Loch campaign in 2011, which imploded at the 11th hour when he was ambushed in a debate with a question about brown envelopes that had no basis in fact whatsoever. He handled it badly, and lost all. But people forget that he emerged as the front runner the week before polling for a good reason: he struck a chord at that moment in time with the innermost concerns of Irish citizens.

In 2011, the economy was a latrine. Many ordinary people were still in shock at the loss of their prosperity and openly wondered if they, and Ireland, would ever get back on their feet again. Gallagher correctly identified this wound in confidence that had opened up in the Irish psyche, and offered a fix.

He knew that entrepreneurship, positivity and self-reliance were needed to get Ireland out of its mess, and he resolved to champion these traits for citizens. It may not have been to everybody’s taste. But it was a coherent, and at the time an appropriate, vision.

Higgins didn’t really win the presidency because people bought into his vision of philosophy and ethics. He won because hesitant voters got the last-minute heebeegeebees because of an old trope about businessmen and brown envelopes. Higgins was a safe pair of hands.

Ironically, seven years on, Higgins’s vision now looks to be the more appropriate one for current times. Business is back with a swagger, and in some quarters of the economy, with a smirk. When the coffers are full and temptation is everywhere, there is no better time for a conversation about ethics and morality.


Kerrygold butter claims churn up US lawsuit

Kerrygold is finding out the hard way that success for consumer food businesses in the lucrative US market comes with certain occupational hazards.

The Ornua-owned brand, Ireland’s most successful global food brand, is facing a class-action lawsuit in California over its marketing claim that Irish cows are grass-fed, which improves butter taste and colour. A San Diego man is challenging this because, he says, Irish cows eat other types of fodder, such as imported and genetically modified grain, for part of the year.

Class-action lawsuits are common in the US food business. Some enterprising law firms specialise in assembling them. Glanbia, which has invested heavily in the US nutritionals and sports supplements market, has been plagued by such lawsuits in recent years, some of them frivolous.

The issue with which Ornua and Kerrygold must contend is that it is perfectly true to say that, at certain times of the year such as in the depths of winter, "grass-fed" Irish dairy cows aren't fed on grass at all.

Remember that video in April that went viral globally, of Irish cows leaping around like little kids after being let out of their sheds once the snow receded? It was the first time they had seen a field of grass in six months.

Ornua is confident it can successfully defend its marketing claim in the US, where there are apparently no official guidelines on how much grass your cows have to eat to market them as grass-fed.

But it may not be a slam dunk.

Speculation about O’Leary’s future at Ryanair takes off

The growing trouble at t’mill in Ryanair has brought the question of Michael O’Leary’s future as chief executive back into focus. With his contract ending next year, analysts and observers are wondering aloud whether the bête noir of trade unions is really the man to lead Ryanair through a period of industrial relations strife.

Then again, you can only make peace with your enemies, and not with your friends.