The government lent its support to an ambitious plan by international business guru Edward de Bono to set up a largely tax-free conference centre in Dublin, despite being warned by the attorney general that it was probably unconstitutional and breached European competition law.
Department of Taoiseach files show the government calculated a potential loss to the exchequer of £15 million-£20 million if the tax concessions were granted to the mooted Dr de Bono International Centre for Thinking.
The promoters envisaged it would take four to five years to develop “and might eventually employ 300-400 people – mainly hotel etc staff,” according to a briefing note in November 1983.
It said the promoters planned to locate the centre in Ireland only if they first gained "unprecedented" tax concessions. These included getting charitable status, as well as "total (or almost total) relief from all VAT on capital and possibly current inputs, and total relief from excise duty on cars and possibly televisions etc . . . The promise [of concessions] would be used by the promoters as a basis for raising the funding required".
Minister for industry and energy John Bruton was in favour of the plan because of the employment and business potential. However, it was resisted by the attorney general and the minister for finance Alan Dukes, who cited the risk of unfair competition with other institutions, as well as the direct cost to the exchequer.
Nonetheless, the record of a cabinet meeting on November 25th stated “it was agreed . . . that discussions with the promoters may proceed”.
A charitable foundation in de Bono’s name was launched the following year, with administrative offices in Dublin, backed by a £100,000 IDA grant. The international centre never materialised.