Editorial: One-time tycoon O'Reilly leaves mixed legacy
Published 28/06/2014 | 02:30
There may be those who take pleasure in the fall of a once great man, but a majority of people will find little joy in the 'outrageous fortune' that has now befallen the one-time 'golden boy' of Irish sport and business, Tony O'Reilly, Ireland's first and for many years best-known international businessman. The judgment obtained by AIB for €22.6m, which it can now enforce immediately, will, it is expected, leave the one-time tycoon beleaguered by other banks and creditors seeking repayment of a total of €195m in outstanding loans.
For a man of his stature, at home and abroad, it is the final humiliation, which in a few short years has devastated his business empire and his personal fortune.
The recession of the last five years has been a 'great leveller', swallowing up big and small with equal abandon. Tony O'Reilly is probably its most high-profile casualty; even his great wealth, his trophy homes, his Monet painting and other assets haven't been enough to save him from the public ignominy of the Commercial Court.
His legacy has, of course, been mixed. There are many who believed that during his tenure at Eircom the business was damaged through lack of investment; although his enormous self-belief led him to put €500m of his own (and his brother-in-law's) personal fortune into Waterford Wedgwood, workers were left without pensions when it went broke; employees in Independent News & Media have seen their pensions cut by 40pc.
Yet we should not forget that for decades he was Ireland's most prolific rugby star, scoring 37 tries in 36 matches; that he conceived the international brand Kerrygold; ran HJ Heinz in Pittsburgh, USA; and employed thousands of people in various Irish ventures during his career. He was a great international ambassador, a philanthropist and founder of the Ireland Funds, an international organisation that has done much to foster better understanding and heal divisions in Northern Ireland.
Whatever else, he has left a lasting legacy as someone who was larger than life and made a difference, even if the financial empire has turned to dust.