Monday 17 June 2019

Bank of Ireland executive seconded to Bishops' Conference for Pope's Irish visit

Pope Francis. Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters
Pope Francis. Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

Bank of Ireland has donated the services of a senior executive to the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference as part of a €20m fundraising drive to host the World Meeting of Families (WMoF) in Dublin.

Niall O'Shea - head of BoI's programme to develop and implement an accounting solution for financial instruments - has been seconded to the Irish Bishops, where he is head of financial development for the WMoF.

The WMoF, the world's largest Catholic gathering, held every three years, received a major boost last week after Pope Francis confirmed he will attend the Dublin event. It will feature a Mass in the Phoenix Park and a concert in Croke Park.

O'Shea, Bank of Ireland's former CFO for the retail division across Ireland and the UK, has been in situ with the hierarchy since July of last year. O'Shea's secondment marks the first public contribution by a major corporate brand for the highly-anticipated papal visit which has been shrouded in some controversy.

The event has been overshadowed by a burgeoning clerical sex abuse crisis in Newry, the removal of images and text of same-sex families from brochures sent to parishioners ahead of the WMoF and the high-profile snub of former President Mary McAleese from a conference on women in the Vatican.

Several high-net-worth individuals and at least 10 leading domestic brands are being targeted to become €1m-strong strategic partners. Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin says the event will cost some €20m.

Bank of Ireland has brought a number of new tech firms into its Innovation Lab New York programme which will give them access to free incubation space in New York City. Stock image
Bank of Ireland has brought a number of new tech firms into its Innovation Lab New York programme which will give them access to free incubation space in New York City. Stock image

"Bank of Ireland have kindly facilitated seconding Niall O'Shea to the World Meeting of Families 2018 and he will be with us until after the WMoF 2018 concludes in August 2018," said a spokeswoman for the WMoF.

"At this commercially sensitive stage of fundraising, we are not releasing information on the value of individual and/or corporate donations."

However, it is understood around €10m of the target has been raised to date, primarily from US donors and including more than €2m gleaned so far from Irish parishioners following a series of national Church collections.

The WMoF has engaged US communications guru Brian Tierney as well as Irish-American philanthropist Susan Davis to lead fundraising efforts in America where some conservative donors are reluctant to support Pope Francis because of his perceived liberalism.

Tierney, former publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and, is credited with helping to raise some $50m for the 2015 WMoF in Philadelphia.

Davis, chairwoman of Susan Davis International, a global strategic communications and public affairs firm based in Washington DC, is also a board member of the American Ireland Fund.

O’Shea is regarded as a major coup for the hierarchy. Before joining Bank of Ireland, he previously held a series of senior financial roles including director of financial services risk management at EY and group chief accountant for RTE.

The fundraising committee in Ireland is led by Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala and Father Tim Bartlett, Secretary General for the 9th WMoF.

The committee’s sole female member is publisher and businesswoman Norah Casey, who last month was named Philanthropist of the Year by the Community Foundation of Ireland.

Last month Casey said in an interview that Irish-American firms in the US were being approached to help defray the costs of the Dublin event including the Phoenix Park Mass, a free event that could nonetheless cost up to €7m to stage owing to security and related costs.

Casey said that before approaching Irish high-net-worth individuals and brands, they had to “pass a test” to ensure their ethics and practices aligned with Pope Francis’ message.

However, the WMoF could prove problematic for some Irish companies with dedicated diversity and inclusion policies.

This follows the removal of text and images featuring same-sex couples from booklets sent to Catholic parishes in preparation for the visit to Ireland.

Some companies have privately expressed discomfort with the exclusion, from a conference in the Vatican, of former Irish President Mary McAleese.

Earlier this month, McAleese called for a public inquiry into clerical abuse after she revealed her youngest brother was abused by paedophile priest Malachy Finnegan.

McAleese said she had only recently found out her brother, Clement Lenaghan (49), suffered abuse by Fr Finnegan when he was a student at St Colman’s College in Newry.

In an emotional interview on RTE’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, McAleese described how her “baby brother was seriously, physically and sadistically abused” by the late priest.

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