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How the fall of Waterford Wedgwood led to Tony O'Reilly's financial ruin


Anthony O’Reilly

Anthony O’Reilly

Anthony O’Reilly

TONY O'Reilly's commitment to Waterford Wedgwood as he battled to prevent the company from collapse resulted in his financial ruin, according to friends and colleagues of Ireland's one-time richest man.

The son of the businessman and rugby legend, Tony O'Reilly Junior, says his father felt "obliged" to fight for the workers at the Waterford Crystal producer and that he continues to regret the effect the collapse had on the staff.

"He is very upset and particularly anguished that, you know, ultimately when the business went into administration it meant that some of the pensions and the benefits that the workers would have had would have been lost. And he wasn't there in the end to be able to stop it," O'Reilly Junior says in an RTE documentary, which airs tonight at 9.35pm.

The programme, called 'Tony O'Reilly - The Real Deal', examines the tycoon's life and career.

The Belvedere College-educated Dubliner rose to prominence on the rugby field, enjoying success for Ireland and still holds the record for most tries scored by a British and Irish Lions player.

In his business career, he invented the Kerrygold brand and ran the food group Heinz. He was also a major shareholder in Independent News and Media (INM), publishers of the Irish Independent, which Gavin took over in 2009.

But the documentary also examines his fall from grace culminating in AIB securing a €22m judgement against him in June this year. The businessman had unsuccessfully appealed for a six-month postponement on the bank seizing some of his assets. His renowned Castlemartin estate is now on the market for €30m.

The programme looks at the role Waterford Wedgwood played in his demise as well as his efforts to prevent the firm from entering receivership in 2009, when O'Reilly's family were the leading shareholders of the company. Tony O'Reilly Junior says: "He wasn't going to step away from his obligation. Again, which is kind of unusual when you think that has been a feature of many people who have gotten into financial distress."

Tycoon Michael Smurfit says his friend was a victim of the economy's collapse.

"One would have thought that the company would have survived and come through - but when disposable income disappears among people - one of the first things they are doing is not going to be buying Waterford or Wedgwood or anything like that," he says. Mr Smurfit describes him as "probably the most brilliant marketeer and salesman of his generation" but said he had tried do to "too much at the same time".

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The documentary includes contributions from former Minister Pat Rabbitte, former Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon and economics journalist Brendan Keenan as well as former colleagues and staff of companies owned by O'Reilly.

Tony O'Reilly Junior says his father's setbacks are just "another chapter his amazing life - there will be another chapter".

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