Tuesday 20 February 2018

O'Herlihy: I lost millions from life savings

'I thought I was on the pig's back, now I'm under its foot,' says star

Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O'Herlihy


RTE sports legend Bill O'Herlihy has revealed that he has lost millions in the property crash and seen almost half of his pension wiped out through share losses.

The veteran broadcaster spoke of his shock that his life savings have been demolished as he prepares to retire next year after 50 years of broadcasting.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent on the first day of his new role as chairman of the Irish Film Board, a role which he has taken on without a salary, the affable anchorman said he invested his savings in property and shares, leaving him exposed in the economic downturn.

"I've lost millions – let's be honest about it. I'd say about €3m in total. It's a lot of money," he said.

"I got stung with my pension. Not as bad as Pat and Gay, I'd say, but they would have had much bigger pensions. I lost about 40 per cent of mine – half-a-million euro. Oh, it was an awful lot of money. It was a managed pension. The shares were very badly affected. I got very careless. It was my own fault as well that I didn't convert it into cash. But I reckon a managed pension should have been a managed pension, and it wasn't."

Now 74, O'Herlihy said the timing of the financial loss has made it even more difficult to bear.

"It's tough, especially at my age," he said. "I mean, I wouldn't care if I was 50. But when you're 70 . . . I'm in a different position. I have no pension from RTE despite working there for 50 years, and that's written into my contract. So after all the years I have nothing. I have nothing except what I earn on contract. But that hasn't come as a bolt from the blue. It was part of my contract every time."

O'Herlihy said he partly blames himself for not being better prepared in protecting his family's nest egg.

"I got a shock when it happened," he said. "It wouldn't have happened if I was more aware of the circumstances. I mean, the first thing I should have done really was pick up the phone to the people looking after my pension to say, 'What's happening and how is it resolved if something bad happens?' I didn't do that. And at the stage I got word, it was too late. It was about half-a-million in total off the value of my pension. At my age that's huge money.

"Going forward, I won't be as well off. I have properties as well. I own 50 per cent of a property in Eastmoreland Lane, my house, I have a place in Spain. All of which are massively devalued. So at one stage I was saying to myself, 'I'm on the pig's back'. Now I'm under it's foot."

O'Herlihy is looking forward to his new role at the film board, but it is a four-year contract he was initially slow to accept.

Having had a bypass in 1984 and the all-clear from cancer in the past five years, he admitted: "I am very conscious of my age going into the job. And it was one of the real reasons why I hesitated. But I have plenty of energy, thank God, and if I got to the stage where I couldn't fulfil my duties then I'd have no problem stepping down."

As CEO of O'Herlihy Communications, one of Ireland's biggest PR firms, does he feel at odds having a tobacco company as a client, given his brush with cancer?

"No, not at all, I only deal with the whole area of cigarette smuggling and illegal cigarette selling coming in to Ireland," he said.

As well as having his own PR firm, the genial presenter has had a varied career, notably as Ireland's original spin doctor – he was one of former Fine Gael Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald's media handlers in the 1980s, and describes Michael Lowry, with whom he worked for two years, as an "acquaintance".

"Not in a derogatory sense, but purely because we don't cross paths any more," he said.

He declined to comment on the outcome of the Moriarty tribunal, although he said it is "quiet likely" that Lowry could top the polls again in Tipperary. "I think it's also quite possible his son might run in the next election."

O'Herlihy, who became a household name through his regular appearances with pundits Eamon Dunphy and John Giles, said he has been "incredibly lucky" in his career, so he took the job at the film board – "for which I won't get a shilling" – because "I want to give something back".

The new chairman, who will have a budget of more than €13m a year, has faced criticism for his lack of knowledge of the industry.

"I love the cinema, I love movies," he said, "but there's a difference between casually enjoying a movie and developing an industry."

So when was the last time he went to the cinema? "Tom Cruise's movie, One Shot, last summer.

"What do I know about the industry? I bring to it an objectivity and I don't bring any baggage. I can never be accused of looking after the interests of my pals.

"When I look back at my own career, I'm 50 years in broadcasting. I was ground-breaking in developing filming in rural Ireland and PR of the Cork Film Festival where I put the focus on Irish film. I produced my own series on the Irish diaspora and a documentary on Sean Lemass, so I have a lot of background. And as CEO of O'Herlihy Communications, which has won 16 awards for the quality of our work, I know all about communications. So I can make a serious contribution in promoting and marketing the industry."

He is dismayed by the increasing level of violence in movies, which he sees as an influence in the growing level of violence in society.

"A lot of movies are very violent now," he said. "I think to suggest that violence doesn't permeate into society if people see it on the screen is in my estimation completely silly. It will be down to the censor at the end of the day, but I think there is a link."

Asked if it was an area that needs to be examined, he said: "I would prefer if there was less violence, but I don't think it's the function of the film board to have any role in that matter. It's a matter for the censor to make that decision based on the norms of the day."

Although having worked with RTE for five decades presenting coverage of major events such as Olympic Games, Fifa World Cups and Uefa European Championships, he has never been among the station's highest earners.

Still, he feels those with the biggest pay packets are worth every penny for the income they generate, though he added: "I don't think anyone who has had a salary cut is going to starve.

"I can understand why in the current economic climate people feel that RTE stars are paid too much, but I think that those people who earn a lot of money deliver for the station and deliver for the audience and therefore I have no objection to it."

As for his own future income?

"You never know, things might turn up – I might win the Lotto."

Irish Independent

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