Saturday 7 December 2019

Television Review: The legend of the 20-grand kid

Insiders (RTE1); Paul Mason (Channel 4 News)

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

In the War on Bullshit, Michael O'Leary of Ryanair has made a special contribution. Indeed he may be one of the few men alive who has fought fiercely on both sides.

Certainly his customers in Britain would be amazed to learn that this vulgar fellow who is constantly berating the ruling elite wherever he finds it, is himself, in Irish terms, an Old Etonian. That a man who seems pathologically committed to the elimination of all forms of luxury in his airline business, is a man who started out with all the advantages, at the head of the queue, with a first-class ticket to the proverbial executive lounge of life.

Nor does he acknowledge any conflict between his loathing of subsidies for other people, and the acceptance by Ryanair of any free money that may be going, apparently as a basic human right .

And yet for all the bullshit that he has wrought, there is much that he has fought. In particular, his personal war against consultants and PR types and all that high priesthood of the world religion of corporate gibberish, has been exemplary.

When they're handing out the Victoria Crosses for that campaign, they will cite the glorious day on which O'Leary and his team were trying to decide how they would approach this new thing called the internet, whether they would pay millions to the experts to advise them of the feasibility of constructing a website going forward, or whether they would just pay 20 grand to this 17-year-old wizard that one of them remembered as a work experience kid at his previous job.

On RTE's Insiders the wizard, John Beckett, recalled that when he was invited to a meeting by Ryanair's Eddie Wilson, he had no idea what sort of money he should be asking for, but he felt it was reasonable to suggest a sliding scale - if he got it done in three weeks, they would pay him more than the four-week price, and more again than the five-week price.

Obviously, being Ryanair, they wanted the three-week job for the five-week price, and eventually they settled on roughly 20 grand in total for the design of the Ryanair website.

Though he did not use these exact words, in a premonition of one of the most celebrated images of Irish corporate culture, you could say that young John Beckett picked that number out of his arse. But then you could also say that the consultants quoting prices which ranged from half-a-million to ten million were picking those numbers out of their respective arses.

O'Leary, who always seemed to have a deep understanding of the role of the arse in Irish business, would also favour the 20-grand kid for aesthetic reasons. As travel maestro Eoghan Corry explained, "Ryanair really didn't want anything pretty, something good to look at, they wanted something ugly that would persuade someone to buy a ticket very, very quickly and get off the site."

Historians may eventually view it as one of the most important victories in the entire War on Bullshit, though sadly, in a hundred years' time that terrible conflict will probably still be raging.


Paul Mason of Channel 4 News, who is himself the recipient of many citations for gallantry in the face of the enemy that is the City of London, began another onslaught last week. Mason has gone beyond mere reporting of the latest monstrous fraud committed by various bankers, and is now openly attacking them.

He could be seen standing on the street somewhere in the City, railing against the rigging of the foreign exchange market for which six banks have been fined £2.6bn, a number that sounds as if somebody picked it....well you know where they picked it.

"How am I here again?", he cried, as he pointed towards a guilty building and the guilty men inside it, marvelling at the number of times he had been in this situation, describing some tale of thieving on an astronomical scale, followed by a fine which the perpetrators have probably already built in to their business model.

He recalled sitting in the offices of chief executives as they argued that more regulation was not the answer, that it will deprive the banks of talented people. You'd listen to that, and you'd feel the war is already lost.

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