Ossie Kilkenny, secretive accountant and dealmaker for the stars, has found a more public role with fellow soccer fan Bertie Ahern, writes Liam Collins
HE doesn't drink or smoke, he's not on the social/charity ball scene, he wouldn't live anywhere else except Dublin, but above all he has kept well out of the media spotlight.
Ossie Kilkenny, whose folks ran a small newsagents shop on the main street of what was once the village of Dundrum, Co Dublin, was too busy taking care of business: U2's business, Van Morrison's business, Oasis' business, in fact he seemed to take care of business for most of the rock millionaires whose opulent homes litter the Dalkey-Killiney coastline.
He managed it all while taking care of his own considerable interests. Whatever about his friends, the business partners of OJ Kilkenny would still fill a fair-sized rock venue at this stage.
But it is one particular friend who seems to have wrought a change in the almost obsessively secretive outlook of Kilkenny in the last year or so.
That friend is the quintessential drinking, smoking, wise-cracking political backroom man, PJ Mara; one-time government press secretary, habitué of the Horseshoe Bar in Dublin's Shelbourne hotel, adviser to Bertie Ahern and consummate man about town.
OJ and PJ have been good friends for years, but in the last 18 months the busy "accountant to the stars" has gone from the obscurity of his backstreet office (even if the back street happens to be next door to the old Patrick Guilbaud restaurant) to a small, but relatively important role in Bertie Ahern's circle.
How close Ossie, the multi-millionaire southsider, is to the northside Fianna Fáil leader is now a matter of speculation in political circles. They certainly get along; they are both deal-makers with a pragmatic view of life. They also share a passion for sport, any sport, as long as it's played out in a big arena.
They both support Manchester United and are known to visit Old Trafford from time to time, although not necessarily together, and neither would miss a Dublin-Kerry clash in Croke Park.
Asked recently if he is still an accountant, Kilkenny answered: "Well no, I mean I don't do accounts, I have people here who do that. I negotiate contracts and do deals."
Busy man that he is, Ossie managed to get to the Olympics in Australia, and the two committees of which is is chairman are involved with sport: the first has successfully lobbied to bring the Special Olympics to Ireland in 2003 and the other is still battling to build the country's first 50-metre swimming pool.
His appointment as chairman of the Irish Film Board even led to a few interviews, the first time he's publicly put his head above the parapet. Although he promised to talk only about film, and as part owner of Ardmore Studios in Bray, Co Wicklow, he knows a thing or two about the business side of the flicks, he managed to wander off among his passions, such as his own Second World War flying boat and his eccentric reasons for supporting the Kerry football team. (This arose because as a young fella back at the 1955 All Ireland he saw a crowd of Dublin supporters abusing a Kerryman; mentally Ossie sympathised with the loner and found himself a lifelong follower of The Kingdom.)
The other item that put the longhaired pinstriped Dubliner in the news was the triumph of his Spin FM consortium in winning a licence to run a Dublin radio station for the "youth-orientated" 15-to-34-year-olds. His partners in the venture include Radio 2000, the company which controls 98FM and is headed by serial entrepreneur Denis O'Brien, and aviation millionaire and another controversial friend of politicians, Ulick McEvaddy.
There is a feeling that getting a cheap radio licence back in the Eighties and a cheap mobile phone licence in the Nineties should have been enough for Denis, but the Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC) obviously doesn't see it that way.
His competitors for the licence, Pulse FM run by his associate, U2 manager Paul McGuinness, and Storm FM, run by showbiz partners Louis Walsh and John Reynolds of Boyzone, The Edge of U2 and fashion guru John Rocha, took the decision very badly. They went to court.
Paul McGuinness dropped out after the High Court demanded a £100,000 bond before he proceeded further, but the Storm crowd went to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision. The case has been heard and a judgement is expected in the next couple of weeks. Kilkenny added a few million to his bank balance recently by selling a share of TV3. He, Paul McGuinness and James Morris still retain 10 per cent of the station.
McGuinness is also a partner in Ardmore Studios. Kilkenny said recently that McGuinness had decided to do more of the negotiating on the band's behalf, "but we are still U2's accountants, we do all the same stuff."
His other interests include Nua Technologies, where he is chairman; Valbella Trust Company, which is reported to be a holding company for U2, Planet Hollywood, and his chartered accountancy firm. Like McGuinness he has a great interest in film, and this was what led them to Ardmore Studios.
Over the years the taxpayer has funded the studios, with 755,259 of the 1.1 million shares now held by the state development agency Enterprise Ireland. After a stint with the Film Industry Review Group the industry was surprised at the end of last year when Síle de Valera appointed Kilkenny chairman of the Irish Film Board, which is based in Galway and has a budget of more than £5m to help develop film projects in this country.
Film is one of the most fluid of mass media and everything comes back to tax breaks and budgets. Developing the film industry has more to do with making sure the Minister for Finance makes the proper budgetary provisions than anything else. With his chartered accountant's brain Kilkenny is ideally placed to rejuvenate the industry.
He lives in some style in Killiney with his wife Anna, a barrister. They have two children: a daughter, Dara, who works in the fashion business and a son, Jamie.
Despite the wealth he remains a workaholic, frequently travelling to Los Angeles or some other destination, and then for leisure it's off to the west of Ireland in his own flying boat. Ossie Kilkenny certainly lives up to his name as a high-flying accountant.