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Best-seller tells inside story of PPE missions by Liam Casey and Bono Bono

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The account of Ireland's handling of the pandemic by journalists Jack Horgan Jones and Hugh O'Connell has been at the top of the non-fiction best-seller lists for a numbe of weeks.

The account of Ireland's handling of the pandemic by journalists Jack Horgan Jones and Hugh O'Connell has been at the top of the non-fiction best-seller lists for a numbe of weeks.

U2 lead singer Bono sent an email to Donoughmore man, Liam Casey, founder and CEO of logistics firm and the man known as Mr China for his knowledge of the Chinese marketplace.

U2 lead singer Bono sent an email to Donoughmore man, Liam Casey, founder and CEO of logistics firm and the man known as Mr China for his knowledge of the Chinese marketplace.

Donoughmore man Liam Casey, founder and CEO of PCH and known as Mr China.

Donoughmore man Liam Casey, founder and CEO of PCH and known as Mr China.

How The Corkman first reported the story about Bono and Liam Casey's mission to find life saving PPE in China and bring it back to Ireland.

How The Corkman first reported the story about Bono and Liam Casey's mission to find life saving PPE in China and bring it back to Ireland.

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The account of Ireland's handling of the pandemic by journalists Jack Horgan Jones and Hugh O'Connell has been at the top of the non-fiction best-seller lists for a numbe of weeks.

corkman

A BEST-SELLING account of the Covid-19 pandemic tells the inside story of how Donoughmore businessman Liam Casey and Bono mounted a joint mission to secure vital Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in China.

Pandemomium - Power, Politics and Ireland’s Pandemic’ by Irish Independent journalist Hugh O’Connell and Jack Horgan Jones of the Irish Times is currently sitting top the non-fiction paperback best-seller list in Ireland.

The back-cover blurb of the book promises to tell the inside story of Ireland’s pandemic: every decision, every player, every text, every leak.

On March 25, 2020, Ireland had had nine deaths due to Covid 19 and 1,564 cases of the illness had been recorded. The testing system was just being put in place, there was a sense of panic around the country.

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One of the factors contributing to the increasing apprehension of people, and particularly those working on the frontline in the health service. The shadow of overwhelmed hospitals and mass graves, images from New York and Italy being beamed into our homes on a constant basis, was not going down well with the locked down public. What was needed as a matter of urgency was PPE, masks, gowns, gloves.

On that day, Liam Casey, founder and CEO of PCH International received an email from an unexpected source with an unusual subject line, ‘Bonos Días’.

“Bono here, Is this still your email? If so, can I have word in your shell-like? Would love your advice on something important. Hope you and yours are keeping safe, thanks, Bono’.”

The U2 lead singer wanted to help Ireland in its hour of need - they had set aside €10m but cash was of limited use given that the world was awash with money, governments were sending emissaries to China with bag loads of cash and their mission was go secure a supply of PPE. Product was what was needed. And Bono had turned to the right man to help navigate what can be a ‘disorienting and opaque market’.

The Donoughmore man is regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on global supply chains, sourcing and distribution and is nicknamed Mr. China for his plants in the Asian powerhouse, the world’s leading manufacturer of PPE.

From his base in Shenzen in the People’s Republic, hehad built a sourcing and logistics empire with revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There were many challenges to be overcome to ensure that Ireland would secure a supply line of quality PPE.

According to the Pwitndemonium account, the approach of Liam Casey’s company, PCH, was to be ‘on the ground’.

The Mourneabbey man said that he could have sent planeloads of PPE to Ireland without moving from his computer if quality wasn’t an issue.

“PCH audited 60 factories but approved just six. The company sent an Irish employee, nicknamed Marco Polo, criss-crossing the country to inspect facilities. It learned, counterintuitively, to, stay away from medical factories where Chinese government officials and customs officers swarmed, instead finding tech facilities that could achieve volume and scale.”

In the early stages, when Bono and Liam Casey spoke together for up to 45 minutes each morning, the U2 singer was fixated on high tech N95 respirator masks. The Corkman had other ideas - a mask called the IIr which was plentiful, cheaper than the N95 and effective. These are the blue fronted surgical type masks with which we’ve all become familiar during the pandemic.

An ex Irish Army captain, Seán Bresnan, played a key role in the effort to secure PPE. He was the head of procurement for HSE. In early February, demand for PPE was, it was estimated, 100 times the normal level while prices were up to twenty times higher than the usual level. An example of this was that the typical cost price of a N95 mask was 69 cent before the pandemic. At the peak, the HSE was paying €11.20 per mask.

As a result of the deal brokered by Casey’s company and the HSE led to Ireland getting 259 PPE laden flights in a fourteen week period. Each flight could carry up to 60,000 gowns - enough for a half day across Irish hospitals during the peak of the crisis. The budget for this was, initially, €208m, nearly 14 times the annual PPE spend of the HSE in a normal year. This were pushed up by €48m in the time between the deal was made and the delivery. “It was not possible to negotiate downward pricing,” HSE Paul Reid is quoted as saying. “Any price speculation or market softening strategy on the part of the HSE was considered too high risk.”

According to Liam Casey the bilateral deal that was secured was the envy of of every other European country.

There would be many more twists and turns, talks of officials of many governments wandering around China with bags of cash outbidding each other for PPE. The book tells of incidents where planes took off from China as empty as they had landed, as supplies had been diverted at the last minute. There were reports of planes landing in Warsaw and Budapest and taking off empty as cargos of PPE were sold off. There was an air of ‘modern day piracy’ about.

The book is a fascinating and page turning account of an era in Irish history with many ordinary people who became heroes. While Bono attracts unfavourable comment from time to time, the role he and Liam Casey played in the effort to secure life-saving PPE equipment. There were issues around sizing for some of the PPE landed - a company in Baile Mhuirne. Fabulous Fabrics, was one of many which was called into help make adjustments to the garments with its team of talented seamstresses.

Had that PPE not been secured, it is impossible not to conclude that the high death toll from Covid in Ireland would have been much higher.

Heroes don’t always wear capes and gowns - sometimes they supply them!


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