Wexford People

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Bookie Ivan on winner with new media role

FORMER Fine Gael politician Ivan Yates can say what he likes these days and people love him for it. The Enniscorthy man who has a higher media profile now than when he was at the top of his political career, serving as Minister for Agriculture, doesn't have to watch his p's and q's.

In his previous life, he had to steer clear of controversy. Now, he gets applauded for courting it.

'In politics you have to be a people pleaser. As a pundit, you need to be controversial. If you're utterly bland and careful, no-one is going to be interested,' he said.

Ivan didn't disappear off the radar when he resigned from politics on his own terms back in 2002 just when everyone thought he might become leader of his party.

It is said that all political careers end in failure or tears. Ivan's ended in neither and if he was to stand for election again in the morning, he'd probably do exceptionally well.

He left politics to concentrate on his Celtic Bookmakers business and to escape from the timeshackles of being a TD but over the past few years, he has developed another freelance career as a media contributor and commentator.

He fills in as a presenter for George Hook on News Talk when he is on holidays; writes weekly columns for The Examiner and the Advertiser in Galway and Mayo and regularly contributes to radio and TV shows. He has even appeared on The Panel.

He offers opinions on politics, business, the economy and life in general as well as giving betting odds on all manner of trends.

His performances are relaxed, informative and very entertaining. He displays a sense of humour and an expert understanding of the sound bite which makes him a favourite of presenters like Ryan Tubridy and Pat Kenny.

As a politician, he had to take himself seriously. Now, he doesn't have to anymore. He can be serious when the situation requires but he can play the irreverent jack-the-lad and he appears to enjoy it immensely.

Becoming a media personality didn't happen by accident. He made a deliberate decision to increase his income from corporate speaking, non-executive directorships of private companies and media commentating and got himself an agent.

The move was prompted by a downturn in the betting business and the need to reduce his income from Celtic Bookmakers which has 62 branches including three in Wales which are doing better than the Irish shops. His job as a professional media pundit is a 'work in progress', meaning that he is learning more as his experience grows.

Replacing George Hook has been a big learning curve. 'You're doing two and a half hours of live radio with 14 different interview slots, prerecordings, links and ad breaks. It has been very educational'.

It has also taught him to understand what other presenters want from him as a contributor. 'I'm more relaxed. I know exactly what is required of me. Presenters want performing monkeys, not shrinking violets'.

That self-deprecating comment aside, he realises that his opinions carry the weight of his experience as a businessman and former politician who served in Government.

'Having been a politician, you do bring a different perspective. That has a cachet. I can talk about politics and business with the knowledge of experience'.

And he finds it difficult to be light-hearted about the deepening recession. 'In 21 years of business, the current difficulties are without precedent. There is no comparison with the last recession. In a year's time, every statistic in relation to the economy is going to be much worse.

'We are nowhere near recovery. The roof of the world as we know it is falling in. It is utterly grim. I'm not saying that for effect. I'm saying it as a scared, fearful employer of 300 people'.

Ivan doesn't have many hobbies apart from swimming five miles a week 'very slowly' in the Ashdown Park Hotel in Gorey to keep a back complaint in check.

'I live to work. I work seven days a week. I do my writing and my accounts on Saturday and Sunday. I enjoy working'.

However, he has dipped his toes into racing as an owner as well as a bookie in recent times, and had his reward on Sunday when his steed 'See You Bob', trained by Oylegate's Paul Nolan, won at Leopardstown in one of the tightest finishes seen at the track for a long, long time.

His four children now range in age from 21 down to 14 with the eldest, Andrew studying business in Swansea. Ciara (20) is in teachertraining college; Sarah (17) is doing her Leaving Cert this year in Newtown College in Waterford and John is in 2nd year in Kilkenny College.

'They're all costing me a fortune and giving me no economic return,' he joked, offering a perfect sound bite for the times that are in it.

Of his wife Deirdre who has supported him through his career transformations, he said - 'She is very long-suffering'.