Padraig O hUiginn

' Former Secretary General Department of the Taoiseach 1982-1993 '



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Padraig O hUiginn

The following extracts are from 'The Making Of The Celtic Tiger : The Inside Story of Ireland's Boom Economy' by Ray Mac Sharry and Padraic White.

''Padraig O hUiginn, as chairman of the National Economic and social council (NESC), was the common denominator. As the key figure behind The Way Forward in 1982, he was in 1986 once more one of the prime movers behind the NESC document, which was to prove one of the most important economic reports of the 1980s. Its significance lay not just in its stark analysis of the economic problems facing the country, but in the fact that the NESC members were also ready to support the report's tough recommendations in tackling them. So those central to the solution - employers, unions, farmers and others - not only had diagnosed the problem but had prescribed the remedy. That was exceptional''- page 42-43

''...and the NESC Chairman, Padraig O hUiginn. He was a key figure who later succeeded Dr Noel Whelan as chairman of the group drawing up the plan, midway through its work O hUiginn enjoyed the confidence of both the Department of Finance and Charles Haughey and a major part of his contribution lay in convincing the Taoiseach that the economic strategy proposed was the right one. In October, it was published as The Way Forward and had a central aim, phasing out the current budget deficit by 1986. But by then, it was too late. Instead, the plan became a major part of the Fianna Fail manifesto in the November election.''-page 54-55

''A common factor in the documents was Padraig O hUiginn. He had been chiefly responsible for persuading the then government to adopt The Way Forward. And when he was appointed Chairman of the NESC in early 1985, he recognised the urgency of addressing the steady deterioration in the public finances''- page 124

''During the interregnum, after the February 1987 election and before the formation of the new government, Charles Haughey as Fianna Fail leader had been fully briefed by O hUiginn, as NESC Chairman. O hUiginn assured Haughey the trade union endorsement of NESC was a real commitment and not just empty rhetoric. And he told the Taoiseach he was confident he could deliver the essence of the NESC report, recast as a comprehensive new centralised agreement negotiated between the social partners. However, Padraig O hUiginn set one condition. He wanted greater operational freedom in that role. He was willing to become involved in negotiations on the proposed new programme only if he could report directly to the Taoiseach and myself as Finance Minister and take instructions from us.''- page 126

''The employers knew that the consensus reached on the NESC report had helped establish a new realism on all sides. Even if the unions tried to break their commitment, as some employers had feared, they would pay a price. Padraig O hUiginn had made this clear to the employers, by way of reassurance. For a start, he explained, if they failed to keep their side of the bargain they risked losing the tax relief that was spread over the three-year life of the Programme. Although that threat might prove hard for the government to implement, it nevertheless indicated our seriousness on the matter. We wanted to ensure that tax cuts - designed to boost small increases in gross pay - would follow pay restraint, and not precede it. In these circumstances, the downside risk for employers was minimal, and their continuing reservations were overcome. And so they signed up.''-page 127

''In mid-September 1987, I had a telephone call from Padraig O hUiginn in the Taoiseach's office. He told me that the Cabinet had decided to set up a Government Representative Group to market the IFSC at the highest levels internationally''- page 338

''There had been no prior consultation. There was a widespread feeling among staff that the government decision was a kick in the teeth for the IDA. O hUiginn, who proposed the idea to the Taoiseach, believed that the financial services were very different from the IDA's traditional areas of expertise and needed the Central Bank imprimatur the former Governor provided.''- page 339

''The success of the financial-services initiative stemmed from the powerful support lent both by the office of the Taoiseach and the central IFSC Committee, under the Chairmanship of Padraig O hUiginn, from 1987 to 1993. The strong degree of commitment from the top was felt throughout all the agencies of government. But, predictably, that sense of urgency and responsiveness diminished over time and was replaced by a more normal bureaucratic regime. O hUiginn's successor as Secretary to the Department of the Taoiseach was Paddy Teahon.''- page 353



The following are extracts from 'How Ireland Landed golf's biggest showpiece The Ryder Cup' By Dermot Gilleece.

Shortly before it was officially announced at Valderrama that Ireland was to play host to the Ryder cup in 2005, a European Tour official called me aside and asked if I could write the name of Padraig O hUiginn for him. The Gaelic spelling of Higgins posed understandable difficulties for an Englishman and the world tour weren't about to insult a man whom they viewed as having been central to the Irish bid.- page 46

A measure of O hUiginn's administrative expertise and negotiating skills was the manner in which he succeeded in furthering the cause of Irish golf through three different Governments. The first of these was a Fianna Fail led administration which came into office in March 1987; then there was the so-called Rainbow Coalition, led by John Bruton's Fine Gael party in January 1993 and this was followed by another Fianna Fail administration in June 1997, when Bertie Ahern became Taoiseach. Of particular significance was that the last of these three Governments actually came to power only two months before the Ryder Cup announcement at Valderrama in September 1997.

"From a promotional perspective, our one tournament was clearly good, insofar as we were getting four days' coverage from the BBC," he said. "But I thought we should get editorial control of the film, particularly the highlights. With that in mind, I started to make a contribution to the event, as chairman of Bord Failte. At first, we gave about £200,000 to the Irish Open. That, in turn, opened the door to contact being established with the European Tour, through Ken Schofield. Our officials went over and met him and his officials.
"A condition of putting up the money was that we would get an input into the commentary. This allowed us to provide speaking notes to the commentator on promoting Ireland. And on the highlights' film, we could intercut footage of what Ireland had to offer in golf. Once the Tour saw we were interested, they approached us with a view to supporting another tournament. And when I put this to Charlie McCreevy, he agreed. Our contribution this time was £250,000, which became instrumental in the launching of the Smurfit European Open. Now we had two tournaments.
"It meant we also had another film promoting Ireland abroad and again, we had editorial input. Thirdly, we did the Seniors Open (AIB Irish Seniors Open) and in between we did the Irish Ladies Open. This was all part of a policy I had formulated, distinguishing between marketing and salesmanship in our attempt at getting more people to book golfing holidays in this country. At one stage we were supporting four European Tour events - the Irish Open, the European Open, the Double-badge (North West of Ireland Open) and the Irish Seniors Open. And we had the Ladies Open. And the Ladies World Cup. All the while, there was an awareness that, wherever possible, these events should travel around the country."
Given the clear, precise manner in which he outlined these details, there seemed little chance of O hUiginn's views being disputed by contemporaries. Schofield certainly had no difficulty in agreeing with his account of those critical days in the development of tournament golf in this country. 
"Those were heady days. All the things that Padraig had helped to stimulate were now there for all to see. It was also a time when respective Ministers like Enda Kenny and Charlie McCreevy were meeting us and talking about the possibilities of getting the Ryder Cup. And I have to say that our perception in dealing with Government Ministers was that they were effectively operating like chief executives of Ireland Inc. That made all the negotiations very much easier.
"I should also point out that Mark Mortell, in his capacity as chairman of Bord Failte, was an excellent person, a man of substance. He looked after the detail where O hUiginn made the decisions, having been given the power to do so on behalf of the Government, which was totally helpful. There was belief that the Ryder Cup in Spain, the first 'double-language' staging of the event, would be hugely successful and having had that success, the Spaniards would want it again. My recollection is that the deal was finalised by O hUiginn because of his astuteness, doggedness and intuition."
Schofield then said: "A few weeks before the '97 Ryder Cup, Padraig reached me in my bedroom during the British Masters at the Forest of Arden. That was when he met the kind of ball-park numbers that we considered to be fair and reasonable. In the process, he effectively took any other challengers out of the race.-page 52-54



Meanwhile, in the view of O hUiginn, the most significant political development in the context of ultimate success was when McCreevy came back into Government as Minister for Finance. "I informed him that I believed sport was an ideal way to sell Ireland," he said. "The result was that I got £5 million a year for five years for sports tourism, which was used for all kinds of events, including golf''. -page 54



"It was a genuine difficulty for us, going to the Department and Minister for Finance for the sort of money that was being talked about. When I discussed the matter with the Minister for Finance, he agreed with me and, in answer to an approach from the European Tour, he said the same thing to them.
"Eventually, we came up with what became the final figure of £7.5 million (punts). I thought this was a reasonable figure spread over seven or possibly eight years. When I went again to Minister McCreevy to explain the situation, he asked how much I wanted. My response was: 'Would you be prepared to give us £4 million?' His answer was: 'Yes.'

"So, I reported this back to Jim McDaid with the rider that we would have to find £3.5 million from other sources. I then went to Smurfits, Waterford Crystal and Aer Lingus and asked each of them for £1.5 million. They all agreed. And when the Minister and I went to Valderrama to announce the agreement, we had those three on board. 
"When we announced it, we deliberately stayed out of the issue of where it would be held. Though we were aware that a number of courses were interested in staging the event, we considered that the precise venue should not be a concern of the Government or Bord Failte. We could not be seen to have a favourite. Indeed I remember telling the Minister that our job was to bring the event to Ireland. After that, commercial bidders would come in. 
"We remained completely neutral even though I always suspected that it was going to be very hard to beat the Smurfit organisation, given the quality of their course and the fact that they had a share in the European Open. Interestingly, Michael Smurfit came to us and said that if he got the Ryder Cup at The K Club, it would involve very big expense. So he couldn't afford the additional expense of being one of the three commercial supporters. 
"This left us temporarily stuck, but fortunately we got AIB on board to take Smurfit's place. Further problems arose when Aer Lingus got into difficulties and felt they had no option other than to drop their share of the sponsorship. We spoke to them and suggested that the European Tour would be prepared to forego payments until Aer Lingus had got out of their present difficulties. That they could pay it all at the end. To be honest, it seemed like a good deal to us, but they said no. Which I have to say was a big worry for us." 
"Regrettable but necessary," was how an Aer Lingus spokesman described the decision to scrap their Ryder Cup involvement on November 9th, 2001. By that stage, the state airline had already paid over roughly half of their financial commitment of £1.1 million to the tournament. But withdrawal would save the company a further £600,000 in repayments and considerably more in terms of their projected spend between then and 2006. 
A major promotional campaign at a cost of about £2 million, was envisaged, right up to the event itself. The decision also had an impact on the European Open to which Aer Lingus contributed £50,000 per year, along with an additional £10,000 in travel vouchers as a prize to the leading Irish professional in the event. "In all cases, we believe we got value for money," the spokesman concluded. 
With a view to filling the gap left by Aer Lingus, an approach was made to Philip Lynch, chairman of Bord Bia (1995 to 2005) who had been very much involved with ó hUiginn in the Irish Golf Trust, to which the board contributed. Lynch brought the proposal to his board, who agreed that the sponsorship would be a natural fit for Bord Bia in terms of targeting key export markets such as the UK and the US. So it was that the decision was taken to transfer the sponsorship to Bord Bia, effective from November 2001. With that, Bord Bia officially became one of the Ryder Cup partner sponsors.
Meanwhile, as part of the annual payments, Bord Failte and the partner sponsors would be granted publicity at all qualifying events, with signage on every course. Given the obvious expense involved in such an undertaking, however, they considered it more prudent to choose the larger, more accessible tournaments for an actual presence, though the current Ryder Cup table would be publicised at every qualifying event. On top of that, there were deals about Ryder Cup tickets and so on. These sort of details were handled by Bord Failte while there were other deals on merchandising.
"When it was all agreed, I thought it was a fantastic deal," enthused O hUiginn. "Even more so now, when you look at what Wales are paying." (In the aftermath of the 2002 staging at The Belfry, Michael Smurfit estimated it would cost £stg 50 million to get the Ryder Cup to this country at the values of that time). O hUiginn continued: "From an Irish perspective, the 1997 staging at Valderrama was not as big as we ultimately imagined it could be. The important thing for us was that the potential was clearly there. And when placed in the context of the going rate at that time, I believe we did very well at £7.5 million. All the publicity and the fact that the State was carrying only £4 million of the overall outlay."

Was there a sense of achievement at landing such a cherished prize? "Oh yes," he replied, unhesitatingly. "We were hugely gratified at having clinched the deal and my feeling was that we got it because we were great supporters of the European Tour in Ireland. (American Express were also committed to a 2002 staging at Mount Juliet). Our strategy clearly paid dividends."-page 56-58

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