“The smiling Irish businessman? He’s ruthless – that’s the hardest part, he’ll take everything you’ve got,’ says CNN’s Richard Quest
Sometimes it takes a stranger to deliver home truths, and CNN business correspondent Richard Quest doesn’t hold back when asked for his verdict on how Ireland is faring post-pandemic.
The Liverpool-born, New York-based presenter was in Dublin last week to report on Ireland as a tourist destination for his travel show, The wonderful world of Quest.
He was also reporting on the Irish economy for his best-known CNN show, Quest equals businesswhich regularly attracts big names like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wall Street titan Jamie Dimon.
First the good news. Quest says Ireland is friendlier than it was before Covid. The quality of our food is ‘phenomenal’ and we are ‘on par’ with New York and London for cost of living – ‘although by local standards it is probably getting expensive’.
And the bad news?
“Frankly?” he says. “Some places look shabby. I was thinking that in Cork. loved the [English] market, but the buildings look tired from downtown.
Quest is a big fan of Dublin, but the city does not escape his critical gaze. “Put on my business hat for a moment, a city with the grandeur and culture of Dublin needs more than what we see in Silicon Docks,” he says.
He looks out of his hotel window at the emblematic buildings of the capital’s seafront: “Yes, it’s shiny and new. This is where everything happens, it is the source of income for the country. But, in fact, you need more in a city.
“Go down to the Arrow, what do you see? Shops closed. This is not unique to Dublin. And it’s not just the urban scourge, it’s the result of the pandemic.
“Businesses have closed. In London and New York I see the same thing, but there new businesses are opening up. I don’t know how long it’s going to take to get to Ireland.
Quest enjoyed a full Irish meal at Bewley’s on Grafton Street and used its sausages and slices to illustrate to its viewers how Ireland has attracted big multinational players and ‘cleaned up’ corporation tax.
“It worked. When the OECD took away the tax benefits, people wanted to be here anyway, because everyone was there,” he says.
“But now, what is the risk for Ireland to keep the ecosystem alive? The risk – and it’s a big risk – is that you can’t maintain the talent pool. If people can’t find accommodation, they won’t come.
Will remote working change the face of Irish cities? “No,” Quest said. “The offices will be back five days a week.
“Old jerks like me can talk to other senior colleagues on the phone, but Gen Z wants to meet people in the office. What people really want is flexibility. My husband wants to work on the beach sometimes during the summer and that’s fine, as long as the desktop is the default.
“Unfortunately, the nature of Gen Z is that they want flexibility on their own terms. They completely forget that it’s not really their business.
Over a 30-year career, Quest has interviewed Irish business heavyweights.
Oddly, when I throw out the names Denis O’Brien and Dermot Desmond, he hasn’t heard of either of them.
The “Irish aviation mafia” however exerts a fascination on him.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is a ‘genius’ and Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary is ‘barking, but brilliant’ with a ‘heart of gold’ to boot. “He just doesn’t want anyone to know.”
Quest has, however, witnessed a ‘toughness’ among successful Irish businessmen abroad.
“They all have this great Irish charm and then throughout the course there is a streak of Irish granite through their hearts,” he says.
“You see it over and over again.
“It’s the Famine, it’s the hunger for land, it’s the North-South policy. It generated hardness among the Irish.
“Everyone – especially the Americans – thinks they succeed because they are flexible and warm. Not even a little. The Irish are the toughest.
“They are ruthless. They trash you, take everything you have, then smile and make you a cup of tea on the way out.