The decision by Ornua to appoint the former secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Aidan O’Driscoll, to its board put The Dealer thinking over the New Year dinner.
Who else jumped the fence from farming’s pampered public sector to the rough and tumble of private industry?
O’Driscoll was certainly not the first Department heavy-hitter to tuck his sizeable pension under his oxter and dive into the food industry, The Dealer thought, as he wired into the carcase of the festive goose.
One of the first, of course, was James O’Mahony, who was general secretary of the Department from 1977 to 1988. His decision to join the board of Food Industries after leaving Kildare Street raised eyebrows.
Food Industries was controlled by Goodman International, you see. That was during the reign of Larry the Younger; before Saddam Hussein’s ill-fated 1990-91 tour of Kuwait brought despair, destruction and examinership.
However, O’Mahony’s bold decision created a lucrative precedent for the Department’s top brass. Indeed, he opened a door that a number of those who made it to the fourth floor of Agriculture House were only too happy to keep ajar.
Dowling also spent some of the Celtic Tiger’s glory years as head of agriculture with AIB
Michael Dowling was the next Department supremo to hop the hedge. The Kingdom native, who was head honcho at Agriculture from 1989 to 1997, shopped local by joining and chairing the board of Kerry Group.
Dowling also spent some of the Celtic Tiger’s glory years as head of agriculture with AIB. Ironically, had he stayed longer with AIB, he could have found himself back in the public sector, given that the Government was forced to bail out and nationalise the failed bank.
Another former general secretary who was unable to resist the lure of the private sector was Tom Moran.
Moran’s predecessor in agriculture’s hot seat, John Malone, has not been idle since departing Kildare Street
After an extended spell in the top job with the Department, Moran put his mastery of French to good use when he joined Elivia, the Dawn Meats company.
He also featured on the boards of Bord Bia and Kerry Group.
Moran’s predecessor in agriculture’s hot seat, John Malone, has not been idle since departing Kildare Street.
He chaired a number of farm sector policy initiatives, as well as taking board positions with Bord Bia, KBC bank, the Irish National Stud and Dairygold.
However, moving to the cut and thrust of the agri-sector’s private operators has not been the exclusive preserve of former secretary generals, or indeed of Department staff.
The one-time Kildare Street high flier Philip Carroll ploughed a new furrow when he left the Department for a senior role with Meat Industry Ireland. It was a similar story with Aidan Cotter.
The former Bord Bia CEO was appointed chair of a joint venture established by Fane Valley and Larry Goodman’s ABP to run the newly purchased Slaney Meats and ICM. Cotter took up his new role in 2017, after retiring from the State’s food marketing body earlier the same year.