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The business of business never an exact science in the Pravince

PHOTOCALL: Invest NI CEO Alastair Hamilton, First Minister Arlene Foster, Tullett Prebo Group CIO Luke Barnett, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness  and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton at the jobs announcement PHOTOCALL: Invest NI CEO Alastair Hamilton, First Minister Arlene Foster, Tullett Prebo Group CIO Luke Barnett, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton at the jobs announcement
By Squinter

THE news that 300 new jobs are to be created in Belfast by London-based brokerage firm Tullett Prebon was released amidst much fanfare by the First and deputy First Ministers at a photocall at Invest NI headquarters on Tuesday.

The local hacks who pound the business beat were suitably impressed and a slew of print and broadcast stories duly emerged informing us excitedly of the impeccable credentials of the firm and assuring us that those lucky enough to secure one of the posts would be on an average annual salary of £33,000. And in the part of Her Majesty’s United Kingdom with by far the lowest disposable income, that’s not to be sneezed at – and indeed violent nasal emissions were entirely absent from the coverage. Let’s hope all’s well that ends well and the fortunate 300 have long and happy careers with the company, which will go on to open even more offices and employ even more people at suitably rewarding rates. But the uncritical, not to say fawning, coverage was another example of how business and finance journalists in the north have never been feared by the great and the good. A story…

Squinter took a trip abroad some years back with a posse of other journalists. Or, since we’re in pursuit of truth in the news in this piece, perhaps he should amend that and say, Squinter was on a beano abroad with a posse of other journalists. And since the company that financed the trip was involved in the world of finance, around half of the hacks present were business and finance correspondents, most of them from Dublin.

They were a hardened lot, the Dub bizz corrs. They knew that the trip was a junket and they also knew that they would get zero access to anyone of sufficient import to give them anything other than the company line, and so they took every opportunity to enjoy the lavish hospitality laid on by the host.

Squinter enjoyed their company immensely – as the booze flowed and the bonhomie rose, they regaled him with a stream of ever more defamatory and unprintable stories about the titans of the business world in dirty, dodgy Dublin. Not being a financial or business specialist, Squinter was unable to respond in kind and instead made his contribution to a memorably convivial evening by way of a story about a Free Presbyterian elder and an Andytown shebeen and a beery rendition of The Foggy Dew.

The Dubs were cheerfully contemptuous of their Belfast counterparts. They pointed out that the business and personal affairs of every major financial player in the capital are analysed forensically and ruthlessly week in and week out by a voracious business media, not in every instance according to the facts, but always according to the wishes of their various bosses.
Contrast that, they added, to Belfast, where not only are the movers and shakers of the business world not subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny, their very identities are as widely known as the Third Secret of Fatima.

They were right, of course. Still are, as a matter of fact. Google ‘Northern Ireland’s richest’ and you’ll get a Hello! magazine hotch-potch of reheated stats from the Sunday Times and the Irish Independent’s annual lists showing Rory McIlroy to be just behind Liam Neeson, or Roma Downey closing quickly in on the now sadly deceased Lord Ballyedmond. But who are the Belfast business barons? Who’s building what? Who’s connected to where? Who run the newspapers? Who control the radio stations? What other irons might they have in the fire? Who’s eating where? Who’s pals with whom? All of these questions are endlessly, robustly and irreverently asked in the southern press – up here it’s all Stormont press releases and agency-supplied smiley pictures.

The recent Nama controversy gave us a peek into the workings of the Noel ’n’ Alan golden circle, but that brief parting of the curtain has only served to emphasise how much we don’t know, how much we’re not being told. And of course we’ll do well to remember that the spark for that brief conflagration was supplied not by the mainstream media, but by curious bloggers and amateur keyboard sleuths.

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