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John Burns: Cash is no longer king when you pay for your NCT car test

Grant Thornton’s MVPs, RTÉ is to lose some Montrose land, women and engineering, Philip Lane and deposit rates, and James Morrissey’s new book

Cashless is king, with the National Car Testing Service becoming the latest to move towards prepaid ticketing. It may have good reasons for doing so, but the NCT operator didn’t help its cause with a somewhat flippant announcement. “We’re saying goodbye to cash!” it tweeted. “NCTS are going cashless over the coming months for your safety and convenience.”

A subsequent statement made it clear the move towards prepayment is more for the convenience of Applus, the company that runs the NCTS. It was prompted by a high level of no-shows, with about 2,500 people a week booking tests and not turning up, and a further 1,000 cancelling at the last minute. “The decision to move to 100 per cent prepayment is with our customers in mind and to provide them with a much-improved service in terms of availability of appointments,” the NCT operator said.

Is the Road Safety Authority, which has overall responsibility for the test, happy with the move, though? A spokesman told me: “The RSA would like to acknowledge that we are in ongoing discussions with the NCT Service as to the various payment alternatives and supporting processes that need to be implemented to ensure the needs of our customers are met.” Doesn’t sound like the idea is quite roadworthy yet.

Grant Thornton’s MVPs

Grant Thornton, the accounting and audit firm, thinks it has scored a touchdown with a new advertising campaign to highlight its sponsorship of Saturday’s American football match in Dublin. The firm has “reimagined” a dozen of its staff as “most valued players” and stuck them on large banners at Dublin Airport. “Meet our MVPs,” says its slogan, alongside photos of partners such as Martin Shanahan and Steve Tennant posing with footballs while Sinead Donovan, Stephen Murray and Nuala Crimmins are holding football helmets.


In a press release, managing partner Michael McAteer says: “Our MVP campaign aims to showcase the calibre of our bench at Grant Thornton and what we can offer to potential clients as they arrive on our shores.” Given that the “bench” is where the substitutes sit, we’re throwing a flag on the play and ruling that McAteer has fumbled the metaphor.

We asked Grant Thornton how other staff might feel about a dozen of their number being declared MVPs. Stressing that the ad campaign is intended as “a lighthearted play on well-known American sports terminology”, a spokesperson said the rationale for picking those 12 partners is that “they represent teams with a US-Ireland business focus across our audit, tax and advisory services”, adding: “Our people are our greatest asset and we are proud of the 2,800-strong team we have in Ireland.” All of whom are valued. But some of whom are more valued than others.

A tutorial from Philip Lane

Philip Lane, chief economist with the European Central Bank, says bank customers are “relearning” the difference between a current account and a savings account, something they forgot during the era of low interest rates. Back in the 1990s when he was a student, Lane recalls, people made an effort to get a higher interest rate for their savings. “They were saying, ‘Why would I leave money in my current account when I can get some interest in my saving account?’ And people have essentially, over the last year, relearned this; those who have enough money where it makes a difference.”

Speaking on an ECB podcast, Lane insists that banks have raised their rates on “time deposits” and are “not too far away, on average, to the ECB rate”. He admits this is not happening to the same degree in all European countries. “Banks will raise deposit rates more quickly if they face competitive pressure, and also if there is a big demand for loans,” he pointed out, studiously avoiding any mention of Ireland.

The public has to accept “that you can’t have it both ways”, he warned. “If you want instant access, you are not going to earn much, if any, interest. If you know you have the flexibility to put some of your money away for a year or two, then you are starting to see visible interest rates again.”

The broadcast was part 3 of an ECB Podcast Summer School miniseries in which Lane explained inflation and interest rates. For those who want to delve deeper, he recommended the book Can’t We Just Print More Money?: Economics in 10 Simple Questions” by two Bank of England economists – a “fantastic explainer of many of the concepts we’ve been talking about”. Sounds perfect for the beach.

BusConnects to buy Montrose land

RTÉ is often told to sell off its land at Montrose as a way of raising money, but now it is about to have some snatched away. The campus is alongside the new core bus corridor between Bray and Dublin city centre. The National Transport Authority is planning a compulsory purchase of several parcels of land along the 18.5km route, and has applied to An Bord Pleanála for approval. Four plots at Montrose, measuring about 358sq m, are designated.

When we asked RTÉ how it feels about losing the land, the station replied: “While RTÉ has sought a number of clarifications, we have no plans to challenge the plans for BusConnects.”

A spokesman for the NTA said that, as with other property owners along the bus corridor, engagement and discussion had taken place with representatives of RTÉ. And how much will it pay for the plots? “It isn’t possible to provide a definitive rate at this stage,” the NTA said. “The compensation payable in each case is very much dependent upon the specifics of the property particulars.” We doubt it’ll be enough to get RTÉ out of its financial difficulties though.

More women engineers, please

Dervilla Mitchell, the Dublin engineer who is deputy chairwoman of the design company Arup, got a shock when she first turned up to study civil engineering at UCD in the late 1970s. The daughter of architect Thomas Austin, who taught her technical drawing, she spent childhood summers barefoot on an island in Lough Ree, and “learned how to row the boat, catch fish and navigate the water”, Mitchell has told The Times of London. Her parents being keen on equality for their children, “we girls learned how to throw a rugby ball and one of my brothers studied ballet”.

Imagine her surprise, then, on turning up for an engineering class to find the UCD lecture hall full of lads. “There were just four women among 200 men,” she said. Mitchell, who was project director on the development of Abu Dhabi airport, as seen on Mission: Impossible, is herself on a mission – to get more women into the profession.

Engineers Ireland’s most recent barometer report, published in May, noted that just 18 per cent of engineering graduates were female. Meanwhile, 14 per cent of Engineers Ireland’s own members are women. The Central Statistics Office says that in the first quarter of this year there were 36,200 male engineers, and 7,500 female, 17 per cent of the total. A big improvement on the 1970s but still some distance to go.

Single-minded entrepreneur

The single-mindedness of Peter Queally, co-founder of Dawn Meats, was recalled by his son Liam in a eulogy at his funeral in Waterford on Tuesday. “His entrepreneurship was evident from a young age, breeding pedigree pigs and greyhounds even before he reached his teens,” said Liam, of a businessman who went on to establish one of Europe’s largest meat processors along with his brother John. Dawn Meats now employs 8,000 people in 12 countries, and has an annual revenue of more than €2 billion.

Recalling that his parents were married in 1965, Liam quipped that his mother Eileen “knew her fate early on, as they ended up buying a load of lambs on the first day of their honeymoon and had to ring John to come and collect them in Cahir mart the following day”.

Remembering Garech Browne

James Morrissey, a PR consultant whose clients include Denis O’Brien and the Riverdance duo of John McColgan and Moya Doherty, is also a prolific author who has penned well-received books on Fastnet Lighthouse and the island of Omey. Next month he’s producing Real to Reel: Garech Browne & Claddagh Records, a large-format hardback on the life of the Guinness heir and resident of Luggala, who did so much to preserve Ireland’s musical heritage. It started as a collaboration, but Morrissey completed the book himself after Browne’s death in 2018.

Accompanying it will be a vinyl LP with 17 remastered tracks from Claddagh’s back catalogue of recordings. Chaired by Morrissey, and revived by a recent licensing agreement with Universal Music Ireland, Claddagh Records has now drawn up a full inventory of its archive, which includes more than 60 boxes of material that were stored in the vaults of Bank of Ireland for decades.