ON A rare joint appearance on radio with Screen Ireland (SI) chair Annie Doona, the agency’s outgoing chief executive, James Hickey, told RTÉ that his keenest interest in the film business was working with “talent”. It’s the kind of luvvie answer that the affable Hickey excels at, finessing away the annual €120m public cost of the movie business here.
Hickey’s departure after eight years (next June) was announced earlier this month. He noted that his contract extension in 2016 allowed him to “complete certain tasks”. These include the finalisation and initial implementation of what became the Olsberg SPI with Nordicity Report, published in June 2018.
Goldhawk fans will know that the report was commissioned by then minister Heather Humphreys in November 2016, not by SI (then the Irish Film Board).
It is odd that Hickey should talk up the finalisation of the Olsberg/Nordicity report. SI has not publicly responded to a subsequent funding review produced by the Department of Finance and the Revenue Commissioners that came up with a presumably more realistic summation of actual film industry job numbers and economic outturns than that contained in the Olsberg/Nordicity report.
Ireland’s pre-eminent entertainment lawyer before he joined the IFB, Hickey has long been at the nexus of the arts and public money – beginning at the Project Theatre and then as legal guru, ending up in Matheson Ormsby Prentice (MOP). He also landed on the Abbey Theatre board, worked with Noel Pearson in his My Left Foot and Dancing At Lughnasa heyday, and helped to set up companies like James Flynn’s Octagon and Ed Guiney’s first outfit, Temple Films. Jimbo also sat on the IMRO board and was Screen Producers Ireland’s lead negotiator (and tormentor) with RTÉ.
At MOP, Hickey managed the firm’s lucrative Section 481 fund management arrangements with Anglo Irish Bank and his move to the SI top job coincided with the winding up of Anglo in the wake of the bailout.
The recruitment campaign for Hickey’s replacement has already been launched, with the ubiquitous Merc consultants getting the gig. The new chief executive could come from existing staff – who include the likes of Lesley McKimm – or indeed the SI board – where candidates could include Katie Holly and Marian Quinn.
If the appointee is indeed a woman, it would push the female contingent at SI above 90%. Given that all the top arts jobs filled in 2018 went to women (including Imma, the Heritage Council, the Irish Heritage Trust, the Crawford Art Gallery, the National Museum of Ireland, the Hunt Museum and Kilkenny Arts Festival), any other outcome would be a real surprise ending.