Former IDA chief Barry O’Leary dies aged 71

BARRY O’Leary, a former chief executive of the IDA, has passed away in Dublin. He was 71.

r O’Leary headed the state’s foreign direct investment agency from 2008 to 2014, having taken over just as the global economy was headed into meltdown.

It proved to be a challenging time to take the helm, with Ireland’s own economy in freefall and its international reputation tarnished as it was rescued by a landmark bailout.

But under Mr O’Leary’s leadership, the IDA still managed to deliver record levels of foreign direct investment for Ireland.

A fluent German speaker, the executive trained as an industrial engineer and worked for companies including Nestle and Smurfit before joining the IDA in the late seventies.

He worked for the IDA in Germany from 1983 to 1991. He later ran the agency’s offices in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, with responsibility for Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy.

As chief executive of the IDA, he spearheaded a strategy that focused on clean technology and opened offices in Mumbai, Boston, Moscow and California.

And as Ireland remained mired in the fallout from the great financial crash, he and his team embarked on a global tour to meet the chief executives and other top brass of dozens of multinationals that had bases in Ireland, to reassure them that the country was still open for business.

He told the Committee of Public Accounts in 2009 he was concerned Ireland was being portrayed negatively in the press as it struggled to cope with the fallout of the crash.

“Foreign direct investment involves long-term relationship building with companies,” he said. “We might convince some companies to invest in Ireland three or four months after meeting them. For others, it could take 20 years.”

He added that the image of Ireland at the time was “making it somewhat more difficult in respect of the reception our people get”.

By the time he retired from the role in 2014, Ireland’s economic fortunes were already turning. By late 2013, it had exited its bailout programme.

After leaving the IDA, Mr O’Leary went on to hold a number of directorships. He joined the board of Zurich Insurance, as well as Oaktree’s Targeted Investment Opportunities and German construction management firm M+W Group.

Mr O’Leary passed away yesterday at Our Lady’s Hospice in Harorld’s Cross. He is survived by his wife Mairéad and sons Ciarán and Barry. He will be laid to rest on Tuesday next week.

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