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Ireland’s toymakers confident they can deliver this Christmas despite global disruptions

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While global supply chain problems, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have prompted retailers to warn of toy shortages this Christmas, local toymakers and inventors are confident that like Santa Claus, they will still be able to deliver for Ireland’s children this year.

“As seen on the Late Late Show,” is a phrase which resonates with all Irish people and rarely more so than in the immediate aftermath of the Toy Show, with the items that star on RTÉ’s annual extravaganza – the latest edition of which was broadcast on Friday night – most certainly in high demand.

John Dunne from Dublin knows first-hand the impact an appearance on the show can have, with his invention – effectively a 3-D version of noughts and crosses – once taking the world by storm after the briefest of appearances.

Speaking from his Rathfarnham home and toy factory, the 64-year-old first conceived of his toy when he was 18 and studying engineering. “I decided I was going to make a 3-D version and made a little frame and then played it with a friend and after winning all three games, I forgot all about it.”

The game ended up in his parents’ attic and only reappeared years later when his father was doing a clear out.

By that time, Dunne owned a small engineering factory and when he saw his game again, he and a colleague gave it another whirl.

“We played it every day for a month and thought it was a hell of a game. It was much deeper than noughts and crosses and trying to come up with ways to guarantee a win was impossible.”

Niamh Sherwin Barry, director of The Irish Fairy Door Company, alongside examples of her creation. Photograph: Andres Poveda
Niamh Sherwin Barry, director of The Irish Fairy Door Company, alongside examples of her creation. Photograph: Andres Poveda

It was 1990 and he decided to bring it to Hasbro’s Irish operation in Waterford. “The MD loved it and sent to his colleagues in England and they loved it. I was on a high but then they came back and said they were not going to run with it.”

Dunne was still convinced he was on to something so made the game himself. He managed to sell a batch to the Smyths Toys chain. “I was given a great space at the end of aisles but between October and November, we had hardly sold a unit there,” he says.

But because Smyths had taken it, the other toy shops as well as Tesco had placed orders. “Everyone kept asking me was it going to be on the Toy Show, so I contacted the show. I played the game with a researcher who loved it but said they weren’t going to go for it.”

He was not giving up. He hung around outside RTÉ and “bumped into” the then presenter Pat Kenny and gave the game to him, along with a note. “He took it, brought it home and played it with his children,” says Dunne.

The toy subsequently appeared on the Toy Show, albeit only for 30 seconds. It was enough. “The next day, my phone never stopped ringing everyone wanted to double their orders,” he says.

He sold 5,000 games that Christmas. Then Hasbro rang. They were back in the game. Hasbro then produced a version of the game, which sold two million units.

Dunne kept the rights to his original game and has been making it and selling it in small volumes ever since. “The product is made in Mullingar, we sell the game online and myself and my wife package them. I reckon we will sell 5,000 this Christmas.”

Niamh Sherwin Barry’s invention was a toy of chance too. She is the owner of the Irish Fairy Door Company and came up with the wildly successful idea while staying with her brother at his home in upstate New York eight years ago.

“Where he lived, there were shops selling loads of wooden stuff and we bought this little door that my son decided had a fairy living behind it,” she recalls. “He started writing to his fairy.”

When she got home, she made her son a fairy door and then the parent of one of his school friends called to house and asked for one too.“My husband was sitting on the couch with a glass of wine in his hand and he said immediately ‘we could make money out of this’,” she recalls.

They went into business with a couple they had been friendly with for years “and it took off. We were complete Celtic Tiger cubs and on our knees but this suddenly took off and grew wings.”

As well a fairy product might.

Since then, she says, she has “found over a million human homes for fairies. It has gone global. We have created something that will stay in the memory of children forever.

“Hopefully the children of today will pass it down to their children, it is something that will never leave their memory and that is something that we can be very proud of.”

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Taoiseach’s family shaped by their working-class roots

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As a special needs assistant at Bunscoil Chríost Rí in Turner’s Cross on the south side of Cork city, Mairéad Martin-Richmond is often asked how she manages financially.

Martin-Richmond, a 59-year-old separated mother of two grown-up children, is a sister of Taoiseach Micheál Martin and says her family’s working-class roots keep her grounded.

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Hines invests in industrial portfolio in Northern Italy

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Hines has reached a binding agreement for an off-market investment to acquire 20 logistics assets located between Emilia Romagna and Lombardy through the Italian fund HEVF II Italy managed by Prelios SGR on behalf of the Hines European Value Fund 2 (HEVF 2). The transaction involves the acquisition of the real estate portfolio from four different selling companies and the simultaneous 15-year lease of the same portfolio to Snatt Logistica Group, a leader in the third-party logistics (3PL) sector focusing exclusively on the fashion industry. The portfolio of 20 logistics assets provides a total of 200,000m² of logistics space around Milan, Parma, Reggio Emilia, and Bologna. They are strategic, well-established logistic centres that enjoy effective, rapid connections with Italy’s main cities and the rest of Europe.

 

“We are pleased to start 2022 with an important investment in the logistics sector that consolidates our presence in the main intersections in Northern Italy. At Hines, we believe in the potential of the logistics sector in Italy and have set an investment target of around €1bn in 2022,” commented Mario Abbadessa, senior managing director & country head of Hines Italy. “We are proud to collaborate with Snatt Logistica Group, which is an international 3PL logistics leader in the luxury fashion industry, and we are certain that we will be able to develop a shared path for growth, guided by common values, including ESG, which is key to our DNA.”

 

Paul White, senior managing director and fund manager for HEVF 2 at Hines, said: “This is an attractive portfolio of assets with a strong, innovative tenant at the forefront of Italy’s fast-growing third-party logistics sector for the fashion industry. We believe that e-commerce will continue to drive long-term demand for high-quality logistics facilities in Italy’s northern cities, pushing the value of these investments forwards, while there is also a significant opportunity to enhance the sustainability performance of existing assets here. This is aligned with our ESG objectives as recognised by GRESB, with HEVF 2 achieving the award of Overall Global Sector Leader in the Diversified Office/Retail category for sustainability performance in 2021.”

 

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Latest Coveney gaffe shows new knack of ‘making small problems big’

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“Don’t mind your press releases,” a Fine Gael source was told by a more experienced hand on their first day in Leinster House; “If you want something out there, just say it in the PP [parliamentary party meeting].”

It’s a truism of Irish politics that these meetings – especially those of the two larger Government parties – leak like the proverbial sieve. This got worse during Covid, when virtual meetings meant members were unencumbered by the need to even appear interested, and journalists were freely briefed in real time. The content of the meeting, coupled with the observations of parliamentarians – arch, knowing, and unfiltered – populated twitter streams and news copy.

So, when Simon Coveney’s remarks about his surprise at the meeting between the Russian ambassador to Ireland and the head of the defence forces were promptly headline news, it can’t have been too much of a shock. “He knows he’s speaking at the leakiest meeting in Leinster House,” observed a source present.

Still, some in the room thought when Michael Creed raised the issue, Coveney would just “warble on like you normally do”. Instead, after a gap of several minutes while other questions were fielded, the Minister for Defence bit down. He said he was “surprised to put it mildly”, several sources present said, and questioned the judgement of it.

Afterwards, sources close to Coveney quickly asserted the Minister meant the tweet from the Russians, and the accompanying picture, were the issue, not the meeting. But multiple sources at the parliamentary party interpreted it as referring to the meeting, and what’s more, as a direct rebuke to the chief of staff. “The tone I got was he was f***ing livid,” said one source.

Either way, the remark was leaked, it was controversial, and early the next morning, Coveney was mending fences in the Dáil, expressing confidence in Clancy and contrition for having brought him into the line of political fire.

A kind interpretation, offered by some at the meeting, is that he feels honour-bound to respond fully to questions from parliamentary colleagues. There is likely truth to that. But equally, many believe he would have known his comments would have been controversial, open to interpretation as a rebuke to the head of the Defence Forces, and that it was meant as a shot across the bows.

Others postulate that – perhaps more worryingly – he didn’t detect the political risk inherent in the remarks, which the Opposition would say had undermined the Chief of Staff . “Simon should have known this was going to result in public comment,” said another person there.

That, in truth is the bigger concern – that Coveney’s bad run of form is down to a blunted political dexterity. “You’d know by the way he said it he wasn’t trying to cause controversy,” one colleague said – adding that it was, however, evidence of Coveney’s new knack of “making small problems into big ones”.

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