U2, through the El­e­va­tion Part­ners in­vest­ment group Bono had co-founded, spent $86m on a 2.3pc share of the so­cial me­dia site. Six years later, they cashed in their share for an eye-wa­ter­ing $1.4bn

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - U2 SKY­SCRAPER Great and good: Man­dela and Bono in 2002

is the Dublin-based food-tech start-up, Nu­ri­tas, and U2 have in­vested in this firm whose USP is us­ing big data tech­niques to dis­cover pep­tides — mol­e­cules in food and food by-prod­ucts — that can be used by the life sciences sec­tor in sup­ple­ments and new drugs.

But U2’s ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties have not al­ways been a suc­cess. They may well rue their in­volve­ment with the Spi­der-Man Broad­way ex­trav­a­ganza, once de­scribed by The New York Times as “the worst mu­si­cal ever”. The project was be­set with prob­lems, mishaps and de­lays and wound up cost­ing $75m to stage. It’s not thought to have re­couped that amount in a three-year run be­tween 2011 and 2014.

There was even worse luck for The Mil­lion Dol­lar Ho­tel movie. Based on a story by Bono, who was also a co-pro­ducer, the 2000 film di­rected by oc­ca­sional U2 col­lab­o­ra­tor Wim Wen­ders, bombed at the box of­fice and was crit­i­cally mauled.

And while U2 showed re­mark­able acu­men for the machi­na­tions of the mu­sic busi­ness in the early 1980s, they weren’t with­out their trou­bles on the in­vest­ment front that decade ei­ther. To­gether with then man­ager Paul McGuin­ness, they in­vested heav­ily in the laser-gun game Quasar, but it never caught on. And af­ter plough­ing money into venues in Ger­many, they dis­cov­ered that games fea­tur­ing replica guns were banned there.

They’ve had mixed for­tunes with other in­vest­ments. Bono and the Edge, along with prop­erty de­vel­op­ers Paddy McKillen and Derek Quin­lan, pur­chased the Clarence Ho­tel in the heart of Dublin in 1992. It was, Bono once quipped, one of the few places that would serve the band al­co­hol as fresh-faced kids in the late 1970s, and for much of the 90s it and its base­ment night­club, The Kitchen, were the epi­cen­tre of cool Dublin.

Hav­ing come through the re­ces­sion, the fourstar ho­tel has posted prof­its for the past seven years, in­clud­ing €500,000 for the last cal­en­dar year, but some be­lieve its ca­pac­ity to make a far greater re­turn is stymied by its com­par­a­tively small size. An am­bi­tious plan to add sev­eral storeys were drawn up by the star ar­chi­tect, Nor­man Foster, more than a decade ago, but went aground dur­ing the down­turn.

Foster was also com­mis­sioned to de­sign what would have be­come the spec­tac­u­lar U2 Tower sky­scraper across the Lif­fey from what’s now the 3Arena. A plush 32-storey de­vel­op­ment fea­tur­ing high-end apart­ments, it would have housed U2’s stu­dio at pen­t­house level, but it, too, fell foul of the re­ces­sion. A far more mod­est de­vel­op­ment, Cap­i­tal Dock, is un­der con­struc­tion at that lo­ca­tion to­day, al­though it will have the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the coun­try’s tallest build­ing when com­plete next year.

The band con­tinue to record much of their mu­sic in the Hanover Quay stu­dio, in the cen­tre of what’s now thought of as Sil­i­con Docks. Airbnb’s Euro­pean head­quar­ters is a neigh­bour and the Face­book and Google build­ings are lo­cated close-by. The pur­chase of their stu­dio has not been with­out con­tro­versy. In 2013, it was sold

Bono is in the news be­cause his tax af­fairs, while le­gal, seem to fall be­low the high moral ground he es­pouses in re­la­tion to a mul­ti­plic­ity of other is­sues.

So does the fact that he (or rather his peo­ple) make shrewd busi­ness de­ci­sions, ex­ploit loop­holes and pay less tax than they might do oth­er­wise make him a hyp­ocrite? Maybe. So why is it so easy to slag him off and take de­light in his feet of clay?

Ge­orge Bernard Shaw once re­marked that cler­gy­men had to be pro­fes­sional hyp­ocrites — the ideals they pro­fess are hard to sus­tain in prac­tice. How­ever, what in­vites crit­i­cism is not hon­est fail­ure or strug­gle to meet ideals, but a holierthan-thou at­ti­tude that masks the re­al­ity of the in­evitably flawed per­son be­hind the ideals. Con­trast the fig­ure of Bishop Bren­nan in Fa­ther Ted, the larger-than-life ob­nox­ious prelate frol­ick­ing on the beach in his home video, with the priest played by Bren­dan Glee­son in Cal­vary, who bat­tled with his demons while try­ing to speak for some kind of moral­ity and truth.

Which of these is closer to Bono? I don’t know, since I don’t know the man. But he is high pro­file, he does es­pouse high ideals, some­times comes across as holierthan-thou and he seems now to be caught out in a man­ner that doesn’t fit with those ideals, like Bishop Bren­nan. I sup­pose what’s ob­nox­ious about the char­ac­ter of Bishop Bren­nan is his op­pres­sive man­ner, his con­tempt for those about him. There doesn’t seem to be much of this in Bono. What is there is a gen­uine earnest­ness, a de­sire to speak about mat­ters of im­por­tance like cli­mate change and global poverty. He uses his su­per­star pro­file to high­light these is­sues, which can only be a good thing. So does that let him off the hook about pay­ing tax?

Fig­ur­ing out what’s wrong with hypocrisy would help with this. Hyp­ocrites es­pouse some value or other and fail to live up to it. What’s ex­actly wrong with that? In one ob­vi­ous sense there’s a con­tra­dic­tion, stat­ing pub­licly and living not pri­vately. How­ever, the Ge­orge Bernard Shaw re­mark draws at­ten­tion to the fact that it’s hard to do this. Ev­ery­one has some flaws and may fail to live up to their ideals. So maybe it’s a mat­ter of de­gree, the ex­tent of the gap be­tween pub­lic ut­ter­ance and pri­vate prac­tice.

Maybe there’s also a hi­er­ar­chy of crimes and mis­de­meanours. In the cur­rent slew of ex­po­sures of bul­ly­ing and sex­ual abuse al­le­ga­tions, fast busi­ness deal­ings seem lower down the scale of prob­lems. Why so? Well there isn’t di­rect in­ten­tion to harm, it’s ar­guably self-in­ter­ested but un­like the kind of dam­age in­flicted by abusers. How­ever, this be­gins to look like a banker’s de­fence. “I didn’t hurt any­one di­rectly,” even if the econ­omy tum­bled, aus­ter­ity kicked in, the hous­ing mar­ket went hay­wire and thou­sands have nowhere to live. That clearly rings hol­low. Yet ev­ery­one is im­pli­cated in the global mar­ket. Buying cheap high-street cloth­ing im­pli­cates you in sweat­shop per­pet­u­a­tion in Asia. Is it per­mis­si­ble to en­joy a nice meal out while peo­ple starve, or are home­less?

So how do we nav­i­gate in this moral morass? What prin­ci­ples might help fig­ure out what’s eth­i­cal, what’s de­cent? The great eth­i­cal heroes of the past — Aris­to­tle, Hume, Kant, Mill of­fered dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to living well. De­velop a char­ac­ter which helps you to flour­ish. Cul­ti­vate a sense of em­pa­thy with oth­ers. Act so that any other ra­tio­nal per­son in the same sit­u­a­tion would do the same. Seek the great­est good of the great­est num­ber. Each one of these views has a lot go­ing for it and also a great deal of prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with it. So what should Bono do?

I cer­tainly think he should con­tinue to use his po­si­tion to ad­vo­cate good causes, and the ones he es­pouses have a lot to do with try­ing to make the world bet­ter for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The fact that he’s su­per-rich might take from this. I sup­pose one of the rea­sons peo­ple ad­mire the Dalai Lama is due to his sim­ple life­style and per­sonal charm, which adds force to his words. Yet one of his dis­ci­ples in now em­broiled in a mil­lion-dol­lar scan­dal, and his back­ground in the Po­tala palace in Lhasa is far from that of a sim­ple monk. It’s hard to find icons with­out feet of clay.

One el­e­ment in Bud­dhist ethics is to bring one­self into any sit­u­a­tion. As we make moral judg­ments on oth­ers, we also eval­u­ate our­selves. As we ac­cuse Bono of hypocrisy, we can check out our­selves. How scrupu­lous have our tax af­fairs been, how many short­cuts have we taken? If we’re happy about our fi­nan­cial pro­bity then, how com­pas­sion­ate have we been to oth­ers? Or do we think of our­selves as morally su­pe­rior and smugly revel in that? So I don’t have a clear judg­ment on Bono’s tax af­fairs. I ad­mire his pub­lic ut­ter­ances and I need to put my own house in or­der. If I don’t like the tax regime which lets him do this, I need to vote in politi­cians who will change it.

Paul O’Grady is Head of Depart­ment at the Depart­ment of Phi­los­o­phy in Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin

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