Archive for December 31st, 2012

In anticipation of there being sore heads aplenty tomorrow, this is an undemanding review of 2012 in pictures, courtesy of Japlandic who has or have been generous with their time in 2012 in improving the way messages are communicated. Here are 12 of the best which have helped chronicle the year’s events on here, together with Japlandic’s own comments in italics and square brackets about the images they created.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan predicted that the Irish economy would take off “like a rocket” once the EuroZone crisis had abated and our strong export-orientated businesses recovered. We wait in hope for that recovery, but meanwhile the domestic economy continues to bump along the bottom, and President Clinton characterized the mortgage crisis as the greatest economic challenge facing the country, and as Japlandic’s graphic shows above, mortgage arrears have already taken off like a rocket.

[Michael Noonan, Minister of Finance, in March 2012 said the Irish economy will “take off like a rocket” if the world economy improved. That type of foresight required ignoring the massive leaking of jet fuel evidenced in mortgage arrears being reported by the Central Bank.

Unfortunately for the Minister of Finance, the only numbers heading for the moon, in August of that year, were those in mortgage arrears of 180 days+.]

The Enda Farrell affair was deeply damaging to NAMA, both the sale of property offmarket to a NAMA employee on the basis of what Deloitte called “an an opinion as to the current market value of the Property from a local estate agent” and the alleged unauthorized removal of confidential information from NAMA which was initially emailed by Enda Farrell whilst he was still a NAMA employee, to his wife Alice Kramer (or Alison Kramer) who held a senior position at Ernst and Young in Dublin and who then passed the emails on her husband’s personal email account.  By the time the Sunday Times reported the sale in August, Enda was well-gone from NAMA and was working with a new company, Forum Property Partners but soon after the story broke, he was gone. So also was his wife from her role from E&Y – reporting at the time referred to a “resignation”. As the year ends, the wife is disputing that she was aware of the content of the emails, and by implication, that she had done anything untoward. But for the time being, prospects look bleak for what were a year ago, dream career couple.

[NAMA brings together money, information, human nature and external vested interests. It, thus, runs the risks of repeating the biblical error of creating a Garden of Eden, implanting within it the Tree of Knowledge, denying the residents of this paradise the fruit of the tree and left to have serpents drip poison in their ears.

And when the inevitable happens, who is to blame? Is it the fault of the Creator, aware of the human frailties of the residents, and yet asks of them the impossible? Is it the fault of the residents because they give into the inherent nature? Is it the fault snake that tempts them, when the snake is merely being a snake?

The error may not be of biblical proportions but the tale is.]

The once golden couple of Irish property development, Sean Dunne and his wife, now styled Gayle Killilea-Dunne have had a rocky year with Sean – “the Dunner” or the erstwhile “Baron of Ballsbridge” – hit with a €185m judgment in NAMA’s favour and additional judgments of €164m in favour of non-NAMA banks. The reason for Sean’ financial downfall is brutally obvious – property once worth €100m an acre in central Dublin is no longer worth anything like that, and won’t be for a long, long time to come. Sean is an accomplished developer so he upped sticks with the wife and family and headed west to the United States where properties associated with the couple were flipped with multi million dollar price tags. NAMA then launched what is becoming a bitter court battle in Connecticut and which may not be actually heard until September 2014. Meanwhile the couple who once graced the society pages have firmly departed Ireland – though there is the occasional reported sighting of Sean at the rugby. The image above was based on what an iconic photograph of the couple at their peak in Ireland, in the back seat of a sumptuously upholstered chauffeur-driven car – a new gloss was painted on the picture with the €300m of debts now left behind.

[The ideas for the rest of the graphics were outlined by the blog author.

In this graphic the original concept was played with and a film-type scenario emerged.

The intent here was to give a sense of movement through the scene:

First frame – The dapper duo being  transported, in luxurious comfort, to the nearest airport. A metropolitan backdrop, out of focus, to the rear.

Next frame – As the speed by, the focus shifts to the metropolitan scene they are leaving behind… and all is not as first appeared.

Final frame – The duo disappear and, in their wake, a scene of carnage and destruction.]

I still can’t believe how close the Childrens Referendum came to being defeated in November 2012, and the above poster was only intended as a tongue-in-cheek counterfoil to the angelic ideals of childhood portrayed in the “Yes” vote posters, where the little darlings were portrayed on their best behavior. Who knows, maybe the only “No” poster in the country was more effective than even Japlandic imagined!

[The simple point here was to play with the unanimity of the political consensus on the emotively-named “Children’s Referendum”.

Who could be against a referendum for children’s rights? Only someone like Hitler or the Devil could be so heartless!

Unless, of course, it was the spawn of the devil who was the poster child for the No side. That would work, right?]

Actor Gabriel Byrne firmly stomped on any Paddy-FitzGerald-Leprauchaun image of Ireland as a destination for The Gathering in 2013. Apart from the dollars and sterling that the temporary returnees provide, we really don’t give a shit about them, he said. It was a shakedown he said. And with the Government stonewalling attempts to widen enfranchisement to emigrants so that they can vote in local, general, European and presidential elections, with the ranks of emigrants being swelled in 2012 by awful Government policy and with little attention paid to the plight of Irish with visa issues in the US, there will be many who agree with the Hollywood star, who once graced Irish TV in “Bracken”

[The film poster for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels tweaked to show how an Irish remake would look thanks to the ludicrous    Gathering wheeze.

A country, which has traditionally used exporting its people as a safety valve to maintain it’s petrified cabal, encouraging those exports to return and be exploited for the contents of their wallet is a sick joke.

A country which has a Minister of Finance who dismisses the new wave of exports as merely making a “lifestyle choice” is one which openly mocks its Gathering audience.

And then, as you pan back from the slick image being sold, …]

So, Messrs Kenny and Gilmore embracing the Diaspora and exhorting them to return, temporarily,  in 2013 rings a little hollow.

[The backdrop reveals that the illusion being sold is all fur coat and no knickers.

The politicians, who are some of the most highly paid in Europe, have to borrow Billions of Euros a year to keep the lights on, pour more money into dead banks and, most criminally of all, give to the Central Bank to burn.

Any money filched from the Gathering rubes will be wasted in the debt-servicing model now in situ.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels indeed.]

The US Senate finally published a report this year on the operation of global banking giant HSBC and concluded that it had enabled money-laundering by bad people as determined by the United States – namely Mexican drug cartels and the State of Iran. The former boss at HSBC, Michael Geoghegan who broke onto the scene here in October 2011 at the Global Irish Forum in Dublin Castle, was engaged to produce a report on NAMA and he was subsequently appointed on a pro-bono basis to the NAMA advisory board and seemed to be best buddies with Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan. It was a bit of an embarrassment then to see Michael mentioned in a poor light by the US Senate. Fellow HSBCer, Brendan McDonagh who was actually in charge of HSBC’s North American operations now occupies a key role in the NTMA – he shares his name with the CEO of NAMA, but they are entirely different people!

[Michael Geoghegan is a man who must have a lucky leprechaun on his shoulder. And ex-HSBC banker, accused of turning a Nelsonian eye to the bank’s money laundering for the Mexican drug cartels, is called on to be on the advisory board of NAMA.

Tony Montoya would be envious.]

With a €3.5bn budget adjustment to be made in December 2012, the betting on here was that the sun would be blocked out in Irish skies when the Dail started its work after the summer recess. After all, that had been the form from the previous year. In the event, there was practically no kite flying at all, apart from Minister for Social Protection providing pretty-clear signposting to PRSI changes.

[The political kite flying game is one which can, not only blot out the colour of the other kites flying, but also obscured the light of life.

A successful kite flying season, for politicians, is one where everyone is sick of the sight of the kites and simply wants someone to come along and make it all go away.

The problem becomes the solution.]

As it turned out, the kite-flying season was a bid of a damp squib with the Cabinet being fully briefed on the Budget only a week before the actual announcements. We may carp at the commitment given in 2011 to open up the Budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny but in truth, the nation’s finances are in such an awful state and we teeter on the brink of unsustainable debt, that a certain degree of suspension of the democratic process is to be expected if the Government coalition was to survive.

[The resurgence of the Afghan tradition of kite flying, banned under the Taliban, is described in this New York Times article – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/14/world/asia/14iht-kites.4.8751433.html The kite is seen as a declaration of intent and a challenge to those nearby to “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”!

Viewed from afar it looks like a fun, colourful spectacle – but up close and personal – it’s tactics, dirty tricks and a result if you destroy your neighbour.

A fine analogy for parish pump, clientelist  politics.]

One of the most popular blogposts of the year – the detailed expose on the pay and perks of TDs and senators.  We marveled at the spectacle of the €200,000 a year Taoiseach meeting with the €0-a-year prime minister of Italy where the former lobbied the latter for forgiveness on the banking-related national debt. We gasped at the €200,000 a year Taoiseach meeting the €175,000 a year British prime minister who has agreed a €4bn loan to help its neighbour and “friend in need”. We sniggered at the €200,000 a year Taoiseach visiting with the new €170,000 a year French president who presides over the second biggest economy in the EuroZone and which commands a nuclear arsenal on land and at sea. And frankly, we were getting a little upset at the €200,000 a year Taoiseach meeting the €220,000 a year de facto leader of the EuroZone, Angela Merkel, who governs 85m people and who has endured the austerity needed to foot the bill to reunite her country. We weren’t surprised when political pay and perks were left untouched by the December 2012 Budget.

[The piggies on both sides of the house, in both Houses of the Oireachtas, calling for “Austerity” for the horses, goats, sheep and cows.

Not for the piggies though… they’re too important.]

In September 2012, the Irish Times seems to have gotten as close as anyone to the controversial series of letters sent to then-finance minister, the late Brian Lenihan in October and November 2010 as the country was seemingly bounced into an IMF/EU bailout. The letters must be pretty explosive because the ECB has declined to release them to freedom of information campaigners like Gavin Sheridan and the Department of Finance has similarly decline requests from national newspapers. Above is likely to be an accurate distillation of the contents of the ECB letters – the ECB was advancing large sums to Irish banks who were unable to get funding elsewhere and in return the ECB demanded that Irish banks meet all of their obligations, lest there be a negative impact on the European banking system. Fine, but Ireland has shouldered 100% of that cost which now hovers around €70bn. So at the very least, we deserve to see the actual correspondence.

[“The seek it here! They seek it there! Those Frenchies seek it everywhere!”

Just like The Scarlet Pimpernel, the letter from the ECB forcing Ireland into the bailout programme continues to elude.

As we have become an ATM democracy – the greatest threat to the life of the nation, keeping politicians awake at night, appears to be no money in the ATMs – then surely the ECB letter was a simple ranson note threatening this strategic resource.]

There were two referendums in 2012 and the first looked more finely balanced to start with, and given the tradition of suspicion towards handing over more power to a Europe in which we play a small part, it was all to play for as the referendum campaigns kicked off.  The position adopted on here was to promote and support a “no” vote because it seemed to be the only realistic way of forcing a resolution of Ireland’s burden of the legacy from rescuing the banks.  A contrary position was adopted by the “yes” side who argued that a “yes” vote would improve the prospects of a deal on bank debt, and for a moment there, at the end of June when Enda Kenny emerged blinking into the dawn of a Brussels morning, there was a hope that our partners were indeed recognizing a debt burden incurred, in part, to secure the entire European banking system, but the hope was short-lived and Enda appeared more like young Mahon from “the Playboy of the Western World” as the year drew to a close, with Old Mahon in the guise of Angela Merkel turning up to repudiate the claim that An Taoiseach had indeed taught some in Europe that he was not a man to be tangled with too often.

And finally, the tourism and cultural initiative, The Gathering, received some attention on here in November 2012 when actor Gabriel Byrne described it as a shake down and said that Ireland doesn’t give a shit about the Diaspora.  Over Christmas I heard one family say that they hoped there wouldn’t be a Gathering of their particular family in 2013 lest there be a few broken bones, with the settling of old scores and feuds. But for all of that, it is to be hoped that The Gathering is a success, both for tourism and the economy, sure, but also to build genuine relations with the Diaspora – Irish who just happen to live in some other country for now. But just to make sure, there may be a thread on here on rip-offs to shame some less-generously spirited hostelries into offering visitors the same value for money that exists right now in much of Ireland’s hospitality sector. And to conclude this pictorial review of 2012, I leave you with two modified images from Japlandic to remember The Scattering 2012. A Happy New Year to you all!


(All graphics above produced by Japlandic.com, contact here)


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PhoeniciaVeteran developer Paddy Kelly is back in the news this week, with damaging reports in the Sunday Business Post that NAMA has issued a tender to its panel of five – nine, according to the NAMA panel displayed on the NAMA website – providers of Credit Verification (Investigative) Services to examine Paddy’s statement of affairs and the affairs of his family including the more famous son, Simon. NAMA hasn’t commented on the report, which has an odd aura about it, and we must hope that NAMA has not descended to megaphone communication with its developers, using specific media.

Today, we report that loans underpinning a project in which Paddy Kelly was a lead investor, the Hotel Phoenicia in Malta – website screen grab above – have been sold by NAMA.

The loans on the hotel are understood to have a face value of €21m. The original consortium of investors in the hotel in 2007 was led by Paddy Kelly but is understood to have included Luan Cuffe, Pearse Farrell (of Farrell Grant Sparks fame – often appointed as receivers by NAMA) and Alastair Tidey (son of Don Tidey, famed for being the supermarket executive kidnapped by the IRA in 1983). NAMA acquired the loans from the Irish Nationwide Building Society. It is understood that the investors, or a subset of them, attempted to buy the loans from NAMA but NAMA would not entertain their offer, in part because of proscriptions under the NAMA Act – specifically the proscription on NAMA selling assets back to the original borrower where the borrower is in default.

So, NAMA engaged NAMA’s head of asset management, John Mulcahy’s old firm Jones Lang LaSalle in Dublin to sell the loans which are secured on the upmarket hotel in Malta. There was a public process managed by JLL in London with a fixed closing date and JLL were successful in selling the loans to  Mark Shaw’s Scottish property group, Hazledene and the purchase price understood to be €19m. So, all straightforward so far, NAMA acquired €21m of loans secured on property and sold them on at a 10% discount to their face value, so the taxpayer makes a loss on the deal of €2m-odd.

Claims that Hazeldene has discussed the sale of the loans to any subset of the original consortium were firmly rejected this evening by Mark Shaw, the chief executive of Hazledene.

Neither NAMA, JLL nor Hazledene had any comment on the matter at original time of writing, but Hazeldene has now confirmed that it acquired the loans after an open public competition, but that it has not had any discussions whatsoever with any subset of the original consortium about the sale of the loans.

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So concludes another year on the NAMA wine lake blog – 920 blogposts, 7,900 blog followers, 7,000 comments and according to the people at WordPress which hosts the blog, it “was viewed about 1,800,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 33 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!” – the Yanks! Liechtenstein is a very, very small country in Europe, though more pertinently, it was viewed an average of 35,000 times a week and that excludes viewers who rely on emailed blogposts. The overwhelming majority of the audience is based in Ireland, though the UK and the USA also feature in audience statistics.

A far larger number of comments, about 300, were deleted in 2012 than in 2011, with a notable new phenomenon of bogus comments using apparently real names with content which is potentially defamatory, but 2012 again also saw small numbers with excessively bad language or which were just plain nonsensical, but unlike 2011, when five commenters were permanently blocked no commenter was blocked in 2012.

Most of the blogposts in 2012 were straightforward reporting of facts pertinent to NAMA – “monitor journalism” as the professionals would call it. There was a new “Of the Week” feature which brought you some amusing – hopefully! – commentary and opinion on economics and politics and other falderal. There was usually a weekly political slot which, given the constant intrusion of politics into practically all  aspects of the Irish economy, seemed appropriate. Some blogposts required quite a lot of research and as we conclude 2012, these are four extracted from the conveyor belt to be given extra prominence for the year just expired.

One-stop Trough – political pay and perks in the Oireachtas. When researching this blogpost, it was amazing to find that no other media had previously done this work, or if it had, it wasn’t apparently available. The Irish Times did a piece later in 2012, but it was a little sad that it should be a blog that should reveal the workings of the Oireachtas “One Stop Shop” and set out in detail just how much TDs and senators were costing us – in the overall scheme of things, not a significant sum but in current circumstances, emblematically unacceptable. RTE’s political correspondent, David Davin Power tweeted that he was unfollowing the blog mid-way through the three part blogpost because it had become “an anti politics rant” but as the year ends, and in line with keeping political commitments generally, David remains a follower. The research undertaken to produce the blogpost involved ploughing through parliamentary questions, examining the “One Stop Shop” literature, consulting with pension experts, research of the Oireachtas website and examining very limited historical press reporting. As far as I can see, it remains the most comprehensive publicly available record of what we pay politicians.

Bank control of Irish hotels – NAMA and NAMA banks in particular have extended their tentacles deeply into the Irish hotel sector, which is not surprising, given the number of new developments during the 2000s and the leveraging of hotel assets for further development. It emerged that at least  one in six Irish hotel rooms was controlled by a bank, and that most of these were now NAMA loans or loans controlled by NAMA banks. NAMA might tell you that its role in the hotel sector is overplayed and that other banks, Ulster for example, are more dominant, but this research showed the scale of NAMA’s control of the sector, and given that we learned through the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report that it is the NAMA strategy to “hold” hotels until the second half of the decade, this control is set to continue for some years.  The two-part blogpost involved considerable research because there is no one central register of hotels to which receivers have been appointed or which show other evidence of bank control, short of receivership.  It was a potentially dangerous blogpost given the possibility of errors which might damage a business, but in the end, there was just one adjustment where one hotel was unhappy with the interpretation of wording in the annual report and accounts.

NAMA’s finances – the core remit of the blog is to monitor NAMA, Ireland’s biggest state agency and one of the bigger property companies in the world – nowhere near the biggest when you consider asset management companies in which real estate is a main investment area. NAMA’s quarterly reporting, its appearances at Oireachtas committees four times in 2012, relevant parliamentary questions, NAMA statements and other media reporting are all monitored to keep tabs on NAMA’s financial performance.  A recurring theme was the manner in which NAMA muddies the waters with its accounting which may be optimistic as regards interest income but may be restrained in recognizing certain profits on debtor connections which continue after one loan is resolved. When NAMA trumped a quarter billion profit for 2011 when it published its annual report in July 2012, there was an immediate – within 15 minutes – assessment on here that NAMA had used controversial tax credits to boost a pre-tax profit from €12m to €247m. But it was the admission by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton on RTE radio that NAMA faced losses of up to €15bn that is picked out here as indicative of that close monitoring. Minister Burton used the words – “Not counting, by the way, another €30 billion that we’ve committed on NAMA, at least half of which we will get back”. NAMA immediately contacted the Minister after the blogpost was published and there was a mealy mouthed retraction the following week, but the Minister had let the cat out of the bag – NAMA does indeed face making a substantial loss if any growth in Irish property prices is insufficient to cover the Agency’s operating costs and interest.

Bank debt negotiations – as we conclude 2012, there is a prospect of a small face-saving adjustment to the terms of the Anglo promissory note which will have little or no overall impact on the national debt which was in part run up to a level approaching 125% of GDP, as a result of the banking sector rescue.  We have a weak hand when it comes to these negotiations, we are a bit player in a vast EuroZone which supports our banks still with massive lending, we ourselves adopted the guarantee in September 2008 and the extent of our guarantee rankled with our partners in Europe. But we are in the teeth of historic negotiations and since we have to a large extent paid off the bondholders – though there are still billions outstanding including €2.7bn at PTSB in early 2013 – the Anglo promissory note is really the significant game because we have some scope for unilateral action. The blogpost tried to place the current negotiations in an historical context of our negotiations of the Border in 1920-1925, negotiations in which Ireland utterly failed for a variety of reasons which resonate with the bank debt negotiations in the present day. The blogpost relied on a personal area of interest – Ireland in the second two decades of the last century – and tried to provide a new perspective, and especially one which suggested history was repeating itself and we could learn from our past mistakes.

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