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Archive for March 6th, 2013

The challenge to the result of last November’s Childrens Referendum is still wending its way through the courts after the Supreme Court held that the Government had unlawfully promoted one side in the debate. You might recall at the time all the lip service paid to making a special effort to positively discriminate in favour of the unemployed when appointing temporary workers to administer the referendum; this, coming from a Government that has placed job creation at the heart of its policies, or so it says.

Four months later, we have provision figures which show that out of the 11,654 people employed for the polling and counting, just 3,328 were “unemployed”. So in a country, which in November 2012 had a Live Register of 420,000 and unemployment estimated at over 320,000, we only managed to fill 321 of 1,603 counting positions for example with someone from the Live Register.

The figures emerged yesterday, in a response by Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan to a parliamentary question from the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty.  It relates to just 35 of the 43 constituencies so the numbers may change when they have a final tally, though why it takes four months to produce such a tally is unclear.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin was also asked about the numbers employed and his reponse was even less helpful, simply saying “the information requested is not available at this time”

You can’t help but think that this Government, on this day in particular when the latest job creation commitment is given, is just not serious in its deeds when it comes to promoting employment. Although the roles in the Referendum were temporary, in some cases, lasting just a day, the small boost by focusing on the unemployed,particularly in the run-up to Christmas would have made it clear that this Government put its deeds where its mouth is. Instead, we still had second jobbers getting most of the work. Shame.

The questions and response are here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 431 of 20 November 2012 and 691 of 6 November 2012, if he will provide the total of the persons employed in the following roles in the Children’s Referendum who were immediately previously unemployed or on the live register, Special Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers and Area Inspectors, Poll Clerks, Count Supervisors, Count Calculators and Counters.

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan:  Based on information provided to my Department by Returning Officers for 35 out of 43 constituencies, the total number of staff employed at the referendum in November 2012 was 11,654, of which 28.6% were unemployed. The details for the 35 constituencies are set out in the following table.

NumberOnePriority

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 294 of 20 November 2012 and 691 of 6 November 2012, if he will provide the total number of persons employed in the following roles in the Children’s Referendum, Special Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers and Area Inspectors, Poll Clerks, Count Supervisors, Count Calculators, Counters.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin : The information the deputy has requested is not available at this time.   The Children’s Referendum was held on the 10th November, 2012.   Returning Officers are required to submit their accounts for the Children’s Referendum to the Minister for Finance not later than six months after the date on which any poll was conducted.

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By my reckoning, Ray and Danny Grehan’s €171.5m purchase of 2.04 acres of the former UCD veterinary college in Ballsbridge in 2004 was only the fourth most expensive transaction in the area by reference to price per acre. Sean Dunne’s purchase of Hume House which sits on a 0.66 acre plot for €130m in 2005 works out as the most expensive at €197m an acre, it was part of Sean’s planned assembly of a block of land on which he was to eventually develop Knightsbridge in Ballsbridge, but alas the crash put paid to that vision. David Daly paid an altogether more reasonable sounding €25m in 2006 for Franklin house, but at just 0.2 acres that worked out at €125m an acre overall. And Project Aspen’s David Courtney together with frequent partner, Jerry O’Reilly paid €36m in 2006 for the OPW Faculty Building which sits on 0.378 acres which made that deal work out at €95.2m per acre.

But at €171.5m for 2.04 acres or €84m an acre, the Grehan’s purchase was remarkable. This morning, Jack Fagan in the Irish Times reported that it was now coming on the market via John Moran of Jones Lang LaSalle and the asking price is €15m or a shade over €7m an acre, a 91% decline from the price paid in 2004 by the Grehans. It is described as a “knockdown price” by Jack, but who knows, there is not a huge amount of comparable evidence. Last Friday, CBRE reported development sales completed recently –  “the sale of a 0.8 acre site in Dublin 2, which had been quoting  €2.35 million; the sale of a  0.79 acre site facing onto the LUAS red line on Benburb Street in Dublin 7 for a price in the order of €1 million; the sale of a 0.38 acre  former Texaco petrol station site on the  eastern side of Churchtown Road in Dublin 14 for  approximately €600,000  and the sale of a 0.2 acre site at Newtownpark Avenue in Blackrock, Co. Dublin for approximately €550,000. One of the largest transactions to  complete recently was the sale of 486 acres at Milverton Demesne in Skerries in North County Dublin for a price believed to be in the order of  €7.5 million.”  It’s still not a great comparable but last year, NAMA sold a 4.86 acre site nearby in Booterstown for a reported €400,000.

The Grehans have now both been discharged from bankruptcy in the UK. Having said that, NAMA is pursuing Danny though the Irish courts and it is understood Ray is still be pursued by NAMA, at least in the UK regarding the disposal of an apartment in the up-market One Hyde Park development in Knightsbridge.

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“I am advised by IBRC that request for proposals (“RFPs”) have now been sent out to potential advisors in respect of the first tranche of assets for valuation. Successful applicants will be appointed to provide independent valuations for each loan or connection in the portfolios. This loan valuation process is expected to commence in early March and be completed by late June. As advisors are yet to be identified/engaged for all portfolios the special liquidators are not in a position to comment on the methodology to be used by the advisors and the cost of the independent valuations.” Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan responding to a parliamentary question on 26th February 2013

It took NAMA between four and six months from when the tenders were published, to appoint companies to undertake due diligence and valuation of the loan portfolios it was intending to acquire from the banks. It then took those appointed companies over two years to acquire €74bn of par value loans, for which NAMA paid €32bn.

NAMA is obviously populated by complete cretins because the bright sparks at KPMG are going to have €26bn of par value loans – €16bn after provisions – at Irish Bank Resolution Corporation valued in just four months and it will take them less than 30 days to appoint firms to do the valuation – see the Minister’s response above.

Skeptical? I don’t blame you.

And guess what? Minister Noonan has refused to publish the tender document for the appointment of valuers because it is “commercially sensitive”.

We have no idea how much the contract is worth, but it seems incredible that KPMG which has been appointed as special liquidator of IBRC, can have appointed valuers to value €26bn of par value loans vin less than 30 days, that is between KPMG’s appointment as Special Liquidator on 6th February 2013 and “early March”. And then those valuers will value €26bn of par value loans between “early March 2013” and June 2013.

For chrissakes, NAMA still hasn’t even obtained European Commission approval of almost half of its acquisitions and it has been operating for over three years. So, unless NAMA is really populated by cretins, then the KPMG-led independent valuation exercise of €26bn of par value loans has “cowboys” written all over it.

Minister Noonan was responding to a parliamentary question from the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty in the Dail yesterday.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will provide the tender document issued by the special liquidator of Irish Bank Resolution Corporation for the provision of independent valuation services to value loans for sale.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan : I have been advised by the special liquidators that the Request for Proposal (“RFP”) is confidential as it contains commercially sensitive material around the IBRC portfolio and around the independent valuation methodology against which bidders for loan assets will be bidding. The Special Liquidators have indicated that releasing information on the methodology may prejudice the ability of the Special Liquidators to obtain best value for the loan assets by providing information to bidders on these valuations.

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At the end of January 2013, Digicel Group, the mobile phone company controlled by Irishman Denis O’Brien announced that it had submitted “an expression of interest in Myanmar” – see extract below. This follows reporting over the past year that Digicel was pursuing business opportunities in Burma.

DigicelMyanmar

Digicel Group Limited is incorporated in Jamaica, and outside of company announcements, it is not easy to penetrate the company’s finances. The Sunday Independent reports that earthquake stricken Haiti is now the biggest contributor to group profitability and indeed it is amazing that the group has revenues of USD 2.5bn from a reported 12.8m customers, that’s an average of USD 200 per year per customer. And the countries in which Digicel operates are amongst the poorest in the world. Just a well-run business, I guess.

However all of this is of little interest to us in Ireland. As far as can be established on here, Digicel does not employ people in Ireland, doesn’t pay VAT, income or corporation tax here, there is no investment from the company or other visible sign of direct benefit to this country.

But, so what? A large and seemingly profitable company with an Irishman at the helm should be something in which we can at least have some pride. And even if Burma is a human rights wasteland and narco state, and happens to be the fourth most corrupt country on the planet, where even the US bans its companies from doing business with certain local businessmen, why should we be concerned if Denis O’Brien wants to risk his time and resources pursuing business there. Good luck to him. Seriously.

Of course, we are all naturally interested in Denis O’Brien because he is reputedly one of Ireland’s richest men, even if he is resident in Malta. He owns or controls Irish companies which employ over 1,000 people and he is also a prominent – some say dominant – figure in our private media sector. He pays tax on income earned in Ireland. He is also a man against whom the Moriarty Tribunal made so-called “adverse findings” arising from the relationship between Denis and then-minister Michael Lowry at the time that a mobile phone licence was being awarded in the 1990s. Denis vehemently refutes the “adverse findings” and claims they are of no legal effect.

Justice minister Alan Shatter says that An Garda Siochana is still liaising with the Director of Public Prosecutions about the report.The two-part report from the Moriarty Tribunal is here. In a report by Transparency International last year on Ireland, Denis was adversely mentioned when the country suffered a record deterioration in its corruption index. A statement was issued on Denis’s behalf shortly afterwards drawing attention to the fact that although Denis was mentioned in TI’s press release, he was not mentioned in “the surveys used to compile the index”

An Taoiseach however accepts the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal, though there was criticism that it took him nearly 18 months to do so, but accept the findings he did when he spoke at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties last July 2012.

So then, why did An Taoiseach use the opportunity of the recent Davos conference to advance Irish communications investment in Burma, communications investment that, in most likelihood, would have some association, direct or indirect, with Denis. And why is An Taoiseach apparently promoting business in a country like Burma in any event?

Let’s take a look at the facts in the following 6-point timeline.

(1)

23-27 th January, 2013.

An Taoiseach attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It was widely reported that Denis O’Brien also attended.

(2)

12th February 2013

An Taoiseach tells the Dail

“When speaking to people in Davos, the issue of the opening up of Myanmar, the former Burma, arose. It is a country of which we do not have great knowledge, although there were real connections between Ireland and Burma as it was called. That country of 60 million has a huge range of natural resources, yet some 58 million of its people have never had access to communications. That country will move from what might be termed ground zero to cloud computing and cloud access straight away. The scale of the investment there will be enormous. ”

(3)

19th February 2013

An Taoiseach responds to a question from Sinn Fein

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Taoiseach if he will confirm the discussions he had at the recent Davos summit with respect to investment in Myanmar, Burma; the persons with whom he had discussions; the nature of these discussions; if he has committed to deliver any assistance to any party in respect of communications investment in Myanmar.

An Taoiseach: The opening up of Myanmar and prospects for development and investment there is an important global theme, which arose in various discussions in Davos.  It is also part of the Government’s ongoing consideration of international opportunities for trade and investment for Ireland.  Last year’s visit to Ireland by Aung San Suu Kyi was a signal of the important and positive reforms being made by the Myanmar government.  These reforms should be welcomed as key building blocks to improved international relations.

I did not make any commitment to deliver assistance to any party in respect of communications investment in Myanmar.

(4)

21st February, 2013

Sinn Fein submits the following questions to An Taoiseach, and gets a response at (6) below

To ask An Taoiseach further to question 196 on 19th February 2013, if he had discussions or other interaction with Mr Denis O’Brien, the chairman of Digicel Group at the recent Davos summit, and if so to provide an outline of the matters discussed?

To ask An Taoiseach further to question 196 on 19th February 2013, if he had discussions or other interaction on the subject of Myanmar (Burma) at the suggestion of Mr Denis O’Brien, the chairman of Digicel Group or his representative or representatives, at the recent Davos summit, and if so to provide an outline of the matters discussed?

To ask An Taoiseach further to question 196 on 19th February 2013, if he had discussions or other interaction on the subject of Myanmar (Burma) at the recent Davos summit with representatives of the government or president of Myanmar, and if so to provide an outline of the matters discussed?

(5)

26th February, 2013

Deputy Colm Keaveney asks a parliamentary question about Davos

Deputy Colm Keaveney, asked the Taoiseach, if he will provide details of all bilateral meetings held between himself and any other individual or group at the recent annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, including the identity of all such groups or individuals and the purpose of each meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Taoiseach (Deputy Enda Kenny):   The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is attended by political and business leaders and heads of international organisations and provides a unique forum for debate and discussion on a wide range of topics of global economic and political interest. I attended the 2013 annual meeting in Davos from 23-25 January. Details of my programme are set out below. The primary purpose of my engagements at the WEF was to promote Ireland as a location for international business and investment.

WEF Davos, 2013 – Taoiseach’s Programme

Wednesday 23 January

Working dinner for Heads of State or Government attending World Economic Forum, hosted by Professor and Mrs. Schwab.

Thursday 24 January

Meeting with New York Stock Exchange   (NYSE) Euronext

Media event – CNBC Europe

Meeting with Ms. Christine Lagarde M.D. of the IMF to discuss progress in implementing Ireland’s EU/IMF Programme

WEF interactive plenary session on “Eurozone Crises –the way forward” with;

PM Monti of Italy

PM Rutte of Netherlands and

PM Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark

WEF working lunch on “Europe Growth and Employment”

Meeting with Diageo

IDA event for client companies and prospects (approximately 45 attendees) also meetings with

Facebook

Cisco

Microsoft

Cantor Fitzgerald

Friday 25 January

Media event – Reuters

Meetings with

Bank of America

Western Union

McGraw Hill

WEF Private High-Level working lunch to discuss the prevailing global themes for 2013

Address at Transatlantic Business Dialogue on strengthening the EU-US trade and investment relationship.

(6)

5th March 2013

An Ceann Comhairle, Sean Barrett, rules questions at (4) above out of order

13DaysLater

 

I doubt that you have heard the end of the matter.

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We learned by accident two weeks ago that Minister for Finance Michael Noonan had directed NAMA to make €1bn in credit available at an interest rate of 1.52% per annum to Irish Bank Resolution Corporation which is now being liquidated. This, at a time when small and medium enterprise companies in the State are starved of credit and where IBRC is dangerously insolvent. Minister Noonan used powers conferred on him by the NAMA Act 2009 which allows him to send a letter to NAMA directing it to act in a certain way for the common good.

Last week, NAMA was defeated by the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information, Emily O’Reilly in Dublin’s High Court after transparency champion, Gavin Sheridan had sought information from NAMA which the Agency refused to provide, even after Emily O’Reilly ruled that it should have been provided.

We learned yesterday that the cost to date of the legal action by NAMA to resist providing the information was €121,350 – comprising €71,350 costs incurred by NAMA and a further €50,000 costs incurred by Emily O’Reilly. Two state agencies fighting amongst themselves had resulted in a bonanza for the legal profession of €121,350. When the case started at the High Court last year, the comment on here was that it was akin to an art installation where our money is burned – that was supposed to humourous, it is less humourous now. Sinn Fein has pointed out in a press release that the €121,350 is more than all the Freedom of Information fees paid by citizens to government departments and agencies in 2011.

But we also learned yesterday that Minister Noonan is again, powerless to order NAMA not to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court which may result in the legal costs ballooning, all the while denying the public access to basic information about the Agency’s operations.

In the Dail, the Sinn Fein finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty asked Minister Noonan about the costs of the case and about intervening to stop any appeal and further expenditure of legal fees. Despite the Minister recently placing €1bn of NAMA’s money at risk with IBRC for a measly 1.52% per annum, the Minister said in this instance “NAMA is governed by an independent board of directors. This is a matter for Board of NAMA.”

The full parliamentary questions and responses are here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance further to the judgement in the High Court case between the National Asset Management Agency and the Office of the Commissioner for Environment Information, the total legal fees incurred by NAMA to date in the case; and the estimate of all legal costs including those of the OCEI.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I am advised by the National Treasury Management Agency that costs totalling €71,350 have been incurred by them to date in respect of the case referred to by the Deputy.

My colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has advised me that the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information has informed him that  the estimated fees incurred by them to date in respect of the case referred to by the Deputy is €50,000.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance further to the judgement in the High Court case between the National Asset Management Agency and the Office of the Commissioner for Environment Information, if he has considered issuing a direction to NAMA pursuant to section 14 of the NAMA Act 2009, not to appeal the judgment of the High Court to the Supreme Court.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan : Under the National Asset Management Agency Act 2009 (the NAMA Act) NAMA was established as a body corporate and Section 9(3) of the NAMA Act provides that “except as otherwise provided by this Act, NAMA is independent in the performance of its function under this Act”. NAMA is governed by an independent board of directors.

This is a matter for Board of NAMA.

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