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Archive for the ‘Northern Ireland’ Category

NAMAAdvisoryBoard

It’s been just over a year since Minister for Finance Michael Noonan created a strange new species, the NAMA advisory board which is completely separated from NAMA and which reports directly to the Minister. It has three members – pictured above. The board comprises Michael Geoghegan, the former boss at HSBC whose role at the bank came in for some criticism last year by the US Senate investigation of money-laundering at HSBC, an investigation which resulted in a fine of USD 1.9bn in December 2012. The other two board members are NAMA’s own chairman, Frank Daly and Northern Ireland quango king,  Denis Rooney.

When it was announced in March 2013, Minister Noonan outlined the terms of reference for the NAMA Advisory Board as follows

“Provide advice to the Minister on
The strategy of NAMA as proposed by the board of NAMA
The appointment of directors to NAMA
The remuneration of the senior executives of NAMA
Any further advice the Minister may seek the Group to provide
The advisory group will not have decision making powers under the Act.”[ENDS]

Last week, in the Dail, Minister Noonan was asked about the activity of the NAMA advisory group in the past year. Minister Noonan confirmed that it has met five times to date. Remember the three members don’t get paid but the board has an annual budget of €40,000 for expenses. We don’t learn anything about what the board has actually achieved in the past year, it was previously  reported to have said “NAMA has overcome difficulties and is an effective organisation” Minister Noonan said he is satisfied the NAMA advisory boad “is working effectively and with the progress to date”.

The view on here is that if you ever want to see a superfluous quango at work, take a look at the NAMA advisory board.

The parliamentary questions and response are here.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will outline the activity over the past year of the National Asset Management Agency Advisory Board comprising persons (details supplied); and if he will outline any recommendations made by that board to him and the subsequent treatment of any such recommendations.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will provide an assessment of the utility over the past year of the National Asset Management Agency Advisory Board comprising persons (details supplied).

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: I propose to take questions 222 and 223 together.

I met with the group on four occasions in 2012 and once to date in 2013. It is also open to the Chair to contact me as issues arise.

The group’s advice to me primarily relates to the strategy of NAMA as proposed by the board of NAMA; the remuneration of the senior executives of NAMA and any further advice that I may seek on any matter relating to NAMA. The group operates on an informal basis and reports directly to me. Any issues raised are discussed with senior officials within my Department.

The advisory group plays a valuable role and I am satisfied it is working effectively and with the progress to date.

However it is important to note that this group is not a shadow Board nor is it intended to provide a route for me as Minister to get involved in the day to day running of the Agency.

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They say a week is a long time in politics; well certainly, two months can be an eternity in media. Just over two months ago, there was a blogpost on here examining the finances of media companies operating in the State and suggesting that they would need an imminent bailout.

Since then, the Thomas Crosbie group has passed through a pre-pack receivership and the future of the Sunday Business Post, now in examinership, remains uncertain as it seeks new investors. The logical tie-up between the SBP and the Irish Times – which doesn’t have a Sunday edition – looked inevitable but this weekend, Tom Lyons is reporting that the Irish Times investment bid might be doomed with its partner, Landmark Enterprises going cool on the enterprise. Minister for Finance Michael Noonan refused to tell us how much had been written off in the receivership/examinership but it was reported that AIB was owed €28m and the betting on here is the debt forgiveness is in excess of €10m.

On Friday last, we had a muddied statement from Independent News and Media which indicated debt forgiveness of €138m from banks including AIB and Bank of Ireland. Funny, not a word about the debt write-off or the atrocious results for 2012, in today’s Sunday Independent. Anne Harris the Sunday Independent editor looks like a rank hypocrite after the criticism the Sindo meted out to rivals which had last year suffered poor results.

We finally found out during the week why RTE has been soft-soaping us with its tendentious interpretation of the  “independent” report from PwC: RTE is set to unveil a deficit of “in excess of €60m” for 2012 and worryingly there was no word on the pension which incurred a loss by itself of €50m in 2011. Unlike private sector media groups that took bets on new enterprises during the boom and funded the bets with other people’s money, RTE didn’t, and its losses are down to a pathetic and incompetent management that has been unable to cut its coat according to its cloth – it pays obscene salaries at one end of the spectrum, and in general looks like a financial basketcase waiting to implode. It is now whinging that Sky is taking €380m of revenue in the Irish market leaving just €420m per annum for RTE, TV3, TG4. It’s called “competition” duckies, and you’ll just need to suck it up.

Meanwhile over at TV3, intensive discussions are presumed to be taking place right now with the Special Liquidator of IBRC to refinance €125m of loans, in a business which is widely believed to be worth only €15m. There has been speculation that a buyer is weighing up a bid for TV3 and that potential buyer is..

UTV

UTV has shown that it is the healthiest media group operating on the island of Ireland, or at least the healthiest media group that provides separate accounting for the island. We have preliminary results for 2012 – see above – which indicate the company is healthy enough to actually pay a dividend. Dividend? Yes, we have gotten so used to deficits, losses, bailouts and debt forgiveness, we forget that private companies exist to make a profit for their shareholders.

News International which publishes the Sunday Times and the Sun may be profitable but we don’t have separate accounting. Sky, according to RTE, has Irish revenue of €382m per annum which is presumably profitable. The Irish Daily Mail reported revenues of €19m in 2012 and profit of just over €1m last week.

It is surprising on here that the Irish Times is not suffering more but its main folly during the boom, the purchase of MyHome.ie has largely been written down to a negligible value in the Irish Times accounts. Mind you, the group still thinks its premises are worth €32m and there is a nasty pension liability of €44m and in 2011, the last year for which annual accounts are available, the group made a full recognized loss of €23m, though €21m of that was related its pension obligations. Last October, 2012 Tourism Ireland which comes under the auspices of Minister Varadkar on this side of the Border and Minister Arlene Foster in Northern Ireland paid a stonking €495,000 to the Irish Times for the Ireland.com domain name. Because the Irish Times isn’t burdened with unwisely-acquired enterprises and borrowings, it has been able to adjust to the challenging reality quicker than its rivals on Talbot Street, but if IN&M successfully completes its restructuring, then IN&M’s core business will be financially healthier than the Irish Times’s.

Johnston Press, a British newspaper publisher, which publishes a number of regional newspapers including the Limerick Leader is just as indebted as IN&M and last year turned in a loss before tax of GBP 6.8m (€8m).

Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp continues to teeter on the wrong side of profitability but it is disposing of overseas radio stations and is close to break-even on its operations where shoe-string budgets and obsessional cost control have borne results, though it still is stumbling along under massive debt.

What do the next two months hold for the Irish media landscape? Who knows but here is what the crystal ball on here is suggesting – the print media think their offerings are good enough to allow a limited paywall but the luvvies may be in for a dose of reality when push comes to shove. The Herald, which has become a morning newspaper this year, looks doomed and will either merge with the Independent or the Irish Daily Star. The Independent looks set for a merger with the Sunday Independent. And will the Belfast Telegraph move closer to the Independent? It seems unimaginable that the Sunday Business Post won’t end up with the Irish Times despite the apparent cooling of Landmark’s pursuit of a bid to rescue the title out of examinership. RTE will post a gigantic loss and communications minister Pat Rabbitte will try to put the legislative machinery in place for a broadcast charge, which when collected with the household charge should make an additional €30m available which RTE will need to curtail its deficit.  UTV may take control of TV3 which will be no bad thing for viewers. It’s hard to see the regional newspapers surviving in their present numbers. But, this is all in the realm of the crystal ball.

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Welcome Back of the Week

KildareStreetErrorDays

If you support transparency in public life in Ireland, you will be delighted to hear that KildareStreet.com is back this week. Hallelujah! For those of your unfamiliar with KildareStreet.com, it maintains records of Oireachtas proceedings, including parliamentary questions. “Why do we need such a record from third parties?”, I hear you ask, “after all, we have the Oireachtas.ie website which is supposed to do that”. As a heavy-user of the Oireachtas.ie website, I can tell you that it is replete with errors, missing tables, missing answers and if you link to a parliamentary question, chances are they’ll change the link address. Also the Oireachtas website is not Google seachable. KilareStreet.com went offline last September 2012 after the Oireachtas introduced a format, but thank God Almighty, it is back this week – welcome back old friend! And here are a few examples of the Oireachtas record keeping that we can wave goodbye to with KildareStreet.com’s return. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see if you can spot the mistakes on the Oireachtas records below:

Cockup4

Cockup3

Cockup2

Cockup1

Farewell of the Week

Public Interest directors Margaret Hayes and Ray MacSharry are resigning their roles as public interest directors at Permanent TSB. They announced the resignations at the end of March 2013 and they will not seek re-election at the PTSB AGM on 22nd May 2013. Just before Christmas 2012, the hapless Margaret and Ray schlepped up at the Oireachtas finance committee where they were abused for a couple of hours for failings at the bank. At the time, the role of public interest directors was coming under the spotlight and it seems that the 75-year old Ray and the former civil servant Margaret have had enough. But what will the resignation of these two business and public service titans mean for PTSB?

In the Dail this week, the Government provided a considered assessment of the impact of the two resignations.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Finance if he will provide an assessment of the risk to the financial health and profitability of Permanent TSB as well as to the public interest, from the announced resignation of persons (Mr Ray MacSharry and Ms Margaret Hayes) from the board of PTSB in May 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan: As the Deputy will be aware it is a matter for the Chairman of Permanent TSB to ensure that the board of directors is of sufficient size and has an appropriate mix of expertise to comply with governance, company law and regulatory requirements.  I have been informed that the current board complies with all relevant requirements but is subject to on-going review and renewal as required.  As the Deputy will be aware the directors have fiduciary obligations to the company and have obligations under Section 48 of the Credit Institutions (Stabilisation) Act.

Video of the Week

“In some weird way, the more we fuck things up, the better off we are, I think we’re only eight or nine shit decisions away from freedom”

I often wonder what our Nobel laureate poet Seamus Heaney has been doing for the last five years, when the economy has imploded, emigration has returned with a  vengeance and the country is suffering agony – surely a poet might bother to chronicle such seismic national events, pick a few bon mots and maybe even get some of them to rhyme. Our creativity hasn’t been much in evidence on TV or film either – surely there’s a drama to be made in the style of Conspiracy to set out what happened on the Night of the Bank Guarantee. Comedian Tommy Tiernan partly makes up for it and lifts the team this week with these observations on our crisis.

Quango of the Week

IFB2011Report

The report and accounts for the Irish Film Board for 2011 were published this week. This is an agency into which we shovelled €18.4m in 2011, comprising €16m earmarked for artistic investment and €2.4m for running the agency. It employs 14 people in Ireland plus a CEO and their total salaries are shown as €904,007 or an average of €60,267 excluding pension contributions and given the CEO gets €95,000 it would seem the salaries are very good indeed. The IFB seemingly employs two further people in Los Angeles. In Ireland, it costs €276,015 to house the 14 staff apparently, and the quango has a range of interesting expenses including a €14,000 subscription to employers’ organization IBEC. Best of all though were the loans to board members, totaling over €2m in 2011, see below.  Fine Gael stalwart and RTE sports commentator, Bill Herlihy has just been appointed chairman of the IFB. Dontcha just love this country!

IFBMemberTransactions

Non-event of the Week

NAMA, the biggest state agency by a country mile, reported its unaudited accounts for the year. Here is an agency which generated €1.4bn in revenue, disposed of €2.8bn of loan and property assets, advanced €1bn to developers and is currently sitting on €3bn of cash. It generated a profit of €300m before tax. For an Agency that was created from scratch three years ago and which employs 250 today, the results are stonkingly impressive. Yes, it acquired €74bn of loans for just €32bn, but commercial property prices in Ireland have declined 27% since and residential property is down 32% and the economy is at best bumping along the bottom with banks not lending. All in all, the NAMA staff deserve a pat on the back, when you consider what a disaster the whole project could have been.

The results didn’t garner many column inches. The Irish Times managed to get its reporting badly wrong by claiming that NAMA had already obtained judgments against the six parties it sued in the last quarter of 2012. Some of the cases remain outstanding and I think that ex-BDO, ex-Property Industry Ireland Ronan King will be interested to know the Irish Times says that NAMA has obtained a €559,700 against him (it hasn’t, NAMA has just applied for a judgment).

TheStoryOfWhatHaveYou

Old media business reform of the Week

JohnstonPressLogo 

Yesterday, we finally saw the 2012 financial results for Independent News and Media, in Ireland publishers of the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Herald, Sunday World, Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, Irish Daily Star and a number of provincial newspapers. The group has apparently agreed a deal with banks and its pension fund which should see the group rationalized and placed on a secure financial footing. Alas, there is still some cost-cutting to go, and 10% of its 1,000 staff face the chop in the coming year. Rival newspaper publisher Johnston Press, which publishes some Irish provincial titles, this week demonstrated an impressive obsession with cost control when it closed a premises in Scotland and relocated a journalist to….. a local library! There’s more – Johnston  Press said its reporters would be “out in the community more than ever”. How long before the occupants of IN&M HQ on Talbot Street will be working from the Dublin City Library in the Ilac Centre and IN&M’s Lucy Gaffney telling them the move will improve editorial standards by journalists being closer to the community! This was also the week that the Independent.ie reported that it would be introducing what Independent.ie called a “metred paywall” – how many metres tall will the paywall be, no-one yet knows.

Metred

Collaterlie Sisters of the Week

It’s bad enough for ordinary people to have to pay special attention to developments in the economy because those whose job it was to regulate and supervise key activities in the economy, cocked it up so badly in the last decade. But having to listen to the old media spewing out endless reams of figures, some weensy, some gargantuan really makes us feel like we’re listening to this all the time

But given we have to listen to all of this, isn’t it amazing that the old media has failed to inform us that we’ve slipped back into recession. Columnist Colette Browne was the first journalist in the Irish old media to inform the nation that we had returned to recession, this more than a month after the CSO confirmed two consecutive quarters of contraction of GDP. The Financial Times became the second old media outlet to do the same yesterday. Where were RTE, the Irish Times (“the paper of what have you”), the Independent and Examiner on 21st March 2013, when the CSO released its figures.

And yesterday, RTE managed to interview the CEO of Independent News and Media about that company’s annual results for 2012 and didn’t probe the debt restructuring which affects two state-owned banks which reportedly have exposure of €150m to IN&M. So we were given almost-bewildering facts about profits and losses and balance sheets but somehow our exposure to IN&M was overlooked.

Film refrain of the Week

SheCannoTakeNoMoreCapn

“Captain, I’m giving her all she’s got, she’s breaking up, she can no take any more”

It’s not unusual to hear rages against austerity from individuals or the usual suspects, but this was the week when the planets aligned and giants in our cosmos all came out against austerity. We had the European Commission president, Manuel Barroso claiming austerity had reached its limits; we had SIPTU general president Jack O’Connor snaffling the entire €1bn saving in 2014 from the recent promissory note deal and claiming that for his members and he too was saying austerity wasn’t working; we even had business group IBEC warning against higher taxes and their impact on jobs. We had Minister for Social Protection and perhaps future Labour leader, Joan Burton criticizing austerity and its effects across Europe, and of course Ireland is still part of that Europe! We even had the lords spiritual wading in, with Archbishop Diarmuid Martin setting out the effect austerity was having on society.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t much alternative to austerity in a currency union where the primary objective is price stability. If stimulus and growth could be achieved at the click of a finger, do you not think they would have been attempted already? We need to cut the gap between spending and income, so that as a nation, we can stand on our own two feet again. The best we can do is spread the period out over which we close the budget deficit gap, but unfortunately with debt:GDP already at 121% and a mighty €207bn of planned-debt by the end of this year, we really can’t spread the period out too much. At this stage, our problem is debt and unless we default, then unfortunately Michael “Scotty” Noonan has no choice but to give her some more but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have choices in how the deficit gap is closed.

Table of the Week

DoFMaastricht1

Some good news this week from the Department of Finance which provided what it called “half-finalised” economic results for 2012 which showed that our deficit as a % of GDP in 2012 was 7.6% which was a full 1.0% less than the target we have with the Troika. Yes we had the windfall of the mobile phone licence and we had Minister Reilly acting the eejit with the health budget and we have slipped back into recession on the most modest basis in 2012, but all-in-all, the result shows the firm trajectory back to a balanced budget. Debt is planned to be €207bn at the end of 2013 though, and the betting on here is that we will have €1-3bn extra cost this year for IBRC’s liquidation and the jury is still out on NAMA with residential and commercial property prices still declining. Permanent TSB and AIB and even Bank of Ireland are not fully out of the woods, and may be back with the begging bowl. Somehow, Professor Morgan Kelly’s May 2011 estimate of €250bn debt doesn’t seem at all fanciful.

DoFMaastricht1

Chutzpah of the Week

Rich

Last Sunday, the tone on Twitter was lowered with the above promotional tweet from Ernst and Young. You might recall the Enda Farrell affair at NAMA when the now former NAMA employee firstly purchased a property owned by a NAMA developer without, according to NAMA, disclosing his interest and then in an investigation, the more serious matter of loan details being leaked by Enda was uncovered. What Enda had done was to send files to his wife Alice, who at the time occupied a senior position at Ernst and Young, and Alice forwarded the emails to Enda’s personal email address; that way, Enda bypassed controls at NAMA which stop information being sent to personal email address and the ruse also masked the leaking of the information. Alice has since left Ernst and Young, but how rich of E&Y to now promote its expertise in accessing and processing information! There was no response from E&Y to the comment above.

The Garda investigation of the information leaking appears not to have yet resulted into any arrest. NAMA was seeking costs for its court action against the formerly-golden couple, and Alice was defending the action by claiming she didn’t know the contents of the emails; that case appears to have settled without its terms reaching the media.

Unfit police service of the Week

ImwithyouDalai

And finally, the Belfast Telegraph reported last week that police chased a 59-year old man through a forest for 30 minutes before apprehending him. A 59-year old man wearing stockings and suspenders. And nothing else. For 30 minutes! The Dalai Lama certainly seems to have found it amusing above. In a suburb in south Derry which has attracted a reputation for gatherings of what might be called an unconventional nature, two PSNI officers responded to reports of there being a naked man about, and when they arrived at the woods in the Prehen area of the city, they chased the man for 30 minutes before finally apprehending him. Perhaps dope-cheating athletes should dispense with the steroids and the diuretics and just don stockings and suspenders, maybe the embarrassment-factor might be enough to power them to victory.

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Developer and businessman Paddy McKillen is these days making the sort of contribution to the legal industry that he once made to the construction sector. Paddy is suing a range of people in Dublin’s High Court for defamation. He is seeking an injunction against the Sunday Times which apparently obtained details of his loans at IBRC. He is awaiting his appeal in a long-running battle with the Barclay brothers over control of the Maybourne group of hotels in London.

And yesterday, he launched an action against NAMA in Dublin’s High Court. The reference is 2013/4252 P and Paddy is represented by Lyons Kenny solicitors in Dublin. The respondent is “National Asset Management Agency” and as is usual with recently-filed cases, there is no solicitor on record for NAMA.

As this is Ireland, we know neither the cause nor remedy sought.

Paddy and NAMA have previous form. Paddy launched the first major legal challenge to NAMA in 2010 when 15 of his companies went to court in Dublin to stop NAMA taking over their loans. What followed was a marathon process which saw experts such as Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz providing evidence to a High Court which eventually rejected all of Paddy’s arguments. Paddy appealed the case to the Supreme Court where the outcome was technically a score-draw in that Paddy won the right to be consulted by NAMA before his loans were acquired but he didn’t have an absolute right to stop the Agency acquiring his loans. NAMA subsequently decided not to acquire most of Paddy’s loans, but it is understood the Agency acquired some loans associated with Paddy where Paddy was part of a consortium. By the way, we still waiting to hear what the final legal bill was in this case, and NAMA has been ordered to pick up Paddy’s costs.

Comment will be sought from Paddy’s spokeswoman but the betting is there won’t be any comment at this stage.

Separately, Paddy is understood to be one of IBRC’s biggest borrowers with personal loans estimated at €300-370m and corporate loans estimated at €550m. The Special Liquidator at IBRC is presently entertaining approaches by borrowers to refinance their loans at 100% – that was the idea, Minister Noonan’s reponse this week does not fill us with confidence. The Barclay brothers – worth €3bn according to last week’s Sunday Times Rich List  – have made it known that they are interested in buying Paddy’s loans and may be prepared to pay a premium on top of their market value. Paddy didn’t even make it onto the Irish-born Rich List which had a threshold of just €41m, though you wonder how accurate the Rich List is.

UPDATE (1): 27th April, 2013. It is understood that Paddy is seeking damages on a number of points including breach of privacy, confidentiality, and breach of section 221 of NAMA Act (lobbying NAMA). It is understood that it is alleged in the claim that interests connected with the Barclay brothers lobbied NAMA with a view to having loans connected with the Maybourne hotels foreclosed, which would have forced Paddy to seek refinancing or see his 36% share in Maybourne diluted in favour of the Barclays. It is understood to be further alleged that NAMA provided interests associated with the Barclays with confidential information on loans in which Paddy had an interest, that such contacts generally breach NAMA’s anti-lobbying rules and that NAMA didn’t act on those breaches. No comment from NAMA as at present.

UPDATE (2): 27th April, 2013. We still don’t have the detail of the application, but trawling back through Oireachtas committee hearings, the NAMA CEO did appear particularly uneasy during this exchange with the Fianna Fail public expenditure and reform spokesperson, Deputy Sean Fleming last October 2012. Deputy Fleming was concerned at unchallenged evidence given in the High Court action in London last year where Paddy was fighting the Barclay brothers over control of the Maybourne hotels. The evidence suggested that NAMA had discussed details of loans connected to Paddy with interests connected to the Barclays. The NAMA CEO said “I do not believe that what has been maintained is correct” in response to Deputy Fleming reading out certain emails, but Deputy Fleming countered that NAMA had not challenged the emails in the London court. The full transcript of last October’s hearing is here, but this is the extract that appears most relevant.

Deputy Sean Fleming:  There is a document on the public record of the courts in England. Therefore, there is nothing confidential about this. It is not sub judice. It is a previous case. I want to read an extract from the public court record of what was stated in the summing up, and I can provide this to anybody who wishes to have it after the meeting. It is on the public court record. It states Mr. Hennigan and Selina Dicker from NAMA then spoke to Mr. Peters, Mr. Hooper and Mr. Faber on 27 January. It further states that on 28 January Mr. Peters e-mailed Mr. Hennigan and Ms Dicker saying, “Thank you for time yesterday on our conference call”. It states, “Richard, Dick and I found it most helpful”. It further states, “Clearly, you have a wealth of knowledge regarding Coroin Limited and its shareholders in some of the latter’s much wider debt and security positions than we would have possibly hoped to have obtained in the relatively short period of time we have been involved”. It also states, “We appreciate your most kind offer to assist us in getting up the learning curve”.

Mr. McDonagh can tell me if I am wrong on this but it could appear from this that NAMA representatives were discussing a company’s business with other people, perhaps to the detriment of one of its clients. I read that extract from the court record. Is Mr. McDonagh aware of this?

Mr. Brendan McDonagh: We are aware of the transcripts. We read the transcripts every day of—–

Deputy Sean Fleming:   Has Mr. McDonagh any problem with what, on the face of it, appears to be a breach of confidentiality, with some of his staff – this was recorded in open court – clearly discussing people’s business with third parties? Has he a problem with that?

Mr. Brendan McDonagh: First, the loans concerning that hotel at the time – I have to be careful what I say because this is subject to appeal – were NAMA loans and second, what the Deputy read is a counter party’s view of a conversation, and I do not believe that what has been maintained is correct.

Deputy Sean Fleming:   NAMA’s representative in the court contradicted that and it is on the public record subsequently. I have not read the full transcript of the court proceedings. What Mr. McDonagh has just said to us is that he, as the chief executive of the NAMA, contradicts the version in that e-mail that was sent to his staff member. He does not accept the accuracy of what his staff member received. Did his staff member not contradict that during the examination in court?

Mr. Brendan McDonagh: I do not believe so.

Deputy Sean Fleming:   Yet Mr. McDonagh contradicts it here months later.

Mr. Brendan McDonagh: All I can say to the Deputy is that based on my view of what he read out, I actually do not believe that to be the case.

Chairman:   Can I clarify one thing before we proceed with this because it is the subject of an appeal. Deputy Fleming is using the transcript from the court and is taking—–

Deputy Sean Fleming:   It is a matter of public record.

Chairman:   I know that but the Deputy is taking a particular reference point from one witness who has contributed to the case. Has he read the full transcript of both sides or positions that were given on this?

Deputy Sean Fleming:  I am not here to answer your questions.

Chairman: If the Deputy is going to pursue a line of questioning—–

Deputy Sean Fleming:   I asked Mr. McDonagh the question and—–

Chairman:   I know but—–

Deputy Sean Fleming:   —–I said, if the Chairman was listening, that I did not read the full transcript. I said that 30 seconds ago.

Chairman:   I would be mindful that the Deputy has not read the full transcript and—–

Deputy Sean Fleming:   I said that.

Chairman:   —–is selecting sections from it.

Deputy Sean Fleming:   I asked Mr. McDonagh to tell me if I was wrong on this. I opened the conversation on this by saying that I had not read the full transcript and that I was just going to quote this from it. Mr. McDonagh said he disagreed with the transcript and that is fine. That was not said in open court but he is saying it here now. All I will say on that, and I will conclude on this point, is that these issues possibly highlight a point I made at previous meetings, possibly with Mr. McDonagh at the Committee of Public Accounts. I think NAMA and the IBRC are in a similar space from the point of view of the Irish taxpayer and I believe if would be better – Mr. McDonagh cannot decide on a policy issue, he has to work within the legislation but we are a policy committee – if the two organisations were under the one umbrella and working together rather than, on occasion, working to separate agendas.

Chairman:   I will take Mr. McDonagh’s concluding remark and then call Deputy Spring. Does Mr. McDonagh wish to add any further comment?

Mr. Brendan McDonagh: No, Chairman.

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The Belfast Telegraph – sister paper of the Irish Independent in Northern Ireland – this morning reported what it claimed was an exclusive. The report never made it online but it began “Northern Ireland’s best known pub group is facing a winding-up order over unpaid rent on its former headquarters, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal”. The report by the Bel Tel’s Margaret Canning went on to claim that Botanic Inns which operates 14 pubs in Northern Ireland and employs 600 people, was facing a winding up petition from property developers John and Helen Miskelly.

We learned this week that the Sunday Times Rich List Irish Top 250 estimated John Miskelly’s wealth at €71m and attributed the wealth, in part, to ownership of the Ten Square Hotel in Belfast. We also know that John is in NAMA, with the BBC reporting in July 2012 that NAMA had registered a charge on one of John’s companies, Applecroft Investments.

Botanic Inns has to contend with not one, but two NAMA developers. In 2011, NAMA had administrators appointed to Clare developers, Sean Lyne and Noel Connellan, who owned a string of pubs in Northern Ireland. Five of the pubs were rented to Botanic Inns, so in 2011, NAMA became landlord to the pub landlords!

Separately, Botanic Inns rented its head office on Ormeau Road from John and Helen Miskelly. And the Bel Tel today claimed that GBP 60,000 (€71,100) was owed by Botanic Inns to the Miskellys on the Ormeau Road building, and that the petition which is set to be heard by the High Court in Belfast next month jeopardized the future of the pub operator.

This afternoon, the Northern Ireland pub  industry group, Pubs of Ulster issued a statement in which Colin Neil, its chief executive said [UPDATED] “We are disappointed to see the media coverage about the position the Botanic Inns group has been placed in by the landlord of one of their administrative buildings.  The move by the landlord of the Botanic Inns group headquarter building will not impact on the day to day trading at bars and pubs owned by the group.  We are working closely with the management at the Botanic Inns group and as one of our most high profile members are confident that they continue to provide a quality offering. They have our full support.”

So, it seems that Botanic Inns is facing a petition in respect of its headquarters but the petition is not connected to the bars operated by the group.

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This morning has seen the publication of the Central Statistics Office (CSO) residential property price indices for Ireland for March 2013. Here’s the summary showing the indices

  • at their peak (various months in 2007 depending on type of property and location)
  • the NAMA valuation date (November 2009)
  • 12 months ago (March 2012)
  • the start of this year (end December 2012)
  • last month (February 2013)
  • this month (March 2013)

CSORPPIMar13b

The CSO’s indices are Ireland’s premier indices for mortgage-based residential property transactions. The CSO analyses mortgage transactions at nine financial institutions : Ulster Bank, Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland, ICS Building Society (part of the Bank of Ireland group), the Educational Building Society, Permanent TSB, Belgian-owned KBC, Danish-owned National Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society. The indices are hedonic in the sense it firstly groups transactions on a like-for-like basis (location, property type, floor area, number of bedrooms, new or old and first-time buyer or not) and then assigns weightings to each group dependent on their value to the total value of all transactions. The indices are averages of three-month rolling transactions.

Cash transactions: Even though the launch of the property price register at the end of September 2012, was six months ago, we still don’t have a monthly index covering all reported transactions.  DAFT.ie has begun the work to produce hedonic indices based on all the transactions made available by the Property Services Regulatory Authority, transactions dating back to January 2010. Daft.ie now produces every three months an index based upon the Property Price Register, and as that Register gets more data, you can expect the Daft.ie to overtake the CSO’s own index.

As for the key questions:

How much does property now cost in Ireland? The CSO deliberately doesn’t produce average prices. The former PTSB/ESRI index did, and claimed the average price of a property nationally hit the peak in February 2007 at €313,998, in Dublin in April 2007 at €431,016 and outside Dublin in January 2007 at €267,987. If, and it is a big “if”, you were to take PTSB/ESRI prices as sound and comparable to prices captured by the CSO series, then these would be the average prices today:

Nationally, €154,232 (last month €156,855, peak €313,998)

In Dublin, €188,429 (last month €189,396, peak €431,016)

Outside Dublin, €137,531 (last month €141,415, peak €267,987)

I don’t think the CSO would be happy with this approach but it seems to me that the PTSB/ESRI series, as represented by its historical indices, closely correlates with the performance of the CSO indices.

What’s surprising about the latest release? Apartments fell by 7% nationally and in Dublin, and that might reflect low volumes, but all categories in all areas declines. The March 2013 decline of 0.5% is less than the 1.5% decline in February 2013.

 Are prices still falling?After four months of consecutive declines, you would tend to say “yes” prices are still declining. And the decline in Dublin of 0.8% was greater than the 0.3% outside Dublin.

How far off the peak are we? Nationally 50.9% (52.0% in real terms as we have had inflation of just 2.4% between February 2007 and March 2013). Interestingly, as revealed here, Northern Ireland is some 56.3% from peak in nominal terms and 63.2% off peak in real terms. Are forbearance measures by mortgage lenders, a draconian bankruptcy regime and NAMA’s (in)actions distorting the market? Or are cash transactions which are not captured by the CSO index so significant today that if they were captured, the decline in the Republic would be even greater?

How much further will prices drop? Indeed, will prices continue to drop at all? Who knows, I would say the general consensus is that prices will continue to drop. This is what I believe to be a comprehensive list of forecasts and projections for Irish residential property [house price projections in Ireland are contentious for obvious reasons and the following is understood to be a comprehensive list of projections but please drop me a line if you think there are any omissions – note January 2013 Fitch and S&P being inserted shortly].

What does this morning’s news mean for NAMA? The CSO index is used to calculate the NWL Index shown at the top of this page which aims to provide a composite reflection of price movements in NAMA’s key markets since 30th November 2009, the NAMA valuation date. Residential prices in Ireland are now down 31.7% from November, 2009.  The latest results from the CSO bring the index to 775 (29.0%) meaning that NAMA will need see a blended average increase of 29.0% in its various property markets to break even at a gross profit level.

The CSO index is a monthly residential property price index calculated from mortgage-based transactions. The main other index is that produced by Daft.ie based on the Property Price Register. There are four other residential price surveys, based on advertised asking prices or agent valuations (see below, details here). In addition Phil Hogan’s Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government produces an index based on mortgage transactions, six months after the period end to which the transactions relate, and which is not hedonically analysed – it is next to useless, and as some might say is a reflection of Minister Hogan, the Department will continue to produce these indices at a “marginal cost”.

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I don’t think the new Personal Insolvency Act 2012 will lead to an upsurge in Irish bankruptcies. Although the Act, when finally commenced, will allow people undergo a 3-year bankruptcy instead of five years at present, the reason I don’t think there’ll be much change is, last year, when justice minister Alan Shatter lowered the bankruptcy period from 12 years to five, there was no noticeable increase in bankruptcies.

We learned this week that in 2012, a total of 35 people were declared bankrupt in Ireland. That compares with 33 in 2011 and 29 in 2012. We learned from a Freedom of Information request to the UK Insolvency Service in February 2013 that at least 61 Irish people were declared bankrupt in the UK in 2012, and that is likely to be an underestimate as it depends on Irish bankrupts in the UK including an Irish address in their application and specifically including “Ireland” in their address.

We also learned this week that there are 143 people in Ireland that are still not discharged from bankruptcy.

There were nearly 60,000 bankruptcies in the UK in 2010, the last full year for which the UK Insolvency Service has published statistics. In Northern Ireland, which has a population of 1.8m compared to 4.7m here, there were 2,300 bankruptcies in 2010.

It looks as if, under the new Personal Insolvency Act 2012, there will still be very few bankruptcies in Ireland – if there wasn’t a surge when the bankruptcy period fell seven years from 12 to five last year, there is unlikely to be a surge this year when it falls from five to three. Not when you can obtain a bankruptcy over 12 months on easier terms in the UK.

These are the parliamentary questions and response which revealed the statistics this week.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of individuals adjudged bankrupt in the State in each of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Deputy Pearse Doherty: To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the overall number of individuals in the State whose bankruptcy has not yet been discharged.

Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter: As the Deputy may be aware, ahead of drafting the Personal Insolvency Act 2012, I introduced a number of amendments to the existing bankruptcy regime in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 providing for the reduction of the application period to the court for discharge from bankruptcy from 12 years to 5 years, subject to the same conditions, and for the automatic discharge of bankruptcies on the twelfth anniversary of the bankruptcy adjudication order.  The new Personal Insolvency Act 2012 continues the reform of the Bankruptcy Act 1988 and, when commenced, will provide for an automatic discharge from bankruptcy, subject to certain conditions, after 3 years in place of the current 12 years.

The Deputy will be aware that, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service and I have no role in the matter.  Section 4(3) of the 1998 Act provides that the Courts Service is independent in the performance of its functions, which includes the provision of statistics.  In order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made with the Courts Service and have been informed that 143 bankrupt persons remain undischarged.   The number of adjudications in the period from 2010 to 2012 were as follows:

Year       Number of persons adjudicated bankrupt

2010       29

2011       33

2012       35

 

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Last weekend, the Sunday Times published its annual rich lists for the UK and Ireland. The Sunday Times regards Ireland as the island, Republic and Northern Ireland, and it compiles a separate list of the Top 250 richest in Ireland. Given the world-class collapse in the Irish property sector at the end of the last decade, you might be surprised to see  any wealth remaining in property, and indeed there are practically no NAMA developers apparent on the list, but there is a sizable number whose wealth remains in property.

It should be said upfront, that the Sunday Times survey is based on estimation and may contain inaccuracies. It is supposed to encompass Irish-born wealthy. I was surprised to see that businessman and developer Paddy McKillen didn’t make it onto the Rich List at all, whilst his rivals for the Maybourne group of hotels, the Barclay brothers are on the UK Rich List and are said to be worth nearly €3bn, or GBP 2.35bn to be precise. Paddy did appear in some previous editions of the Rich List and in 2009 was said to have been worth about €75m.

Also it should be said that many of Ireland’s richest people have property holdings but are not primarily known for their property investments. For example Digicel’s Denis O’Brien is Ireland’s 2nd richest person with wealth estimated at €4bn and Denis has a portfolio of Irish property including here, but that is not his main source of wealth. Larry Goodman is said to be worth €613m and his wealth is attributed to meat but we know that he has considerable property interests as well. So,perhaps it is better to treat this list as a bit of fun; this is the list of those the Sunday Times believe are in the Irish Top 250 whose primary source of wealth is, or includes, property.

Michael Smurfit (€468m), owns the K Club, homes in Ireland, Monaco and Spain

Stephen Vernon (€334m) this is his stake in Green Property which owns the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre

Bert and Maurice Allen (€315m) They sold the Bewley hotel chain in 2007 for €225m and have a property and investment portfolio worth about €300m today.

George, Henry and John Sisk (€310m) This is construction wealth but they are involved in developments, including the NAMA development of Greystones Harbour.

Joseph and Jean Brennan (€235m), the bakers but are also said to have a €150m investment property portfolio

Neil Taylor (€235m) owns 2,000 German apartments#

Charles and Margaret Kenny (€229m) own the Clancourt group which has office developments on Harcourt Street off St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Sam Morrison (€229m) This Antrim developer (yes, it is an all-Ireland list) owns Corbo which in turn owns the Fairhill Shopping Centre in Ballymena and retail parks off Boucher Road in Belfast

Kevin and Michael Lagan (€176m) Antrim developers who have recently been engaged to develop the Dundonald site into which NAMA is pouring €11m.

Gerard O’Hare (€176m),  another Nordie, owns Newry’s Quays shopping complex, Fairgreen shopping centre in Carlow. Bertie Ahern was on the board of his company, Parker Green International.

Bernadette and John Gallagher (€173m) behind Doyle hotels.

Ken Rohan (€141m) owns Airspace Investments with property in Ireland, UK and Barbados

Charles Gallagher (€129m) stake in Abbey homes and Matthew Homes in England

Aidan Brooks (€94m) retail properties in London, Paris and New York

Eileen Monahan (€92m) stake in Doyles hotels and Johnston Court shopping centre in Sligo

Michael and Lesley Herbert (€88m) Nordies who own a string of KFC franchises but also own properties in Northern Ireland and Scotland

Thomas and Tom McDonogh (€86m), father and son Galway own the Brackenwood investment company

Lord Rana (€85m), Nordie, own Andras House property and hotel group

John, Ciara and John Patrick Byrne (€83m) own Dublin property through a Cayman Islands trust

Owen O’Callaghan (€82m) Moyglen Holdings and Blackwater Property

Angela and Michael Cotter (€80m) Park Developments, was previously involved in the Greystones Harbour development, NAMAed

Frank Fahy (€80m) Shannon Homes

James Egan (€79m) Broomford Holdings, a London-based property operation

Mark and Kathleen Kavanagh (€71m) Hardwicke group, parent of Kopian Investments.

Edward Lonergan (€71m) Nordie controls the Deramore group

John Miskelly (€71m) Belfast’s Ten Square Hotel

Noel and Miriam O’Callaghan (€64m) own hotels in Dublin, Gibraltar and Maryland, USA. Property in Kildare and Tipperary

Robert Harris (€56m) 20 companies in UK and New Zealand

Damian Heron (€56m) Derry-based builder and developer

Michael Holland (€56m) owns Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin

Patrick O’Leary (€56m) British Virgin Islands-based Arpal Investments

Ciaran Murdock (€53m) Newry-based Murdock group

Billy Hastings (€47m) Hastings Hotels chain including Belfast’s Europa and half of Dublin’s Merrion Hotel

Joseph Layden (€45m) Layden Properties Georges Street

Kevin and Mary Flannery (€41m) Flannery’s and the Imperial hotels in Galway and Foxfield Inns

Gerry Houlihan (€41m) owns half of Tifco which has several Crowne Plaza in Dublin, and Clontarf Castle

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Unfolding fiasco of the Week

Stationary

This was the week we learned the strictures that would apply to those seeking protection from the new personal insolvency processes. What makes the rules on spending so farcical is that it reflects this government’s strategy of dealing with highly-indebted households by stretching a process over six years, rather than the template used elsewhere to recognize indebtedness today, liquidate the assets, pay off as much of the debts as possible and allow the debtor to get on with their lives and contribute to the economy. The reason for this approach is we own the banks which will need more bailouts to fill the holes left by losses crystallized today, but it means we have a farcical experiment where lives are supervised at a micro-level for more than half a decade. We learned during the week that not a single personal insolvency practitioner has been authorized yet the processes are supposed to be available in less than three months. Meanwhile Minister Noonan said it was feasible to have a target of banks producing sustainable solutions for 25,000 mortgages by the end of June 2013.

Accidental Fine Gaeler of the Week

CanIPhoneAFriend 

You’ll be hard-pressed to find better comedy than that on Thursday night when, on the Vincent Browne show, Vincent asked Peter Mathews if he could name three Fine Gael policies with which Deputy Mathews, , a career banker and restructuring expert, agreed. Despite the intermission of a commercial break, the south Dublin TD – who incidentally confirmed his intention of running in the next general election – could come up with only two policies and neither has any relevance to finance or economics. It was comedy gold and here is the transcript:

Vincent Browne: Peter, why do you support a government who allows rich people, people who were formerly very rich and many of whom are still rich to live the life of Reilly still today, and people who have never been rich and who are living on the margins are going to be forced to adhere to these strictures which will make their lives miserable. Why? Why are you supporting a government doing this?

Peter Mathews: I am not supporting a government. I am informing a government from within of the true-

VB: You vote for them. Do you vote for them in the lobbies?

PM: “Do I vote for them in the lobbies?” In general, yes.

[Niamh Lyons: You’ve never voted against them]

PM: I’ve had pairings

VB: So you are supporting the government in something that you think is unjust.

PM: On matters that I consider important I have had pairs

[NL: But pairing is the same-]

PM: It is not

[NL: The person on the other side is not voting]

VB: Peter, you agree to support a government on issues which means you vote in support of things which you feel are unjust.

PM: I support a government which is doing its best in a least-worst effort to mend this economy.

VB: Yeah, but your view is that they are taking measures, they’re taking measures which are unjust.

PM: I don’t agree with all the measures that the policy has arrived at (sic) and that’s reasonable and that’s democracy is all about. In a family not everyone always agrees.

VB: I thought the Fine Gael family is obliged to agree

PM: Well, Vincent you know, as I mentioned before the programme began, today is the 65th anniversary of the 18th April 1948 when Ireland became a republic for the first time. Now it’s important that we try to get back the ideals of a republic and that’s why I am in this Dail to try to do.

[Mary Lou McDonald on different matter]

NL: Let’s be honest about it, NAMA was just one big personal insolvency slush fund for developers and builders.

PM: Can I ask you a question? Do you know that I actually anticipated and wrote about this, four and a half years ago, before NAMA was even finalized-

NL: Before you were even a TD!

PM: And then you joined Fine Gael!

PM: Vincent, I anticipated that the way the previous government’s strategy to address the banking crisis from the NAMA project was actually going to lead to all the kind of stuff that you guys are talking about now.

NL: And? But what’s your contribution in government then? Why aren’t you in there in parliamentary meetings, I mean we have talked about this on this programme before=

PM: She [indictating MLM] is on the same committee meetings that I am. And Mary Lou, do I contribute?

MLD: You do. The finance committee I hasten to add. I do not attend FG parliamentary party meetings.

NL: But does Michael Noonan not listen to you when you bring these proposals?

PM: Hold on. Ashoka Mody which everyone got a little bit excited about last week when he was on the broadcast media. He had actually written an opinion piece in the Irish Times three months previously and two years ago, the very stuff that he was writing three months ago was the very stuff that I brought into a committee and it was dismissed. It would cause the Europeans to [indistinct, crash?]

VB: Peter, is there anything of government policy that you actually support

PM: I don’t want to take up all the programme Vincent-

VB: Tell us three biggies, tell us three biggies that you agree on

PM: I’ll tell you after the programme

VB: No, no, tell us now! Do you know why you won’t tell us now? Because you can’t think of anything off the top of your head

PM: That’s not relevant Vincent

VB: Tell us one off the top of your head

PM: Vincent, you used want to hurry on to the next point. About three years ago, when I said there were another €35bn of losses to come in mortgage loan losses and other types. Now we have Fiona Muldoon-

VB: Just off the top of your head, tell us something the Government does that you approve of.

PM: Well, it’s moved through other areas of legislation in matters to do with-

VB: We’ll go to a break to give Peter some time to come up with three things that he agrees with the government on, that’s the government he supports, join us after the break.

[BREAK]

VB: (sarcastically) Peter Mathews has told me to say that he has come up with 30 issues that he has agreed with the government policy on (sic). I can’t remember what the 30 issues now were. What were the first three of those?

PM: Symphysiotomy as Mary Lou reminded me, the pardon for the World War 2 soldiers who left without leave, various things, you can go through them-

VB: And you can’t think of a third.

PM: I’ve told you, have you forgotten.

VB: What was the third?

PM: You’ll have to do mental exercises.

VB: [Giving up and looking at notes] Somebody says “Breaking News! Peter Mathews, you’re actually a member of the government party. Do you forget that Peter?

PM: Thanks for reminding me, listen they’re wonderful people

Greedy bast*rds of the week

DLAPiper

This was the week that NAMA confirmed that it has spent €22m on legal fees during 2012. DLA Piper in the UK was one of seven firms which received more than €1m in 2012. Let’s hope the UK firm doesn’t suffer from the same apparent greed as its US branch which was reported by the New York Times to have, what the NYT called a “lax attitude towards billing”. DLA in the US sued a client who hadn’t paid his bills. The client sought discovery of documents relating to his case and the discovery yielded emails from DLA which revealed their turbo-charged attitude towards billing.

“I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” wrote one of DLA’s lawyers

“Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode…That bill shall know no limits” another Piperer wrote.

The case was “resolved” this week with a confidential settlement between the parties. Let’s hope NAMA scrutinizes “Team” DLA Piper’s invoices closely.

Salaries of the Week

LorealNowBored

The accounts for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland – its board members are pictured above – were signed off by Andrew Harnkess on behalf of the Comptroller and Auditor General on 29th June 2012 but were only laid before the Dail by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte on 11th April 2013. The accounts weren’t available on the BAI website this week but you can access them here . They make for interesting reading. The BAI is one of the few organizations in the State where salaries increased by over 12% between 2010 and 2011 and now stand at an average of €51,000. But take a look at the note to the accounts on salaries – and these exclude pension costs of €208,000.

BAIStaffCosts

In 2010, the average salary (before employer national insurance and pension costs) was €48,300 for the 38 staff. In 2011 the accounts below show €1,571,000 but that excludes €489,000 transferred to the so-called Broadcasting Fund which indicates gross salaries inclusive of national insurance contributions of €2,060,000 for 38 staff which equals €54,210 average and if you exclude an average of 6% for employers national insurance (90/1571) then that leaves you with an average salary of €51,000 – up 12.5% on 2010. Nice!

The BAI is a strange quango and has only been around since 2009. It is an utterly useless waste of resources and it has failed miserably in its primary role which was to ensure diversity in Irish media. Oh, and take a look at what you could be watching in the UK last Sunday night on their Freeview and then take a look at what was on our equivalent Saorview on a Sunday (which uses an incompatible and more expensive set-top box)

Freeview

Saorview Sunday 21st April, 2013

Saorview

Coincidence of the Week

5th April, 2013 – Attorney General sends letter from Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin to the Chief Justice Susan Denham who forwards it to members of the judiciary. The letter sets out the cuts to judges’ salaries under the Croke Park 2 agreement which was expected to be ratified mid-April

11th April, 2013 – Judge Kelly delivers a speech to a conference in Dublin in which he castigates the government for interfering with the judiciary. The two examples of interference are cuts to judges’ pay and the creation of new judicial structures such as the insolvency courts without appropriately qualified judges

14th April, 2013 Sunday Business Post reports the speech by Judge Kelly

14th April, 2013 Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter responds saying “at a time when we are still fighting to restore our economic sovereignty and bring about sustainable economic recovery, we all have a duty when speaking to ensure that what we say has no unintended consequences and does not undermine international business confidence in the State”

15th April, 2013 Back in 2011, the judges found they had no platform to voice their objections to the referendum on judicial pay when justice minister Alan Shatter told the Court Service to remove a statement by the judges setting out their objections to having their pay exposed to reduction. Well, the judges learned their lesson and they have their own website now, and the judges responded to Minister Shatter’s comments by issuing a statement which included “The judge pointed out that for almost 90 years of the State’s existence there had been no need for an association of judges given the mutual respect demonstrated by the executive and judicial branches of government, one for the other.  All structures both formal and informal which existed for communication between those two branches of government have ceased”

16th April, 2013 (8am) Master of the High Court Edmund Honohan wades in by speaking on RTE’s morning Ireland and using that phrase guaranteed to get anyone’s gander up by criticizing the “sense of entitlement” of judges in their comments about the government

16th April, 2013 (11am) President of the High Court, Judge Nicholas Kearns responds to the uppity Master Honohan by saying he “is not a judge but an office holder with limited functions created by statute” and “specifically, he has no authority to speak on behalf of the High Court or its judges. Any impression to the contary would be mistaken.”

16th April, 2013 (3pm) Opposition warn of “constitutional crisis”

16th April, 2013 (4pm) News filters through that Croke Park 2 is voted down by unions

17th April, 2013 Judges adjudge themselves satisfied that government is not interfering with judiciary

We still don’t know how many judges are in NAMA – finance minister Michael Noonan refuses to answer that question, but we believe there are a few, and it is remarkable that the momentum drained from the “constitutional crisis” as soon as judges saw the Croke Park 2 agreement was dead in the water and that the threat to the salaries of the cash-strapped ones has been lifted, at least for now. A coincidence, shurely.

League table of the Week

2013Reputations

This week, an organization called Corporate Reputations produced its annual survey of the reputations of companies in Ireland. It produces a Top 100 based on some 5,000 interviews, and this year, it found that the most reputable company and brand in the State is BMW. Irish companies, the Kerry group and Superquinn also made it into the Top 10. RTE, which has new self-promotional advertising ahead of unveiling its 2012 financial results which are expected to be atrocious, is ranked at position 53 which is above Sky at 56 and TV3 at 59 but way lower than the Irish Times at position 20. Independent News and Media, which published the Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday World, Herald just about makes the table at position 93. There are four banks, Bank of Ireland, AIB, PTSB and Ulster Bank in the last five positions 95-100.

Sad statistic of the Week

NISuicide2012Provision

In (the Republic of) Ireland, we beat ourselves up about suicide. In 2011, the provisional statistics indicate that 525 died through suicide. That equates to 11.4 per 100,000 citizens. Every single one is a tragedy. Although of cold comfort to individual tragedies, comparing suicide rates with other countries, suggests we are well below average and certainly far, far better than across the Border where provisional figures for 2012 – see above, from the Northern Ireland Statistical and Research Agency – indicate there were 278 suicides in a territory with a population of 1,810,863 indicates a suicide rate of 15.4 per 100,000 down from 16.4 in 2011 when 313 died through suicide. So Northern Ireland’s suicide rate in 2011 was 44% greater than that in the Republic. This week, the Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Edwin Poots observed that the rate doubled in Northern Ireland in the past decade and the reasons for the dramatic increase are unclear.

Quote of the Week

“Every now and again you’ll see these so-called republicans parading. And I look and I see these 50-year-olds, and I see these 40-year-olds, and I see these 35-year-olds … and I don’t recognise most of them. You know what I wonder – I wonder where they were when there was a war” Martin McGuinness at the Sinn Fein Ard Dheis

Oddly enough the above quote which was widely reported in the media doesn’t appear in the Ard Fheis speeches published on the Sinn Fein website indicating that it was an improvised addition.

Donnchaidh O’Laoghaire delivered perhaps the most poignant speech of the Ard Fheis on emigration.

“She came up to me and she said, ‘I’ve got one thing to say to you, my boy … you can’t trust the Irish, they are all liars’, she said, ‘liars, and that’s what you have to remember, so just don’t forget it. With that she waltzed off and that was my only personal exposure to her.” Labour party politician Peter Mandelson recollecting his only “exposure” to Margaret Thatcher whose funeral took place during the week. Let me say as an Irish person, she left the world a better place socially and economically, her contribution to international relations was spectacular particularly in south America, she will be much missed. And of course, she was the first woman to run the mile in less than four minutes.

“I am pleased, first of all because Dundonald is somewhere where there is clearly demand for houses. Where there is a market for houses, and where there’s a land bank available, I have been stressing to Nama not to hold on to the land because it holds back development and prevents jobs” Sammy Wilson, Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland responding to the ground-breaking NAMA announcement that it was investing €11m in a south east Belfast development. Just 24 hours beforehand there were carefully crafted mutterings about NAMA’s malign effect in Northern Ireland in the wake of the Kennedy Group foreclosures and we saw on here the connection between Alistair Kennedy of the Kennedy Group which was sponsor of the NW200 annual motorcycle road race and the DUP.

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PBN2012

Despite the little stumble with NAMA foreclosing on the loans of a developer who is bessie mates with a certain political party in Northern Ireland, the hastily-issued NAMA promise to spend €11m developing 100 homes in that party’s stronghold appears to have had a placating effect. It just shows you how diplomatic you need to when dealing with certain people.

Today, we have the report and accounts – available here – for PBN Property Limited for the year ended June 2012 in which the company heaps praise on the NAMA scheme, though also points out that NAMA hasn’t yet approved its business plan. PBN Property Limited is an important company in the PBN group, understood to be one of NAMA’s largest debtors in Northern Ireland, which is controlled by Paddy Kearney (“P”), Brian McConville (“B”) and former Anglo Northern Ireland boss, Neil Adair (“N”) though it is noteworthy that Neil resigned as a director of PBN Property Limited on 15th March 2013.

The company had sales of GBP 7.9m (€9.5m) though racked up a loss of GBP 0.4m though interestingly there is no writedown on its property holdings. It has GBP 162m of property-related assets but is balance sheet insolvent to the tune of GBP 4m. It has 12 employees paid GBP 333,000 in total.

PBN says today “the Directors welcome both the adventof this Irish government initiated bank asset relief agency which has both the time and resources to support the full exploitation of the Group’s asset base and NAMA’s responsible and measured approach to the property and construction industry in Northern Ireland” It also notes that it has submitted a “detailed” business plan to NAMA and that it continues to interact with NAMA to maximize the inherent long term economic value to be derived from the Group’s asset base.

Contrast that approach to the one adopted in 2010 when PBN lambasted the Republic’s banks and lack of lending and support generally.

Today of course PBN is in a straitened position with a small loss last year, an insolvent balance sheet and an audit opinion which is qualified for the not-unusual reason that it is nigh impossible to place a value on property assets at present.

Still, no harm in being diplomatic.

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