The Republic’s National Assets Management Agency, or NAMA, has a long arm.
It has launched a legal action in the U.S. against Sean Dunne, the property developer dubbed the “Baron of Ballsbridge,” due to his links to some of Dublin’s highest profile hotels during the Celtic Tiger boom years.
The case is understood to be part of state-controlled NAMA’s efforts to recover some of the €185 million Mr. Dunne was ordered to repay by courts back in March. the Irish Independent reported.
A spokesman for NAMA declined to comment because the case is now before the courts in America. Weekend reports said a hearing is due to go ahead in October. Mr. Dunne, who is based in the U.S., could not be reached for comment, the report stated.
And it added: “The latest action comes after a luxury U.S. house linked to Mr. Dunne’s wife, Gayle Killilea, was sold for $5.5 million (€4.4m) in recent weeks. The property is located in one of the wealthiest and most exclusive neighborhoods in the entire U.S. – Belle Haven in Greenwich, Connecticut.”
Sean Dunne, who moved to the U.S. two years ago after his Irish businesses collapsed, always denied owning the controversial property, the report said.
It has been listed in U.S. documents as the home of his wife.
The Dunne’s financial affairs have come in for intense scrutiny since the High Court ordered Sean Dunne to repay €185 million to NAMA to cover guarantees he provided for the debts run up by some of his companies during the boom.
“That debt has yet to be collected, and NAMA is known to have scoured the globe in an effort to find properties and assets that may be owned by Mr. Dunne,” the Independent report concluded.
Northern Ireland lost almost 11,000 private sector jobs in the past year.
The findings are contained in a new report by PricewaterhouseCoopers which predicts that the North’s economy will shrink further this year.
PwC said the economy had been steadily contracting since the middle of 2011 and predicted it would shrink by a further 0.4 percent this year.
The PwC report also found that the greatest impact on job losses was felt by the construction and retail sectors, which lost 5,710 and 5,820 jobs respectively.
Over the same 12-month period, around 500 jobs went in financial services, 230 in food processing and 100 in tourism and leisure. The only sector to grow was manufacturing where job numbers increased by 1,390 over the two years to March 2012.
PwC blames the job losses on the eurozone crisis and public spending constraints, and believes that if the eurozone crisis is dealt with, recovery will begin next year.
Dr. Esmond Birnie, PwC chief economist in Northern Ireland, said if the eurozone crisis was resolved the North could see some modest recovery and growth in 2013.
“Over the past two years, Northern Ireland has continued to attract outside investment and reinvestment by externally-owned firms already operating here,” he said.
“A number of our larger manufacturing exporters have also been successful in export markets and we have even seen some modest growth in
“The problem is that too few local companies are internationally competitive and our historic reliance on steady public spending growth means that Westminster’s austerity program is hampering the Northern Ireland Executive’s ability to commission major infrastructure programs.
“If the eurozone crisis is dealt with, we can expect recovery to begin next year. But if the crisis deepens, we are facing very serious problems indeed.”
Cellphone users who text in the Irish language are crying foul. They say they are being overcharged because the phone service charges for characters as opposed to letters. And the síneadh fada – that stroke above the letter i – is considered a character.
Irish cellphone company Vodafone has stated that users will be charged for three text messages if they include a single síneadh fada in a text of 160 characters.
Operators say texts are charged according to the data used, as opposed to the number of characters.
Messages with characters in Irish or indeed Mandarin, use more characters than a standard text in English. Vodafone, and also O2, say they conform to global standards set by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, which defines the list of alphabet characters and symbols.
AER Lingus is preparing to defend it self against the latest bid by rival Ryanair to gain operating control.
The former Irish flag carrier has published a 30-page circular calling on its shareholders to reject the takeover bid.
Aer Lingus has reported an operating loss of €4.4 million in the first six months of this year. Despite this, the airline is asserting that Ryanair is undervaluing it with its bid of €1.30 a share.
Christoph Mueller, Aer Lingus’s chief executive, said the airline has produced a good trading performance in a seasonally weak environment.
“The group’s operating loss of €4.4 million represents a significant improvement over the prior year. These results clearly demonstrate that our strategy of building a leaner and more efficient Aer Lingus is working,” Mueller said.
In its circular to shareholders, Aer Lingus pointed out that Ryanair’s first takeover bid was stymied in 2007 on competition grounds and that those same reasons were now even more pertinent than before.
“The board of Aer Lingus has unanimously recommended that shareholders reject Ryanair’s offer by taking no action,” said Mueller.
He added that the board was enjoying the support of shareholders because very few of them had sold their shares.
Separately, the Irish Examiner reported that Mr. Mueller said that following on from the code-sharing agreement with the Middle East-based airline Etihad, Aer Lingus was now in the early stages of exploring cost-saving measures with Etihad.
Ryanair is seeking European Union regulatory approval for its takeover bid. The European Commission, which acts as EU competition watchdog, has indicated that it will decide by August 29 whether or not to clear the deal.
The commission vetoed Ryanair’s 2007 attempted takeover of Aer Lingus. The budget carrier already owns just under 30 percent of Aer Lingus, while the Irish government retains a 25 percent stake.x
Irish ambassador to Washington, Michael Collins, is a quiet-spoken diplomat. But he apparently wields a decent sized stick.
Collins has managed to persuade the Obama administration to retreat from its stated view that Ireland is a “tax haven.”
The Obama campaign recently cited Ireland as a tax haven, this as part of an attack on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The criticism followed reports of Romney having investments in countries around the globe, including Ireland, that offer tax advantages for investors and investments not available in the U.S.
Along with Ireland, the Obama campaign focused on Romney funds resting in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. The campaign added a graphic entitled: “Has Mitt Romney avoided US taxes by investing millions in tax havens?”
Ireland does not consider itself a tax haven, but rather a “low tax country” for corporate investment. The corporate rate in Ireland is a lowly 12.5 percent.
The Irish government has repeatedly resisted calls from the U.S. and EU to raise this level.
After the Collins intervention, the jibe at Romney has been changed and acknowledges the Republic as a “low-tax country,” this under the new heading: “Has Mitt Romney avoided U.S. taxes by investing millions in tax havens and other low-tax countries?”
The u-turn came after contacts from the Irish embassy in Washington objecting to the allegation. Irish ambassador Michael Collins spoke directly with officials from the Obama campaign, the Irish Independent reported.
The Obama campaign, the report added, had stated that a financial trust linked to Mr. Romney had an unknown amount of money funds and accounts in Ireland, this by way of an “Ann D Romney Blind Trust” which “held an interest in Goldman Sachs Liquid Reserves Fund and others.”
IT is hoped that wind power could be the key to future Irish employment opportunities, with new plans just unveiled.
The potential creation of 40 new wind farms across the country could create up to 2,000 full-time jobs, this following a deal between energy firm Element Power and the UK’s National Grid.
Ireland’s next door neighbor is facing an energy crisis, and needs new sources of renewable energy in order to meet green power pledges on reducing its carbon footprint.
Element currently operate a base in County Cork, and the new farms could power cities and towns across Britain when completed. It is hoped the farms, containing swathes of windmills, could be built by 2017, if they overcome planning hurdles.
They are wind farms currently earmarked for counties including Kildare, Laois and Meath among others, with planning applications due to be submitted next year.
The scheme, dubbed the “Greenwire” project, is worth up to €8 billion, and could see environmentally friendly energy becoming Ireland’s trademark export.
“Greenwire is the enabling project that will allow this to happen boosting our national trade and generating considerable employment and benefit to the Midlands region,” said Tim Cowhig, Element Power Ireland’s chief executive.
“In anticipation of getting UK grid connection, the company has been working in Ireland over the past two years identifying potential wind farm sites, speaking with local authorities, working with environmental consultants and reaching agreements with land-owners. This is an important step in enabling the project and helping us to meet our target of exporting renewable energy to the UK by 2018,” he said.
Those in the dole queues would take issue with the assertion but social welfare benefits in Ireland are too high and need to be revised so as to encourage people back to work, this according to the International Monetary Fund.
The organization is of the view that Irish dole payments are high by international standards and responsible for “low exit rates” from the Live Register, the Republic’s index for measuring unemployment.
The Washington, D.C.-based body said that certain welfare payments should be means-tested to avoid long-term unemployment.
The IMF is one of the three bodies overseeing Ireland’s €85 billion bailout. It has suggested that Irish people out of work should be willing to take jobs regardless of suitability.
“It is also important to ensure that jobseekers are willing and able to fill jobs when they become available,” it said.
The Irish Times reported that IMF Ireland mission chief, Craig Beaumont, had suggested that eligibility for child benefits should also be narrowed, targeting only families that are “relatively less well-off.”
He described child benefits as an expensive part of the social welfare budget and additionally suggested limiting the number of medical cards issued.
Beaumont, according to the Times, pointed out that as people are living longer, government will be forced to hand out more and more of the cards.
“The cost of those medical cards will keep on rising. One way you can contain that is to look to some means-testing on eligibility,” Beaumont said.
The report noted that automatic entitlement to a medical card on reaching the age of 70 was ended on January 1, 2009.
Breaking into the American market isn’t easy for an Irish firm, but it’s a challenge Jonathan Tierney, co-founder and CEO of Crosscare Ltd, is willing to take on.
Tierney, 40, a businessman from Dublin, has spent years researching the U.S. market and last year launched a product called Colief Infant Drops, which caters to the problem of colic in infants.
In the elegantly appointed lobby of the Dream Hotel in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, Tierney, who is six feet tall and speaks in a quick Dublin patter, explained the structure of his firm, and outlined his American ambitions.
“We’ve been researching this market for the guts of ten years and we kind of knew what we wanted to do when we came in,” he said.
“We didn’t come in blind.”
Tierney’s father, Dan, established the business in 1965. Dan Tierney, who was from Limerick, had started out as a representative for the oil company Esso Oil, the European branch of Exxon.
But he left Esso when an opportunity arose to buy up a company called Osmond’s, a direct to farm business, and then expanded by purchasing Bimeda, a struggling firm that was owned by a group of vets.
Bimeda now operates in more than 65 countries, employs more than 525 people worldwide and has group revenues in excess of $160 million. Of his father, Tierney said, “He’s from Limerick, quite a poor family, and just built it up – a very successful entrepreneur.”
Jonathan Tierney grew up in Blackrock in Dublin, attended Castleknock College and then Dublin Business School, which, at that time, was known as Portobello College.
He left the Dublin Business School after a year and moved to Manchester, England, working in an equine company (part of the family group) for six months. But he decided that he needed a break from the farming side of things and set off for California, taking a series of jobs in the food and beverage industry.
At the time, during the eighties, it was not unusual for a young Irishman to leave home for a few years and often longer. Tierney noted that the reigning economic climate of his youth was what is now known as Recession One.
“People just left college and went away, it was a given,” he said of the 1980s. “It was kind of a trend that everyone did.”
But he also happened to love traveling and felt that he learned a lot.
“I loved living in the States,” he said. “I think it brings you more widely to society.”
Tierney was 29 when he returned to Ireland, and shortly after that he got married. Today, he has two children and a baby on the way.
Tierney runs the part of the family business dedicated to human products, called Crosscare. His brother, Donal, is in charge of veterinary pharmaceuticals, and their cousin, Gavin, oversees U.S. veterinary operations. When they are in the same country he and his brother meet for an hour every day.
In the U.S., Colief, which costs $14.99, is classified as a dietary supplement: parents put drops of Colief into their children’s milk to make it easier for their stomachs to digest.
Frequent unexplained crying is one of the signs of colic, and Colief has promoted the notion of “we time,” to emphasize that curing the condition will make it easier for parents to interact with their infants. As a father of young children, Tierney said that his family have used the product.
“My wife was forced into using it,” he joked, adding more seriously: “If we didn’t believe it worked, we wouldn’t have taken the risk to launch this product. We do find that there are a lot of hot-trot products out there for different things, but we firmly believe that this has an important role in (the treatment of) infant colic.”
Since its U.S. launch last year, Colief seems to have fared well, and it is listed in major pharmacies – CVS, Walmart, Duane Read, Walgreens, Target.
The product has its own facebook page (facebook.com/coliefinfantdrops) and twitter account (@Colief).
Dr. Bob Sears, a pediatrician and writer on child health, is its spokesperson, publicizing the product in articles on the Huffington Post, Fox News and CBS, and discussing colic with worried moms in a weekly tweet chat called #tummytuesday.
Tierney said that from an Irish perspective, America can seem an expensive place to do business. And it’s cut-throat: things happen fast in America compared with Europe, and if a product doesn’t sell, stores will swiftly remove it from their shelves.
But there is an upside to that too, he continued.
“One of the fascinating things I’ve found about the States is that things get done. If you ask for something to be done, it’s done.”
It might seem a risky time to expand a business, but the healthcare industry is relatively immune to financial trends. As Tierney put it: “I do believe that it’s quite recession proof in the sense that unfortunately people get sick, unfortunately there has to be medicines for them, which mightn’t be a nice way to put it, but it’s a fact of life.”
In addition to the U.S., plans for expansion in China are underway, and Colief is going through the regulatory process there.
But America is still the crown jewel of the business world.
“If you crack it, it’s a fantastic place to be,” Tierney said.
Fittingly for someone who is a CEO of a family business, Tierney is very much a family man. To oversee the U.S. launch of Colief he has been spending up to ten days of each month in America.
A sister lives in New Jersey and he intended to visit her following our interview. But for the next few weeks, with his wife scheduled to give birth any day, that pattern will change.
“Tomorrow I’m heading back and I’m not back here till mid-September. I’d be pushing it if I did anything earlier,” he joked.
“I’ll just be around to give a little bit of a helping hand in the evenings and things. I’ll stay home for the first four to six weeks and then back to normal.”
IRELAND’S struggling banks could soon be helped by way of eurozone debt relief if EU finance ministers agree to ease the debt burden later this year, this with the long-term aim of making the Republic a “success story” once again.
The decision was taken last week in Brussels, and has been described as a “positive” move for Ireland, where banks are currently in debt to the tune of over €60 billion.
October has been named as the deadline for the final decision on whether the financial relief will be made available, and proposals on the move will be submitted to ministers by the European Commission by September.
Last month, it was decided that the Republic’s bank bailout should be re-opened, and relief offered to eurozone member states following the introduction of a new EU-wide bank regulator.
However, with this unlikely to be in place by October, the date of the bank relief decision aid to Irish banks could take the form of a revised “promissory note” scheme.
Speaking of the proposed deal, European Commissioner Olli Rehn said: “It is better not to go in very concrete detail at this stage because we have technical negotiations going on for the moment.
“Let these negotiations between the Irish authorities and the European partners move forward. I’m confident that we will find a solution that, as the statement today says will help to improve debt sustainability of Ireland and thus make Ireland a success story again.”
The Republic’s housing minister Jan O’Sullivan is determined to see the bulk of the of 2,066 ghost estates dotting the 26 counties completed within a year, but some of them are going to be obliterated from the landscape.
To date, 211 unfinished housing developments have been completed by local authorities, and work is underway on another 770, a recently released report reveals.
But O’Sullivan has let it be known that a number of unfinished estates would have to be demolished because there was no demand for homes in their locations. Most of those slated for demolition will be in the midlands and border counties.
“These are complex issues and it’s a process that takes time. We are addressing it and we expect considerable progress in the next year,” O’Sullivan said.
“It’s a question of making the decisions required to make life better for people in these estates. Hard decisions will have to be made in some parts if these estates are not viable.”