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News : Irish Last Updated: May 13, 2013 - 11:49 AM

Monday Newspaper Review - Irish Business News and International Stories - - May 13, 2013
By Finfacts Team
May 13, 2013 - 9:32 AM

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The Irish Independent reports that Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has shot down Education Minister Ruairi Quinn's proposal to cut child benefit to fund an extra pre-school year for children. He has said that child benefit cuts were "never on the agenda" – with Labour sources indicating that he is determined there will be no such cuts during the Government's remaining term in office.

It came after Mr Quinn had alarmed parents with his comments about looking at child benefit cuts to provide the €200m needed to pay for an extra pre-school year for children aged three to five.

Mr Gilmore moved to put an end to the debate by ruling out any such cut. "The issue of cutting child benefit has never been on the agenda," he said.

Labour Party sources said that there was no intention of allowing any further cuts to child benefit during the lifetime of the Government. One said that Labour TDs did not want to cut the payment by €10 in the last budget – let alone do it again in another budget.

Mr Gilmore has given assurances to party figures that child benefit will not be cut. But he is not doing so in public because all cuts are supposed to be up for discussion ahead of the Budget.

He tried to soften the blow for Mr Quinn, who was also present at Labour's annual commemoration of James Connolly in Arbour Hill Cemetery yesterday, by praising him for raising the issue of pre-school education.

"I think it's timely that we have that discussion as we all know the cost of childcare is very high for families. And we all know there are educational benefits to pre-school education. What Ruairi Quinn was talking about was having a discussion," he said.

Social Protection Minister Joan Burton has already made it as clear as possible that child benefit cuts are also not on her agenda. She told the Irish Independent last week that it would take at least "two budget cycles" before a two-tier child benefit system recommended by an expert report could be in place.


And on RTE's 'Week in Politics', Ms Burton said she did not envisage significant further changes to child benefit at this point in time. She again pointed out the importance of child benefit payments for heavily indebted families who bought houses at the height of the boom.

However, she said she could not rule out any child benefit cuts during the Government's lifetime.

"I can't say that because the Government as a whole has to decide on the shape of the budget," she said.

Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald said she welcomed the fact that there would be no cuts to child benefit.

"Child benefit is an extraordinarily important part of family's incomes at present, and we know the pressures that families are under. Obviously we need to continue to have a debate about investment in the early years and increasing investment.

"In the last budget, we took a number of decisions about more after-school places and area-based initiatives around the country." She said the Government had to continue to work towards a second free pre-school year.

The Irish Independent also reports that  the country's biggest accounting body has told its members not to sign agreements requested by AIB that threaten them with potentially unlimited damages if details of restructuring deals are ever made public.

The bank is thought to fear the effect that deals like debt write-offs for individual business borrowers coming into the public domain could have on other borrowers.

It is seeking 'non-disclosure' agreements from the accountants who work with businesses that are in negotiations with the lender over their debts.

But if this information is ever disclosed, accountants who sign could risk unlimited penalties.

Non-disclosure agreements in debt negotiations are a controversial tactic. Critics say that deals on debts should be transparent.

Austin Slattery, the president of Chartered Accountants Ireland says the very broad non-disclosure letters sought by one Irish bank are unreasonable and damaging to the economy.

Signing the letters could leave individual accountants liable for potentially unlimited damages claims from the bank, which was simply too big a risk for professional firms, he said.

"Letters will act as an obstacle to effective debt resolution, getting businesses and the economy moving," he added.

The accounting body is advising its members not to sign the agreements and is writing to the bank to object to the practice. Accountants are already bound by confidentiality agreements, according to Chartered Accountants Ireland director Aiden Lamb, who says the new letters go above and beyond that.

AIB has already been hit by opposition over the same concern from the Law Society, the body that represents the country's solicitors.


Non-disclosure agreements being pushed by the bank on solicitors working on personal insolvency cases are "unprecedented, legally unnecessary, and objectionable in principle", said its Council and Business Law Committee in the latest issue of the 'Law Society Gazette'.

The Law Society has raised the issue with AIB, which has since dropped the non-disclosure requirement for solicitors advising distressed borrowers – in return for the industry being reminded of its confidentially obligations.

The Irish Times reports that  Liberty Insurance wants 100 per cent control over the former Quinn Insurance Group, almost half of which is held by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC), formerly Anglo Irish Bank.

Its chief executive in Ireland Patrick O’Brien, has told The Irish Times its Boston parent would like to acquire the 49 per cent shareholding in the business held by IBRC “sooner rather than later”.

Mr O’Brien declined to comment on how much IBRC’s stake would be worth.

However, he revealed the liquidation of IBRC took Liberty by “surprise”.

Heavily promoting

Liberty has been heavily promoting its brand in Ireland with a €1 million annual sponsorship of RTÉ’s Late Late Show . This, however, is coming to an end and the insurer has signed a five-year deal with the GAA to sponsor the All-Ireland hurling and camogie championships.

The Government put IBRC into liquidation in February and the special liquidators at KPMG are to value its assets and either sell them by August or transfer them to the National Asset Management Agency (Nama), which will dispose of them in time.

In November 2011, Liberty provided €102 million for a 51 per cent stake in the former Quinn insurance business. IBRC took the balance as part of a €200 million recapitalisation.

Mr O’Brien said IBRC’s liquidation took it by “surprise”.

“From a State perspective, I’m sure it was the right thing to do but from our perspective it was a little frustrating. We’d built up a good relationship with IBRC,” he said.

Directly involved

Given his role as head of the Irish insurer, Mr O’Brien is not directly involved in discussions with KPMG on the IBRC stake, which are being handled from Boston.

Mr O’Brien said it was “business as usual” at the Irish insurer but the uncertainty over IBRC was not helpful. “We’re a little unsure where the other shareholding will end up and we wouldn’t be keen to be in Nama,” he said.

IBRC provided €98 million as part of the recapitalisation of the former insurer, which had been placed into administration by the Central Bank. In theory, this was the value placed on its 49 per cent stake in the business.

The Irish Times also reports that the Revenue has reassured members of the public using the local property tax (LPT) helpline, following an attempted credit card fraud by a person handling queries about filing property tax returns.

The person, suspended on Thursday, worked for Abtran which was contracted by the Revenue Commissioners to assist people filing the tax return.

Revenue said no cardholder had suffered any loss as a result of the incident, which was reported to Gardaí by Abtran, after management operating the LPT helpline became aware an employee was asking people for credit card details.

Following an investigation, whereby the company listened back to all calls conducted by the individual, it became apparent that the individual obtained the credit card details of 11 customers.

It is understood the employee was only with the company a few days but once Abtran management became aware of what he was doing, they notified the Garda and an investigation begun.

Abtran, in a statement last night, said: “The individual was not a member of a payments-authorised department within Abtran. The individual had no authority to request any such details of customers and should not have done so. Those actions, and the customers potentially impacted, have been identified.”

Gardaí met the employee by appointment at Togher Garda station last Friday and interviewed him about the attempted fraud.

According to the Revenue, gardaí have alerted the credit card companies involved and the companies are due to notifiy the 11 cardholders. Revenue will also contact any customers for whom it has contact details.

Revenue chairwoman Josephine Feehily said the Revenue would continue to work with Abtran, who she described as very professional: “300,000 phone calls were handled completely, professionally and securely by this business.”

She said she expected calls relating to the property tax to be “monitored more closely” by Abtran following the incident.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, she said: “We take data security extremely seriously. The company involved assured us they have the highest standards ISO…You can’t legislate for an incident involving one person.”

The Revenue this morning opened a helpline for people with concerns on 1890-226-336.

Abtran said it deals with some 12 million calls and interactions a year, adding that nothing like this has happened in the company’s 16-year history.

The Irish Examiner reports that Ireland’s seafood industry has the potential to achieve €1bn in sales by 2020 and create over 3,000 jobs through expansion into new markets.

The sector is currently worth €822m to the economy, employs 11,000, and has seen exports up 18% on 2011 to €493m in 2012. While traditional markets like the UK, Germany, Spain, and France have seen a decline in demand in recent years, markets in China and India are becoming the focus of the industry.

“If every Chinese person was to eat 100g of Irish seafood just once a year, that would equal 150,000 tonnes a year,” said Christophe Pelletier of the Happy Future Consulting Group.

“In the coming years, seafood consumption per capita per year in China is expected to rise from 26kg today to 36kg in 2020. Just a 1% share of that market would be greater than 500,000 tonnes a year.”

Global population is expected to reach 8bn by 2025, bringing demand for an additional 42m tonnes of seafood globally by 2030.

Irish firms must protect traditional markets, while optimising their customer base, and work on innovating new products, according to Gorjan Nikolik, food and agribusiness researcher with Rabobank International.

“Ireland has significant unused potential. With major production resources available, there is an opportunity to become a global player in the aquaculture industry,” he said.

“Economies of scale can be achieved very quickly in this business, even without a large domestic market in place.”

The establishment of joint venture operations and partnerships will play a key role in this expansion. Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s Collective Route to Market Scheme, launched in January, is aimed at promoting such collaboration by offering seafood companies grant-aid assistance and advice to work collectively to reduce costs and increase competitiveness on export markets.

Four Irish seafood companies pooled resources to set up Jade Ireland Seafood last November, a joint venture with an office based in Shanghai, and supported by BIM.

McBride Fishing, Carr Shellfish, Sofrimar, and Shellfish de La Mer, with bases in Donegal, Wexford, and Cork, have developed Ocean Jade, aimed at the Chinese market.

The company owns a fleet of fishing vessels and four processing facilities.

“The Irish seafood sector is small in comparison to our competitors and we quickly realised that in order to compete effectively and to supply such a large and growing market in China, we would need to use our collective resources to do so,” said director Hugh McBride.

The firms behind Jade Ireland Seafood have collective revenues of €45m, with established clients in France, UK, Spain, Italy, and Korea.

Irish seafood exports to China in 2011 were €2.9m. Up to Jul 2012, exports reached €5.3m, an 80% increase on the previous year.

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