Sunday 4 December 2016

Businessman Denis O’Brien criticises Irish government’s decision to suspend water charges

Geraldine Gittens and Dearbhail McDonald

Published 03/05/2016 | 13:41

Businessman Denis O'Brien. Photo: Tony Gavin
Businessman Denis O'Brien. Photo: Tony Gavin

Businessman Denis O’Brien has criticised the Irish government’s decision to suspend water charges.

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Speaking to Bloomberg Television, Mr O’Brien said a plan to set up a commission to examine the water charges issue meant it had been “kicked in the air and down the field.”

“The government was wrong to back down on Irish Water,” he said. “All the infrastructure is Victorian for the supply of water in Ireland.”

Last week, it emerged that water bills for all householders would be suspended and the issue of the future of Irish Water would be examined by a commission of independent experts.

The announcement was made after Taoiseach Enda Kenny capitulated to Fianna Fáil to cling to power.

Mr O’Brien told Bloomberg: “I really don’t care who is in power but I think there needs to be stability in Ireland… It’s a time in Europe where a lot of unsettling things are happening.”

GMC/Sierra, which is one of three companies awarded contracts for the installation of water meters by Irish Water, is a subsidiary of Actavo, formerly Siteserv.

Siteserv is owned by Denis O'Brien's Millington.

The businessman also told Bloomberg he may draw a dividend from his Digicel Group Ltd. over the next two years, after halting payments for now.

Mr O’Brien last year shelved a share sale, citing volatility in equity markets.

“In the last 18 months, two years we’ve spent more than than $1 billion on capex,” Mr O’Brien said in the interview with Bloomberg Television.

“It seems out of kilter to be paying a dividend to myself. We probably will in the next year, two years, but there’s no rush for that at all.”

In April, it was reported that Mr O’Brien had waived about $20 million (€ 17.5m) of cash dividends last year.

Mr O’Brien told Bloomberg that Digicel remains “highly profitable” and plans to keep investing heavily, including through acquiring other businesses.

Mr O’Brien founded Digicel in 2001 and turned it into a mobile-phone empire spread from El Salvador to Vanuatu, partly on the back of high-risk, high-yield debt.

Corporate debt markets are still showing a  “little bit of skittishness,” he said.

‘‘The market is getting a bit more solid, and looking at every credit for its own particular strengths. We have a great spread of assets.’’

The yield on Digicel’s April 2022 bond has dropped to 11.4 percent from 14.3 percent three months ago.

Last October Mr O’Brien pulled the Digicel IPO set for New York in a move that surprised many analysts at home and abroad.

The telecommunications company, which does business in the Caribbean and South Pacific, aimed to sell 142.8 million of Class A common shares at between $13 and $16 each, according to a regulatory filing.

The company, built from scratch by Mr O’Brien after he secured a mobile licence to operate in Jamaica in 2000, had intended to raise between $1.8bn and $2bn (€1.6bn and €1.8bn) on the New York Stock Exchange from the sale of about 39pc of Digicel’s equity.

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