Business Irish

Thursday 30 March 2017

Ministers coining it by going private

There's a massive amount of money to be made by those politicians who move to the private sector. Huge corporations will pay top dollar to attract key ministers once they are out of office, writes Nick Webb

FORMER Health Minister Mary Harney is a very short price to join the board of Ryanair when she steps down after the election. Her former Cabinet colleague Charlie McCreevy is already a non-executive board member of the airline, which paid directors about €47,000 last year.

Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen is a qualified solicitor, which -- despite the havoc he wreaked on the country -- might see him head-hunted by a big legal company.

Former Cabinet colleagues and other politicians have moved seamlessly into the corporate sector, although few have landed really big blue-chip international roles.

Bertie Ahern stood down in 2008 leaving a legacy of massive unemployment and a crippled economy. He joined the advisory board of Parker Green International, the property development firm headed by Northern Ireland builder Gerry O'Hare, becoming vice-chairman of the group which owns a shopping centre in Newry, flats in Central Europe and a big Wal-Mart in Connecticut, US. Ahern stepped down from the advisory board last October. He is also chairman of the Swiss-backed International Forestry Fund, which has been linked with buying Coillte from the State.

The Sunday Independent has learned that Ahern has also become chairman of a new renewable energy firm called Scientia Solar, which has developed a solar farm in Puglia, Italy. The company is headed by former Liberty Asset Management founder Ian Lawrie.

Ahern's jobs are not as high-profile or flashy as some of his contemporaries in other countries. On leaving office, Tony Blair, landed a €2.8m per year advisory role with investment bank JP Morgan. Angela Merkel's predecessor as German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, is chairman of the Gazprom-backed energy group Nord Stream, which is trying to build a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. He is also a consultant to Swiss publisher Ringier. Former Belgian premier Jean Luc Dehaene is chairman of Dexia Bank, while Oscar-winning former US vice-president Al Gore became involved with green private equity firm Generation Investment after leaving office. One of the firm's biggest investments is a 13 per cent stake in Cavan headquartered insulation group Kingspan, worth close to €200m.

Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald served on the board of German hedge fund Wermuth's €200m-valued Greater European Funds, which bought assets in Russia including a big stake in raunchy lingerie firm Wild Orchid. FitzGerald is now just an adviser according to filings. Another ex-Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, became chairman of the ill-fated Bula Resources. However, a much touted Libyan and Iraqi oil deal failed to materialise and the company eventually closed down after Reynolds stepped down in 2002. He was also involved in Life Energy Technology Holdings, a waste to energy outfit listed on the US market. His most blue-chip role was as a board member of Michael Smurfit's packaging giant Jefferson Smurfit.

After ex-Taoiseach John Bruton finished up his role as EU ambassador to the US, he joined the board of air-conditioning firm Ingersoll Rand. He has also hooked up with Brussels-based lobbying group Cabinet DN.

Finance ministers have always been in demand and none more so than Ray MacSharry, who held a series of high-profile and well-paid corporate posts. He was the €110,000 per year chairman at Eircom when it was first floated, and took fees of €200,000 a year at Stephen Vernon's Green Property. MacSharry also served on the boards of Ryanair and BoI, where he earned €77,000 per year. He's now a public interest director at Irish Life & Permanent. MacSharry is also a former chairman of London City Airport, which Dermot Desmond and his partners sold for over €1bn in 2007. The Sligo man was a director at €1.8bn-valued pub chain Mitchells & Butler. Coolmore Stud's John Magnier and JP McManus own a big chunk of the firm.

Former Fine Gael leader Alan Dukes is the €150,000 per year chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, although he received just €102,000 for his first year at the bank.

David Andrews, the one-time Fianna Fail Foreign Affairs Minister, is chairman of insurance giant AIG (Ireland), now called Chartis. He joined the board in 2001 after standing down at the previous general election. Company documents show that the directors of the insurance company shared €2.12m in 2009 up from €1.53m a year earlier. Andrews was involved in the Eureto consortium which failed in its bid to take over the .eu website domain.

Joe Walsh, the Fianna Fail Minister for Agriculture, is a public interest director at Bank of Ireland, which paid him €79,000 last year. Last December he joined the board of South Western business Processes, part of the SWS Group which is owned by private equity group Ion Equity. Walsh was also appointed by the Government to chair the board of horse racing quango Horse Sport Ireland.

Dick Spring, the former Labour Party leader who as an Eircom board member told shareholders that he didn't have the resources to buy shares in the company, has stacks of jobs. He's now one of the most high-profile former politicians in the private sector. Apart from a €26,000 per year part-time role at AIB, he is vice-chairman of Brian McCarthy's financial services company Fexco. AIB sold its stock-broking company Goodbody to Fexco for €24m last year. The Kerryman is also on the board of mobile communications firm Altobridge and currency hedge fund Alder capital.

Charlie McCreevy moved to Brussels as EU Commissioner after his stint as Fianna Fail Finance Minister. Since leaving Europe just over a year ago, McCreevy has joined the board of Ryanair, which pays about €47,000 per year. He also joined the board of NBNK, a private equity group seeking to buy up high-street UK banking assets. Company documents revealed that his €61,000 per year fee would be doubled to €122,000 if the company made a major acquisition. However a conflict of interest controversy last October saw McCreevy step down from the role.

Former PD minister for state at the Office of Public Works, Tom Parlon, moved straight over to the private sector when leaving politics. He is now head of the Construction Industry Federation, which lobbies on behalf of the building industry.

Former Fianna Fail Defence Minister Michael Smith is a director and shareholder in Kilkenny firm Agricultural Capital Partners, which is investing in farming projects in Serbia, Missouri and Argentina.

Tom Kitt, the former minister of state and government chief whip, is a director of medical software firm Helix Health. The company was backed by former Anglo Irish Bank director and Docklands Development Authority chief Lar Bradshaw. Former Anglo chairman Peter Murray is also a director.

Liz O'Donnell, the former PD minister for overseas aid, was a board member of Denis O'Brien's radio company Communicorp for a short period. She is now involved in the Chernobyl Children's Project and public affairs.

Some industry insiders believe that it may take time for some former ministers and high-profile politicians to be snapped up by the private sector, given the state of the economy after almost 14 years of Fianna Fail rule. But while they are waiting for the call, there are pensions galore.

Earlier this month it was calculated that the six ministers who are standing down at the election -- Mary Harney, Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey, Batt O'Keeffe, Noel Ahern and Tony Killeen -- were sitting on pensions valued at €26.7m. Former Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is in line for a €318,000 windfall in his first year out on the jobs market, followed by a pension of over €128,000 a year for the rest of his life.

Unlike the 430,000 on the live register, the former ministers can be choosy about the sort of jobs they take with a financial cushion like that.

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