Sunday 25 September 2016

The Yates anthology: No love lost

Published 25/04/2015 | 02:30

Alan Dukes, former Chairman of IBRC, giving a press briefing in relation to the Siteserv issue at the offices of Eames Solicitors. PIc: Mark Condren
Alan Dukes, former Chairman of IBRC, giving a press briefing in relation to the Siteserv issue at the offices of Eames Solicitors. PIc: Mark Condren

As the Siteserv sale saga unfolds an intriguing irony emerges. It is the underlying tension, rivalry and personality clash between Michael Noonan and Alan Dukes.

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As a Fine Gael TD colleague for more than 20 years, I observed them in action at cabinet meetings. Without equivocation, I rate both guys amongst the most formidable and able politicians of a generation - with starkly contrasting characters. Dukes is highly cerebral; principled to the point of supreme stubbornness. Noonan is the most skilled political pragmatist you'd ever encounter, almost devoid of principles - that's why he's survived in Fine Gael cabinets over four decades. They're on a collision course right now. Deep-rooted divisions existed since early 2011, when Dukes/Aynsley/IBRC dealt with the new FG/Labour Coalition. I don't believe Noonan would have appointed him chairman of IRBC as Brian Lenihan had. This turf war was essentially about IBRC autonomy over personnel appointments, remuneration packages and asset disposals. While both may dispute this, I don't believe it. Noonan bluntly told Bryan Dobson on RTE that Dukes's personal assurances were the sole basis for not having an independent review of the Siteserv deal, dropping Dukes squarely in the manure.

Mutual hostility and distrust began after Garret FitzGerald stepped down as party leader in 1987. Noonan opposed Dukes's successful candidature, strongly supporting Peter Barry. In 1990, he was instrumental in ending Dukes's leadership, having been an internal critic of policies such as the 'Tallaght Strategy'. They briefly combined forces against John Bruton in 2001, but Dukes lost a seat under Noonan's leadership a year later. This may appear superficially as FG controversy, but beneath the surface their conflicting personas add fuel to the fury over a reputational spat. Don't expect either to take prisoners when it comes to blame games. The drama of some 30 IBRC deals (surpassing €10bn losses) will unfold over coming months.

A silver bullet

Lest there's any doubt, business legacy issues still remain on the high street. News of one of the world's largest bookmakers, Ladbrokes, entering examinership in Ireland, proves the point. There is the prospect of 50 betting shops closing and the loss of hundreds of jobs.

My Mastermind subject would be the Irish retail betting market. They paid top premiums to buy out the best (as well as average) Ladbrokes betting offices around the country, which was a factor in losing.

Over the next three months, court-appointed examiner Ken Fennell will be entitled to tell the landlords of 196 shops to form an orderly queue - the profitable ones will be saved and the loss-making ones will be handed back their leases.

Ladbrokes will dry clean their entire Irish operation by neatly exiting from all onerous, unsustainable contracts, including employment obligations.

A fresh start is guaranteed by the parent company, making available new capital to recommence operations. Contrast the legal opportunities between indigenous SMEs and multinationals: entrepreneurs can lose their homes, while deep pockets permit restructuring, wiping away the errors of the Tiger era. The global issue for Laddies remains their failure to win the internet betting market share. Some 30 years ago, 90pc of all bets in Ireland were struck over betting shop counters. Soon 90pc of all wagers will be online; with half through mobile phone apps. Gambling sector insiders remain sceptical they'll catch up with the online market leaders.

Boost for FF

As Micheál Martin seeks to inspire the soldiers of destiny tonight in his presidential Ard Fheis address, he can take heart from positive Noreside tidings from the hustings.

The forgotten ballot in less than a month's time is the Carlow/ Kilkenny by-election: Bobby Aylward, former FF TD, seems set to win. Between both counties, Fianna Fáil holds sway in the councillor tally with 15, compared with FG at 13, Sinn Féin 5 and Labour 3.

The Blueshirt hierarchy, including Big Phil Hogan, wanted former IFA president John Brien but David Fitzgerald won through. There are low expectations that he can win and Sinn Fein's Kathleen Funchion's transfers should get Aylward over the line.

Irish Independent

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