News Shane Ross

Monday 24 October 2016

Landlords of Leinster House declare interests

Shane Ross

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

Leinster House
Leinster House
Simon Coveney
Richard Bruton

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams receives a pension from the Queen of England. The ghosts of nationalists past must be haunting his Donegal holiday home.

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The last republican standing in Limerick, Fianna Fail's Willie O'Dea, is a director of - and a shareholder in - a UK company called 'Union Jack Oil'. The party's founder, Eamon de Valera, must be rotating in Glasnevin cemetery.

Ten Labour Party TDs (one-third of the parliamentary party) are landlords or landowners. James Connolly would have imploded.

Yes, the latest TDs' register of interests reveals that ideology counts for little when it comes to personal financial affairs. Conviction goes out the window when business interests are on the line. The scent of a quick profit will up-end a lifetime's political commitment.

Only Fine Gael are consistent. They have always owned land and property. And they still own land and property. Lashings of it.

Gerry Adams' UK pension comes from his time in the Northern Ireland Assembly - a unique double for anyone with an Oireachtas salary , let alone an individual committed to a united Ireland. A divided Ireland seems to suit him better - financially.

'Union Jack' Willie has a weakness for oil exploration shares. His portfolio includes such big losers as Dragon Oil and Ormonde Mining. But as Gerry Adams might say, "Tiocfaidh ar la."

Our Labour Party TDs' love affair with property could give them enough TDs to form a splinter group called 'Landlords for Labour' at the next election. Labour should clean up on the landlord vote.

Cabinet member and deputy leader Alan Kelly lists himself as a "landlord" in the register. The Tipperary minister lets a house in Walkinstown, Dublin. Labour deputy Michael McCarthy - as the proud rent collector from a property in Co Cork - also lists himself as a "landlord".

Former Labour Party leaders Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte both own land in the West of Ireland while socialists to benefit from property income include Dublin TD Sean Kenny (with a house he lets in Galway), Clare's Michael McNamara and Kerry's Arthur Spring. Former minister Joe Costello volunteers that he owns properties in Dublin's Sean McDermott Street and North Circular Road which he uses for "office and storage". Meath's Dominic Hannigan has property in both Italy and London. Long-time Labour heroes Willie Penrose and Jack Wall complete the socialist property fad with real estate interests in their respective counties of Westmeath and Kildare.

The inheritors of the mantle of the "men of no property" are now men of property aplenty.

No wonder they find such common ground with Fine Gael. The blueshirts never change. They still own farms, property and shares.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton has a formidable portfolio of assets. He is no Willie O'Dea risk-taker. Richard has stuck to blue-chip stocks. Like, er... Bank of Ireland, AIB and Irish Life and Permanent. He has presumably taken a hiding in this traditional safe haven. He is on safer ground with his shares in food star Aryzta, Smurfit Kappa, CRH, Kingspan, FBD Holdings and an AIB Investment Fund.

His share portfolio is beefed up by joint ownership of 175 acres of land in the plush pastures of Dunboyne and 50 acres in Drumree - both in his native Meath. Investments as dull as ditch water maybe - but Richard is likely to have fewer sleepless nights than Willie.

Richard was lucky enough to receive a gift of a watch from the Saudi Arabian government. He very honourably gave it up to the Exchequer, as Fine Gael people do.

Another Fine Gael cabinet minister, Simon Coveney, may not be as loaded as Richard - but it could be a close-run contest for the richest man in the Cabinet.

Both have inherited huge wealth - but Coveney's declaration reveals less than Richard's. He describes himself as a "landlord" with a single property, but admits to holding shares without being specific. Coveney's more opaque filing merely reveals that his shares are part of 'Irish Wealth Managers' and that he has an interest in the 'Coveney Family Investment Club' c/o Davy stockbrokers. Mmm.

Coveney's reluctance to reveal more detail makes it difficult to judge who is the canniest financial punter in the Cabinet, but the investment decisions of Minister for Finance Michael Noonan have caused a few raised eyebrows.

While Bruton has shown confidence in Irish equities, Noonan does not like investing in Ireland.

During the worst days of the crisis he headed for Germany and sunk much of his wealth into low-yielding German bonds. Last year he decided to go for gold, traditionally a hedge against high-risk equities.

He has diversified further by investing in US Treasury stocks and benefited from the strong dollar. He does not list a single Irish stock in his eight-strong portfolio. Apart from "20 acres of mixed pasture attached to my residence" he holds no property either.

Noonan's patriotic instincts and bullishness about the economy do not extend to his choice of personal investments.

Noonan's fellow Fine Gael TDs are still deep into farms and property, many with huge portfolios. Backbenchers Frank Feighan (with 10 listed properties); Aine Collins (with seven); and Alan Shatter (with 14 "jointly owned") lead the field of property fans.

Lucinda Creighton, leader of the recently launched Renua party, has returned a clean sheet indicating little reserve firepower in the event of emergency financial injections for the new party. However Creighton's husband, Paul Bradford's Seanad declaration shows that all is not lost. Bradford owns 55 acres of farmland in Mallow, Co Cork and lists shareholdings in AIB Euro Bonds and AIB Global Bonds.

Their party colleague, Terence Flanagan, declares a half share in a house in Blanchardstown but gratuitously volunteers (in case Lucinda comes calling?) that there is "massive negative equity on the property".

More real wealth seems to exist in the Seanad than in the Dail.

Independent Senator Feargal Quinn's portfolio stretches to three pages with a global diversification that will undoubtedly safeguard the former supermarket king's wealth.

Elsewhere long-time Fine Gael Senator Paul Coghlan declares a formidable combination of shares, directorships and land - both in Ireland and overseas.

Another Independent, John Crown, admits to four "occupations" apart from his Seanad activities. The cancer doctor is an oncologist, a medical practitioner, a medical lecturer and yet another "landlord".

Indeed the Independents' entries make fascinating reading. Newcomer Michael Fitzmaurice responds to the question about whether he has received any travel facilities with the blunt riposte that "I have my own car." He additionally insists that his job as chairman of the Turf Cutters Association "costs me money".

Independent TD Stephen Donnelly nominates himself as a "landlord" with properties in Dublin and Offaly.

Is there something missing? The really embarrassing bit in the register is deliberately buried at the bottom of this piece. My own entry exposes me as one of the most diabolically incompetent investors in the Oireachtas.

I reveal a shipwrecked share portfolio. My Irish shares include two of the biggest dogs in the stock market, Bank of Ireland and (dare I say it here?) Independent News & Media. Both may be on the recovery trail today, but I bought them back in the glory years to bolster my pension.

They promised a steady stream of dividends to carry me into my dotage. It is many years since they delivered. They are worth less than 10pc of their purchase price. Combined, they are worth less than 10 grand.

Some pension!

Apart from loss-making share investments the balance of my savings are overseas, determinedly sunk into German and US bonds which yield nothing - or give negative returns. Even Michael Noonan abandoned such caution.

The only bright spot in my declaration last year is a gift of a ticket for Wimbledon Centre Court. I promptly had a blazing row with the donor. So there will be no repeat this year.

Instead, I think I will follow the Labour Party punters into property.

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