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€1m a year in public money props up IBEC

Big business group and social partner IBEC receives €1m in annual fees from Ireland's semi-state companies.

As the pay talks between unions and employers reach a climax this weekend, the Sunday Independent can reveal that a huge source of the big employers' funding comes in mega subscriptions from the publicly owned and protected state sector.

IBEC's balance sheet is also propped up by another €1m in massive annual fees from the big banks, which have traditionally kept it afloat.

Many of the state companies were initially reluctant to reveal the size of their annual fee to IBEC, pleading that the employers group would not want the figures released.

Despite the staggering numbers, the big employers outfit lost members and revenue last year, according to its 2007 accounts.

Among the highest fees from the semi-state companies was €154,000 from the ESB. In second place was a €136,000 sub from the Dublin Airport Authority, closely followed by €123,000 from yet another state monopoly, An Post.

It is not clear what benefit the semi-state companies receive in return for their fees.

Other spectacular payments include RTE, who wrote a cheque for €103,000; while An Bord Gais (€79,000), Coillte (€88,000) and Bord na Mona (€88,000) all dug deep. Even the troubled state training agency FAS -- hardly a profit-driven business -- donated €55,000 to IBEC last year. All figures include VAT.

IBEC fees are supposed to be based on the number of employees in the member firm, but special deals are now being negotiated.

It is understood that two years ago the heavily subsidised CIE paid only €27,000 despite its 11,000 employees, while this year the VHI (837 staff) paid a similar amount of €30,000. Even the Irish Greyhound Board (€14,000) and Shannon Development (€9,400) have signed up with the social partner. It is hard to find a state agency that does not contribute.

Big banks provide the second most identifiable source of IBEC funds. The Bank of Ireland, a long-time friend of IBEC, leads the subscribers with an annual fee of €200,000, while AIB and Ulster Bank both gave €194,000. Irish Life paid €133,000. The new 'lean and clean' National Irish Bank is giving €64,000, while the two building societies -- EBS (€58,000) and Irish Nationwide (€14,000) -- topped up the generous contribution from the financial sector.

Other IBEC insiders included IIBBank (€22,000), Anglo Irish Bank, Bank of Scotland and ACC Bank, many of which were reluctant to reveal their membership figure.

Similar reluctance to reveal a figure was shown by larger companies with close connections to the social partner.

Greencore, whose last chief executive David Dilger was an IBEC trustee, refused to give a figure. C&C was similarly silent. The troubled drinks company has close connections with IBEC through its besieged managing director Maurice Pratt -- a retiring IBEC trustee -- and former IBEC boss and now C&C chairman Tony O'Brien.

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Several of Ireland's most successful businesses are not members of IBEC. Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary has constantly derided them, while entrepreneurs such as Patrick Kennedy of Paddy Power and Omega Air's Ulick McEvaddy have never seen the need to join.

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