Friday 24 November 2017

A captain of industry? That'll get you 10 minutes of face time with Noonan

Investors, tech chiefs and tobacco lobbyists were all pencilled in to meet with the Finance Minister, writes Nick Webb

Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Ireland would not become the
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said Ireland would not become the "whipping boy" for the US Senate.
Nick Webb

Nick Webb

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan held meetings with key lobbyists, private equity barons and some of the most powerful people in corporate Ireland over the last year.

Access to Ireland's second most influential man was tightly controlled, with only a select few getting face time with the Finance Minister.

Noonan's appointments diary from January to late November 2013 was released to the Sunday Independent last week, following a Freedom of Information request.

In September, Noonan was scheduled for a meeting with Philip Hildebrand, a senior player at Blackrock Asset Management. Hildebrand has responsibility for large institutional relationships in EMEA and Asia Pacific. He is the former head of the Swiss Central Bank. Blackrock, which handled the first stress-testing of the Irish banks, also invested in Bank of Ireland, holding a 3 per cent stake.

Noonan was also set for a late afternoon briefing with Fortress Investment group. The $44bn US private equity group has been scouting for bargains and distressed assets as Irish banks deleverage. The group was involved in the bidding for sale of the €383m "Project Pivot" book of underperforming UK loans sold by State-owned AIB last year. It was also linked with a bid for the former Anglo Irish Bank wealth management division.

Noonan was also scheduled to meet with David Abrams, of private equity giant Apollo Group Management, just before St Patrick's Day. Apollo has been very active in Ireland since the crisis began, buying up Arnotts' €230m bank loans with the former Anglo Irish Bank, which were sold off by the special liquidator.

It is thought that Apollo paid about €45m for these loans. Apollo, which is advised by former Bank of Ireland chief executive Brian Goggin, has also bought the MBNA operations in Ireland. Noonan was also down for "5 to 10 minutes' attendance" at a meeting with Apollo in the Ministers' Conference room on July 17.

Google Ireland boss John Herlihy had an appointment to meet with Noonan on July 10, two months after Ireland was blasted as a "tax haven" for multinationals during a US senate committee hearing. On August 27, Noonan was also due to meet Google's chief financial officer. There was also an October meeting with the CFO of drug company Perrigo, which bought Irish drug- maker Elan in a €6.3bn deal during the year.

The Finance Minister was also scheduled to meet with Dick Spring in late September. The former Labour Party leader is now a key player in the Fexco financial services empire, as well as serving as a public interest director at AIB.

The minister was also pencilled in to meet with chair of BNP Paribas in mid-April. He also met with Joe Sullivan, the chief executive of asset management behemoth Legg Mason, which has over $665bn in assets under management.

Noonan also attended the hedge fund advisory group Albourne Partners' annual conference in the Ritz Carlton in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, in September. The conference was arranged by Davy stockbrokers.

The documents show that Noonan meet with representatives of the Irish Tobacco Manufacturers Advisory Committee (ITMAC) in the Sycamore Room of the Department of Finance. That was the same room that much of the drama on the night of the infamous bank guarantee unfolded in September 2008.

He was to meet Google's boss after Ireland was blasted as a tax haven'

ITMAC represents the interests of cigarette companies and has been lobbying hard against changes to packaging and increases in tax on tobacco.

Noonan was also due to meet up with lobbying firm Insight Consultants and its client CDL in May. He was lobbied by members of the Property Industry Ireland pressure group in September, weeks before the Budget.

Property Industry Ireland bats for the construction industry. Its board includes former CRH chairman Kyran McGowan, Goodbody Stockbrokers boss Roy Barrett, Sherry FitzGerald chief Mark FitzGerald and developer Michael O'Flynn.

Noonan was to be briefed by CRH's Barry Leonard, head of its Irish Cement operation in September.

Irish Independent

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