CRH faces questions on links to toxic dump at AGM
CRH shareholders were generally a happy lot, but worries about a toxic dump and the firm's controversial involvement with an Israeli company caused concern for some.
The hundreds of shareholders who attended the company's AGM in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, yesterday were mostly delighted their investment in the company was still safe and doing well.
Despite facing the most severe decline in its industry since the 1930s, CRH chairman Kieran McGowan said the group's revenues for the first two months of this year showed a good improvement and sales were marginally ahead of the same period last year.
The company expected to achieve savings of €136m this year, but would continue to find the going tough in Ireland, Portugal and Spain where austerity measures were most severe, he said.
The shareholders were mostly delighted that despite the economic difficulties the group decided to still pay them a dividend last year.
A couple of shareholders rose to congratulate the board on their performance, which was greeted with a round of applause. But a few were disgruntled and had come to ask specific questions.
Peter Goode, of Goode Concrete, wanted to ask the board about the toxic dump that has been left on CRH-owned land near Naas, Co Kildare. As the company that leased the land was insolvent, Mr Goode wondered if CRH would become responsible for the cost of cleaning it up.
He suggested that could amount to between €30m and €100m. Mr McGowan refused to discuss CRH's responsibility to the site or the likely cost, except to say his colleagues would be "addressing it".
Mr Goode also mentioned the €8.7m in "bad debts" the group incurred as a result of the collapse of two big construction companies, Whelan's and Pierse, and suggested it highlighted poor management.
The group was operating in "tough times", Mr McGowan replied, saying that writing off debts to companies that go bust was "part and parcel" of that.
The question of CRH's stake in an Israeli construction company was always going to be a bone of contention and a group of protesters from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign gathered across from the hotel to highlight their cause.
The group has been calling for CRH to sell its 25pc stake in the Mashav group that has supplied materials used in the building of Israel's Separation Wall in illegal settlements in Palestine.
Representatives who attended the meeting said shareholders should be concerned as they may be exposed to "massive" litigation in the future as a result of this connection.
Mr McGowan rejected this and said it had no involvement in the company's day-to-day operations and was aware of its responsibilities in terms of respecting human rights.
Its senior management had met the organisation and listened to its concerns, he told the meeting.
Israel was a small part of CRH's operations, he added.