SENIOR Cabinet Minister Mary Hanafin has teamed up with other family members to invest in oil shares. Last week a Hanafin family venture, Reservoir Resources, was granted a licence to explore two promising oil prospects onshore in the UK.
Ms Hanafin, one of the highest profile and most respected ministers in the Government, is understood to be a 15 per cent shareholder in the venture.
The company is 50 per cent controlled by the Hanafin family. Other relatives of the minister holding shares include her father, former senator Des Hanafin and her brother, current senator John Hanafin.
Five per cent of the shares are being held by the Hanafins for a charity, while the remaining 50 per cent belongs to Dublin solicitor Ivor Fitzpatrick.
The company owns a very promising block near Windsor Castle, on the outskirts of London, not far from Heathrow airport. It has held an interest there since 1992, when oil stood at a price below $20 a barrel. Industry sources suggest that the Windsor field has good commercial prospects today, with oil running at around $125 a barrel.
It is understood that a seismic survey has been carried out on the Windsor block, with results showing oil-bearing structures. The outcome of the seismic has prompted the promoters to go ahead with an exploration programme.
The second prospect owned by the Hanafin consortium is two-and-a-half blocks located in Shepton Mallet, near the historic city of Bath. Evidence of oil there was proved after a small earthquake in 1892 when oil reached the surface in the aftermath.
A magnetic survey there is believed to have yielded evidence of at least two oil- bearing structures. The initial finance (estimated at $1.5m) will be provided by Mr Fitzpatrick, but analysts suggest that the company could go public within 18 months. Inquiries about a flotation on London's AIM market are already believed to be in train.
Ms Hanafin, who enjoyed a successful tenure at the Department of Education before being moved, surprisingly, to Family and Social Affairs, was not available for comment yesterday.
However it is believed that this is a rare dip into the business world for a woman more noted for her efficiency as a school teacher and talent as a Fianna Fail politician. Her declaration of business interests, lodged in the Oireachtas Library, shows that she has none in excess of the €12,700 threshhold.
Industry sources suggest that the company could float on the market at a valuation of as much as €25m, eventually giving the minister, her father and her brother a stake worth nearly €4m each.
The Hanafin family has a proud record in Ireland's oil exploration industry. The minister's father, Des Hanafin, was one of the pioneers of Irish oil exploration. Back in the 1970s he founded Transnational Oil with Richard Conroy, another giant of the sector.
The company was subsequently bought by Aran Energy, a publicly quoted exploration firm which hit oil on the Porcupine basin off the west coast of Ireland. Des Hanafin served on the board of Aran for 12 years before it was bought by Statoil.
The Porcupine oil discovery has never been exploited, due to the advanced technology which would be needed to bring it to the surface.