Business Irish

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Nick Webb: The ex-minister and the State contract

Nicola Hughes, Karena Graham and Kerrie Nicole Blanc at the launch of Cannonball 2014
Nicola Hughes, Karena Graham and Kerrie Nicole Blanc at the launch of Cannonball 2014

Nick Webb

The Department of Agriculture has paid €5.5m in fees over the last year to a company where former Fianna Fail Agriculture minister Joe Walsh serves as a board member. Walsh has been a director of payments processing and outsourcing group SouthWestern BPS since late 2010, having joined the firm located in the heart of his former Cork constituency after leaving politics. The firm has worked with a number of state agencies including Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland and the HSE.

Last week Simon Coveney's department told me that over the last 12 months SouthWestern had received €5.3m for "provision of bovine birth registrations and passport issue and the processing of notifications in relation to farm bovine movements and on farm bovine death notification" with a further €180,000 for assorted tasks including validating and correlating milk test results and "the handling and processing and verification of pig movement notifications".

These contracts were awarded "on the basis of competitive public tenders" the department has said.

Between 2000 and 2003, while Walsh was minister, SouthWestern earned €12,916,063 from the Department of Agriculture. Over the last 14 years, the Clonakilty firm has been paid around €65m in fees associated with lucrative state contracts from the department.

SouthWestern, which was bought by UK group Capita for €35m last week, has said that Walsh retired as agriculture minister in 2004 and only joined the board of Southwestern in 2011 so there was never any conflict of interest. The new multi-national owners will learn that having local knowledge is very important when doing business here.

Petrol heads all fired up for Cannonball

Outgoing Aer Lingus boss Christoph Mueller has done it in a Porsche 911. Resources dealmaker extraordinaire John McKeon came in a new €300,000 Ferrari FF.

With the chequered flag for the Cannonball race extravaganza less than a month away, the serious petrol heads are lining up their rides for the Make A Wish charity tour of Ireland.

Fitzpatrick Hotel Group boss John Fitzpatrick is set to vroom around the country in a Ferrari 599, while Keltruck's Chris Kelly is in a Ferrari 458. Keltruck, with sales north of €120m, is the largest privately owned Scania truck dealer in the world.

Ryan Dignam, managing director of Carloan4u is driving a Lamborghini Aventador, with another Lambo being driven by Wes Quirke. Gilbane's Dan Keaveney, who is building the massive Kerry group R&D complex in Naas is likely to be driving a Ford Mustang, Powerfit's Pat Fitzsimons bringing a serious Dodge Viper SCT.

Manhattan Popcorn's Don O'Neill tells me that he'll be driving a new Audi S8 - the only new one sold here since 2008. "It goes like a rocket," he said.

Manhattan is the title sponsor for the Cannonball. O'Neill has the pedal to the metal at work too, with sales - especially of the bigger packets - going down an absolute bomb during the World Cup. "I do my own thing. I don't worry about the competition - I let them worry about me," he said.

With sales ahead of last year, they'll be choking on his exhaust fumes.

CRH boss Manifold dumps €270,000 worth of shares

So what to make of Albert Manifold? The chief executive of Ireland's biggest and most valuable company CRH has just jettisoned €270,000 worth of shares in the cement company, shortly after unveiling interim results.

CRH is offloading upwards of $2bn in duff assets as it gets ready for a wave of consolidation in its space. The usual stuff about the weather affecting sales was trotted out.

Earnings rose 27pc and sales were up 4pc on the same period last year. The market's response was a resounding, "Meh". Shares dipped slightly.

The decision by Manifold to sell more than a quarter of his entire shareholding is baffling and hardly inspires much confidence in CRH's prospects.

Manifold sold 15,078 shares at a price just shy of €17.97 apiece, netting close to €270,000. He owns 39,668 shares worth €691,000 - the equivalent of six month's worth of basic pay. The share sale was for "personal" reasons, according to CRH. Obviously.

The sale is even more strange as earlier this year CRH put Manifold under pressure to jack up his stake. Under company rules, the CEO must hold shares worth at least the equivalent of his salary.

"As chief executive, based on his new salary, his holding fell to 0.6 times his salary on January 1, 2014. Mr Manifold will be required to meet the shareholding guideline by December 31, 2017," say CRH.

Given that the CRH boss will get a basic salary of €1.2m this year, his holding has fallen below the level when the cement behemoth issued its dictat. Manifold is going to have to get his wallet out soon.

Stoke City FC chairman Coates backs Pinergy

Stoke City FC chairman Peter Coates, the billionaire behind the hugely successful Bet365 gambling empire, has emerged as one of the backers of the fast growing pay as you go energy company Pinergy, which is promoted by Ireland rugby legend Paul O'Connell.

Coates and his daughter put around €2.25m into the firm in recent weeks as part of a recent €12m funding round.

Mainstream Renewables' boss Eddie O'Connor is also one of the backers of the meter energy group. Eddie is one of the shrewdest guys around. With Brian Hurley, John Lavery and Louis FitzGerald he borrowed €20,000 from the bank and raised a further €580,000 from a tight knit group of investors to set up Airtricity in 1997.

Ten years later the wind energy group was sold for €1.9bn, making €50m for Eddie and a stupendous return for his early backers.

Pinergy is run by former Mazars' corporate financier Enda Gunnell.

O'Connor and Coates have been joined by former Horslips rocker and film-maker Barry Devlin, former Carphonewarehouse Ireland chief Stephen Mackarel, ex-Simply Mortgages boss Peter Bastable, Pharmapod backer Patrick Digan, Tipperary builder Martin Harty and Killiney investor Patrick Dowling.

With just 4 pc of the Irish energy market using prepay compared to 19 pc in the UK or 34pc up in the North, the growth potential is huge. There's money in those meters.

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