Business Irish

Sunday 18 August 2019

Samantha McCaughren: Danes promise to bring home the bacon on trackers

Richie Boucher renewed the bank’s sponsorship of Leinster Rugby — will his successor, Francesca McDonagh, take a similar interest?
Richie Boucher renewed the bank’s sponsorship of Leinster Rugby — will his successor, Francesca McDonagh, take a similar interest?
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Danske is the only bank yet to reveal just how many of its Irish mortgage customers have been affected by the tracker scandal, and this has been getting some attention back home.

Denmark's biggest bank bought National Irish Bank back in 2005 and it is still busily working away to find out if it has any tracker issues lurking in its files. When the Danish Financial Supervisory Authority was pressed on Danske's role, the issue was quickly kicked backed to the Irish authorities.

But Danske's press manager, Kenni Leth, told local media that the bank should have some "concrete conclusions" from its inquiries by the end of November.

However, it is dealing with another scandal at the moment. According to the Financial Times, a French court is investigating an Estonian unit of Danske for allegedly laundering stolen Russian money.

Back in Ireland, new Bank of Ireland boss Francesca McDonagh was seen as doing the right thing by tackling its tracker history head-on.

The bank revealed that another 6,000 customers are affected by the tracker issue, which will be a costly admission. The Central Bank and politicians may have been piling on the pressure, but McDonagh gets the credit for laying all the bank's cards on the table.

But will this move on the trackers be a sign of McDonagh's willingness to do the right thing on other issues?

One of predecessor Richie Boucher's parting gifts was a renewal the bank's sponsorship of Leinster Rugby. But Leinster has been getting a thrashing for its attitude to women's rugby of late.

Leinster Rugby is refusing to accept that women's teams can achieve senior status. Dublin team Railway Union RFC, for example, has been pushing for senior status recognition, and admission to the executive to no avail and s complaining of gender discrimination.

As has previously been noted, McDonagh is a strong advocate of gender equality and when at HSBC spoke of being "stunned" by the lack of senior women in banking. Goodness knows what she will make of the Irish rugby scene.

It's early days but let's see if McDonagh will be willing to get into the thick of that particular scrum.

The book is mightier than the DVD, Eason shows

What a difference a few years make. After a torrid loss-making period, bookshop chain Eason successfully managed to restructure itself and is now trading profitably.

Fears of the demise of the book have been so far unwarranted. Word in the market is that growth in e-readers has plateaued and that there’s plenty of life in the printed page yet. That’s good news for Eason  — a strong brand that customers like. Now it’s facing toward the future with a strategy known as Eason 2020.

But there was a time when it could have ended up in different ownership. I recently heard that distressed-asset investor Hilco had mulled a potential move for the business some years ago but nothing concrete ever materialised.

 Hilco did buy Xtra-vision, which was ultimately closed. It also owns HMV, whose Republic of Ireland stores have been shuttered. The book is mightier than the DVD it seems.

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A new opening on O’Connell Street marked the end of an era last week. Last month the Kylemore Cafe closed its doors after 30 years on the north side thoroughfare to be replaced with a hipper alternative, SoMa.

But it’s not as fundamental a change as might first appear  — SoMa is part of the KSG family, which stands for Kylemore Services Group. The company was founded in 1920 as a dairy but moved into baking and confectionery, sparked by the success of selling cakes to fans hitting the streets of Dublin for the All-Ireland final one Sunday. The Kylemore Bakery took off, with the Kylemore cafe on O’Connell Street opening in 1987, followed by 14 more restaurants.

The bakery business closed in 2002 but the company, whose shareholders now include DCC, has since prospered as a catering-services specialist. Most recent profits topped €1m. Fans of the Kylemore fry-up need not fret. SoMa’s menu includes a full Irish breakfast — but in a sign of the times it also serves up granola and Portobello mushroom toast.

Revenue reduces tax defaulters’ period of shame

With all this talk of tax havens, a few people must have been scrambling to check how Revenue deals with tax defaulters.

Well, there is some good news for anyone who feels they might be in the firing line for some punishment from the authorities.

Aside from a hefty fine, one stick Revenue uses to beat tax dodgers is the publication of the tax defaulters’ list on a quarterly basis. Indeed, journalists often enjoy perusing the lists upon publication — as well as the big fish named and shamed, there is often the chance of spotting a lower-profile acquaintance.

However, in recent months accountants and other tax practitioners have told Revenue that the defaulter lists on its website go back 16 years. Far too long, they protested.

However, recently-published documents reveal that after Revenue considered their concerns, the list will now remain online for only two-years. Too lenient? A host of company directors, farmers and medical consultants who have appeared on the list in recent years would certainly back the right to be forgotten.

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The Web Summit may have left Ireland, but the Irish have not left the Web Summit.

There were plenty of brogues to be heard around Lisbon last week, with several web and tech entrepreneurs networking at the Paddy Cosgrave event.

Among those spotted was Trustev founder Pat Phelan, who closed a €25m fund earlier this year after claiming he couldn’t find any decent tech firms to back. Brian Caulfield was also there, as was serial entrepreneur Eamon Leonard and Des Traynor of Intercom.

Some of those seeking to raise funds felt it was a pity the Web Summit wasn’t still in Dublin – negotiating funds is naturally easier on your home turf.

But there were a few events to make the Irish feel at home, including the IDA’s soiree on Wednesday night.

Irish PR firm Beachhut, headed by Paul Hayes, provided some light relief,

taking over a very hip barbershop to offer grooming and pints to weary Web Summit attendees.

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