Saturday 16 February 2019

Samantha McCaughren: Gilmore's OpenHydro sinks after French pull the plug

Siobhan Herbst who sells former Irish racehorses to the international polo market Photo: SON Photographic
Siobhan Herbst who sells former Irish racehorses to the international polo market Photo: SON Photographic
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

OpenHyDRo's tidal energy ambitions ended last week, marking the termination of another boomtime punt for some of Ireland's wealthiest individuals. Founder Brendan Gilmore, a one-time adviser for former Independent News & Media chairman Tony O'Reilly, set up the company in 2005 and the country's high-net-worth individuals piled in - paying up to €250,000 for a stake in the business.

The prospectus was slick and ambitious, with plans for a liquidity event that would deliver a handsome return for shareholders. Gilmore, whose business affairs crossed paths with the likes of Paschal Taggart, Michael Holland, Noel Smyth and Philip Lynch in the 1990s, had many loyal followers who were willing to place a bet on alternative energy.

But an investment in 2011 from French naval company DCNS, originally hailed as a payday path for shareholders, did not prove to be the exit many backers had hoped for. DCNS didn't own the company outright, but it has been in the driving seat for some time. Hopes of a stock market listing were dashed in 2014, when Rothschild, appointed by DCNS, told Irish investors that it would not be practical and that instead they would be tapped for more cash. The following year it raised close to €50m from shareholders, the majority of which came from DCNS.

Irish shareholders were increasingly unhappy about further fundraisings, the last of which was reported in these pages in April 2017. At that time, up to €90m was needed, with original shareholders being further diluted. Shares were issued at €1.60 - in a 2011 fundraising, clients of Davy and Goodbody stockbrokers and other investors bought into the company at €3.50 a share.

DCNS, which has been renamed as Naval, said last week it had invested €260m in the OpenHydro, and was no longer prepared to support the company because it is loss-making. Irish shareholders invested millions of euro in addition to this.

Naval forecast that OpenHydro would make further losses of €128m between now and 2026.

The French shareholders may have pulled the plug last week, but OpenHydro has been under water for some time.

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TG4 last week got €1m in extra funding from the Government after the Irish-language station submitted its five-year strategy to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the Government. When it submitted its last five-year strategy in 2013, the station was basically handed back its homework and told to come up with a more realistic plan after envisioning an expanded organisation.

Back in 2013, the station was getting €32.75m in public funds, accounting for 91.4pc of income. The rest came from advertising and other commercial activities. In 2017, public funding was almost unchanged, but accounted for 89pc of income as commercial revenue increased. The €1m fillip equates to a 3pc increase in public funding. RTE is still awaiting its funding fate after submitting its five-year strategy. A 3pc increase would be an extra €6m, which the broadcaster would hardly turn away at the moment.

Small luxury houses plan for Victoria Homes

Housebuilder Victoria Homes has just closed on a site in Knocklyon, south Dublin, where it hopes to build a clutch of high-end homes. It is not far from Corrybeg Way in Templeogue, which was a very successful small development for the ambitious building firm. Those redbrick houses were pitched as being Victorian in style and proved to be extremely lucrative for the developers. Prices for the 16 four- and five-bed detached homes started at €850,000. The new site is smaller than the Corrybeg site and will accommodate 11 luxury houses. Much bigger projects are in the works — Victoria Homes, which is run by Derek Byrne and Danny Whelan and backed by international investors, plans 850 homes in Carrickmines.

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Alan Foley, the creator of Piranha Bar’s new cartoon ‘Mya Go’, is already looking to international markets for the new series, which launched earlier this month on RTEjr. The pre-school cartoon was inspired by his now 12-year-old daughter who, as a two-year-old, enthusiastically declared that ‘Mya go shop’ or ‘Mya go park’, every morning depending on her plans for the day.

The project, which cost €.2.6m and was funded by organisations in Ireland and Spain, brought on board industry star writer Sam Morrison, who has worked on Peppa Pig, Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom and The Octonauts for the BBC. The programme is five minutes long and there are 104 episodes in the current series. It will go on air in Spain next year, but Foley has his eyes on the lucrative British television market. “It’s very early days at the moment, but we do have a lot of interest internationally,” he told me.

“The UK would be fantastic and we are keen to open a door there.”

Polo pony dealer Siobhan ready for charity chukka

The 2018 International Ladies Polo Tournament in aid of the Irish Injured Jockeys Fund was launched recently at the All Ireland Polo Club in the Phoenix Park.

Among those attending was Siobhan Herbst, who has built up an interesting business selling former Irish racehorses to the international polo market. She sources them from various horse trainers around the country and helps

fill demand in the Argentinian polo pony market.

Herbst, an accomplished international polo player, sold close to 60 Irish horses abroad last year and is looking to repeat that this year.

The Ladies Polo Tournament, run by Polo Wicklow, takes place on August 18 and will feature some of the best riders in the world who will be flying in from Argentina, the USA, the UK, France, Germany and Spain.

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