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TDs in rush to snap up property

NICK WEBB TDs and senators are joining in the national obsession with property and particularly properties abroad. According to the latest declarations of business interests, an increasing number of Oireachtas members are piling into bricks and mortar. At least two cabinet ministers have invested in property in recent months.

Most significantly, Minister for Finance Brian Cowen has shown his continued confidence in the Irish property market by buying an apartment in Dublin's Golden Lane. It is currently being let. The Finance Minister's Dublin purchase follows his earlier investment in a property in Leeds in Yorkshire, which he still holds.

Another cabinet member to prefer property to stocks and shares is Tanaiste Michael McDowell - this time, abroad. The Minister for Justice and PD leader has bought a share of a property in London's up-market Bond Street. This will add to the PD leader's interests in a house in Ranelagh, Dublin and an office block in East Point in the capital's Docklands.

Opposition Finance spokesman Richard Bruton is one of the few not to have caught the property bug, but his own faith in a healthy economic future is evident from his choice of investments. He has held onto his blue chip Irish shares, including AIB, BoI, Anglo and CRH.

Backbench TDs are still buying holiday homes overseas. Fine Gael's young blood Damien English declares that last year he bought a flat in Florida costing him ?60,000 while Gerry Murphy the Cork North West representative headed for Cannes where he added an interest in an apartment to a foreign portfolio which already includes Florida and Poland.

PD Noel Grealish also prefers the South of France where he has a holiday home in Canet near Perpignon while Tony Dempsey from Wexford lists a flat in Cyprus among his holdings. Budapest is the favoured destination of two other Dublin Fianna Fail TDs Sean Ardagh and John Curran, both of whom have entered this trickier terrain and are letting their flats.

Others with overseas assets include Government chief whip Tom Kitt, owner of an apartment in Leicester and Labour's Breeda Moynihan Cronin who prefers Liverpool.

Biggest property mogul of all is Minister of State Frank Fahey who lists 19 properties ranging from Boston to Portugal to France and back to his native Galway.

In the Senate, Labour's Derek McDowell reveals an apartment in Cape Town South Africa while party colleagues Kathleen O'Meara (four properties), Brendan Ryan (one) and Michael McCarthy (one) all stick to the home patch.

Bertie's eyes and ears and Dublin Central running mate in the upper house, Cyprian Brady, has moved against the tide, selling a stake in property management firm MTS for "no gain". Instead he has plunged his money into an obscure diamond exploration outfit, Dianor, in Canada.

Others to prefer exploration shares include Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea who has taken a punt in such high fliers as John Teeling's African Diamonds, Persian Gold, Ormond Mining and Petronet. Bookmaker and Minister of State Sean Power has predictably invested in one or two similar stocks including Minmet, Rio Tinto, Sportingbet and World Spreads; but he also relies on blue chip AIB and Bank of Ireland.

Surprisingly few Oireachtas members seem to have supported the Government's Aer Lingus flotation last year, despite it being a State asset. PD Senate leader John Dardis bought in at the outset as did Cork's Ned O'Keeffe and Dublin Central's Michael Mulcahy. Deputy Mulcahy and the Business Editor of this newspaper Shane Ross bought and sold Aer Lingus to take short-term gains. Ross is also a holder of shares in Independent Newspapers, Bank of Ireland and a director of several investment companies.

Another to enjoy an outside directorship last year was Liz O'Donnell who resigned from the board of Denis O'Brien's Communicorp, owner of Newstalk.

Dail Cathaoirleach Rory O'Hanlon has added several shares to his portfolio. In 2006 he bought National Toll Roads (operators of the West Link toll bridge) and Ryanair. He is a holder of Independent News and Media and Kingspan located in the heart of his Cavan constituency. Another border TD with surprise business interests is Sinn Fein's Arthur Morgan. The Louth deputy's seafood business continues to enjoy a contract with the Dublin and North East Defence Forces. But he has also shrewdly taken advantage of the BES, a tax break for investorsand has bought shares in a qualifying Monaghan timber firm.

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Businessman Feargal Quinn who sold his giant supermarket chain has reinvested some of the proceeds. The independent senator is a shareholder in the purchasers Select Retail Holdings, but has also diversified the proceeds among various investment funds, mostly private equity. He has picked out a few shares including Barry O'Callaghan's Riverdeep, David Went's Irish Life and Permanent and a 12 per cent loan note in Eddie O'Connor's Airtricity Holdings. Most of his investments are made through the Trustee Company of Claret Capital Partnerships. Quinn has been appointed chairman of EuroCommerce, the voice of the European retail sector.

Another independent Senator David Norris lists no assets, but gives his occupational income as after-dinner speaking, broadcasting and voiceovers for radio/tv commercials.

Green deputy Ciaran Cuffe who caused such a stir a few years ago with shares in companies with bad pollution records has completely cleaned up his portfolio. The deputy for Dun Laoghaire is now restricted to two holdings, the Dolmen Securities Green Effects Fund and the Friends First Stewardship Fund, a specially selected environmentally friendly group of shares. He also owns a property in Dublin's Temple Bar which is currently being let.

Most Cabinet ministers have little to declare. Mary Hanafin reveals that she was upgraded on two Aer Lingus flights. The Taoiseach, a non-golfer, has been given free membership of controversial Portmarnock, Elm Park and the Grange golf clubs. Seamus Brennan, Dick Roche and Mary Harney own nothing. Mary Coughlan gave a gift of an ornamental tractor her department. Sile de Valera and Bertie did the same with small gifts of paintings.

At least two TDs were taken to the Ryder Cup.

FG's Phil Hogan was treated to the event by mobile operators 02 while Jimmy Devins was hosted at the K Club by O'Brien Lynam solicitors.

The longest lists of assets come from four Oireachtas members. Senator John Dardis owns a portfolio of at least 30 shareholdings and has this year purchased Independent News and Media. Former Minister Ned O'Keeffe tops this with 41 holdings, a mixture of UK and Irish stocks. His FG Cork namesake Jim O'Keeffe comes close with over 30 shareholdings and a multitude of properties in Cork.

And who would have guessed that Labour leader Pat Rabbitte is a farmer? The Dublin TD who recently promised to lower income tax to 18 per cent has a 50 per cent share of the family farm in Mayo. According to his declaration it is used for letting. A footnote adds that it produces "no income". Is this man the next Minister for Finance?

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