Saturday 14 December 2019

The Punt: Party popper McGrath

Michael McGrath
Michael McGrath
Dubai Duty Free executive vice-chairman Colm McLoughlin

What a party popper. The Punt is a fan of Fianna Fail's Michael McGrath. (The Punt's apolitical, it should be noted). He's articulate, on the ball and is generally not prone to the usual party political point scoring and guff that one can expect from the Dail.

But he seemed to be the one dissenting voice after the launch of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland on Friday, the scheme designed to provide cheap funding to SMEs under favourable lending conditions. There was a broad welcome from business leaders. The Dublin Chamber of Commerce called it a long-term winner for SMEs, while ISME too welcomed the bank, but cautioned that the banks should be kept a close watch of.

By contrast, Mr McGrath said it fell well short of what was needed.

"Over three and a half years ago, the Programme for Government promised a Strategic Investment Bank which would become 'a lender to SMEs'," he said.

"However even though it is called the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland, the SCBI is not a bank and will not actually have a banking licence. Instead, it will provide funding to existing banks who will be expected to "on lend" to SMEs."

He also raised the very important issue of how many SMEs are drowning in debt. It's good to have a dissenting voice.

Let's hope it proves not to be an accurate one on this occasion.

McLoughlin's a laugh a minute

Last week the Punt had a fun encounter with Dubai Duty Free executive vice chairman Colm McLoughlin, brother of former Irish rugby player Ray McLoughlin.

The duty free boss, inset, was in town to pick up an award from President Higgins for his service to the Irish community abroad.

Mr McLoughlin's still working at the age of 71, and regaled the Punt with tales of life in Dubai.

His company did sales of $1.8bn last year, but the fact that it's a state-backed monopoly probably helps. "There is a government rule in place that all the duty free operation at Dubai Airport is done by this company called Dubai Duty Free, and I just happen to work for Dubai Duty Free," Mr McLoughlin said.

"It's good, terrific," he says before bursting into laughter.

"Somebody said to me once, 'But you have a monopoly.' I said, 'Yes isn't it fantastic?"

McLoughlin says the weather is manageable.

"In the summer, it's a bit more difficult, and when you play golf you bring a spare shirt with you and on the ninth hole you change it." Sounds tough, eh?

Let he who is without sin...

The Punt's favourite cartoon is from the 'New Yorker' and depicts a statue of an ordinary-looking man with words underneath to the effect that this was the only man who had never made a blunder or mistake when filing his tax returns.

The Punt thought of this cartoon again yesterday when reading that the Department of Arts and Heritage had been forced to repay more than €100,000 to the Revenue Commissioners because the department had been providing free accommodation to park staff at national parks in Killarney and Glenveagh.

The accommodation, as pretty much any good accountant could have told you, was a benefit in kind and should have been taxed accordingly.

What does it tell us when Government departments are forced to repay taxes? Perhaps there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that our tax code is still so complicated that the legislators who inflict it on the rest of us don't know how to use it.

The good news is that the system is honest enough to ensure that nobody is above the law.

Interestingly, the mistake was spotted by Heather Humphrey's department rather than the taxman.

It seems that all departments are busy reviewing their books. Who is next?




Irish Independent

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