THE BRITISH retail invasion intensified last night with the takeover of Ireland's largest chain of chemists Hayes Conyngham & Robinson (HCR) by Boots.
Details of the deal between the Irish family-owned business and the leading British retailer are due to be announced at a press conference this morning in Dublin.
The London Stock Exchange will also be formally informed by Boots management before trading begins today.
Market sources believe Boots may have paid up to £20m for the 15 outlets of the Irish chemist chain. News of the takeover follows a meeting of HCR's top managers in a Dublin hotel on Sunday. First details of this top level meeting were revealed in the Irish Independent yesterday.
The acquisition of a chain such as HCR has been central to the well-publicised plans by Boots to expand in the Republic. The British High Street chemist chain has been in talks with HCR for a number of months now.
Ireland's market for prescription drugs and related products is worth £500m a year.
The deal gives the British company HCR's network of 15 branches nationwide to add to Boots' existing stores in the Jervis Street Centre in Dublin city centre, Dún Laoghaire, Tallaght and Blanchardstown in west Dublin.
A spokesman for the Nottingham-based company said the Jervis Boots was doing very well, and the company had been trying to expand in the Republic since opening its first chemist outlet in late 1996 at a cost of £3.6m.
However, until now Boots has not had a presence on the south side of Dublin city. The deal means that Boots will now take over three HCR stores on the south side of Dublin, including one on Ireland's premier shopping street, Grafton Street
The acquisition of HCR is the most practical way for Boots to expand in Ireland since Department of Health regulations ban the opening of new chemist shops within 250 metres of an existing one in urban areas and 5km in rural areas.
This effectively stopped Boots opening in prime locations like Grafton Street.
Boots has more than 1,300 stores in total and a market capitalisation of £8bn. Britain's leading pharmacy chain reported third-quarter sales up 6.8pc last week, boosted by a last-minute Christmas surge.
HCR was established in 1897 and employs 370 people. It has branches in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere in Ireland.
The private chemist group is owned by the Shiell family and was run by brothers Michael and Christopher.
Boots' growing dominance in the Irish market follows recent multi-million pound expansions here by Dixons, Currys, Tesco, PC World and Debenhams.