Thursday 14 December 2017

The Punt: Burton and the decade of dithering on pensions

Joan Burton
Joan Burton

TANAISTE Joan Burton has set up a new group to look at the mechanics of introducing a pension plan for all workers. But Ms Burton was forced to admit this week that her department has now been looking at the idea of a mandatory-type pension for a decade now.

"There have been various green papers and white papers and various reports written about it," she agreed when pressed about just how long the idea of a mandatory pension has been kicked about in the Department of Social Protection.

A decade is a long time, even in politics, and the Punt suspects that the latest idea of setting up an inter-departmental group to look at the nuts and bolts of setting up an auto-enrolment pension is just another way of kicking the concept into touch until after the election.

Following a number of previous reports, it was recommended in April 2013 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that the State introduce some sort of auto-enrolment pension.

But the Tanaiste said it was necessary to wait until the economic conditions had improved before asking people to pay into a new add-on pension.

So do not expect any movement on this for a while. The dithering is due to continue.

Byrne checks in again at CityJet

It's curious to see CityJet founder Pat Byrne make a return to the airline as chairman. He founded the carrier in 1993, but it was wholly acquired by Air France in 2000. Byrne had remained as chairman.

But the regional airline was losing piles of money. Air France kept having to shore up its balance sheet.

Byrne continued as chairman until a sale of CityJet was finalised last year to Germany's Intro Aviation. CityJet chief executive Christine Ourmieres took a 7.5pc stake in the airline as part of that deal. Intro's Peter Oncken then became chairman.

Oncken will remain on the CityJet board, but Byrne will now be back in the cockpit.

Ourmieres - who was appointed by Air France to run CityJet in 2010 - said in an interview with the Irish Independent last year that during the CityJet sales process she used Byrne as a sounding block and mentor.

Aviation insiders say CityJet is having a tough time coping with the surge in competition on one of its busiest routes - Dublin to London City Airport. It had been the only carrier on the service until last year, when British Airways and FlyBe muscled in.

From Goldman Sachs to Mick Jagger

As you may know, Goldman Sachs has been taken on as an adviser to the Department of Finance on potential capital restructuring or other deals involving the State's stake in AIB. The US bank will not be paid for the advice, but would be eligible to tender for the highly lucrative job of managing any potential IPO or share sale, if as expected, a decision is taken to off-load part of the bank.

During questioning from anti-austerity TD Paul Murphy yesterday, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said it wasn't uncommon for big finance firms to take on jobs on a pro-bono basis to boost their image.

"The reason they do this, it's common practice in the City of London, is that finance houses like Goldman Sachs feel that their reputation is enhanced for other work if they are the advisers to sovereign governments in key pieces of work," the minister said. "An IPO for AIB, if it was even 25pc of it, would be one of the biggest IPOs on the London stock market.

"Obviously there would be great attention paid to who the advisers are."

Mr Murphy was sceptical, and cited a less than favourable article about the investment bank published in 'Rolling Stone' magazine. Mr Noonan wasn't convinced.

"Myself, if it was me, I'd ring Mick Jagger rather than read the magazine if I was looking for financial advice," he quipped.

Obviously, only if the rock star would do it pro-Bono.

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