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Whiskey in the jar

Irish whiskey hasn't had it easy. It was once the leading whiskey in the world before falling far behind its Scottish counterpart.

Nowadays it is accepted that if you walk through duty free in most big airports you will see dozens if not hundreds of obscure Scotch whiskies in fabulous wooden cases on sale for hundreds of euro, and maybe a handful of relatively cheap Irish brands, usually without a case at all.

Things are beginning to change though, and Alltech's decision to set up an Irish whiskey business in Carlow is the latest piece of good news for the sector. Jameson has been confirmed as one of the best-selling spirits in the world for Pernod Ricard, while Beam forked out €76m for Louth based Cooley Distilleries in January.

Alltech boss Dr Pearse Lyons talked up his Irish connections as motivation for the move, but if the sector wasn't growing, there is little chance he would have invested in the business.

The other attraction is that set-up costs are minuscule. It is remarkably easy for the man on the street to open a distillery, with little in the way of government regulations to deal with.

None of the main distilleries in Ireland operating now are Irish-owned, but is that really a bad thing?

The jobs are here, and the products -- Bushmills, Powers and many others -- are still unequivocally Irish.

After a century of mismanagement, whiskey looks to be finally on the charge again.

Show your hand, partner

Partnerships here are exempt from most of the disclosure rules that govern limited companies. This means we have very little information about what goes on in some of the country's biggest and most important commercial entities. We saw this over the summer when Bloxham Stockbrokers ran into problems and eventually closed. We see this every day with the country's biggest legal and accountancy firms, which are almost all partnerships and therefore not obliged to provide any meaningful information about their balance sheets.

In England, where the law is less accommodating, partnerships must make some basic information available to the public. That's how we know that the average amount distributed to each of the 872 partners working in PricewaterhouseCoopers in the UK was a princely £679,000 (€841,000). That's useful information for anybody thinking of hiring the firm.

Here in Ireland, information along these lines is not available. PwC's accounts provide no meaningful information beyond a list of partners.

The Government and many companies on the stock exchange employ PwC but the same voters and shareholders have no idea whether PwC and its peers are making money themselves.

It is more than a little ironic that companies that don't have to publish detailed reports themselves are called upon to audit everybody else's company reports.

It's just one more example of the unnecessary secrecy that bedevils Irish life.

Making up is hard to do

The lengthy saga that has pitted Swiss mining conglomerate Glencore and London-based Xstrata hasn't garnered much interest here. The companies are too foreign and too boring to really generate any headlines, but former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cameo role is certainly interesting.

Mr Blair appears to have been the deciding factor in winning support from Qatar's sovereign wealth fund for Glencore's $36bn (€24bn) bid for Xstrata. Glencore and Qatar had not spoken since the early summer, when the Gulf emirate publicly opposed the commodity trader's original share offer for Xstrata.

But both sides were talking again within hours once Mr Blair got involved earlier this month. Mr Blair had made progress where 10 investment banks had failed. Analysts now predict that the former British prime minister could become a sought-after fixer in global finance.

Back home in Ireland, the courts are often turning to commercial mediators to avoid lengthy cases that damage companies and often yield no winners other than the lawyers. We saw this in the dispute between Fyffes and DCC which spent around 100 days in the High Court and then went to the Supreme Court. Fyffes may have won that case in the end but both companies were somehow diminished in the process.

Mr Blair's apparent success in brokering a deal in just a few hours is a potent reminder that a legal response is not always the right response when a deal threatens to collapse.

Irish Independent