Wednesday 22 November 2017

Judge gives one last chance to solve €23m Coillte pension deal before case proceeds

Judge Peter Kelly
Judge Peter Kelly

A JUDGE has allowed a final opportunity to reach a legally binding agreement to tackle a €23m deficit in the pension scheme for State forestry body Coillte Teoranta.

If no agreement is reached, a High Court action by the trustees of the scheme against Coillte will proceed. There are 2.000 members of the scheme.

After being told today that a delay in finalising the agreement arose from the need to secure the approval of two Government Ministers -  the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and the Minister for Agriculture -  Mr Justice Peter Kelly said eight weeks had already passed since the action was adjourned to facilitate efforts to reach agreement.

He would allow four more weeks but, if agreement was not reached by then, the case would proceed in the ordinary High Court list and would not be fast-tracked by the Commercial Court, he said.

Earlier, Brian O'Moore SC, for the trustees, said the bad news was his clients are "bitterly disappointed" a legally binding agreement had not been achieved by now but the good news was he believed they were "within an ace" of such an agreement.

He was proposing only two more weeks be given but the Coillte side was seeking four weeks. Shareholder approval was required for the agreement to be legally binding and the Minister for Public Expenditure was "key" to the matter, he added.

Jonathan Newman BL, for Coillte, said the consent of the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Agriculture was required. There had been "tremendous" progress since the case was adjourned last March to allow the sides try and reach agreement but four more weeks were needed because the matter was complex. 

The judge said he would adjourn the matter for a month.

Last March, Mr Justice Kelly agreed to fast-track the action by the trustees of the Coillte Teoranta Superannuation Scheme seeking judgment for €23m against the company to try and make up the deficit.

The trustees claimed the company owed the money under obligations in a trust deed of 2000 and a December 2009 funding proposal for the scheme entered into due to the scheme being in deficit in 2009.

The funding proposals required €34.5m cash and assets would be contributed by Coillte up front. While Coillte paid €3m cash in 2009 and €1.5m each year from 2009, it late last year only transferred €7m of the €30m cash assets it was to transfer, the trustees said.

While Coillte had indicated transfer of the remaining €23m was contingent on the sale of immature forests which required State approval, no such contingency was set out in the funding proposal, they argued.

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