Thursday 27 June 2019

Daly uses his trusty hymn sheet to preach to the choir of commerce

The Nama chief was always going to face an easy task in addressing his agency's beneficiaries

CIRCLE: Right, Frank Daly,
Patrick Coveney and Pat
Rabbitte at Thursday’s event
CIRCLE: Right, Frank Daly, Patrick Coveney and Pat Rabbitte at Thursday’s event


NAMA Chairman Frank Daly was always going to have the audience eating out of his hand when he addressed the Dublin Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel last Thursday night.

Indeed, given how deeply so many of those in attendance have their snouts stuck in the bad bank's trough, Frank was pretty much preaching to the converted when he called for an end to the "relentless criticism and cynicism" which he believes is now dominating public debate, or rather directed towards his agency.

Among the 500 or so guests nodding their heads in agreement as they listened to Mr Daly's sermonising on the evils perpetrated by developers were a host of Nama's legal advisers, enforcers, tax consultants, auditors and property valuers as well as a horde of high-flying executives from some of the very same banks whose development loans have been taken over by the agency at a cost of billions to the taxpayer.

But the irony of it all appeared to be lost in a sea of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon by those assembled in the ballroom of the five-star hotel (which, incidentally, was built with millions borrowed by a consortium of doctors and lawyers led by Ireland's own pied piper of property, Derek Quinlan).

With Mr Quinlan now very much offside and happily ensconced in a €4,000 a week period mansion in London, Frank's message was received without a hint of embarrassment on the part of the lawyers, estate agents and bankers in the room, many of whom had reaped massive rewards from the boom-era exploits of the people Nama is now pursuing with something akin to a missionary zeal.

Not that there weren't any developers present at the Four Seasons bash.

O2 and Grand Canal Theatre developer Harry Crosbie was there as a guest of PR firm Drury Communications, in his capacity as a member of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board. He sat next to Drury's Public Affairs specialist Gerry Naughton, a man who served as Fine Gael's Political Director from 2003 to 2008 and as a key advisor to Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a previous incarnation.

Also in attendance were Kevin McGowan and Turlough Flynn of Chartered Land, the firm headed by up one of Nama's 10 most indebted developers, Joe O'Reilly. Mr McGowan sat at table 7, which was taken on behalf of Bord Gais, while Mr Flynn sat at table 15 as a guest of accountants BDO.

Chief among the household names from the era of Irish banking at its worst, there to hear the gospel according to Frank Daly, were Bank of Ireland Chief Executive Richie Boucher, former Ulster Bank Chief Executive Cormac McCarthy and former Irish Life & Permanent CEO David Went.

Listening to the Nama chairman speak of how he intended to recover at a "minimum" the €31.8bn his agency had paid the Irish banks for the €71.2bn in loans, the bankers may even have recognised something of the deluded sense of optimism they once felt as they showered developers with loans that in some cases came to rival the GDP of Lesotho.

They may also have appreciated Frank's reference to the "thick skin" he had developed over his years as head of the Revenue Commissioners, which he now found served him well as chairman of "one of the most controversial bodies ever established". Between Frank's thick skin and the bankers' brass necks, the Four Seasons ballroom appeared to be well and truly immune to criticism.

Notwithstanding the subtle differences between the Nama chairman and the bankers, Frank's fear of a future in which Ireland is populated by "an increasingly bitter and cynical public contemptuous of authority, distrusting of success and inhospitable to ambition" must have been music to the ears of all the former high fliers who want us to accept that we are where we are, to forget how we got here, and to look to the future rather than back in anger.

But while our banks and the people who ran them into the ground got bailed out in the 'national interest', there were plenty of examples at the Four Seasons of those who had to fend for themselves when the bubble burst.

Thankfully for them, the Nama gravy train pulled in to the station just in time.

The good people at the law firms of Arthur Cox, Eversheds, Mason Hayes & Curran, Beauchamps, Matheson Ormsby Prentice, Hayes, A&L Goodbody and McCann Fitzgerald know what side their bread is buttered on and just how thickly Nama is able to spread it, given the €27.2m that the toxic loans agency has spent on legal advice to a range of firms since its establishment in December 2009. (Arthur Cox has received more than €3m of that figure.)

Taken together, the Sunday Independent counted no less than 36 lawyers in the ballroom last Thursday night.

The legal eagles were in good company as they tucked into their salmon starters and main course of fillet of beef, joined as they were by no less than 33 accountants drawn from the ranks of Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC), Deloitte, KPMG and BDO.

Together, the four firms are poised to enjoy a pay bonanza arising from their respective roles as tax advisers (in the cases of PwC), accounting advisors (in the case of Deloitte), audit co-ordinators (in the case of KPMG) and business advisers (in the case of BDO).

Outside of Ireland's better-known bean counters, Grant Thornton had two of its personnel in attendance as guests of Ulster Bank, who sponsored the affair. Grant Thornton has benefited hugely from the misery being wrought on the Irish property industry and features prominently on the list of receivers appointed by Nama to the assets of developers with whom relations have broken down, in some cases irrevocably.

CBRE -- a name that will be all too familiar to the developers on Nama's books -- took a whole table at the event and duly filled it up with a dozen guests whose names were not disclosed on the attendance list at the ballroom entrance.

Entertaining the estate agency's clients and taking careful note of Frank Daly's speech was CBRE Ireland executive director Willie Dowling. Mr Dowling hit the headlines in some style in 2009 when CBRE took developer Sean Dunne to the High Court in a row over the alleged non-payment of €1.5m in professional fees run up during the good times by the Carlow-born developer.

While that case was settled, Mr Dunne's relations with Nama didn't fare quite as well. Last year, the man the media dubbed the Baron of Ballsbridge saw a number of his Irish assets put into receivership by the agency, and he is now being pursued for the recovery of €184m in personal guarantees he gave to his banks. CBRE would appear to have a much better relationship with Nama, given its presence on the agency's real estate valuation panel.

Not that Nama was the only talking point last Thursday night. The Four Seasons hooley was, after all, a bash thrown by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, and it drew a whole host of different interests both from the private and the public sectors.

Quite apart from the companies with a material interest in the operations of Nama, there were plenty of Ireland's most successful businesses represented, with Smurfit Kappa, Ryanair, Musgraves and C&D Foods all making their presence felt.

The State sector was also there in force, albeit in most cases as the invited guests of an assortment of stockbrokers, accountants, legal firms and banks.

The most notable attendee from the ranks of the civil service undoubtedly was the Secretary-General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Robert Watt. Mr Watt was there as a guest of Goodbody Stockbrokers according to the attendance list.

Among the semi-state agencies who had executives listed as guests were: Bord Na Mona (guest of KPMG), Coillte (guest of Goodbody Stockbrokers), ESB (guest of Goodbody Stockbrokers), NTMA (guest of KBC Bank Ireland) and the State Claims Agency (guest of Hayes solicitors).

Judging by the appreciative applause the surviving members of Ireland's private and public sector elite gave Dublin Chamber's newly crowned president, Greencore chief executive Patrick Coveney, as he took to the stage to address them, it was clear that everyone was ad idem on what they believe should be done to fix our great little nation.

But that was hardly surprising, given how fluently the brother of Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was speaking their language.

Fresh from defending his €1.4m pay package at Greencore's AGM earlier that day, Patrick was, like Frank Daly, oozing optimism in relation to Ireland's future, refusing amongst other things in his lengthy address to accept the argument that Ireland is a "poor country".

Sunday Independent

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