Friday 24 May 2019

To stay or go -- ex-minister now at third crossroads in career

Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

MASSIVE personal debts have left Ivan Yates trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Yesterday, the former political heavyweight brought the curtain down on the ruins of his business empire.

The chain of 47 betting shops is now gone, just like the electoral successes that preceded them.

In fact, the one thing we know for certain is that Mr Yates's career as a bookmaker is over.

Now aged 52, the next few years are likely to be the hardest in his career so far, because this time it's personal. Following the collapse of the business, the threat of bankruptcy hangs heavily over the former minister. It means he is at a career crossroads for the third time.

The first was his decision to enter politics despite not having a family background in any party. Youthful enthusiasm got him elected as a TD aged just 21, in 1981.

In the early years, Mr Yates shared an office with another young TD, Enda Kenny. The Mayo man is eight years older than Mr Yates and had also entered the Dail as a 20-something.

But success came faster for the Wexford TD, at least initially.

Mr Yates was promoted to the Fine Gael front bench in 1988, before his 30th birthday, during a period in opposition. When the party returned to government in 1994 he was made agriculture minister, serving under John Bruton from 1994 to 1997.

It was seen as a particularly prestigious portfolio for a rural TD in a government led by a farmer.

In many ways, agriculture was a "good news" posting, because at the time Ireland was on the receiving end of huge EU support for farming. The BSE or "mad cow disease" crisis tested Mr Yates, but he was seen by his peers as coming away from the department with an enhanced reputation.

He left politics in 2001 rather than face a second term in opposition -- and to concentrate on the bookmaker business established by his wife Deirdre in 1987.

It was a fateful decision: a high media profile and huge ambition helped it expand to a peak of 67 shops. But it was too much too soon for a business about to experience a huge shift to the internet, and in a country on the edge of an economic precipice.

The betting shops are closed, or have been sold, and the threat of bankruptcy has prompted Mr Yates to openly consider leaving the country. He can walk clear of his debts in little over a year if he settles in the UK and is declared bankrupt there. He could then return to Ireland debt-free.

But going abroad will jeopardise the media career he has built up in recent years -- including regular slots with Newstalk and a column with the Irish Examiner, as well as gigs on the lucrative after-dinner speech circuit.

If he stays in Ireland, the alternatives are grim. An Irish bankruptcy process will drag on for 12 years and he'll be on the threshold of retirement before he emerges with a clean bill of financial health.

He could still avoid bankruptcy altogether, if he cuts a deal with main creditor AIB. It wants control of his earnings for the next 10 years, plus all of his assets. It's his call.

Irish Independent

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