Cantillon

Sat, Dec 8, 2012, 00:00

O'Brien's in a league of his own:Denis O’Brien may be feeling a little wounded this week, having been blamed by the Irish arm of Transparency International for single-handedly pushing Ireland down the international corruption league table.

He subsequently issued a press statement saying that he was not mentioned by name anywhere in the source materials used to compile the organisation’s index, though he was mentioned in the press release issued along with the index by the organisation’s Irish branch.

Things went a bit better for him in America where he was honoured on Wednesday at Irish America magazine annual Business 100 in New York.

Even more pleasing must have been the posting on the blog of Niall O’Dowd, the Irish-American publisher behind the awards and the Irish Voice newspaper. “Good men like O’Brien are rare as hen’s teeth and, like all good men, he has drawn ferocious critics as well – mostly in Ireland,” gushed O’Dowd.

“That is not unusual. ‘Great hatred, little room’ as Yeats wrote, and O’Brien’s success began in the Wild West era of capitalism in Ireland when there were few established rules. O’Brien was perfect for that era, a buccaneer capitalist with no special family ties to the notorious insider world of Irish business.

“He emerged with the country’s first cell phone licence and turned it into pure gold and some have never forgiven him for upsetting the cozy coterie. How he got it still exercises some of the chatterati in Ireland. I think it is time Irish America took a stance on this good and decent man and gave him the respect and acknowledgement he deserves as the pre-eminent Irish businessman and philanthropist of his era.”

O’Dowd’s comparison between Ireland in the mid-1990s and the wild west will no doubt raise some eyebrows, never mind his error in not knowing that O’Brien won the second mobile licence.

But what might be harder to stomach than his rallying cry to Irish America on O’Brien’s behalf, is his apparent equation of a report by a tribunal of inquiry appointed by the Oireachtas to the status of chatterati.

Go compare - so long as it's like for like

It might be overstating things to say that Aldi has struck a blow for consumer rights, but the German discounter’s successful action against Tesco should bring some discipline to the fraught area of in-store price comparisons.

At the heart of the dispute between the two chains was whether or not Tesco was comparing like with like in its in store comparison material.

Tesco has now agreed to a fairly stringent set of conditions about how it uses Aldi’s logo and will only compare prices of products currently on sale in Aldi and that are comparable in terms of substance, nature and quality. It will also have to specify if the products are Irish and have the Bord Bia quality assurance mark.

It has to pay its German rival €150,000 and, perhaps more painfully, meet its costs in the action.

It’s a pleasing victory for Aldi and comes just as the various supermarket chains are going toe to toe to get their share of the Christmas grocery spend.

But at the same time, it has to be put in perspective. No extension of consumer rights has been inferred by the courts; it is more a case of Aldi vindicating its own rights.

There should be a tangible benefit for shoppers generally and not just those concerned about the price of Aldi sausages compared to the Tesco sausages of equal weight, meat content , Irish provenance and Bord Bia certification.

The read-through from the case is that all supermarkets will have to pay much more attention to their in-store comparison material as they do with the adds they publish in national newspapers.

This can only be of benefit to shoppers they fight their way down the crowded aisles.

One question left un-answered by the settlement is why it took a scrap between two retailers to bring about – hopefully – higher standards in this area rather than action by one of the plethora of state agencies that are committed to protecting consumer rights.

Taking a cash tip from Starbucks

The timing of Thursday’s unveiling by EU tax commissioner Algirdas Semeta of a series of proposals to tackle corporate tax evasion was interesting.

On the same day, Starbucks announced it is to pay a £20 million (€25 million) tax donation to the UK government in a desperate bid to gain control of a controversy that is becoming something of a public relations nightmare.

Starbucks’ offer to pay £10 million each year for two years sets an uneasy precedent for other companies.

The company has also been accused of just throwing money at a problem, when really the solution lies in radical legislative and tax reform.

Enter stage left, the European Commission – or maybe not.

It published a series of 30 recommendations for European countries to help tackle tax evasion and avoidance.

These include a commitment to review corporate merger rules, the introduction of an EU-wide tax identification number and the adoption of common anti-abuse standards by EU countries.

Whether these recommendations will lead to any change is the real question. As various commentators have pointed out, many of the rules suggested have already been implemented by OECD member countries.

Ultimately, recommendations are likely to be non-binding, although they will be presented to European finance ministers and the European Parliament next year. This is likely to occur during Ireland’s presidency of the EU, while the Government also plans to hold a number of high-level meetings on the topic during the presidency.

While Ireland will be keen to prove its strong tax compliance credentials, the issue is an uncomfortable one for the State, given the diplomatic tensions around the issue of Ireland’s corporation tax rate.

Throwing a light on the intricacies of the tax agreements, and the loopholes and accounting structures that underpin the international operations of multinational companies, is something that Ireland could do without.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:"Germany, given its high degree of openness and specialisation, cannot prosper alone.” The Bundesbank, as it sharply cuts 2013 growth forecasts

NUMBER OF THE DAY:146,000 The rise in US non-farm employment in November: well ahead of analyst forecasts

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