Inside the world of business
IFSC group's access to the powers that be
The Government’s decision to lift the veil of secrecy around the IFSC Clearing House Group is a welcome development, if only to show the very technical discussions that take place at the group’s meetings.
The group, which is chaired by the State’s most senior civil servant, Martin Fraser, comprises representatives of the financial services industry and senior officials from the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance and the Central Bank.
Minutes of eight meetings of the group between March 2011 and June 2012, seen by The Irish Times, show the extent of the influence that the international financial services industry has over senior figures from the Government authorities.
For the most part, the discussions at the meetings were rather technical in nature, focusing on the Government’s strategy to grow the IFSC, how the industry was marketed internationally, particularly in the face of a dire domestic banking crisis, and tax policies for the sector.
The minutes show that representatives from different parts of the industry had unparalleled access to State officials on what could improve the sector to attract more business.
The obvious conclusion to draw from these meetings is why the pharmaceutical, technology, farming or vintner sectors are not offered the same remarkable lobbying opportunities to sell their wares to State officials who could help them through changes in policies.
The Government has defended the existence of the group and the access that the authorities offer the financial services industry by saying that it has grown to employ 33,000 people and contributes more than €1 billion annually through corporation and payroll taxes.
But surely other industries are equally important in terms of the number of people they employ and the taxes they generate?
It is hard to see how, in tough economic times, the Government can offer greater access to one industry over another.
Advisers in stampede for debt business
After much foot dragging, it looks like the Personal Insolvency Bill will finally come into force early in the new year, offering those who are up to their necks in debt with a potential solution to their problems.
Cue a stampede by financial advisers to get a licence to advise debtors about the potential solutions available to them when the Bill is enacted.
One of the first out of the blocks this week was accounting firm Grant Thornton, which plans to establish a specialist division to offer a “debt solution” service once the Bill has come into force.
Three non-judicial debt settlement arrangements are proposed along with a major reform of the existing bankruptcy regime.
Grant Thornton partner Michael McAteer said the service would be available to all, regardless of their level of indebtedness.
The average fee for a similar service offered by Grant Thornton in the UK is about £5,000 (€6,140) over five years.
Grant Thornton’s sister firm in Britain has form in this area, being one of the top personal insolvency practitioners, with 250 staff and 44,000 active cases.
It invested about £5 million establishing an administration and processing facility in Belfast, which will be available to handle cases in the Republic too.