An empire of media – and muffins

From property and radio to cafes, Denis O’Brien has many business interests

Billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien has recently added the Beacon Hospital, Topaz Energy and others, to his portfolio. Colm Keena takes a look at the steady stream of Irish acquisitions by the businessman over recent years. Video: Darragh Bambrick

Fri, Jun 13, 2014, 06:00

Denis O’Brien is the largest owner of private media assets in the State, with a 29.9 per cent shareholding in Independent News & Media, as well as being the owner of the Communicorp radio group, which owns several Irish radio stations including Newstalk, Today FM and Spin.

O’Brien’s holding in INM is held by way of Baycliffe Ltd, an Isle of Man company that he uses for many of his investments. His ownership in Communicorp is held directly. Communicorp is a loss-making business and so does not pay corporation tax.

The INM titles include the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday World, Star, Evening Herald and 13 regional titles, including the Drogheda Independent, Kerryman and the People group titles.

Dublin properties

By way of several Irish incorporated companies, including unlimited company Partenay, O’Brien owns a number of valuable properties in central and south central Dublin.

Property developer Bernard McNamara, who is just emerging from bankruptcy in the UK, is reported to be in the running for the contract for the construction of a new office block on the southeast corner of St Stephen’s Green, the site of the former Canada House.

The building is being developed by O’Brien’s company Island Capital Services, which provides services to Partenay and other O’Brien companies.

Island Capital has agreements with O’Brien’s Bermuda-based Digicel Group, in relation to the raising of finance by Digicel, and charged it €10.9 million for these services in 2012, according to its most recent accounts. Of this, €2 million went to Communicorp, which also provided services linked to the fundraising.

The two issued shares in Island Capital Services are held in trust, one by Dublin-based O’Brien associate David Sykes, and a second by Danemann Ltd of Atlantic House, Douglas, the Isle of Man.

Partenay has registered charges involving 25 and 27 Donnybrook Road, a property on Wellington Road, and a property on Raglan Road, all in Dublin 4. The shares in Partenay are owned by Clyde Properties Ltd and Clyde Ltd, both with addresses in Barclays House, Douglas, the Isle of Man. Mr O’Brien also holds a 3.9 per cent in the former State airline, Aer Lingus.

Baycliffe, O’Brien’s Isle of Man investment vehicle, is the major shareholder in BBCM Group Ltd, the UK holding company of a group that owns the BB’s Coffee and Muffin outlets and franchises in Ireland and Britain. The other shareholders in BBCM are David Sykes and Paddy McCarthy.

The group reported a pretax profit of £2.2 million (€2.73 million) in the year to the end of 2012, bringing accumulated losses down to £10.9 million.

O’Brien is the controlling shareholder in Irish commercial aircraft-leasing group Aergo Capital Ltd, and IT and disaster recovery firm Business Recovery Services Ltd, which owns the Another 9 name.