State compnay dividend cantillion
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/Irish Times
The Government this week has been knocking on the door of various State-owned companies looking for cash. It’s all part of a plan agreed in the budget to get €100 million in extra dividends from businesses in which it is either the sole or the 90 per cent-plus shareholder.
Three days ago, the ESB confirmed that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte, wrote to it seeking an extra €65 million from the company, on top of the €74.4 million it recently handed over to the Exchequer following its annual general meeting.
Similar requests have been made of two other companies under Mr Rabbitte’s remit, Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna, although neither has said just how much is being sought. Their boards are considering the request, as is the ESB’s.
The ESB is the largest and is being asked for the lion’s share. Contributions from it and Bord Gáis, which has already paid €24 million in a regular dividend this year, would probably bring the figure very close to €100 million.
Apart from that those two, there is Dublin Airport Authority, but it is focusing on paying down its debt, and the 25 per cent sake in Aer Lingus, which delivered €5.36 million this year.
Then there is a motley crew consisting of Bord na Móna, Coillte, the ports, even the Irish Aviation Authority, which recently paid €5 million to the Exchequer, its first dividend for a number of years. These could be tapped for varying sums as well.
This could be seen as a one-off, simply a cash-strapped Government looking for money from whatever source is available to it. But there was an interesting line in the ESB’s statement dealing with Rabbitte’s letter.
This was to the effect that the Government and NewEra are jointly reviewing a dividend policy for the ESB.
The Minister intends getting in touch with the State behemoth again to discuss this further.
This all harks back to a report into State-owned companies and assets completed by a group chaired by economist Colm McCarthy. The report was commissioned and published during the lifetime of the last government, but provided the template for the current administration’s disposal strategy, including the aborted plan to sell Coillte’s harvesting rights.
Another point it highlighted was the need for measures designed to ensure the State gets a bigger share of its companies’ profits. It appears that the current Government has taken this suggestion to heart as well.