Braced for Brexit – and the death of Queen Elizabeth

Business stories of the year: Brexit, Panama Papers and Ivan Yates bow to the queen

 

It was the year of Brexit, the Panama papers and Ivan Yates leaving Newstalk. But our number one most-read is not one of these. Nor is it the perennial budget story. No, it is – ironically in the centenary year of 1916 – a story about how the BBC is preparing for the death of Queen Elizabeth.

1: At some stage the longest-reigning monarch in British history will be buried with all the pomp and circumstance that the global leaders in this field can muster.

For the BBC, Laura Slattery – somewhat wryly – tells us, this will be a huge event. It will necessitate, according to its (leaked) contingency plans, the cancelling of all comedy programmes for the mourning period. Which for this “category one” royal death could last for up to 12 days.

And the BBC will be on its guard as it tries to set a tone which is deemed appropriate by such guardians of decorum as the Daily Mail, which is still outraged by Peter Sissons’s choice of tie – burgundy – when announcing the demise of the Queen Mother.

In her piece Slattery gives us a glimpse into the future when she says: “Unfortunately, here’s what will happen on Twitter when the Queen dies. Thousands of people will tweet the news as if it’s their own personal scoop. Someone will be “disciplined” for making the wrong joke at the wrong time. Then several others will enigmatically quote the lyrics of The Smiths song The Queen is Dead. And that’s just what we can expect in the first 12 minutes.”

The story was first published in 2015 but resurfaced, as is the way of the web, in 2016 and sparked enough interest for it to claim our top spot.

2. In at number two is that old reliable, the budget. And our Budget 2017: Main points did exactly what it said on the tin.

It’s an exhaustive run-through what the budget did, from cuts to the USC, the rise in a packet of cigarettes to the help-to-buy scheme which was designed to alleviate the ongoing housing crisis.

3. Johnson & Johnson, whose products we know intimately from soap-bubble ads and experience, comes in at number three in a story headlined “Johnson & Johnson loses $72 million ‘talcum powder’ cancer case”. It detailed how the company was accused in about 1,700 US lawsuits in state and federal court of ignoring studies linking its baby powder and Shower-to-Shower talc products to ovarian cancer and failing to warn customers about the risk.

The verdict follows previous verdicts awarding damages of of $72 million (€66 million) and $55 million (€50.4 million) against the company in the first two talcum powder claims to go to court in St Louis. Both cases are being appealed.

Commenting on the case, company spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said: “We are guided by the science, which supports the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder.”

4. Clocking in at number four is another collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, whose previous investigations – Lux Leaks and Swiss Leaks – were big events.

The Panama Papers catalogued the secret offshore world of the global elite. It told us how associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin secretly shuffled as much as $2 billion through banks and shadow companies. The information was gleaned from more than 11.5 million documents leaked in April from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

The files also exposed offshore companies controlled by the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan, the king of Saudi Arabia and the children of the president of Azerbaijan.

The Panama Papers series on global financial networks was named Investigation of the Year at the Data Journalism Awards 2016.

5. “What people whoknow about money wished they knew when they were 20” is the headline on the Fiona Reddan story that comes in at number five.

She asks a number of money experts what they wished they had done in their 20s and received some interesting replies.

“The only other change might be to have had children earlier,” said Karl Deeter of Irish Mortgage Brokers.

“I also wish I hadn’t gotten used to spending as much as I had in my 20s,” said Eoin McGee of Prosperous Financial Planning.

And present in most replies was pension provisions, as exemplified by Dermot Goode of totalhealthcover.ie: “One regret is not maintaining pension contributions during all this time. Due to changing jobs, I let contributions lapse for a few years which meant I am now trying to make these up over the remaining years to retirement.”

It’s good to know that the experts made the same mistakes as the rest of us.

6. The other great topic of Irish conversation, apart from the weather and the annual “how did you get over the Christmas?”, comes in at number six.

Yes, you’ve guessed it: property prices. Eoin Burke-Kennedy told us that Ireland’s property market crash was more severe than previously thought, while cash buyers are paying significantly less for property than other buyers. The information came from the Residential Property Price Index, which was revamped in September.

The figures show that the peak-to-trough fall in residential property prices from 2007 to 2013 was 54.4 per cent, not 50.9 per cent as recorded previously.

7. The Panama Papers resurfaced at number seven in our list, this time with Colm Keena explaining the Irish angleof this global story.

Keena, who worked on the previous investigations with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists as well, revealed that the golfer Pádraig Harrington, U2’s former manager Paul McGuinness and Aidan Phelan, the former business accountant of businessman Denis O’Brien, were among those whose names were in the files.

Also named in the files were the property developer and founder of the Ballymore group Seán Mulryan and former chief executive of Tara Mines and former chairman of Telecom Éireann Brendan Hynes; companies linked to the Manchester-based Irish property developer Donal Mulryan were also included.

There is nothing illegal about having shares in an offshore company, nor does it imply any tax offence, Keena wrote.

Nevertheless, he warned, tax authorities around the globe, including the Revenue Commissioners, will be studying the names of the companies, shareholders, and beneficiaries that were published.

8. Our first Brexit story comes in at number eight, courtesy of sterling’s volatility. By early October the pound had slumped to its lowest on record, stretching back to the mid-1800s, the Bank of England said. This was good news for anyone going to Britain or buying stuff, but was very bad news indeed for Irish exporters. The pound recovered but in November 2015 it had hit €1.42 and is now bouncing around the €1.19 mark.

9. Our second Brexit story comes courtesy of columnist Wolfgang Münchau, who says there could be a strong economic argument for Ireland leaving the EUin the wake of Britain.

Central to Münchau’s argument is that it will be a hard Brexit rather than a negotiated soft one, due to UK prime minister Theresa M ay’s insistence on immigration controls and the EU’s staunch defence of the free movement of people.

With our neighbour and economic ally out of the picture, Ireland, Münchau argues, could find itself in a lonely place as the EU focus on our tax arrangements intensifies. The Apple issue, Münchau points out, is a case in point. He goes on to say that because of the direction the EU is taking, Ireland’s low-tax business model is unsustainable and it might be time to think about following Britain out of the EU. Ireland in the EU, he says, “might otherwise end up in the same place as the overconfident Remain supporters in the UK: bitter and without influence”.

10. And finally, the story about Ivan Yates to leave Newstalk on July 1st 2016, and he and his wife to leave Ireland, rounds off our top 10.

Mr Yates had previously left Ireland, without his wife, for Wales in 2012 to avail of the less arduous bankruptcy laws there.

This departure, he said, was not due to his dispute with AIB, which had pursued his wife for money arising from guarantees she signed on loans used to expand the Celtic Bookmakers chain, which was run by Yates and collapsed in 2011.

“It is not true that myself or Deirdre are going to Wales. We are taking a year’s sabbatical. Our plans after that are unclear at this point,” he said.