The top 10 online business stories on irishtimes.com
From tax revelations to car-crash interviews, it was a pretty good year for business stories online
Martin Shanahan of the IDA on CNBC’s Squawk Box
Sign outside the Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock Co Dublin, a Wetherspoon pub, showing discounted beer prices. Photograph: Frank Miller
Denis O’Brien was the subject of the sixth most popular story. Photograph: David Sleator
Budget 2015 was different from its predecessors in that it seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the austerity years. The revelations on the corporate tax affairs of Irish and Irish-based companies contained in the ‘Luxembourg leaks’ documents also contributed to a good year for stories. But there was one clear winner among our readers...
1 It was the mutual incomprehension displayed in the car-crash interview between CNBC’s Squawkbox presenter Joe Kernen and IDA Ireland’s chief executive Martin Shanahan that topped the list.
The headline on the piece by Tom Lyons deemed it bizarre, and that it certainly was http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/ireland-s-ida-boss-faces-bizarre-cnbc-interview-1.1986505. It started off well but veered into uncharted waters when Kernen popped this zinger: “You have pounds anyway don’t you still?”.
Martin Shanahan kept a straight face and replied that Ireland had euro.
Kernen came straight back at him with: “Why do you have euros in Ireland?” and Shanahan was down the rabbit hole holding Alice’s hand wandering in a land where Ireland, Britain, Scotland, Northern Ireland, euro, sterling and Scottish pounds were all jumbled up.
Joe Kernen’s final observation, “It is just too confusing . . .”, sums up the glorious and hugely entertaining debacle. This was a story that just gave and gave as it went viral.
2 The ever-popular Lucy Kellaway has long taken a sideways look at business-speak in all its wonderful manifestations. In the article headlined “Apple loses its way with words as gibberish takes over” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/apple-loses-its-way-with-words-as-gibberish-takes-over-1.1833263, Kellaway had a go at what she deems gibberish. Apple’s was searching for a “Thought Leader” to “drive the conceptualisation, evaluation and execution of critical sale reporting projects on time and within business expectations”.
Kellaway wondered what a thought leader actually is and went on to lament that Apple, once defined by its clear English, has gone the way of so many other companies.
“The reason I am making so much of this miserable piece of business gibberish is because it comes from Apple. For years I have held up Apple as a lone example of a big company that uses words beautifully,” she laments.
The piece was the second most read thanks to a combination of Kellaway’s left-field take and the online catnip that is the word Apple.
3 Coming in at number three is Budget 2015 – Main Points http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/budget-2015-main-points-1.1962879. The story, by Ciara Kenny, that does exactly what it says on the tin – explains everything you needed to know about the budget from water charge relief to agricultural spending to social welfare. This was the budget that announced the beginning of the end of the austerity years and was the first step on the road to the next general election.
However, whatever kudos the Government got from it was quickly washed away by the water charges protests.
4 “Exposed: Ikea, Pepsi amongst 340 companies with secret Luxembourg tax deals” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/exposed-ikea-pepsi-amongst-340-companies-with-secret-luxembourg-tax-deals-1.1989484 was the headline on a collaboration between The Irish Times and 27 other media organisations around the world that broke the story about how PricewaterhouseCoopers used Luxembourg’s tax laws as a vehicle to help multinational corporations avoid tax . This ground-breaking series was organised under the banner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
PwC said the ICIJ’s reporting was based on “outdated” and “stolen” information, “the theft of which is in the hands of the relevant authorities”. It said its tax advice and assistance are “given in accordance with applicable local, European and international tax laws and agreements and is guided by a PwC global tax code of conduct”.
The fallout from “Lux Leaks” was felt immediately as former Luxembourg prime minister and current president of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker went on the defensive and the debate over tax measures taken by multinationals was reignited.
5 Dominic Coyle’s story “Revenue may tax gifts by parents to their children” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/exposed-ikea-pepsi-amongst-340-companies-with-secret-luxembourg-tax-deals-1.1989484 comes in at number five. It was one of those stories that kept reappearing on the most-read list on a number of consecutive days.
The proposal to limit the exemption to gift or inheritance tax to children under the age of 18, or under 25 if they remain in full-time education, and to make payments by a parent to an adult child above the €3,000 annual small gift exemption threshold liable to tax obviously hit a nerve.
6 “Banks write off over €300m in three deals with Denis O’Brien” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/companies/banks-write-off-over-300m-in-three-deals-with-denis-o-brien-1.1830533 headed the sixth most popular story, by Colm Keena. The deals saw the businessman invest €230 million to acquire the Siteserv Group, the Topaz Group and the Beacon Private Hospital.
The Siteserv move saw a write-off by the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation of €110 million. The Topaz Group deal involved the IBRC writing off slightly more than half of the €304 million it was owed, while O’Brien bought debt of approximately €100 million due to Ulster Bank for a reported €35 million in a deal that gave him control of the Beacon Hospital in Sandyford, Co Dublin.
7 In at number seven was “Guinness pulled from menu at Wetherspoon’s Blackrock pub” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/agribusiness-and-food/guinness-pulled-from-menu-at-wetherspoon-s-blackrock-pub-1.1850415 which saw the British pub giant getting in a row with Guinness maker Diageo. A spokesman for Wetherspoon told Ciarán Hancock that the price point sought by Diageo for the famous stout was “too high”.
It decided instead to offer Beamish and Murphy’s stouts, which are brewed in Cork and owned by Heineken. Both were to sold at €3.95 in the Three Tun Inn. Wetherspoon has embarked on a pub-buying spree in Ireland with plans to acquire up to 30 premises.
Of course, Wetherspoon has since dumped Heineken products from all its outlets in a row over pricing of its products at Wetherspoon outlets in Ireland, a move prompted by disquiet from other local publicans.
8 Chastened perhaps, as Fiona Reddan wrote, by its portrayal of Ireland as a country where people kill pigeons in order to survive, the New York Times returned with a more favourable portrait of the country, in particular the local tech scene.
“New York Times takes a different view on Ireland” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/new-york-times-takes-a-different-view-on-ireland-1.1645774 was the headline on the piece, which, at number eight, had the NYT noting that the Grand Canal Docks was a “kind of home away from home for the big Silicon Valley companies like Google and Facebook”.
The paper went on to say that Australian Brett Meyers, who co-founded CurrencyFair, a low-cost foreign currency startup, had a one-year plan to stay in Ireland, but never left.
9 At number nine, “YouTube to be monitored by British security” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/youtube-to-be-monitored-by-british-security-1.1722722 was the story about how Google gave British security officials special permissions for its YouTube video site, allowing them to have content instantly reviewed if they think it threatens national security. The story was a classic mix of intelligence agency, internet freedom and the click-bait that is the Google brand name .
“We have a zero-tolerance policy on YouTube towards content that incites violence,” YouTube said. “Our community guidelines prohibit such content and our review teams respond to flagged videos around the clock, routinely removing videos that contain hate speech or incitement to commit violent acts.”
10 Our final story “Budget 2015: USC change to target low, middle earners” http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/budget-2015-usc-change-to-target-low-middle-earners-1.1961145, by Fiach Kelly, Arthur Beesley and Cliff Taylor was another staple, the run-up to the budget. According to the story, senior Coalition sources were reported as saying changes to the USC would feature as part of a three-pronged tax package. The package would also embrace a cut in the higher rate of income tax to 40 per cent from 41 per cent in 2015. In addition, the threshold at which people would enter the higher rate will rise to €33,800 from €32,800. Surprise, surprise, it all came to pass on budget day.