The stories you read most during 2013
Property was predictably popular, as was technology, media, Google’s tax affairs. . . and Superquinn sausages
Bailout news caught the attention of readers throguhout the year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
It may have been a year of progress for Ireland, but it seems some things will never change. Although occasional articles on media issues and technology caught readers’ attention, but it was the bank bailout, the property market and Ireland’s economic progress remained among the consistent themes of the year when it came to what Irish Times business readers were most interested in.
The year started off with grim news, in true January style, mainly concerning Ireland’s economic situation and the State’s debt. The most popular story of the month was international investor George Soros’s assertion that Ireland had got a raw deal on its debt, perhaps striking a chord with many Irish taxpayers feeling the pinch as the impact of yet another austerity budget, announced just weeks earlier, was being felt.
The bailout exit seemed a very long way off, with warnings that Ireland’s property prices could fall by another 20 per cent ringing in our ears, driving more people online to find out exactly what was going on.
Still, there was some cause for optimism, with the news that Ireland had raised €2.5 billion in a bond sale proving a popular read for visitors to the website, and property watchers logging on to read about a stabilisation in house prices in Dublin.
February continued in the same vein, with Minister for Finance Michael Noonan firm in his belief that Ireland could win a refund from the European rescue fund after it “took one for the team” on the banks. Quite how people felt about that was another matter. The month also brought a warning from Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan that mortgage arrears had reached “extraordinary” levels. He said banks had to engage with customers on the matter.
More popular was the news that Ireland’s broadband market had gained a new competitor, with pay TV provider Sky getting into the mix. That put it in direct competition with UPC in offering customers triple play services and, later in the year, with Eircom after the telecoms incumbent unveiled its eVision service.
Property tax was a topical issue in March, with homeowners steeling themselves to find out just how much the Government’s revenue raising scheme would cost them. An explanation of what homeowners would need to do when that letter from the Revenue hit the mat topped the list of most popular articles for the month.
Much reader attention was also given to the situation in Cyprus, which was treading a familiar path amid news it would require a bailout. Its government’s plan to impose a controversial tax on deposits was much discussed on the business pages and elsewhere in The Irish Times, including coverage by columnists John Waters and Fintan O’Toole.
A data leak, analysed by the Guardian and other international media as part of a project with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, had revealed details of thousands of holders of hidden wealth in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands. Readers may have noted familiar names linked to the accounts, including presidents, wealthy families and government officials. also included was convicted fraudster Achilleas Kallakis, who was jailed earlier in the year for obtaining £740 million in loans from AIB on false premises.
That was followed in May by an examination of Ireland’s shadow banking sector, which includes hundreds of financial vehicle corporations set up to deal with securitised loans. The sector has assets of about €1.7 trillion but arguably contributes little to Ireland’s economy.
As news emerged in June that Ireland had lurched back into recession, it was a banking story that grabbed attention. The revelations contained in the Anglo tapes caused a storm at national and European level.
The Government had to exercise some damage control after recordings of phone conversations within the bank forced executives to deny they had deliberately misled the Central Bank on Anglo’s true financial situation. The subject dominated the headlines – and the most read lists – for much of the month.
The property market was back on the agenda in July, as foreign investors took a renewed interest in Ireland. But this time it was commercial property that was in the frame.
In August, news that the Irish Sun had decided to remove Page Three models from its edition attracted thousands of readers online. The paper’s Irish editor Paul Clarke said the move was due to cultural differences between the UK and Ireland. It came at a time when a campaign to remove the topless models had gathered pace in the UK.
August was also the month that the Musgrave group revealed plans to drop the Superquinn brand by early 2014, rebranding the stores as Supervalu. While many people took to Twitter and Facebook to try to ensure their store favourites – in particular the Superquinn sausage – wouldn’t disappear, the loss of 102 jobs at Superquinn’s head office in Lucan seemed to generate less outrage on social media.
Ireland’s corporate tax rates continued to generate interest as the Government vowed to remain a staunch defender of the economy’s 12.5 per cent tax rate. But in September it was the multinationals that started to come under scrutiny, with Google’s accounts showing the company paid only €17 million in tax, despite boosting its revenue to almost €15.5 billion. The story was among the top for the month, beaten only by the ongoing discussion of Ryanair’s complex system for employing pilots, and the news that Samsung planned to reveal a smartphone with a curved screen.
An earlier than usual budget in October had an impact on what online readers were reading, but it was the news that Tower Records planned to move from its Wicklow Street premises in Dublin that caught the most attention. When the music retailer relocates to a new Dawson Street premises, its prime retail spot will be taken over by Swedish fashion retailer Cos.
Rounding out the year was the news that Ireland was about to exit the bailout successfully. Although it was generally considered positive news, there were some warnings that not everyone was buying the bailout success story. Investors wanting to cash out ahead of the exit were seen as a potential source of risk to Irish bonds, although general cynicism about the banks and the “what ifs?” in the equation were causing some caution.
Among the top stories for December was the news that the perception of Ireland’s level of corruption had improved, with the country standing at 21 out of 177 nations. A nice boost with which to end 2013.